top of page
  • Writer's pictureSpirited Adventures

Boot Choices For Walking Or Backpacking Safaris

Author: Lutz Otto

March 2017


Healthy feet are critical to enjoying longer walks, wilderness trails and backpacking safaris.


Choosing appropriate, fitting, and comfortable, footwear is regarded as fundamental in every adventure, or sporting activity. Poor choices lead to a variety of problems including blisters, knee pain, back pain, blown ankles, long term injury including plantar faciitis, cold feet, wasting money, putting a damper on your adventure and so forth. Put otherwise, this is a preparation area you want to take seriously.


With the aforementioned in mind, the first piece of advice is not to be in a hurry when looking for your new boots. Prepare to spend some time trying on different brands, different models, different sizes [width and length] and walking with them in the shop.


hiking boots, adventure, adventure travel, backpacking, camping, hiking trails, hiking, leave no trace, kruger national park walking safari, kruger park walking safari, walking safari, walking safari kruger, walking safari south africa, adventure safari, african adventure,  safari, big 5 safari, big 5 south africa, kruger safari, Safari adventure, south Africa safari, best African safaris, best safari in Africa

What is the right boot?


Although a number of boots can work across a number of applications, most boots are designed to fit within a range of similar applications, and terrain types. Looking for a boot-to-fit-all-conditions will result in disappointment, and as activities become more specialist, this becomes obvious. The picture below shows four fantastic, but very different pairs of boots.


hiking boots, adventure, adventure travel, backpacking, camping, hiking trails, hiking, leave no trace, kruger national park walking safari, kruger park walking safari, walking safari, walking safari kruger, walking safari south africa, adventure safari, african adventure,  safari, big 5 safari, big 5 south africa, kruger safari, Safari adventure, south Africa safari, best African safaris, best safari in Africa

  • The boots first on the left, are specifically made for moving stealthily. They are made of light single skinned leather, are very comfortable for shorter walks and are absolutely brilliant for moving quietly through the bush. Contrastingly these boots grip poorly on slopes, are terrible on wet ground, longer thorns easily penetrate the sole and the the sole is not very long lasting. They are not suitable for walking in rugged terrain, wet conditions, cold conditions, or carrying a heavy backpack.


  • The second pair is a single skinned all-round bush boot. They are comfortable, robust [long-lasting leather and soles], have very good grip and are designed to withstand use in the African bush. Contrastingly they are not designed for use in cold weather, wet conditions or walking day-in-and-day-out with a heavy backpack - See the backpacking notes below.


  • Boot pair number three, are a fantastic set of mountaineering and high-altitude backpacking boots. These are robust, reasonably rigid [they have a full shank], can fit certain crampon types and are versatile in a range of weather conditions. They are truly outstanding in the mountains [up to a point] but are not good for the bush, in that they are too rigid, and they get very hot.


  • 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, and are relatively waterproof and warm. They are brilliant on snow and ice, but are not good for use in any other conditions.

Boots for everyday bush use.


For normal walking in the bush, that is not on a backpacking trip, I generally wear light weight singled skinned leather boots with a sealed tongue. Sealed tongues stop dust, grass seeds and grit entering the boot through this point. You do not need anything higher than a mid-ankle boot - For this application higher ankle boots cause you to walk noisier and they are hot.


In the below picture, the boot first from the right is a classic veld-skoen, boots two and three are discussed in the above commentary, and boot five is a combination boot [synthetic and leather]. All of these have sealed tongues except the first one. Although they have a "romantic following", be mindful that veld skoene, and any other unsupportive shoes, are often the cause of plantar faciitis, knee problems, lower back pain and similar related medical problems when worn for extended periods of time.

hiking boots, adventure, adventure travel, backpacking, camping, hiking trails, hiking, leave no trace, kruger national park walking safari, kruger park walking safari, walking safari, walking safari kruger, walking safari south africa, adventure safari, african adventure,  safari, big 5 safari, big 5 south africa, kruger safari, Safari adventure, south Africa safari, best African safaris, best safari in Africa

Boots for backpacking safaris.


For backpacking safaris [and mountain based activities excluding those moving over technical terrain, or snow and ice conditions], I use a high quality mixed leather and synthetic approach boot. Purpose built, they are made by companies with decades of experience in this space - The research and development, as well as the subsequent technology built into these, is simply next level.


