PUT A SOCK IN IT

Whether you're up the side of Ben Nevis or down the road to the grocery store, a good pair of boots will see you home dry
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The Independent Culture
Rugged workwear-style boots synonymous with dusty building sites, oily jeans and rolled up shirt sleeves a la Village People, and a macho "I could cross six deserts in these and still be home in time for tea" image, have become a fashion classic for men and women alike. The fact that a large proportion of wearers probably won't do anything more arduous in them than stomp to Tesco's and back is neither here nor there. They can look cool and that's the main thing.

Whatever style of boot you choose, the fit is all important, especially if you are an active type. Comfort-wise it will help if the boot supports your ankle well, has a padded tongue and a limited number of seams. Ideally, you should be able to put your forefinger down the back of the boot when your toes are pushed to the front. Bear in mind that if you want to do any serious hiking, a sturdy workwear style alone isn't good enough unless you want blisters galore - you need to wear a proper walking boot. We have included walking boots in our selection.

THE PANEL

Megan Holmes, a guide who conducts walking tours of historic towns all over the UK and for whom the comfort level of a pair of boots can make or break a trip; Martin Blair, fashion design student with a keen interest in footwear; Tim Evans, long-time boot wearer who is on the verge of buying new boots to replace his current trusty five-year-old pair; Julie Adams, a walking enthusiast recently returned from a rambling holiday in Wales.

THE TEST

Our panel tried out six pairs of boots over several days on both town and country terrain and rated them for style, comfort, price and overall suitability for everyday casual wear as well as leisurely country walks. The boots ranged in price from pounds 50 to pounds 130.

**RACING GREEN WEEKEND BOOT

pounds 59

Up and running for only five years, Racing Green dominates the American- style casualwear mail-order market. Its Weekend boots are made of soft, waxy leather with a synthetic sole. The panel had opposing views. Julie was impressed: "Ultra-comfy, stylish and reasonably priced. Perfect for trudging around in as long as you don't use them to climb Snowdon!" Tim liked the weight: "They look as if they're heavy but they're not, so they're great for everyday wear". Megan and Martin had reservations: "They reach a long way up so they're a bit restricting and I was quite relieved to take them off - maybe I've just got thick ankles!" commented Megan. Martin thought they were too lightweight to last long: "Your initial impression of a rugged boot goes once you pick them up and flex the ridiculously soft soles."

****CATERPILLAR TENNESSEE 6" WORK BOOT

pounds 79.99

"Like Caterpillar heavy equipment, CAT footwear is built to meet the demands of rugged work sites" boasts Caterpillar's PR blurb. As part of a multi-million pound winter advertising campaign, hype of the Caterpillar brand name is currently in full flow with bags and clothes as well as boots carrying the familiar yellow and black CAT logo. That didn't put our panel off - they picked these as their all-round favourite boot. Tim was a reluctant fan: "I didn't really want to like these because you see so many people wearing them. But they were the comfiest boot of the lot." Julie was equally taken: "My initial impression was that they were a bit too chunky style-wise, but when you put them on they actually make your feet look quite small and cute. They seem really sturdy, too, although they wouldn't be suitable for serious walking." Martin and Megan also gave them high marks, although Megan didn't like the prominent logo on the boots: "I have no desire to be a walking advert for a manufacturer" she protested.

*DR MARTENS CLASSIC AIRWAIR BOOT

pounds 49.99

The Dr Martens brand has come a long way from its distinctly untrendy beginnings in 1940s Germany, when Dr Klaus Maertens designed and marketed a special air-cushioned shoe chiefly as a "comfort" aid for elderly women with foot trouble. Since those heady days, Dr Martens boots have become synonymous with a range of wacky, as well as mainstream, fashion trends, yet are still also worn for their hardwearing workwear qualities. The boots were marked down by the panel more because of personal taste than anything else. Julie was surprised at how comfy they were but admitted that the style just wasn't for her. "I've never been a great fan of the DM look - they're just too trendy for an old crock like me!" Tim and Megan were half-hearted: "They're a good bog-standard leather boot but the hype surrounding them is a bit over the top" was Tim's criticism. Martin was kinder: "Once you've worn them in a bit, you never want to take them off."

***NEUWALD LIGHT HIKER BOOT/ LADY HIKER FOR WOMEN

pounds 89.95

Italian made, the Light Hiker is a proper walking boot but with a stylish workwear look and fairly lightweight feel that means it needn't be confined to serious hiking use alone. Neuwald trumpets the hi-tech innovations on the boot, such as the "Cradle Fit" system - the inside sole has a cradle- like rather than a flat construction which is designed to give more comfortable wear. Almost as important, "smelly boot syndrome" is banished through a permanent anti-bacterial treatment in the lining and a breathable, washable insert. Tim positively loved them: "I'd definitely buy these. They would probably take some wearing in but the best boots always do" he enthused. Julie agreed: "Very comfortable and you don't feel like a complete `anorak' wearing them, as you do with a lot of other walking boots." Martin thought they were the most hassle-free boots for getting on and off. Megan was the main dissenter: "They look good but they're a bit too heavy for me to consider them for everyday wear. Overall, a close second to the Caterpillars and best for heavy duty walking.

***TIMBERLAND 6" WATERPROOF BOOT

pounds 130 men's, pounds 110 women's

Much copied, Timberland's classic workwear boot has been a best seller for 20 years. The priciest boots our panel tried, they have a Nubuck leather upper, sealed seams and a leather lining and are guaranteed waterproof. Megan was enthusiastic: "I don't see the point of buying boots unless you get ones that are going to last for ages - you can tell these won't let you down". Julie agreed they were well made but she wasn't quite so flattering: "Bloody uncomfortable! I'm sure after about a year, and after you've worn them to build your own house, they'd be really comfy, but frankly I haven't the patience," she grimaced. Martin and Tim were more impressed although Tim marked them down for being difficult to put on: "The only problem for me is that they are quite inflexible which makes them a bit tiresome to get on and off and you end up doing a lot of pushing and pulling," he said.

**ROCKPORT ANTERO BOOT

pounds 120 men's, pounds 110 women's

Rockport is a 25-year-old American company currently making strenuous inroads into the UK "outdoor style" footwear market. The Antero boot is one of a wide range of rugged boots and shoes produced by Rockport and, like the Neuwald boot, the style is suitable for casual wear as well as hiking. Tim thought this was a boot he could trust: "These seem like quality made, sturdy boots but they are still nice and light. The stitched-in tongue means your feet should stay good and dry in wet weather". Megan liked the lack of "chunkiness" in the style: "They almost make my feet look rather delicate - a rare feat for what is effectively a walking boot" she said. Martin and Julie weren't quite so taken: "Not as stylish as the Neuwald boots and more pricey too." "They don't really shout out `Buy me!' I'm afraid," was Martin's verdict.

STOCKISTS

Caterpillar footwear and Dr Martens boots are widely available at most shoe stores and large department stores nationwide; Racing Green, telephone 0113 238 3322 for a catalogue or visit Racing Green stores in Regent Street, London; King Street, Manchester; Buchanan Street, Glasgow or The Bentall Centre, Kingston-Upon-Thames; Rockport, telephone 01524 580238 for details of local stockists; Timberland, telephone 0345 669988 for details of your local stockist or visit the Timberland shop at 72 New Bond Street, London W1; Neuwald, telephone Lowe Alpine on 01539 740840 for stockists details. !

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