Hawkshead Blog Posts/ How To

How to choose the right outdoor footwear

Whether you’re on a short stroll or more intrepid hike, there’s a part of your body that needs to be kept dry, comfortable and protected. Your feet! As soon as you notice the slightest discomfort with your feet, it can be hard to enjoy your hike. Keeping your feet protected generally comes from having practical, comfortable footwear…

That’s why we’ve created a guide to help you choose the right hiking boots or shoes. Take to the trail in comfort by getting to know the different types of hiking boots and shoes on the market, and discovering which type works for you.

How should comfortable hiking shoes and boots fit?

No matter how good they look, your number one priority with outdoor footwear should be how well they fit. Badly fitting and poorly tied walking boots are one of the most common causes of blisters and discomfort. With the best fitting footwear, your feet should be snug: they shouldn’t shift as you walk, but you should still be able to wiggle your toes without them touching the toe cap.

Blisters on heels are caused by your feet moving up and down and rubbing against the back of the shoe as you walk. So choosing hiking boots that work with your feet is vital. When you try on your hiking footwear, make sure to wear comfortable socks, similar to ones you’d wear on a hike. If your socks are too thick or too thin, this will have a huge impact on the overall fit.

Top tip: try on walking boots or shoes in the afternoon: throughout the day your feet swell slightly, so this gives a better indication as to how they would fit on a hike.

Walking boots vs walking shoes

Walking boots
The main difference between walking boots and shoes is the collar around the ankle. Here are some of the reasons why you would choose boots over shoes:
• The extra height around the ankle helps to keep debris, such as stones and twigs, from getting into your boot and causing discomfort.
• If you’re walking in the snow or wet conditions, boots do a better job at keeping out water, providing a better barrier against the wet.
• Walking along uneven ground means your feet are more vulnerable, and there is an increased risk of twisting your ankle. The raised collar gives you greater ankle support as you walk along rocky or any other kind of uneven ground.
• The extra ankle support makes it easier and more comfortable when climbing uphill – especially over longer periods of ascent.

Walking shoes
Walking shoes are essentially a cross between walking boots and trainers, taking key elements from both to deliver comfortable hiking footwear. Here’s why you might opt for a pair of comfortable hiking shoes:
• If you’ll be walking along flatter paths and trails, walking shoes are a great option. The more even ground means your ankles are less prone to potential damage.
• Walking shoes make it easier to scramble up rocks, they’re less restrictive than a pair of walking boots would be, helping you make light work of bouldering or rockier terrains…
• If you’re worried about being weighed down by a pair of boots, walking shoes are a great option. A lighter shoe can make a big difference on a fast-paced hike.
• When it’s hot, and your feet start getting sweaty, walking shoes will give your feet that little bit more breathing space.

Leather or fabric? Different types of hiking boots and shoes

  Leather Fabric
Pros Tougher

Leather is a tougher material than lots of fabric used to make walking boots, so they’ll be able to cope better in more rugged environments.


The softer materials used to make fabric boots have much less weight than leather. This is particularly beneficial if you don’t want to be weighed down by heavy equipment on a hike.

Easier to maintain/clean

The more you wander in dusty or muddy conditions, the more your boots will look like they need some TLC. It’s far easier to care for leather over fabric boots.

Breaking in

The fabric doesn’t take as long to soften, and they’re often padded out with some sort of cushioning, to support your feet. You’ll be hiking comfortably in no time.

Long lasting

The natural material is able to withstand whatever the great outdoors throws at it. If the leather is looked after well enough, leather boots can be resoled and last for years.


Fabric materials can be adapted much easier to allow for greater air flow than leather boots.

Highly waterproof

100% leather boots keep their waterproof protection for longer, meaning they won’t need to be re-proofed anywhere near as often.


As a general rule, fabric boots will cost less than leather boots, because of the relative price of the two materials.

Cons Take longer to break in

Leather takes longer to soften, so it will take longer for to break them in. Spend longer getting used to leather boots before going on more intrepid hikes.

Regular waterproofing

Fabric boots have a more limited waterproof life, with their waterproofing liner wearing out over time. As a result, they need to be re-waterproofed more regularly.

Extra weight

The weight of leather boots is generally far greater than fabric ones.

Harder to clean

Cleaning fabric is more time consuming than cleaning leather is.

More expensive

Because leather is a more expensive material, the cost of buying good quality leather boots is generally more than fabric alternatives.

Less protection from the elements

In cold, windy climates, mesh sides and air vents won’t protect your feet as well.

Less breathable

Leather does have an underlying level of breathability to it, but you may find your feet get much sweatier than they would with a fabric boot.

Less durable

If you’re walking through brambles or other tough ground, leather is more likely to be able to withstand small rips and tears.

Choosing hiking boots and shoes

From different terrains to the type of walking you’ll be doing, walking boots and shoes both have their advantages. As a rule, for shorter strolls along even ground, comfortable hiking shoes are a great option. But if you’re more likely to head off the beaten track and do more climbing, sturdy boots are recommended.

Whether you want the best lightweight hiking boots for you or the most comfortable hiking shoes, Hawkshead has a wide range of outdoor footwear from leading brands.

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