I recently needed to buy a new pair of boots, so I thought I’d share my walking boot experiences from the last few years. I’ll start from 2006 with my first pair of proper boots.
Berghaus Explorer IV (2/10)
Winter 2006 – winter 2006
These fabric Goretex lined boots were very comfortable for about five minutes. At the time that I got them I was discovering my local disused railways and the brambles on the overgrown lines ripped the stitching almost immediately. The boots leaked like a sieve, but I had to live with them for a while, as I couldn’t justify a new pair after only a few weeks. My wife has had a few pairs of these boots (I can’t convince her to get leather boots) but the last pair lasted about two months. I found them to be a complete waste of money.
Merrell Chameleon GTX (8/10)
Spring 2007 -
I bought these shoes after getting soaked in cheap walking shoes from dew on an otherwise beautiful morning. I wore them regularly through spring and summer (and then some) for three years, but they are still going now. The Goretex didn’t seem to last for long and was probably a waste of money. You can get a non-Goretex version, which should be cooler as well as cheaper. I found the shoes to be very slippery on rocks and even tarmac sometimes. I stopped wearing them when I started getting bad ankle problems. I’d drive home after a long walk and found I was barely be able to stand when I got out of the car. I can’t say for sure that it was the shoes, but I changed back to boots and the problem went away very quickly. I still use them occasionally for less demanding summer walks.
Braisher Hillmaster GTX (8/10)
Autumn 2007 – Autumn 2010 and Autumn 2010 – Summer 2012
My first leather boots were a great success. My feet were now lovely and dry. I got blisters the first time I wore each of the two pairs I have owned, but they were fine after that. I could not call them a comfortable pair of boots, but dryness is a big plus. The first pair were worn less that 50% of the time in conjunction with the Merrell shoes, the second pair were probably worn 75% of the time, hence they only last 2 years. The first pair were still working when I replaced them, though the creases on the toes looked like they wouldn’t last much longer. The soles of my feet got quite sore in them and I did try an insole in them, but there wasn’t enough room and this caused the tops of my feet a lot of pain, so I had to remove them. I believe that hard skin was the cause of the sore feet. This was quickly rectified with an Express Pedi, but the boots were definitely a contributory factor. I was generally pleased with the Hillmasters, though they are not perfect. The second pair rotted through the uppers, rather annoyingly just as we arrived in Scotland for a week of walking.
Salomon mid GTX fabric boots
I can’t remember what model these were, but they proved too small despite getting the same size as my other boots, so I barely ever wore them. These were intended to replace the Merrells for spring and summer use only, but providing more ankle support.
The North Face Jannu II GTX (4/10)
Autumn 2012 – Autumn 2013
I’d read a review where someone thought these were the best boots ever, and I did manage to find them at a very good price (£85 instead of the normal £135), but my experience was not great. The boots claim every technical advantage possible, but I found them quite inflexible, and the heel particularly so. The boots are quite a high cut, which has it’s use, but the main problem was that the leather uppers were far too thin. The toe rand started splitting very quickly and then grass and the like got caught in it and it just got worse. My feet were getting damp within six months. Stupidly I didn’t send them back and after a very long dry summer, by the time it was wet again they were a year old. I got home one very wet day with feet totally soaked only to find a huge hole in the side of one boot through the leather. Nothing of any significance had happened. I found this to be totally unacceptable in a boot. I contacted TNF, but their response was unhelpful and I wasn’t going to throw good money after bad by sending them back, so I binned them. I just won’t buy from The North Face again. I should also mention that these boots were quite harsh on the feet and had a very stiff sole.
Scarpa Delta Active GTX (10/10)
Autumn 2013 -
While researching I really struggled to find a new pair of boots, as every time I thought I’d found a good pair I then found several reviews telling of awful experiences that some people had with them. My last three pairs of boots had lasted 3, then 2, then 1 year, so I needed something that would last and that was going to cost a bit more. I managed to get these for £150 (normally close to £200), though the hassle to get Go Outdoors to honour their price promise was a painful exercise. The boots are really well built and super comfortable. They are pretty much made from a single piece of leather, so there is very little stitching to fail or let in water apart from at the heel. The HS12 leather a good thickness. Even the tongue is made from the same piece of leather. There’s a good rand with an unobtrusive toe bumper. The detail goes down to the D-rings which have little pulleys in them. This reduced friction means you can easily pull the laces tight along their full length. There’s the standard two pairs of hooks at the top.
