Tech skills: how to be good to your boots

Posted by Daniel Middleton on 25/01/2014
Take care of your boots and they'll take care of your feet.

Kitting yourself out with good-quality footwear for hill walking and mountaineering can dent your credit card. But, whilst the price tag may sting, with a little loving care and attention your boots should keep your feet happy for years to come – whether you’re exploring the Pembrokeshire coastal path or stumbling down Ben Nevis.

Does the boot fit?

With a bewilderingly large choice available, it may feel like an impossible task to narrow down the options and find the best boot for you. Start off by looking at what you want the boot to be able to do and the features you desire. If your mountain activities cover a wide range of terrain and seasons then you’ll have to accept some compromises – or stump up for two different pairs.

Once you’ve drawn up a shortlist of candidates, you need to go and try them on. At this stage, an experienced in-store boot-fitting expert is worth their weight in gold. They’ll check for heel lift, pressure points and toe room, and ask the right kind of questions, all of which give a good indicator of whether the boots will suit. Don’t forget to take along your favourite walking socks and any orthotic (foot stabilising) insoles you use.

Because of the imperfect nature of the human foot, it’s quite possible that you won’t get a perfect fit straight out of the box, and a little fine tuning may be required. Volume adjusters fit under the footbed and reduce the overall volume of the boot; a rubbing bar allows small areas of the boot to be stretched to accommodate bunions and other quirks. You may also need to make some adjustments to your sock choice and the way you lace the boots, as these nuances can make a real difference.

Modern mountain footwear requires almost no breaking in at all, a massive change from days gone by, but plan an easy day for your first outing and pack some zinc oxide tape or Compeed – just in case. And remember, once worn outside, the boots are yours to keep: a shop will not take them back if they don’t fit.

Man-made materials

Some boots are made from fabric and plastic composites, and may even include integral gaiters. Treatments are available for these, which again help the beading up process. Some modern boots feature waterproof and/or thermal liners. A waterproof liner, such as one made from Goretex, won’t stop water coming in from the top, and can be punctured by sharp stones (or toenails!). Don’t expect miracles, but for wet or cold conditions these can make your day much less unpleasant.

Give your boots some TLC

Boots take a real pounding – even the best-made boots can be damaged by sharp rocks and ‘waterproof’ boots still have a big hole at the top – so help your boots with some post-walk TLC. Clean any mud or dirt off with cold, clean water and a sponge. Once clean, remove any stones from the sole unit, take out the footbeds and shake out any trapped stones and dust from the inside. Don’t be in a hurry to dry out your boots, let it happen naturally in a fairly cool, well-ventilated space. Open fires and radiators are out: too much heat will dry out leather, may degrade some of the adhesives and may affect the stitching. If you do use scrunched-up newspaper to speed up drying, then make sure you replace it regularly.

DIY repairs and resoles

You can do some simple repairs yourself. Small nicks and tears in sole units or on a rubber rand can be fixed with a little shoe adhesive. Worn sole units can be replaced, with several companies offering well-regarded resole services. Well-used but well-cared-for mountain boots can sometimes go through several resoles before being retired. D-rings and hooks can also be replaced, normally at the cost of being riveted through any existing lining. Taking all these possibilities into account, suddenly the price tag for your new boots may not seem so bad after all!

Waterproofing

Natural leather is a fantastic material: highly breathable and fairly water resistant when correctly treated. You can tell when your boots need treatment because the uppers will wet out rather than bead up, and may start looking a little dry and faded. Always check which reproofing treatment is most suitable for your boots, and when to apply it. You may be used to a wax which is applied when the boots are dry, but there are also aqueous treatments which are used when the boots are wet.

Dan Middleton is the BMC Technical Officer.
Contact him at dan@thebmc.co.uk with your technical questions.

Expert Q & A

This issue’s expert is Steve Roberts, Managing Director of The Mountain Boot Company. Steve knows a thing or two about boots: he first pulled some walking boots on aged 5, sold footwear from 15, and has been involved in Scarpa’s footwear development for 16 years.

Q. I’m buying my first pair of boots for summer hill walking. What features should I look for?
A.
First and foremost, you need to head to a good quality specialist footwear retailer. You need someone who values your custom and is willing to lead you through the minefield of models to find the right fit. Fit is all important – if your feet hurt you won’t enjoy a single day on the hill.

Q. I’m a vegan – do I have to buy leather boots?
A.
No. A number of manufactures (including Scarpa) make some technical products using 100% man-made fibres and synthetic glues.

Q. The tread on the sole of my boot is wearing out – should I get a resole?
A.
If the tread is wearing out then a resole can be a great way to extend the life and value of your boots. There are several specialists in resoles around – Feet First are the obvious choice. But before paying for a resole check that the upper and midsole of the boot are still providing good support and comfort.

Q. My leather boots have dried out – what should I do?
A.
Most retailers sell a range of aftercare treatments well suited to feeding dried out leather. A progressive series of applications should see the leather regain flexibility and comfort in no time.

Read more tech skills articles.



« Back

Post a comment Print this article

This article has been read 479 times

TAGS

Click on the tags to explore more

LINKS

Hill walking gear guide
How to start hill walking

RELATED ARTICLES

Walk Skills: The tips of winter
0
Walk Skills: The tips of winter

How to plan for a successful season of hill walking in frost, ice, and snow, by Matt Stygall, instructor at Plas y Brenin.
Read more »

BMC Student Safety Seminar 2023
0
BMC Student Safety Seminar 2023

The BMC Student Safety Seminar is for any students who are involved in running a climbing, hill walking or mountaineering club at their University. The seminar will be held at Plas y Brenin in North Wales on Saturday 7 and Sunday 8 October 2023.
Read more »

YHA Festival Of Walking Returns
0
YHA Festival Of Walking Returns

Get Walking With The BMC and YHA Festival Of Walking
Read more »

Post a Comment

Posting as Anonymous Community Standards
3000 characters remaining
Submit
Your comment has been posted below, click here to view it
Comments are currently on | Turn off comments
0

There are currently no comments, why not add your own?

RELATED ARTICLES

Walk Skills: The tips of winter
0

How to plan for a successful season of hill walking in frost, ice, and snow, by Matt Stygall, instructor at Plas y Brenin.
Read more »

BMC Student Safety Seminar 2023
0

The BMC Student Safety Seminar is for any students who are involved in running a climbing, hill walking or mountaineering club at their University. The seminar will be held at Plas y Brenin in North Wales on Saturday 7 and Sunday 8 October 2023.
Read more »

YHA Festival Of Walking Returns
0

Get Walking With The BMC and YHA Festival Of Walking
Read more »

BMC MEMBERSHIP
Join 82,000 BMC members and support British climbing, walking and mountaineering. Membership only £16.97.
Read more »
BMC SHOP
Great range of guidebooks, DVDs, books, calendars and maps.
All with discounts for members.
Read more »
TRAVEL INSURANCE
Get covered with BMC Insurance. Our five policies take you from the beach to Everest.
Read more »