My preference for backpacking safaris leans strongly towards a mid-ankle boot, with no more than a 1/4 to maximum 1/2 shank. Contrastingly, pure mountain boots have a higher ankle, have thicker insulation and have anywhere between a 1/2 to full full shank - As already mentioned above these are not ideal for safari use.


In terms of lacing eyes, ideally the top one or two, are hooks, which allows for easy versatile lacing - This is very important for foot comfort as well as managing different feet shapes. A sealed tongue is on every high quality boot, and Vibram soles have for the last many decades maintained the market leadership position.


If you carry big packs regularly, remember that knee problems, lower back pain, plantar fasciitis and similar injuries are often caused by shoes with zero, or low arch support, and/ or without shock absorption qualities. Orthopedic specialists will advise that these problems either catch up with us on trail as a repetitive injury, or as we our bodies start aging.

hiking boots, adventure, adventure travel, backpacking, camping, hiking trails, hiking, leave no trace, kruger national park walking safari, kruger park walking safari, walking safari, walking safari kruger, walking safari south africa, adventure safari, african adventure,  safari, big 5 safari, big 5 south africa, kruger safari, Safari adventure, south Africa safari, best African safaris, best safari in Africa

Boots for mountain backpacking applications.


Although this articles is not focused on such boots, I have frequently made references to some of the differences. You will also have seen in earlier paragraphs that these boots vary from mixed application mountain boots, to those specifically designed for high altitudes, and ice climbing. Without going into detail, fundamentally these boots will:


  • have between a half and full shank. This makes it not only easier to move on steep terrain , and a full shank also allows for the use of walking crampons.

  • generally have higher ankle support. The exception here would be with a selection of specialist approach boots which allow for some rock work.

  • be more stable, both on the terrain you are moving through and how they sit on your feet,

  • be more robust in construction, have a waterproof membrane such as Gortex and insulate your feet better.


Boot weight.


It is worth noting that boot weight exerts a noticeable drain on our energy and consequently stamina. The science shows that 1 kg on your feet is the equivalent of +5 kg’s on your back, which requires 5.5 to 6.5 times more energy to carry.


When selecting your boots, remember that lighter boots [as well as most equipment] will allow you to focus on having fun versus slogging a heavy weight.


Pure synthetic boots.


Pure synthetic boots are super comfortable, and amazingly light. All of the good hiking and mountaineering brands have excellent offers in this category. Danner and Lowa make great "bush type" boots in this class. As with all quality products you will pay more for them.


Be mindful that grass seeds easily penetrate these boots, and often you cannot get them out of the fabric, and also that rough environments have a nasty habit of quickly destroying these boot types. As a rule of thumb, we find this category unsuitable for the high level of usage we place on them.


Sizing and wearing your boots in.


Do not be in a hurry when looking for your new boots. Spend some time trying on different brands and different models. For first time boot purchasers, it is very important to be mindful not to fall into the trap that because a pair of boots works for one person, that they will also work for you - Buy for your foot, and your unique need.


Put both boots on and walk at least 50 meters with each pair in the shop. As you do this be fully present in what your feet and body is feeling.


When trying on boots, buy for both width and breadth, in terms of your unique foot shape. All good stores will have the correct foot measurement apparatus, and provide opportunities to walk on different slopes.


When trying potential new boots on, ideally take along your preferred hiking socks - If you do not have a pair, buy a set that you are going to use, and use these for each fitting process.


Don’t make the mistake of buying boots that just fit – Buy one size bigger. The reason for this is two fold; Firstly your feet expand when they get hot [which is very likely in the bush], and secondly when you walk downhill your toes will bang the front of boots that just fit, and this will result not only in painfully blue toe nails but make your progress difficult.


Another top tip is take the time to “properly-walk-in” your new boots before taking them on their first trip. Doing this gives you enough time to decide on whether the boot is comfortable in terms of your unique foot shape, and allows you to avoid more serious problems, including “blister-hell”. As a rule of thumb leather boots require longer periods of walking in, and some synthetics need no walking in at all.


hiking boots, adventure, adventure travel, backpacking, camping, hiking trails, hiking, leave no trace, kruger national park walking safari, kruger park walking safari, walking safari, walking safari kruger, walking safari south africa, adventure safari, african adventure,  safari, big 5 safari, big 5 south africa, kruger safari, Safari adventure, south Africa safari, best African safaris, best safari in Africa

Boot care.


