If you have read about our Walking Club you will know that boots are the only item of equipment you really need. All the rest is very nice if you can get it (and most of us have got it over the last 30 odd years) but boots are essential. Don’t buy them until you are sure you like walking and then go for the best you can afford. When the sales are on is a good time to think about it. Unless you are very lucky you will need to spend from £75 to £125 for a good pair of boots (that’s the original price, you can get substantial reductions). You may be very fortunate, but usually anything less that £50 will either take some breaking in or will not be waterproof. Generally, you get what you pay for in a boot!
Be prepared to spend about two hours choosing, and take your own socks with you. The shop will have a basket full, but it’s best to take your own. Nowadays, it’s also best to go for one pair of padded socks. In the olden days, the advice was to wear two woollen pairs – but these were ordinary go-to-the-office socks. The modern specialised walking ones have pads knitted into them. These will cost about £12-£16.
Wherever you buy your boots, take your time to walk about in each pair you try on. Tell the salesman exactly what kind of walking you intend to do. The Walking Club has stopped mountaineering and now does country rambling so the soles should be curved for flat walking: mountain boots are a different shape – they will be flat so that crampons can be attached. You should try one full size bigger than your normal shoe size. According to the make the size you need may vary. (I wear Berghaus size 8 (UK) for a shoe size of 7.) If you’re a woman, also try the men’s version – they’re wider at the toes, but are more uncomfortable at the Achilles’ tendon. If you have very small feet, try the children’s size and avoid VAT! When you get near the ones you like, walk about for about 20 – 30 minutes. Tiso’s (The Outdoor Experience in Couper Street) have a special mountain walkway for this purpose. No-one will interfere if you spend 30 minutes walking along this trail. In fact, they will take you for a novice if you don’t! Wear them and go for a cup of coffee!
When you get home, wear them around the house for a week. If you are not happy with them, take them back to the shop for a full refund and try again! All good shops know that good boots are essential!! When you are sure you like them, you can wear them outside! After each walk, check the tread for stones, and dust them off. If they are wet, NEVER dry them artificially. Stuff them with newspaper and leave to dry. If you have been walking through a lot of peat, wash the boots thoroughly to get rid of the acid and then leave to dry.
When they need a polish, spread the polish sold in outdoors shops (a modern equivalent of Dubbin) over the boots with a cloth. Good books recommend using the warmth of your fingers, but I use a hairdryer to melt the wax and then work it into creases, the stitching, round the eyelets and into the tongue. If you then apply the hairdryer (like the Guardsman using matches to burnish the polish on his boots) leave till morning and then polish with a cloth they’ll come up as new. But only do this about every two/three months or you’ll rot the stitching.
You should expect modern boots, which are made of very soft leather, to last for about 5 years. The old boots lasted a life-time, but it took a lifetime to break them in! Boots which hurt will not only spoil your enjoyment but slow you down. In winter, when darkness falls, there can be a 15° degree drop in temperature so the right boots could be a matter of life and death.