choosing and caring for outdoor footwear, socks and gaiters
There are a myriad of sandals, shoes and boots available for trekking, mountaineering and adventure travel. However, every foot is different, so choosing a boot or shoe that has all the features you require is only half of the equation. The other 50% involves making sure your footwear fits comfortably.

If this is your first foray into the outdoor footwear market, I hope that this booklet arms you with sufficent information to begin your hunt for comfortable footwear with a degree of confidence. When you’re ready to try some boots on, pop into your nearest Cotswold store for advice and maybe a boot fitting session with one of their specially trained staff in order to make sure that you get the perfect fit.

As an ill-fitting pair of boots can ruin your holiday of a lifetime, taking the time to select the most appropriate footwear for your needs is always time well spent. Enjoy your next adventure!

Paul Deegan

Paul is the author of the award-winning ‘The Mountain Traveller’s Handbook’, published by the British Mountaineering Council and available from Cotswold.
multi-activity footwear
boot construction
From humble beginnings, adventure racing has quickly established itself as a global outdoor pursuit, and footwear manufacturers have not been slow in producing specific footwear for customers who enjoy running, scrambling and abseiling across demanding terrain. This type of multi-activity footwear is also used by trail runners and walkers who prefer to travel fast and light along long-distance footpaths.

Multi-activity footwear is characterised by easily adjustable speed lacing, fast-wicking synthetic fabric and mesh uppers (sometimes reinforced with suede leather), as well as lightweight soles that offer good traction on a variety of surfaces. A few designs also offer some ankle support, although most are low cut like a training shoe for maximum freedom of movement.

Whilst shoe and boot styles differ to a greater or lesser degree, all share at least some of the same characteristics. It is worth taking a moment to learn about them, as the components that go into making a typical piece of outdoor footwear hold the key to understanding what individual boots and shoes are designed for and how they will perform on various types of terrain.

Every piece of footwear is built around a last. This gives the boot its overall shape. Most boots feature a curved or ‘anatomic’ last. This helps to put a spring in your step as you push off with the toe.

The removable insoles supplied with many types of footwear are woeful, and offer very little support for the feet. Unsurprisingly, many outdoor enthusiasts choose to invest in a more supportive pair of insoles in order to obtain a better fit. You can read more about this later in the booklet.

The midsole is the beating heart of the boot. Lying under the insole, the midsole dictates how stiff the boot is. A rigid boot is perfect for ice climbing. By contrast, a boot that bends from heel to toe is ideal for trail running. Semi-flexible boots are worn by many trekkers and backpackers. Bear in mind that feet encased in very flexible footwear have to work harder on rough terrain, which can lead to foot fatigue. This is especially true if the boot cannot resist lateral torsion (twisting from side to side), something that you can discover for yourself when you are holding a shoe in your hands.

The outer sole pattern should match the activity that the boot is designed for. Likewise, the upper: leather is highly water-resistant, whilst fabric is often lighter, more breathable but less weatherproof and durable. Plastic is ideal for cold-weather and high altitude mountaineering. Some boots are lined with waterproof-breathable membranes, which help to keep feet dry in wet conditions, but these inhibit breathability in warmer weather.

Boots designed for scrambling often come supplied with rubber rands, which improve performance in rock climbing situations. These rubberised areas also protect the leather or fabric upper from wear and tear. However, excessive amounts of rubber will reduce the boot’s overall breathability.

sandals and trail shoes
Once the preserve of the hippie generation, sandals are now available for many different activities, from trekking to river running. Some sandals boast good arch support for your soles, as well as adjustability around the forefoot and heel in order to guarantee a comfortable fit. If you are planning to use your sandals in wet conditions (be it white-water rafting or taking a shower in a hostel) opt for synthetic sandals: leather models are more suited to dry-weather trekking. Some sandals have so much support for the foot that the difference between them and lightweight trail shoes is very small indeed.

Trail shoes generally offer more foot support than sandals, not least when it comes to cooking on BBQs at a campsite; spilling hot fat on bare feet is no laughing matter. They also offer a significant degree of extra protection on rougher terrain, and protect the foot from sunburn and colder temperatures. Many trail shoes are armed with cushioned soles that are suitable for pavement pounding as well as trail walking.

If you’re looking for footwear that is mainly going to be used exploring cities and villages, but also needs to be able to handle unsurfaced tracks for a day or so at a time, then a synthetic or suede leather trail shoe will probably suit you perfectly. However, if you are spending more time off-road than on-road, a trekking boot will probably be a more appropriate choice.
trekking boots
getting the right fit
Footwear for trekking almost always comes in the shape of a boot rather than a shoe, for the simple reason that walking on uneven terrain dramatically increases the risk of a twisted ankle. However, that does not mean boots need to feel as though they’re made of lead. Designers have borrowed technology from the running shoe industry in order to produce supportive boots that feel as light as a feather.

Fabric trekking boots are extremely popular and perform superbly in warm-weather destinations, but they need to be backed with a waterproof and breathable membrane in order to render them sufficiently weatherproof for use in damp climates such as the UK. Trekking boots made from leather are often perceived as being heavier than their fabric cousins. In truth, modern leather boots are nearly as light as equivalent models made from fabric. High grade leathers are also very weatherproof, making waterproof membranes largely redundant.

The stiffest trekking boots are compatible with eight and ten-point crampons. This extends their usefulness, making them suitable for easy plods on snow-clad peaks in the UK, as well as summer alpine glacier crossings.