It is super important to care for your boots to keep them in good condition.


Regardless of boot construction, regularly remove dust and mud. Dust literally sucks the moisture out of leather boots, and mud is particularly destructive to any boot when it dries. Too this point, besides properly cleaning them when you get back home, try keep them reasonably clean whilst on trail.


Any leather on boots, whether full or part leather, requires regular cleaning and polishing. Polishing should be seen as a high level clean, in that it will not stop leather frequently exposed to the elements from cracking. Stop your boots from cracking by regularly applying a good leather food such as NikWax or bees wax to them. The frequency with which you do the latter, will depend on the conditions and the environments you have walked through.


When drying boots, do not put them in front of a fire or any direct heat; This cracks leather boots over time, and causes bonding materials on all boots to start delaminating. The correct way to dry boots is to crunch newspaper into their toe well [replace this every so often with new dry paper], 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. Also, boots should never be stored in dark, damp, places.


Oh yes, two last important points.


If you have not worn your boots for many years, properly test them on at least one longer hike prior trail. Secondly if your boot is showing any sign of delamination, either have them resoled or get new boots. The number of times we have seen boot soles delaminate on trail, particularly certain brands, just does not make it worth your trying to get a little more life out of them.


hiking boots, adventure, adventure travel, backpacking, camping, hiking trails, hiking, leave no trace, kruger national park walking safari, kruger park walking safari, walking safari, walking safari kruger, walking safari south africa, adventure safari, african adventure,  safari, big 5 safari, big 5 south africa, kruger safari, Safari adventure, south Africa safari, best African safaris, best safari in Africa

Look after your feet.


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 your feet at least daily [or if not daily, as often as you can].

  • try wear fresh socks daily [on longer trails, when space and weight are a consideration, have at least fours pairs and wash them].

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


Socks, especially purpose made hiking, or activity designed socks, make a huge difference to foot health, as well as your endurance. Wearing your boots without socks is not conducive to good foot health, further this be aware that doing this is highly likely to result in blisters, and/ or, hot spots.


hiking boots, adventure, adventure travel, backpacking, camping, hiking trails, hiking, leave no trace, kruger national park walking safari, kruger park walking safari, walking safari, walking safari kruger, walking safari south africa, adventure safari, african adventure,  safari, big 5 safari, big 5 south africa, kruger safari, Safari adventure, south Africa safari, best African safaris, best safari in Africa

At the end of each day on trail let both your boots and your feet air. For this purpose pack a set of 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 when crossing a fast flowing river], they are another cause of of plantar faciitis, and often, due to their thin soles, result in thorn punctured feet.


boots, adventure, adventure travel, backpacking, camping, hiking trails, hiking, leave no trace, kruger national park walking safari, kruger park walking safari, walking safari, walking safari kruger, walking safari south africa, adventure safari, african adventure,  safari, big 5 safari, big 5 south africa, kruger safari, Safari adventure, south Africa safari, best African safaris, best safari in Africa

Coming full circle.



hiking boots, adventure, adventure travel, backpacking, camping, hiking trails, hiking, leave no trace, kruger national park walking safari, kruger park walking safari, walking safari, walking safari kruger, walking safari south africa, adventure safari, african adventure,  safari, big 5 safari, big 5 south africa, kruger safari, Safari adventure, south Africa safari, best African safaris, best safari in Africa

The above form the basis of a good decision making start point. 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.


We hope that working through this has helped. We look forward to spending time with you, and creating active, exciting, immersive, connective, safe and impactful experiences, that will result in your eagerly planning your next adventure on your journey home.


About this articles author: 🐾 Lutz Otto is the founder of Spirited Adventures and Consulting. He is a safari trails guide, a mountain guide, coach and leadership consultant. You can explore his bio here.


Copyright Spirited Adventures & Consulting. All rights reserved.


african elephant, adventure, adventure travel, backpacking, camping, hiking trails, hiking, leave no trace, kruger national park walking safari, kruger park walking safari, walking safari, walking safari kruger, walking safari south africa, adventure safari, african adventure,  safari, big 5 safari, big 5 south africa, kruger safari, Safari adventure, south Africa safari, best African safaris, best safari in Africa

コメント


bottom of page