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Boots- an update

December 6, 2015 · 15 comments

This post was published three years ago. Since then my boots have moved on. Quite a lot. I have completed the 870 mile Wales Coast Path – mostly since this was published – and have spent two weeks walking across the Yorkshire Dales, as well as doing many other walks. And I have two more pairs of boots in the porch, so I thought you deserved an edited update. 

I can’t remember when or why I got the walking bug. I do know that sometime in my late teens or early 20’s I bought a pair of “proper” walking boots. And I still have them. They are an Italian all leather boot by Suola and are called Robusta. I seem to remember they were quite expensive. And they are very heavy. Each boot weighs about 1000 grammes (or 2lbs 3oz in old money). Heavy!

Italian walking boots by Suola, photographed by Charles Hawes

Maybe I should put them on Ebay as “vintage”

The soles are not very worn, indicating that my engagement with walking had been short- lived. The soles are made by Vibram which are still used by many of the best brands. They would be called a “mid” boot today, coming up to a bit above the ankle, to give protection and support without being too restrictive. They were not waterproof – clever waterproof linings like Gore-Tex had only recently been invented –  but as far as I remember they did keep me dry on boggy ground (if I regularly applied dubbin or whatever was recommended at the time). I needed a new pair.

When thinking about equipment, boots are the obvious place to start. If your boot doesn’t fit properly you will have aches and pains and blisters in no time and you will be miserable. For general walking – and by that I mean pretty well all surfaces – I find that this “mid” style suits me best. The mid boot gives your ankle the support it needs to avoid falling and protects you from painful blows and bruises.

Call me superficial, but I wanted ones that I liked the appearance of. Boots these days can look very funky, especially ones designed for women (who get nearly all the fun in the clothes and accessories department). Designers of boots must have a wonderful time making patterns with their combination of fabric and suede and COLOUR. Yes, I know in my head that this lovely looking boot will not look that for very long. One muddy walk and they will never look new again.

I admit I did no research other than to try several boots on in the shop. This was silly of me. But you know how it is.  The fit between brands really is different in terms of the width and toe room and flexibility. But when I put on a pair of Merrell Moabs with a Gore-Tex liner. I just knew that this was the boot for me.

Funky in a blokey kind of way

I loved the two-tone khaki and dark brown colours and the way that they had combined the materials. But most they just felt so good. I was advised, and I advise you in the strongest terms, to try boots on wearing the socks that you intend to walk in. If you use a liner sock and a second pair, as I do, take both.

Some shops have a little mini ramp and they get you to put the boots on and then stand and wiggle around on the ramp a bit facing down. This is a really good idea. You find out whether you need more toe room or not. If your toes are touching the end of the boot on a downward slope you are going to have a bad time.  My advice is to get a size of about a half a size larger than your ordinary shoe (remember, too, that your feet will swell slightly in even moderately warm conditions or on longish walks. Also that sizes vary between manufactures).

I bought the Merrells. These hybrid fabric and leather boots really don’t need  “wearing in” as leather ones used to (I’ll come back to that). However, you’d be daft to just buy a pair of boots and then go off on a weeks walking with them before doing 20 miles or so.

I was entirely happy with them but they started leaking after about a year. I sent them back to Merrell, who offered me a replacement. Good on them. But then less than a year later they leaked again. I really hadn’t abused them (how do you abuse a boot?). When I looked at them carefully I thought that I could see a design fault. The combined suede and fabric body starts just too near the sole. This means that the fabric element is vulnerable to perforation from a sharp stone or even thorn.

Merrell agreed to replace them again (warning me that this would be for the last time). The Moab wasn’t available in my size. So they invited me to choose any of their range. Now call me greedy but they might as well have said “please choose our most expensive boot”. Which (in the Mid- style boot) is what I did – the Chameleon Evo Mid Synthetic -Gore-Tex. The only problem was that they didn’t arrive in time for my trip to France where I was going to walk the Way of St James. I needed to become Mr Two Boots.

