Over the years I’ve covered thousands of miles and worn out many pairs of walking boots, putting one foot in front of the other to write walking features for this paper.
In fact, when we were filing this paper’s ‘Bush Telegraph’ column from safari camps all over Africa, my wife Sarah and I wore walking boots almost every single day for 18 months, negotiating everything from giant thorns to ants, snakes and blister beetles.
Nonetheless, familiarity doesn’t make us experts in boot technology, which is why we approached Alastair Bramwell of Bramwell International – a walking shoe distributor – for technical advice which we found extremely useful when testing these boots.
The top qualities people look for in a boot, Alastair told me, are that they are supportive, waterproof, breathable, lightweight and comfortable. Modern Gore-Tex membranes are key to this, making today’s boots waterproof while also allowing the foot to breathe.
The sole should provide grip and durability and the enclosing ‘upper’ should be shaped to give the best possible fit, while also being lightweight. The insole should support the arches while the heel and toe area should have reinforced caps for the best foot protection.
“Technology has fundamentally changed,” Alastair told me, recommending I upgrade my Bush Telegraph-era footwear. “These days, boots are crafted to give maximum comfort from the outset and the materials are lighter, but also more waterproof.”
How to choose the right walking boots for you
Alastair says that the critical element is a correct fit. Everybody’s feet are different. They may be slim, broad, shallow or high volume. (In Sarah’s case, one foot is bigger than the other). He says Italian footwear is slightly slimmer and German footwear a bit broader, the latter suiting the British foot.
When trying boots on, the best test is to walk an “incline ramp”. This mimics walking up and downhill. You can then see if your feet slip and gauge if you need a different size.
Alastair believes the key features to look for depend on terrain and the shape of your foot. To walk in mud, the sole must have a deep tread. For walking in the snow, high sides around the ankle give less chance for the snow to enter. In hot temperatures you want a lining without a waterproof membrane, for maximum breathability.
For wide feet, you should choose a shoe modelled around a broader last (the mold around which the boot is constructed). For problem achilles or arches, Alastair recommends they are fitted by a retailer, rather than bought online.
How we tested the best walking boots
Sarah and I are lucky enough to live adjacent to the South Downs National Park, so we made morning and afternoon outings on their steep inclines and mix of grassy, muddy, stony and wooded terrain. We found the Downs in winter to be the perfect environment for testing grip, comfort, waterproofing and foot support.
At a glance: the best walking boots for men and women, 2022
Best boots overall (men's) — Hoka Sky Kaha
Best hill walking boots (men's) — Meindl Peru
Best boots for wide feet (men's) — Keen Targhee
Best leather boots (men's) — Grenson Brady
Best boots for high instep (men's) — Ariat Skyline Summit
Best value boots (men's) — Scarpa Terra
Best boots overall (women's) - Meindl Respond
Best cushioned boots (women's) — Hoka Tennine Hike
Best looking boots (women's) — Grenson Nanette
Lightest boots (women's) — On Cloudrock
Best boots for ankle support (women's) — Scarpa Terra
Best waterproofed boots (women's) — Ariat Skyline
Read on for the full reviews, starting with Richard's pick of the best men's boots
The best walking boots for men
1. Hoka Men's Sky Kaha Gore-Tex walking boots
Best lightweight boots
We liked the walking-on-air feel, although the lacing is fiddly
My main priorities in a new pair of boots are the stitching, overall workmanship and whether they cradle my feet (firm but not vice-like) and support my ankles. They also ideally should be light. Too often you either feel like your foot is in a concrete cast, or that the boots are so flexible they are likely to fall apart after the first 100 miles of walking.
For these reasons my top pick is the unconventional-looking Hokas. Although incredibly sturdy, they are one of the lightest pair of boots you will find at just over 500g.
The height of the Vibram outsole added a good two inches to my modest stature and the layer of rubberised foam makes your feet feel like you are walking on air. While they cradled my feet firmly enough, a friend with wide feet swears by them.
One feature that does feel strange at first is the ‘rockered’ sole - raised at the toe and heel - which means that your foot pivots around the ball of the foot like a rocking chair. But once you get into a rhythm it adds a welcome forward momentum. The boots also have an extra protective rand over the toes and also felt very solid and grippy on icy ground, with excellent traction.
