Written by Chris & Anne Ensoll
You can read the first post in this series here: How To Stay Dry Whatever The Weather #1: Waterproofs
If you’ve ever been out on a long wet day in the mountains and ended up with cold water sloshing about in your boots, you’ll be painfully aware of how important waterproof boots are to your enjoyment and success. Here are some tips for making them last and some things to consider when choosing a new pair.
What makes a boot waterproof?
Leather boots can be made waterproof using a product such as Nikwax Waterproofing Wax for Leather. Synthetic boots labelled as waterproof will have a waterproof membrane such as Goretex (GTX in the name) sandwiched between inner & outer layers, and/or a Durable Water Repellent applied to the outside of the fabric to help it shed water. The DWR can become damaged due to outside factors like dirt and oil, UV radiation, and washing. When that happens, water soaks into the fabric instead of beading up and rolling off, and the fabric becomes saturated and cold. Your foot is kept dry by the inner membrane, but it feels cold and therefore feels wet even though it isn’t.
Care & maintenance of your boots
1. Dry them out
Stuffing newspaper into your boots to dry them out is not just an old wives tale. It really does work, as long as you remove the wet insoles and frequently replace the wet newspaper with dry, so that all the water inside the boot can be absorbed. Leaving wet newspaper inside the boots doesn’t help. If boots with a Goretex membrane get wet inside, the membrane will hold the water inside when you dry the boots out, so newspaper is particular useful.
2. Keep them away from intense heat
If you’re drying them in front of an open fire or a woodburner, don’t have them too close. Too much heat can cause shrinkage and damage to any adhesives.
3. Clean and condition them regularly
Moisture and dirt will dry out the boots and shorten their life. Brush off dry mud or use a cloth and warm water to clean the boots before using a waterproofing product. I use Nikwax Waterproofing Wax for Leather Liquid. The bottle has an applicator which I use to apply the wax, but then I rub in the liquid wax with my fingers – the warmth from my fingers helps the leather to absorb the wax. I also use the same product on my leather gloves. There are also products available for synthetic boots.
4. Fix them
Repair minor damage as soon as you can to prevent it from becoming a bigger problem. Specialist shoe & boot adhesives remain flexible when they dry, whereas many kinds of general purpose adhesives become brittle. For major damage you might need the services of a cobbler.
5. Re-sole them to extend their life
If you are light on your feet and your shoes last you a long time, you may find that the sole wears out long before the uppers. I have had many pairs of boots resoled, and it has always been an excellent decision, and much cheaper than buying a new pair. Try Feet First or Cheshire Shoe Repairs.
Choosing a new pair
How long should they last?
According to the experts, well-made walking boots will carry you for at least 600–700 miles, but this depends on your weight and size, and how heavy you are on your feet. My boots tend to last a long time because I am light on my feet. It also depends on what kind of use your boots are getting – if you are regularly walking on gabbro in the Cuillins or on scree in the Lake District, they won’t last nearly as long as if you’re on well-made paths or grass.
Ask yourself the following questions:
1. What does the boot weigh?
One pound on your feet equates to ten pounds on your back, so go for the lightest boot that will do the job.
2. What’s the sole made of?
Polyurethane (PU) is a highly versatile plastic commonly found in cushioning and insulation – both good qualities in footwear. PU is also very tough and is lightweight. As a result, it’s a great choice for midsoles, adding a long-lasting cushion while keeping the weight down.
3. Does the book look well made?
Look at the stitching and anywhere that two components join.
4. Is the boot the right shape for my feet?
Different brands tend to be narrower or wider, so try a few different brands on before you make your choice. Boots designed for women usually go up to a size 8 and they tend to be narrower than men’s boots. I sometimes buy women’s boots as I have fairly narrow feet.
5. What’s my circulation like?
If your feet are always cold, you’ll need warmer boots for winter mountaineering or Alpine climbing. I don’t tend to get cold feet, so I can get away with lighter boots.
6. Will I be using the boots with crampons?
If so, what kind of crampons? Boots and crampons are classified as follows:
However, boot size does make a different. A size 5 B2 boot will be a lot stiffer than a size 11 B2 boot. For more info see this excellent web page on the Ellis Brigham website.
7. What do I know about the brand?
There are many quality brands for boots, but two that I have used repeatedly are Scarpa and La Sportiva. The boots I am currently using in the UK and the Alps are shown below, from L to R: Trango Cube GTX (B2); Trango S Evo (B2); Scarpa Jorasses Pro GTX (B3); Scarpa R-Evo GTX (B1); Meindl Borneo (B1).