Walking Safari: Boots

Updated: Dec 6, 2018

March 2017

Healthy feet are critical to enjoying longer walks, wilderness trails and backpacking safaris. Alongside avoiding blisters, pain, etc., the correct choice of boots is fundamental.

Although certain boots fit many purposes, most boots are designed to fit within a range of applications - As a starting point, do not believe the story that “one-boot-fits-all-conditions”. The picture below, shows four fantastic, but very different pairs of boots:

  • The boot pair first on the left are specifically made for moving stealthily. They are made of light single skinned leather, very comfortable and brilliant for moving quietly through the bush. If you need grip though this is not the right choice of boot and fuel/ chemicals will destroy the crepe based soles.

  • The second pair is an awesome single skinned all-round bush boot. They are comfortable, robust [long-lasting leather and soles] and have very good grip. These boots are designed for the African bush, but they do not like very cold weather and are nosier than the first pair.

  • Boot pair number three, are great mountaineering and high-altitude backpacking boots. These are robust, reasonably rigid [they have a full shank], can fit certain crampons and are versatile in a range of weather conditions. They are truly outstanding in the mountains (up to a point) but are far too hot and rigid for the bush.

  • The final boot pair are fantastic ice climbing and high-altitude mountaineering boots. They comprise a synthetic inner boot and plastic outer boot. Both have laces and the inner is first put on and this is then pushed into the outer They are extremely rigid, fit crampons exceptionally well, relatively waterproof and warm. They are brilliant on snow and ice, but are not fun to wear in any other conditions.

The above notes, and picture, purposely exclude synthetic boots. Generally, in the bush I prefer light weight singled skinned leather boots with a sealed tongue. Although most synthetic boots are super comfortable, grass seeds and the environment have a nasty habit of destroying them - They are thus unsuitable for the high level of usage we place on them. Saying this there are many awesome pairs of lightweight synthetic boots, that are perfect for occasional use, they just don't work for us.

Don’t make the mistake of buying boots that just fit – buy one size bigger – Your feet expand when they get hot and secondly when you walk downhill your toes will bang the front of the boots resulting in painfully blue toe nails. Another top tip is to avoid various problems including “blister-hell”, by taking the time to “properly-walk-in” your new boots before taking them on their first trip.

Boot weight exerts a noticeable drain on our energy and consequently stamina. The weight of your boots is said to require somewhere between 5.5 and 6.5 more energy to carry, compared to carrying the same amount of weight on our back! Thus you might have heard the saying "a pound on your feet equals five pounds on your back". Light = More Fun!

It is important to care for your boots to keep them in good condition. Once dust and mud are removed, leather boots require regular polishing that is regularly supplemented with a good leather food. Do not dry your boots in front of a fire, or any direct heat, this will crack them - Crunch newspaper into the toe well and allow them to dry naturally in an area with flowing dry air. Another tip is to store your boots with dry newspaper crunched into their toes to help keep their shape.

Good boots are close friends with clean feet, good socks and gaiters. For the periods when you are going to spend lots of time on your feet:

  • wash you feet and put on fresh socks daily.

  • put an anti-fungal powder into your boots before you put them on in the morning.

  • at the end of the day let both your boots and your feet air. Walk in your boots and pack camp shoes for afterwards. Camp shoes are generally adventure sandals, "crocs" or similar. As a note, the super lightweight flip-flops that are commonly used lack multi-functionality/ versatility [try using them if your boots fail, or cross a fast flowing river] and often result in thorn punctured feet.

The above form the basis of a good starting point. Three closing points:

  • The choice of sandals, camp shoes and what are known as approach shoes is the topic of a different discussion.

  • Many of us that spend a lot of time in the bush will wear our “vellies” without socks – If you are not used to doing this it can result in blisters and so forth.

  • Good boots come at a higher price tag, HOWEVER as with all quality products you get what you pay for.

Choose right, look after your feet, focus on the incredible experience and have fun. See you soon!


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