While the lace area is quite wide, there was no leakage when it came to puddles thanks to the Gore-Tex tongue. If I had one minor criticism, it is that the boot’s lace-locking system is a bit fiddly. Overall, the Hoka is an excellent boot for long-distance walks on waymarked trails although I wouldn’t recommend it for scrambling off-piste, where the thick sole and toe were more of a hindrance than a help.
Key features: 500g weight, Gore-Tex lining, waterproof nubuck leather upper, rubberised foam layer over Vibram Megagrip hi-traction sole
2. Meindl Peru Gore-Tex walking boots
Best hill walking boots
We liked the steadfast grip on ice and mud, though they won’t win any beauty prizes
Meindl is one of the gold standard boot brands against which all others are judged. It was one of the first brands to use Gore-Tex. The Peru is an evolution of the Toronto GTX with which I tramped all over the South Island of New Zealand some years back. They are certainly very snug without being over-rigid and were faultless at keeping my feet dry. I like testing boots on downhill sections, which is actually when most accidents occur, and I felt safe as houses in these.
I did return with a slight pain and rubbing on my ankle after the first long walk but the second time out, with some steep climbs, there was no repeat. On doing some research later, I discovered that they have an extra layer of padding around the ankle to reduce pressure.
The Meindls are a great choice for hill-walking, particularly in the winter months. Perhaps in the summer, though, I might prefer something a little less leathery and solid, with a little more visual pzazz.
Key features: 680g weight, waxed nubuck leather uppers, Gore-Tex lining, air-active softstep footbed, rubber grip sole
3. Keen Targhee III walking boots
Best for wide feet
We liked the flexibility, making these a good choice for summer wear
For comfort, it’s hard to beat the Keens. They have a glove-like feel half-way between the flexibility of a trainer and the rigidity of a mountain boot. Possibly not my choice for winter weather and steep, uneven terrain, they’re perfect for summer hikes in benign weather.
The Targhees slipped on very easily. Older walkers and those with wide feet would definitely appreciate this feature. Even in the January mud, they gripped well on slippery surfaces while the breathable membrane felt like it would keep my feet dry even on a hot, sweaty day in summer.
I did try a bit of steep climbing on the South Downs near where I live, heading off the footpath on the way up, and I noted the great arch support. With reassuringly grippy soles, these make an excellent option for fair-weather weekend hikers.
Key features: 490g weight, waterproof and breathable membrane, leather mud shield, TPU heel-capture system for stability
4. Grenson Brady walking boots
Best leather boots
We liked the classic looks, although the appeal may wear off
With a price tag to match, the Brady’s are top of the style mountain, with a retro lace-up front which climbs high over the ankle and gives them a classic style.
The thing to remember is that these boots are made of handpainted leather, which doesn’t react well to water over the long haul, so it’s best to avoid the puddles as much as you can, especially when they’re new and haven’t moulded to your feet. Too much exposure to water is also likely to shorten the life of the boot, so keep them well protected with a water-resistant polish.
The rubber soles are very solid with deep treads which give excellent grip and they also have rear pull-tabs which really helps when pulling them on. The shell of the boot is much thinner than most walking boots, so on really rough terrain you do start to feel the pressure of stones through the side of the boot. So, not the most comfortable boots I’ve ever worn and definitely not recommended for wide feet.
Handsome, then, but definitely in need of careful ownership. Something to be aware of when you are shelling out top dollar.
Key features: 560g weight, Lightweight Richfield Commando rubber sole, classic dark brown handpainted calf leather, cross-over speed lacing
5. Ariat Skyline Summit GTX walking boots
Best for high insteps
We liked the breathable waterproofing across the top of the foot
Ariat is well-known in equestrian circles for the comfort, strength and flexibility of its boots. The first thing that struck me was how light the uppers felt and how sturdy the sole. The contours of the sole and insole feel very supportive, particularly if you have a high in-step as I do. The combination is a boot that feels comfortable, snug and very light. They also support the ankles very well.