Bath has loads of really good outdoor shops. I tried on lots of boots. Blacks had that useful ramp thing and I was focussing in on a pair of Berghaus Explorer Trail Light. I liked their grey tri-toned livery with flashes of red (the styling has changed a bit since I bought them) At just over 600 grammes each they were a little bit heavier than the Merrells but felt more substantial, too. And I was reassured that the fabric part of their construction doesn’t come in until higher up the side of the boot. They also are Gore-Tex lined. And they were wonderful. So wonderful that during the 10 days continuous use on The Way of St James , where we covered around 120 miles, I didn’t get a single blister and had no discomfort. And I came to really appreciate  the very positive way in which the laces fit into the cleats. This may sound trivial but it really isn’t.  Boots differ as to their lacing arrangements and some are very awkward and would become very irritating.

Berghaus Explorer Trail lite walking boots, photographed by Charles Hawes

Stipa tenuissima -sadly no longer in the terrace

On my return from France, my new Merrells had arrived. Visually they are quite understated in black and Grey. They have Vibram soles and are lighter than the Berghaus boots – about 540 grammes each. They look and feel lighter, too.  I decided, though that it was really silly having two pairs of walking boots and thought I would put them on e-bay. And then I just couldn’t bring myself to part with them, so I chucked out some horrible old shoes I don’t like any more and made room for them in the porch.

Merrell Chameleon Mid Evo synthetic walking boot, photographed by Charles Hawes

Just look at that line of ellipses!

Now the thing about these fabric and leather combination boots is that all that fancy design means lots of stitching and lots of holes in the leather and I think that this leads to an inherent vulnerability.

My Berghaus boots began to show signs of stress and splitting. Some stitching came undone……


Stitching on Berghaus Explorer Trail Lite walking boot, photographed by Charles Hawes

…. and the leather began to split at a stress point.

Leather splitting on Berghaus Explorer Trail Lite walking boot, photographed by Charles Hawes

So their days were numbered – at least as my main walking boot. And, horror of horrors, after relatively little use my new Merrells began to leak.

Now you might think that my experience of the leaking Merrell boots might have put me off for life but quite recently I was approached by their PR people and invited to review one of their products. So of course, I  accepted the offer of another pair of boots. This time I thought I would reduce the fabric/leather combination and chose their new Mid Chameleon Shift.

Merrell Mid Chameleon Shift walking boot, photographed by Charles Hawes

Gore-Tex lined and with Vibram soles they are not very funky but I still liked the look of them. As you can see, the main part of the boot is all leather (albeit still stitched in part), the fabric component coming in around the heel. I hoped this would avoid the problems I had with my first Merrells. At 60o grammes each they were a little heavier than the Berghaus boots but still feel light.

Merrell Mid Chameleon Shift walking boot, photographed by Charles Hawes

The fit was good (again, I chose a 43 , my usual shoe being a 42) and they were very comfortable, but (and this is a big BUT), on my first outing on a wet day I think they leaked. Now I know we were walking along paths that seemed more like stream beds, but having ended up with wet socks once I am reluctant to try them again. I will do, though, so that made me Mr Three Boots.

Then along came another offer to try a product from GRIsport – a british firm that I had never heard of but who produce a range of walking boots and shoes that are made in Italy. Since I was feeling insecure about my Merrells I was happy to try one of their mid boots and chose their Saracen in brown.

Grisport Saracen walking boot, photographed by Charles Hawes

The boots tick all the usual boxes- waterproof and breathable (their system is called SPO-TEX) and with Vibram soles – these are an all leather construction. At 700 grammes each, they are a bit heavier than the leather/fabric hybids but not so much that they feel heavy. They have a flexible padded toe joint, which is noticeable when you wiggle the toe area. And they have a slightly wider fit than the Merrells- closer to the Berghaus boots which I found just right for my feet.

Grisport Saracen walking boot, photographed by Charles Hawes

They were immediately comfortable when I took them for a spin round the lane. The next test was a proper walk. In a way I wanted this to be a wet one as I really wanted to see if they were fully waterproof.  A 5 hour hike over Craig  y Fan Ddu in the Brecon Beacons in mostly heavy rain seemed a reasonable test.  Paths became streams and streams waterfalls. And my feet stayed dry! This was a challenging  6 mile hike with some steep climbs and descents and the grip was good – I slipped on the grass a couple of times but no boot could prevent that.  Despite them being brand new my feet were entirely comfortable all day; I will happily take them on my next longer walk.

My “old” Merrells can become my dry day pair. The jury is out on the new Merrells, but even if they keep me dry it’s good to have  back-up pair (Imelda Marcos had her good points). I can’t bear to throw my Berghaus ones out so they can live in the car for those occasional spontaneous short walks.  They may not look very funky,but I reckon these Italian beauties are going to do a lot of tramping in the next few years. Call me Mr Four Boots.