As I touched on in my introduction, finding the right pair of boots is one thing; getting them to fit is quite another. Ideally, you will want to buy your boots in person rather than by mail order. Visiting a store will allow you to try on a number of models and discover for yourself what feels right and what doesn’t. It is quite likely that you will find that the lasts of some manufacturers suit you better than others. This will help to narrow down your choice to a handful of models.

Something else to think about is your choice of sock. As you get closer to making a decision, it might be worth choosing and buying a new pair of socks to try on whilst making the final decision, especially if the sample socks available in the store are heavily worn and matted. The way that you lace your boots can make an enormous difference to how the footwear feels. For example, if the boot is reluctant to bend across the bridge of the foot, you might want to re-thread your laces so that they do not cross over and place additional pressure on this particular area. Take the time to experiment in the shop and find out what works best for you.

If you are struggling to find a comfortable fit, then perhaps Cotswold’s boot fitting service could provide the solution. Specially trained members of staff will measure your feet, fit the boots with supportive semi-orthotic insoles and if necessary reduce the overall volume of the boot in order to achieve the perfect fit.

In the unlikely event that you have foot problems which are beyond the scope of this service, your next port of call is likely to be podiatrist who will be able to make a pair of customised orthotic insoles for you.

mountaineering boots
If you plan to use crampons on a regular basis, then a fully-fledged mountaineering boot is a must-have. Some designs have a semi-rigid sole, which retains a small degree of flex in order to make walk-ins almost pleasurable. This type of boot normally accepts a semi-rigid, classic 12-point crampon, which is ideal for mixed alpine and Scottish winter routes, as well as higher peaks in the Greater Ranges. However, if you have designs on steep ice and highly technical routes, then you might decide to opt for a totally stiff boot. These can accept completely rigid crampons, which often come with a variety of front-pointing options. In the last couple of years, manufacturers have taken the rigid concept onto the next level, by producing boots with integral crampons for ice climbing competitions.

Mountaineering boots are available with a variety of uppers. Leather or synthetic is perfect for summer alpine climbing; plastic (which comes supplied with removable, insulated inner booties) is ideal for wet Scottish winter mountaineering and 5000m to 6000m summits around the world.

If you have your sights set on a Himalayan giant, or a notoriously cold peak such as McKinley (Denali), then a specialised boot with a built-in insulated gaiter and ultra-warm inner boot is essential in order to stave off the extreme cold associated with high altitudes.

care & maintenance
socks and gaiters
Boots do not require much care, but a little attention will prolong the useful life of your investment. At the end of a trip, take a moment to wash off any mud and grit with warm water and a semi-stiff brush. Avoid using detergents. Leather and fabric uppers need to be treated occasionally with the appropriate liquid, spray or hard wax treatment. Take care not to soften leather uppers too much, or they will lose the foot they were originally designed to provide. If your boots become saturated, stuff the insides with newspaper to help draw out the moisture, but do not place them next to a direct source of heat such as a radiator. If you do, the upper will dry too quickly and could crack. (Since many fabric boots are reinforced with suede leather, they should also be stood away from sources of heat.) Plastic boots require no attention, but inner boots can be removed completely in order to aid the drying process.

Eventually, the soles of your boots will wear down to a point at which they no longer supply sufficent grip. When this happens, you might want to consider having the sole replaced. Whether this is worth doing will largely depend on the condition of the uppers. Companies such as Shoecare (tel: 01282 439109) and Feet First (tel: 01246 260795) specialise in replacing soles with identical or similar treads. A new boot might prove to be a better long-term investment if the upper is heavily worn.

Socks can make or break the comfort of a boot, and experts are divided on whether it is better to wear one or two socks. Single sock proponents argue that one layer of fabric against the skin allows the boot to fit more precisely, and halves the number of socks that need to be carried (an important weight saving consideration on longer trips). Two sock supporters state that the double layer helps to reduce the risk of developing blisters, and that the thinner inner sock can easily be washed and dried overnight, improving hygiene.

Both schools are agreed on one thing: that a cotton sock is a non-starter. Cotton absorbs sweat, helping to keep skin damp. And damp skin is blister-prone skin; something to be avoided at all costs. Blends of high grade wool and modern synthetic fabrics have completely replaced cotton in walking footwear. These materials rapidly wick sweat away from the skin, helping to keep your feet dry. Advanced socks also feature padded areas to help cushion the effects of day-long walks, as illustrated below left:
Gaiters are the un-sung heroes of wet weather trekking and cold-weather mountaineering. Gaiters prevent rain and snow from entering the top of the boot, and also protect part of the boot’s upper from wear and tear.

All-over gaiters are available for plastic mountaineering footwear and also some trekking boots. These help to turn your footwear into something akin to a wellington boot, making them suitable for river crossings or wading through knee-deep snow. At the other end of the spectrum, ultra-short gaiters can be fitted to boots and certain multi-activity shoes in order to prevent small pebbles from entering the top of the boot whilst descending scree.
All outdoor activities are potentially hazardous. The information provided on this site offers guidelines only, and is no substitute for personal instruction from a qualified person. Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, no responsibility can be accepted by the author or Cotswold Outdoor Ltd. for any errors or omissions. By choosing to follow any of the advice contained in this leaflet, the reader accepts personal responsibility for a) learning any techniques required, b) any risks involved, and c) any damages or injuries of any kind - including death - howsoever caused. Cover shot: Checking the way ahead on the Trekker's Haute Route, between Chamonix and Zermatt.
© Paul Deegan & Flirt Design under license to Cotswold Outdoor Ltd.