Unlike some of the other boots reviewed here, the uppers have a Gore-Tex membrane across most of the top of the foot, instead of leather. The upside is that they are certainly very comfortable, but I wondered how they would fare in the wet. After deliberately splashing around in puddles to give them a good soaking, my feet remained dry and I can imagine on a hot day, they would also breathe well.
Key features: 550g weight, dual-density Duratread outsole, Gore-Tex waterproof and breathable membrane, full-grain leather and nylon uppers, shock-absorbing midsole
6. Scarpa Terra GTX
Best for value
We liked the pliability and ankle support
The Scarpa boots are extremely comfortable and made of soft, pliable, but very tough, almost suede-like leather that is very comfortable to wear. Outside in the wet they performed perfectly thanks to the combination of the Gore-Tex layer and leather uppers.
The Vibram sole feels very strong and has the right balance of flex and rigidity to make you feel confident on both stony ground and slippery grass, but they also performed well on ice on one particularly cold morning. Some boots do give me pain around the ankles - perhaps mine are a bit nobblier than most - so I note that the Scarpas are particularly well padded in this area.
While they won’t win any awards for style, they are cheaper than most of the boots in this review, so given their top marks for build, comfort and waterproofing and I would also bet, longevity.
Key features: 600g weight, Vibram Energy II sole unit with improved rigidity, revised leather stitch design for increased durability
The best walking boots for women
1. Meindl Respond Lady Mid walking boots
Best for grip
We liked how comfortable they were for wide feet
Recommended by Sarah Madden (as are all women’s boots below)
I’m always very conscious of my ankles when walking on uneven ground but the Meindls did a superb job of holding them securely without rubbing on my shins. My feet are definitely on the wide side, and while these are not specially designed for that (Meindl do have their own Comfort Fit range, which is), they fitted well without being either too loose or over-tight.
The Meindl brand dates back to 1683 and its boots have reached the peak of Mt. Everest. They have excellent grip, which was exactly what I needed when climbing a treacherous, super-slippy chalk track on the South Downs on an extremely icy day. Most boots would have slipped here (I fell there last year), so I was delighted that they passed the test. The Contragrip sole offers extra traction across uneven terrain.
I was hugely impressed by these boots, which felt super-light. I have worked a lot in the African bush and on my next trip I shall be taking these for their Air-Active climatised footbed. Meindl boots can also be re-soled, which minimises their environmental impact.
Key features: 360g weight; Waterproof and breathable Gore-Tex lining and Air-Active footbed; Meindl sole unit of 22% recycled rubber
2. Hoka Tennine Hike walking boots
Best for cushioning
We liked the reduced impact on the knees
The Hokas have a very distinctive style that you’ll either love or hate. It’s all down to the outsize soles (4cm thick) with their ‘Hubble’ heels which jut out behind your foot to such a degree that you almost expect them to contain some sort of James Bond rocket launcher. Made of cushioned lightweight foam, they’re designed to facilitate the rolling of the foot from heel to toe. Even though they look as if they could be quite heavy, they actually weigh in at just 416g each.
The Hokas were very comfortable when I first put them on and remained comfortable throughout a half-day walk encountering a number of different terrains including muddy puddles, slippery grass and uneven stony ground. They also have excellent grip.
I really did feel that the impact on my legs, and particularly my knees, was reduced and that I can only put that down to the cushioning of the sole. The only proviso I would add is that the massive heel did get caught slightly between some rocks on a couple of occasions. Having said that, it was the perfect lever when it came to taking them off.
Key features: 416g weight; Vibram Litebase Megagrip outsole with Hubble heel; trail-tested HOKA geometry; waterproof Gore-Tex Leaf technology; abrasion rubber toecap
3. Grenson Nanette walking boots
Best for style
We like that these can be worn to the office as well as in the hills
Made of top quality Colorado Leather and regularly seen on celebrities, the Grensons are certainly not the most affordable boot, but for a stroll around the park these are going to be far more eye-catching than any of the other boots reviewed here.
I took mine out on the Sussex Downs followed by a pub lunch and managed to look stylish. I know there is much debate about the best wellington boots to wear at a festival, but the Nanettes would be a far better choice, keeping the mud out while looking genuinely cool.
