Putting the Boot In

Lots of subjects in the outdoors world will cause lengthy discussions and arguments however, I’m pretty sure that the most decisive subject is footwear.

I am starting to think I have a bit of a shoe fetish as I like a good pair of boots and I really do put boots through a hard time in use so when I want durable and comfortable, I really mean it as to me it means the difference between a good trip and a miserable one. More so, in my second job. I’m still a soldier. There is no room there for bad footwear because I just can’t stop or take my time, it’s a case of push on and complete the task and we’ll deal with the mutilated feet later.


In civy street, there is choice aplenty with established brands coming in and out of vogue and new brands breaking into the market. With so much available to us, it’s almost like the first experience of a massive American supermarket. You know, when you go in looking for something, and there are so damn many something’s with so damn much variation and brands that you damn well leave with nothing because of an overload! If you have wandered between stores looking at their shoe wall and trying to compare what could easily be twenty suitable models in a day, you probably know this feeling.

So I guess we’re looking at what I’ll call Outdoor Footwear. Why, outdoor? Because it’s no longer just hiking books now, it’s footwear for trail running, light hiking, general walking, trail walking, hiking, mountain hiking and an industry sector now known as “Lifestyle”. And before you comment about it, lifestyle is a serious industry sector that drives most of the sale for a couple of major retail chains so without it, this could be a much smaller market.

Regardless of your activities, the most important concern you have is that you need your chosen footwear to fit correctly. Those $500 Italian hand made boots will be the worst thing you have ever owned if the fit is not right and guess what? The brand and model you want, may well not be the best fit for you.

In getting that fit, you want to find a boot or shoe that holds you heel firmly into the heel cup with no slip or movement or at worst, only a small amount. Your foot should be held firmly across the middle, without squeezing it tightly but again holding firmly. Toe room is a subject that many people get wrong. I think this is because too often, people disregard their measured size and choose based on how close their toes are to the end of the shoe and they think closer is better! Ok, your toes should be free to move around and not squeezed together by the toecap of the shoe. Around 15mm plus or minus a few mm is what you should be looking for.

Now toe space brings us to an important sizing measurement that is overlooked when the shop assistant measures you up. About the best measuring device is that flat aluminium plate thingy called Brannock Device. From this device, you should be getting three measurements, Length, Width and Length of Arch. Most assistants will do length and width and ignore the length of arch, because they don’t know what it is or just don’t care. Length of arch measures your foot from the back of the heel to the point at which your foot flexes, the joints leading to your toes. The way it works is this: If your foot length is a 12 and the length of arch says 13, you have short toes and in a size 12, your foot will not flex at the same point which the shoe is made to flex. That means discomfort, blisters and injury. Same goes if the length of arch size given is smaller. You have long toes and need a shorter shoe. Are you starting to figure out why there is so much space in the front of a shoe? Don’t ignore your length or arch!

Now, just to confuse it all, same size shoes form different manufacturers can and do have different fit. You can be a nine in one brand and a ten in another. This is the only time you need to question your actual sizing. The shop assistant, if they’re on the ball, should know the variations in the brands they sell and be able to advise of the corresponding fit in each brand.

Alright, fit is sorted, you know about length of arch so what other variations can we introduce into the mix? How about the degrees of importance of fit for the type of shoe? Well, put simply, the type of shoe and how it’s manufactured can either make fit a bit less important or very, very important. If you go for a low cut shoe for light walking that has lots of padding and a softer construction, that padding will fill a few loose gaps or squash down in tight spots, giving the feel of a correct fit. For just walking around, this will probably be fine. Going for a high-end serious hiking boot for a long, hard trek? You need to get it right and find that perfect fit. Even if it’s not the brand you wanted.

So, what is the shoe or boot for you? That’s something you will have to figure out. You will need to look at construction and materials, place of manufacture and, to sound a bit strange, price will be an indicator. There’s good reason for this price advice. We all look for value in what we buy and when a boot made in China is $400 and one from Europe is $420, who’s charging you too much? You also need to be aware that when a sale is on, unless you have seen that model at full price in the shop for a while, then be aware that wholesalers and distributors may have produced a shoe with a particular price point, just for that sale. It might look almost like the high price version but it has been made to get a specific return for the vendors under discounting conditions. This leads me into the Lifestyle segment. As a manufacturer/retailer, why would I produce a highly competent and expensive shoe for a market segment that will not use it that way? That segment has great disposable income, so I can make a pretty average shoe with a great margin that those people will not likely put to serious use. The financial return will be well worth a few warranty claims from those who do use it hard!

Someone will ask how much he or she should spend. Sorry, you’ll need to figure that out too! But what I will say is this, when it comes to moving distance on foot with a heavy pack, soldiering is the hardest way I have done that. With little say in the weight, speed and distance, experienced soldiers have little problem spending up to $350-400 dollars on a pair of military boots made in the USA or Europe. They know the results of bad boots.