If your post-lockdown life is going to be full of mountain adventures and countryside bimbles, then you’re going need a protective, waterproof and comfy pair of walking boots.
A good pair of hikers will stand up to the rugged terrain, soaking up the lumps and bumps of the roughest trails and keeping your feet dry in the wettest and muddiest of bogs.
The most important factor is fit, so it’s best to try before you buy. Get it wrong and you’ll suffer with blister-inducing sore spots; choose wisely, however, and your boots will feel as comfy as your favourite trainers.
All of the boots we’ve included have key features for hiking: a waterproof membrane (usually Gore-Tex), deeply-lugged outsole for grippy traction, and a well-designed midsole for cushioning, support and shock absorption.
But there are big differences between our top picks. Some are lighter and more flexible, with incredible out-of-the-box comfort and a sneaker-inspired look. They feel fast and agile on-foot and are far more forgiving for big mileage days – but the soft, supple materials won’t be as durable or waterproof in the long-term.
More traditional boots, which are solid, stiff-feeling and high-ankled, guarantee improved waterproofing, all-round protection and long-term durability. They work better on rocky terrain and ridge scrambles, and provide far superior ankle support. But they can be heavy, clunky and uncomfortable.
We tested on some of the Lake District’s best mountain paths, taking in everything from knife-edge ridges, rocky summits, grassy ascents, scree descents, and squelchy mud-splattered valleys. We’ve carefully assessed the technical performance of each pair, and graded them in terms of comfort, fit, waterproofing, grip, support, energy return, and value for money.
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Scarpa r-evo GTX
These boots can do it all: technical ridge scrambling, big mountain days, and long-distance treks. They’re expensive, a tad bulky and heavy on-foot, but besides that they are top performers. They feel solid and sturdy, with a strong toe cap, rigid heel counter, moderately stiff midsole and deeply-lugged Vibram outsole. But what makes the r-evo a great boot is that all of this structural support doesn’t result in major compromises on weight and comfort.
At 660g per boot, they aren’t excessively heavy, while Scarpa’s clever sock-fit tongue – which wraps the foot like, erm, a sock – offers a fine-tuned, snug fit. The spongy cuff, ankle padding and soft suede upper increase this sense of comfort and a Gore-Tex liner ensures premium waterproofing.
Inov-8 roclite pro G 400 gore-tex
If you like to move quickly, lightly and nimbly through the mountains, this is the boot for you. The roclite pro G 400 is exceptionally lightweight (400g per boot) and extremely comfortable. It offers a trainer-like fit with soft and flexible ankle support, yet manages to pack in just enough sturdiness – a rigid heel counter, protective toe cap, and EVA midsole plate for side-to-side stiffness – to cope with rocky terrain.
A gore-tex membrane provides waterproofing and the upper – a Schoeller ceramic-coated fabric in a honeycomb pattern – is wonderfully lightweight (so much so that it might be vulnerable to wear and tear). But this boot’s pièce de résistance is the infusion of graphene (the world’s strongest material, allegedly) in the rubber outsole and 6mm deep lugs, ensuring slip-free grip that won’t let you down.
Keen men’s ridge flex waterproof hiking boots
That weird-looking panel of ridged, rubbery plastic at the forefoot is this boot’s big innovation. Like the stretchy, flexible bit of a London bendy bus, this TPU insert flexes with your every step. The result is more energy efficient walking (the boot requires 60 per cent less energy to bend) and improved durability (no cracking or creasing where the forefoot flexes) – or so Keen’s marketing blurb claims.
We could certainly see the rubbery bellows doing their thing with every step, as we hiked 26km up two Lake District fells. The all-round hiking experience was really positive: solid waterproofing, wide fit, grippy traction and a nice balance between lightweight comfort and a reassuringly robust leather construction. It’s fair to say we’re keen on this boot (sorry).