{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Anne Wareham December 6, 2015 at 12:18 pm

Now it’s time to get rid of that lot and start again.


Charles December 7, 2015 at 7:14 pm

Don’t be silly. They all have a use (well apart from my oldest ones and they are a nostalgia keep). We just need to make more boot space for me in the porch.


John December 7, 2015 at 7:56 pm

Funny! When I read this post I was thinking about quoting for a porch extension. Which reminds me, I have a pair of waterproof over-trousers which I bought on your recommendation. Fantastic though only used a few times before a ladder fall forced a retirement and I no longer needed a quick cover for suit trousers. Must dig out the size info and see if they’ll fit you – better rehomed than languishing in a wardrobe as they are now.


Charles December 9, 2015 at 6:30 pm

Yes, well entirely natural that my post should make you think of your porch. That’s a very generous about the trousers. Mine are a Large. I guess a second pair would mean they they could live permanently in my packs (I have a smaller and a larger one), so that my bottom half might never get wet again!


Paul Steer December 6, 2015 at 6:19 pm

Well Mr four boots – I like the look of those Italian ones – glad we gave them a good workout !


Charles December 7, 2015 at 7:16 pm

Yes, they look just fine. But best of they they felt good. Yes, plenty more to come.


rob grover December 23, 2015 at 11:14 am

Full circle then, back to leather – perhaps Father Christmas will bring you a new tin of dubbin


Charles December 23, 2015 at 5:07 pm

Yes, though I was slightly worried that I seemed to have slightly damp toes from a modestly wet walk this week. I don’t think my toes perspire! Will make further reports in due course. Though I think that I will stick to NikWax for mow.


rob grover March 3, 2016 at 5:46 pm

Hi Charles. I’m just looking to buy some new boots. Are you still pleased with the GRIsports? Most importantly have they continued to keep the water out or have you been having mainly dry walks recently: looks like it.
I’ve been wearing some M&S ‘composites’ over the last couple of years, which isn’t long, since their use is occasional. As you point out, the joints between materials start to open up, and the ‘sniff test’ tells you that water is coming in, even if it’s not that noticeable whilst you’re walking. It’s pretty muddy on the WCP at the moment and you are not always right in your choice of the more solid looking patches And windy: we were on the Llannon to Aberystwyth stretch on Wednesday and the wind was so strong that there were times when you couldn’t stand. Luckily it wasn’t combined with sleet. Stopped at the Harbourmaster (Aberaeron) for a meal on the way home. Great place – do you know it?
All the best. Rob


Charles March 8, 2016 at 10:29 am

Hiya. The boots are really comfy and not too heavy but I did wonder on one wet day, if they leaked or if the water came in round the gaiter etc. Its difficult to tell. Can’t be 100% sure. Oh god, the weight of responsibility of giving advice. If they did leak I am sure that you could get them replaced. Yes, ground can be very deceptive as we all have experienced plunging one’s foot up to the knee in an apparently OK bit. I really liked that leg of the walk. Was the “Hinterland” caravan still there? I saw it was torched in the last episode but didn’t know if that was for real.


Charles March 8, 2016 at 10:30 am

PS. Yes, I know the Harbourmaster, of course but never ate there. It sounds great. Nice place, Aberaeron.


nigel pearce April 24, 2017 at 4:07 pm

i find leather is best ive tried trail shoes and non leather gortex boots.the non leather gortex kept my feet dry for about 3 hours then became sodden and took an age to dry.Trail shoes are ok for easy trails in dry weather.But my trusted leather gortex Bergaus boots are my favourites.If you treat them with Brasher cream most water runs off before they even get wet.I have walked in pouring rain and mud several times for 6 or more hours and they have never let me down.


Charles April 29, 2017 at 6:10 pm

Interesting – and surprising about the failure of the non leather Gortex. I must look up Brasher cream. I have always used Nickwax


Geoff May 18, 2017 at 7:24 pm

Hello, can you suggest a hiking boot (S) all leather that are extra wide. With a vibram sole.
Thanks in advance


Charles May 19, 2017 at 9:48 am

I don’t have enough experience of all leather boots but really there is never really a substitute to getting to a good outdoor shop and trying lots on.


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