Sadly my pair had a defect in the leather where they absorbed moisture leaving black patches in the leather and leaving my feet damp right from the first outing. The boots were sent back for inspection and a new pair arrived two days ago. Scarpa after sales was very good at sorting this issue. I gave the new pair an outing yesterday and again there were no issues on the first outing (Braisher always gave me blisters) and the leather is not showing the same problem. My feet feet much less battered than in previous leather boots too. I have great hopes for these boots, but so far, so good.
Scarpa Delta Active GTX update : 24/2/2014
I’ve had these boots for three months now and walked 260 miles in the wettest winter on record in the UK. The boots are extremely comfortable to wear and my feet have remained dry, as you would expect. I often used to come home with sore feet, but that has completely stopped. The sore heel I got after 10+ miles has also disappeared. The leather does seem to absorb more moisture than I am used to, but it’s not been a problem so far. I’ve been religiously cleaning the boots after every outing (it’s always muddy) and I’ve treated them 3 times with Contour Boot Cream, which is a silicone type wax to aid waterproofing and keep the leather supple. So far I am 100% happy with the Scarpa Delta Active GTX boots. Let’s hope it stays that way for a good while yet.
Berghaus Explorer Ridge GTX (6/10)
Summer 2012 – Summer 2013 and Summer 2013 -
These are my son’s boots. The first pair rotted through, but that was more to do with him not looking after them to be fair. I can’t comment too much on them, but his feet did stay dry and he has no complaints, but teenagers don’t always communicate too well. I got the first pair because John Lewis were selling off size 12 cheap, but the replacement price was only about £90 and there’s not much else available in that price range. These were his first pair of proper leather boots. He’d mostly had Karrimor fabric boots (some were eVent lined), but he was growing so fast he never wore a pair out before they stopped fitting him. His first pair of walking boots were at about 7 and he took adult sizes then. It’s so unfair that you pay VAT on adult shoes, even for a seven year old. I’ve made him look after his current boots better, so I’ll update this when there’s something to add.
I’ve bought from Trek and Field (my nearest shop has now closed), Millets (mostly for my son), Go Outdoors, Blacks and the Internet.
T&F offered no advice, but service was prompt and I pretty much knew what I wanted. Go Outdoors has always been a terrible experience. Apart from my last visit it has always taken 15 minutes just to find an assistant so I could request the boots I wanted to try on. The shop assistant has then promptly disappeared behind a door offering no advice at all. I say this because we are always being told that the inflated retail prices are there because we are paying for the advice and expertise. Cotswold Outdoors has a very good reputation in this area, but their boots are expensive and there’s no store near me despite being quite near the Cotswolds. My experiences in Millets uncovered no knowledge of the products at all. The store manager was clearly not an outdoors type even. When buying my son’s first pair of boots I asked if they were waterproof. The answer was something like, “Well there’s a label that says ‘waterproof’ on them, so they must be”. We went straight out on a walk and his feet were soaking within minutes. My first rule of buying cheap boots has since been, “If they have a label saying ‘waterproof’ on the boot you can safely bet they are anything but waterproof”. Blacks was the best experience. The salesperson clearly was a walker and knew a fair amount about the products. The Internet is usually the cheapest way to get your boots and you can send them back as long as you’ve not worn them outside, though you will probably have to pay for the postage. The John Lewis buy was good because I knew I could just drop them at our local Waitrose if they didn’t fit, as our nearest JL is a fair distance away.
I mentioned earlier about the Go Outdoors price promise. It took me 30 minutes to go through this in the store. The broadband they used was diabolical, timing out all the time. I showed them an email I had where the store I was getting the price promise against had confirmed they would hold my size in the Scarpas, but it still took forever and they were reluctant to accept the evidence until the store manager stepped in. I was in the store early, but a poor lady joined the queue behind me only to be ignored by staff for 15 minutes. I would have dumped my purchase and left if I was her. All this time another member of staff (sometimes two) were standing about doing nothing. It was embarrassing. The staff at one point asked me to ring the other store to confirm the deal. Unbelievable. Two staff members needed to get out a calculator to work out 10% of the price (you really should have paid attention in school). Finally there is the con that is the discount card. You don’t pay 10% less than the price match, because you are forced to buy their “discount” card. I use the term loosely. They were still £20 more expensive here than at a small independent shop, even with the discount card.