Timberland garrison trail mid hiker
Combining urban flair with outdoorsy performance, the Timberland garrison trail mid is a contemporary hiking boot with good eco credentials. Both the waterproof membrane and synthetic-leather upper are partly made from recycled plastic bottles, while the outsole consists of 50 per cent bio-based materials, three percent resins from paper pulp waste and 47 per cent natural rubber.
Timberland’s impressive environmental efforts haven’t compromised performance, however. We took these boots on two long day walks around Wast Water in the Lake District and were impressed with the out-of-box comfort, sneaker-like flexibility and plush cushioning.
They certainly aren’t boots for compass-wielding rambling purists, but for Instagram-loving millennial hikers these kicks will be both on fleek and technically proficient. They are available in a standard model and a special edition bee line version featuring a Gore-Tex liner, sustainable leather and a bold colour scheme.
La Sportiva ultra raptor II gore-tex walking boots
We’re not sure if they’re named after an eagle or a dinosaur, but either way the raptor title is fitting. These boots are as grippy as sharp talons, while the fast and light design will have you rampaging through the miles like an out-of-control Jurassic Park theropod.
We wore the ultra raptor II mids on a 21km, 10-summit epic around the Coledale Horseshoe near Keswick, north Cumbria, and loved them. The gore-tex membrane provided the waterproof-breathable combo it’s known for, the rather narrow fit was comfortably snug (a wider version is available) and the all-round performance was great: light, grippy, supportive and comfy, with a good energy return.
Salomon quest 4 gore-tex hiking boots
Go hiking up Scafell Pike or Snowdon and it’ll seem like every third person is wearing a pair of Salomon quests. This immensely popular boot, newly revamped for 2021, is clearly doing something right. Our take on it is that the quest 4 hits a perfect sweet spot between trainer-like comfort and mountain-ready ruggedness.
It’s light and intuitive, yet stable and supportive; comfy and soft on the inside, protective and burly on the outside. We found it equally good for low-level ambles on well-maintained paths as it was for gnarly climbs over rough terrain.
The wraparound, high-ankled design and supportive, stable chassis are particularly impressive. It’s far from perfect (customer reviews often cite question marks over the long-term performance of the gore-tex liner), but the quest didn’t get this popular for no reason – it’s an excellent all-rounder.
On cloudrock waterproof
Zurich-based On have designed a waterproof, protective and supportive hiking boot with stereotypically precise Swiss engineering – but the real unique selling point is the eye-catching outsole. Hollow pods (known as “clouds”) create a deeply-ridged wave of thick, aggressive lugs separated by mini channels, forming a crinkly profile.
This so-called cloudtech has a dual purpose: the clouds compress on impact to improve cushioning, and then become firmer for an explosive take-off on your next step. We were particularly impressed with the rebound and cushioning, as if the boots were propelling us uphill, while the waterproof membrane, grippy outsole and flexible ankle cuff all did their jobs excellently.
They’re best suited to speed-hiking in better conditions, rather than hardcore Munro-bagging in a wintry Scottish squall, but for the everyday walker the cloudrocks offer solid performance with a healthy dollop of colourful style.
Danner mountain 600
If an old school leather hiking boot had an illegitimate child with a lightweight trail running sneaker, the Danner mountain 600 would be born. This hybrid style, combining a traditional full-grain leather upper with a cushioned trainer-like midsole, looks striking. Danner call it “performance heritage”, but we’d describe it as woodsy chic and backcountry dapper with a touch of technical, mountain-ready nouse.
We wore the mountain 600s up Hopegill Head in north-west Cumbria, a mountain hike featuring boggy grass, heathery slopes, an undulating ridge and a final ascent up an exposed, steep rib of bare rock. We loved the rebound, comfort and support of the springy-feeling midsole, while the leather upper and Danner dry membrane kept our feet 100 per cent dry as we sloshed through quagmires. They’re not the most rugged or technical of boots out there, but for the style-conscious hiker who still wants good performance, these tick all the boxes.