Very annoyingly, one of my feet is a half-size larger than the other which means I have to be creative with thicker socks and tighter laces on one foot. My initial pair of size 5s were too large and I discovered later on the Grenson website that customers often order a half-size down from their usual size.
They may not look it, but these boots are very light for a pair of leather boots and I was amazed at how comfortable they felt with no breaking in required, due to the softness of the leather. In the wet, they definitely need a bit more maintenance than other boots to stay looking tip-top - careful cleaning, slow drying and leather polish - but they are so comfortable and elegant that in my book it’s worth the effort.
Key features: 405g weight; Smooth black Colorado leather with a tonal black suede panel; thick, but lightweight, commando sole; cross-over lacing
4. On Running Cloudrock Waterproof walking boots
Best ‘running boot’
We liked the futuristic look and bouncy feel
If I were to become the first woman on the moon, these are the shoes I’d most like to be wearing. They look very futuristic with their rippled Missiongrip soles and once they’re on your feet, you feel as if you’re walking in more of a bouncy, lunar gravity.
As primarily a running-shoe brand, On’s claim for them as a ‘running boot’ is entirely justified. found myself speeding along much faster than my normal walking pace as the soles are designed to create a rolling action.
They supported my feet really well and, as their name implies, kept my feet dry and warm on a wet day, as if I was wearing a wet-suit on my feet. The soles were nicely cushioned and comfortable even on stony, uneven ground. They also had superb ankle support, good for hill-running.
The FlexLock system tightens the laces with a single pull and much to my amazement their light faun ‘fabric’ uppers didn’t go dark when splashing through puddles: water just seemed to run off them. They looked good as new the next day.
These high tech Swiss shoes really don’t look or feel like boots. In fact, I would be happy to wear them out clubbing. I recommended them to a friend as, “the Apple Mac of walking boots”.
Key features: 380g weight; Missiongrip rubber soles; FlexLock lacing system; 360° mudguard; Zero-Gravity CloudTec cushioning
5. Scarpa Terra GTX walking boots
Best for ankle support
We like the extra padding, although it does make them a little too snug
These have been one of Scarpa’s flagship boots over the years and they have evolved with a number of upgrades. They have a traditional look and feel, but I wouldn’t recommend them for walkers with wide feet as mine did feel a little tight after an hour or so of wear. Having said that, they slipped on and off easily.
They also felt very supportive and comfortable, particularly around the ankles where the boots are nicely padded, and they passed the grippiness test with flying colours when I was walking down an icy, chalk path (lethal combination) from the top of the South Downs.
It may be that it was just the terrain and weather conditions, but after just a few walks in the Scarpas they did change very quickly from looking brand new to looking quite creased and worn. On the other hand, they certainly didn’t need any wearing in and the combination of the flexible leather of the uppers and the rigidity of the new Vibram Energy 2 sole is a winning one
The Gore-Tex lining is breathable, so that moisture on your feet can be wicked away. Unless you are testing in high summer, it’s always hard to test this claim but my feet and socks returned home dry on all occasions. I would feel confident embarking on a long distance walk over several days straight out of the box.
Key features: 500g weight; Gore-Tex waterproof; Vibram Energy II sole with PU cushioning layer; more space around toes; improved leather stitching
6. Ariat Skyline Summit GTX walking boots
We liked the excellent ankle protection
It came as no surprise to learn that the Skyline Summits are one of Ariat’s best-sellers. They are attractive, comfortable and very easy to get on and off, which for me is an important consideration.
I tested them out first on a ten-mile circuit along the Seven Sisters coast-line in East Sussex and found them very sturdy. It was one of those ‘all-weather’ days but they were up to the task, keeping my toes warm and dry and tackling deep, muddy bridle paths (my bête noire!) without slipping or getting stuck. However, I did feel my shins were aching a bit later so I wonder if they were slightly too heavy for me.
Ankle support is very important to me, having slipped and fallen a few times on ice and rabbit holes, so I liked the sturdy sole, firm grip and padded support around the ankle - although not everyone likes this firmer protection as it can feel quite restrictive. I’d call these a good all-round choice for the changing British weather.
Key features: 475g weight; Gore-Tex waterproofing and breathable membrane; full-grain leather with nylon panels; shock-absorbing midsole dual-density outsole with multi-directional traction