Getting the right pair of hiking or hill walking boots is vitally important if you want to explore the Irish Hills in comfort
Whilst out hill walking and hiking there is no more important asset than your feet, and in order to protect your feet you need to find the right boots. Indeed, a good pair of boots will be the most important investment you will make in terms of hillwalking equipment, especially with conditions in Ireland varying between extreme wet, bog land, heather, stone and a mixture of all of the above.
Your Hiking Boots will either be a source of support and comfort, or pain and aggravation, and only if you are armed with the right knowledge will you make the right purchase. So what should you be looking for?
When hiking you need to consider what type of boot will suit you. For example, walking sandals would be completely inappropriate, offering no ankle support, and no protection from the rain and bog land for Irish conditions. Hiking shoes may be appropriate for some walks, namely those that are on even and well marked paths, but they will perform poorly in wet weather and when going 'off track'. Often the best overall option would be a high top boot, which provides good ankle support in all terrain.
Now you need to consider the material of the boot, and you have two main options, leather or Gore-Tex. Both are waterproof, and have different strengths and weaknesses. Generally speaking, leather boots will last longer (with the right care and maintenance) but will become heavy when wet. The lighter your boots, the easier your walking will be. It is generally agreed that one pound extra footwear weight can be compared to five pounds of added backpack weight. Hiking Boot manufacturers are constantly working on creating lighter Hiking Boots while maintaining the support and other features needed. Look for breathable and watertight materials that will allow moisture to leave the inner parts of your boots but will not let water enter. Look for fully gusseted tongues that cover the openings of your uppers.
Gore-Tex boots tend to be lighter, even when wet, and will also breathe, so that your feet and ankles do not over heat. So think about the conditions you will face whilst out trekking and make a choice based on these conditions.
Also, your boot should support the arch of your feet in a way that your feet are not flattened out under heavy pressure. A curved shank between midsole and insole is often inserted to provide arch support. The sole should give the needed friction on all expected surfaces. To achieve this goal, your Hiking Boots should have deep-lugged soles of tough rubber.
For the type of hiking you will do in Ireland, generally a mid-weight or B class boot would be the best. These are boots intended for less smooth trails and light off-trail terrains. Their increased support will also help on longer or even multi-day hikes. They are generally made out of slightly tougher leather or a combination of tougher synthetic materials and leather parts. The sole and the general construction are less flexible and give increased support to your ankle and bridge.
Hiking Boots come in different sizes that adhere to the Shoe Size standards of the various countries that produce and sell them. It is critical that you get the right Hiking Boot Size. Take a look at the international Chart for Shoe and Hiking Boot Sizes. And most importantly, make sure that before you venture out with your hillwalking club or social group, that you wear in your boots. There is nothing worse than being out on the mountains when you start getting a blister or hotspots.
Now that you have found the type of boot you want, you need to try them on, so make sure you do the following:
It is really important that you wear the socks that you intend to use for Hiking, as this will affect the size of the boot that you will need.
In general, you are looking for a snug fit with noticeable support all over your feet and ankles as you make a walking motion, but make sure there are no pressure points.
Remove the inner sole of the boots you are trying and place them against the sole of your feet. The better the outline of the sole of the boot follows your own shape, the better the fit.
Follow these steps for a good fit:
Enter your foot into the open boot with the laces unfastened. Stand up straight and push your foot forward into the toe of the boot. You should be able to slip your index finger between your heel and the heel of the boot. Do this for both boots.
Sit down and lace both boots. As you do so, your heel should move backwards filling the space your index finger created.
Stand up and walk around.
Ensure that your toes do not touch the front of the boot. If they do then you should go for a larger sized boot.
Ensure that your toes do not touch the top of the boot. If they do then you will need a boot with a larger (front-side) volume.
As you walk, the heel of your foot and the heel of the boot should move together in harmony. The heel of your foot should not slip out of the heel of your boot (heel lift). If you experience heel lift then your boots are either too large in size or the shape of the arch and heel cup are incompatible with the shape of your feet.
When out hiking your boots will become wet and muddy, and if they are not maintained properly they will wear out quicker and under perform in adverse conditions. So after getting back from a trek, it is important to clean your boots off immediately. If they are leather keep them polished and waterproofed, and do not wash them in soapy water, as this will dry them out. For Gore-Tex boots, keep them clean and dry when not in use, and wash them in warm soapy water.
The best way to dry your boots is by putting them out in the open air. This will help them dry gradually. Also, make sure that you dry the boots completely. Otherwise, these will be a host to fungi and bacteria that will make for smelly boots and itchy feet. Lastly, avoid exposing your boots to direct heat, say a campfire, since it can age the leather and other parts of the boot quickly which will shorten your boots' life.
Good luck with getting your boots, and enjoy walking in the Irish hills, but remember leave no trace behind except your boot print!