Salewa mountain trainer mid gore-tex men’s shoes
Of all the footwear in our round-up, this is the most reminiscent of a proper mountaineering boot – and if you’re planning to scramble the razor-sharp spines of Crib Goch, Aonach Eagach or Sharp Edge this season, it’s a reliable option.
Salewa’s mountain trainer mid GTX is an extremely solid boot with ample stiffness to cope with ridge scrambling. The robust Vibram outsole, which features aggressive lugs, deep heel breast and toe “climbing zone” for edging on craggy ledges, provides superb traction on rocky terrain. A durable 1.6mm suede leather upper with 360-degree rubber rand ensures abrasion resistance, while a gore-tex lining and bellows tongue provide waterproofing.
We wore these boots on the Gable Girdle route, a high-level circumnavigation of Great Gable. Plus, the impressive design inspired confidence and stability even as we “threaded the needle” – a scary, precipitous scramble next to the Napes Needle pinnacle.
Columbia men’s trailstorm mid waterproof walking shoe
There’s nothing spectacular about this boot, but it does a good job for under £100 – a far more affordable price-tag if you’re a casual walker rather than fully-fledged rambling addict. The trailstorm mid features Columbia’s omni-tech waterproof and breathable lining, a lightweight and comfortable design (347g per boot), multi-directional 4mm lugs on the grippy outsole, and responsive cushioning and stability courtesy of a plush midsole. It’s versatile too, looking good both on the trail and in the pub afterwards.
Berghaus supalite II GTX men’s walking boots
The problem with traditional leather boots is they can be heavy, clunky and not that comfortable; and the problem with modern lightweight boots is they’re sometimes flimsy, leaky and not that durable. Cue front stage the Berghaus supalite II GTX – the boot that aims to solve both of these problems in one clever design.
It doesn’t quite achieve holy grail status, as it’s unable to perfectly fuse the sturdiness and waterproofing of leather with the trainer-like fit and flexible comfort of lightweight hikers. But it comes as close as we’ve ever seen. The one-piece leather construction with minimal stitching and Gore-Tex liner is reliably waterproof, while the soft, supple leather is very comfortable and the ankle cuff’s memory foam padding moulds snugly to the foot.
The toe box and heel cup are nicely stiffened too, and underfoot you get EVA cushioning and a Vibram sole unit with deep, well-spaced lugs for grip. The lightness of the leather means long-term durability and sturdiness inevitably won’t match that of a thicker, heavier-built leather boot — but as a delicate balancing act, Berghaus have still done a brilliant job here.
Altberg nordkapp hiking boot
Wearing these boots is like rewinding to 1980 – in a good way. Wearing them is like a throwback to a bygone era when walking boots were reassuringly heavy, bombproof-sturdy and faultlessly waterproof, courtesy of the hard-as-nails leather construction. Yorkshire bootmaker, Altberg, is resisting the move towards ever-lighter (and flimsy) materials and instead sticking to the tried-and-tested traditional approach.
The nordkapp are, in fact, one of the brand’s more modern-looking boots, but even so they have an unapologetically old-school design. The upper is made from one piece of 2.6mm nubuck full-grain leather, while the high ankle, bulky rand and strong underfoot support add to the sense of rock solid stability.
Our take on these boots is that they’re very Marmite-y. We love the exceptional craftsmanship and excellent waterproofing, which is far superior to all lighter synthetic boots; but we disliked how taxingly heavy, clunky and rigid they feel. But, if you’re willing to break them in slowly and get used to the fit, these boots are far more waterproof, protective and supportive than any trainer-like pairs.
The verdict: Men's walking boots
Our top spot goes to the Scarpa r-evo GTX boots for their all-round performance and premium features. For fast-hiking, our favourite ultralight boots are the Inov-8 roclite pro g 400 GTX, and for the best overall waterproofing we’d pick the Altberg nordkapp boots.
We’ve found the best men’s walking trousers that will see you through the toughest hikes to pair with your new shoes
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