Essential Kit: Outdoor Shoes & Socks

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When taking to the great outdoors you don’t always need big clunky boots or sometimes even boots at all. A good pair of approach shoes may be all you need… Here’s our guide of what to look for.

Outsole:

Look for lugs that are well spaced and deep, so they can provide a good grip without easily clogging with mud or wearing away too quickly.

Upper:

A leather upper made with minimal stitching will last for many years if cared for well and will probably outlast the grip on the sole. Alternatively, an upper that is made from lots of layers of synthetic fabric, mesh and thin strips of suede leather is unlikely to be a durable and can be slow drying. That said, mesh and synthetic uppers are lighter and lower priced.

Midsole Flex:

Take the show and twist the sole to test lateral stiffness, then bend the heel to the toe to test longitudinal stiffness. The stiffness of your shoe is absolutely personal choice, but generally a more flexible shoe is more comfortable on flat, level ground and a stiffer shoe is better for more technical, rocky ground such as when scrambling.

Weight:

Outdoor shoes are often chosen in preference to boots because they are lighter. However, the lighter the shoe the less support they often offer.

Cushioning:

Some shoes have more cushioning underfoot than others. If walking long distances with a pack on firm ground, then a well cushioned shoe is welcome. The more cushioning a shoe has then it will often be less sensitive so not as good for small footholds or making progress on more technical, rocky ground.

Toe Box:

A stiffened toe box is very important to protect the foot from stray rocks. You can test this by pressing down on it with your thumb above where your toes would be inside the shoe. You can then judge whether you feel it offers you the protection you need.

Socks

Length:

The same sock design will often come in different lengths.  For hillwalking a medium-length sock that comes to the bottom of the calf is commonly preferred.  But you may prefer a knee-length sock if you often wear shorts or just want extra warmth.  Short socks may seem ideal in summer, but they may not fully cushion your foot against a boot’s high ankle cuff.  So, choose socks that at least protect against the ankle cuff of your footwear.

Fit:

It is the combination of sizing, materials, carefully placed seams and elastication that leads to a close, foot-hugging fit, which smoothly follows the contours of your feet without bagginess.  Some socks will fit your feet better than others.  We always recommend people try their socks and boots together, as it’s the combination of both that gives ultimate comfort.

Materials:

The fabric used is one of the most important features to consider, as it is this that manages the sweat and odour so often associated with wearing socks with walking boots.  Synthetic materials are excellent at transporting moisture away from the skin and are ideal for really sweaty feet.  Natural merion wool is very popular as it is comfortable, but it can become saturated with moisture in very warm conditions, so many socks now combine merino wool with a synthetic material to manage moisture better.  Merino is also great for combating odour, while synthetic socks may contain treatments or materials that also combat pong-producing bacterial growth.  The main material to avoid is cotton, as this soaks up water (rather than moving it away) and dries slowly, leading to wet feet.

Seams:

The quality of the seams is a key feature of socks, and they need to be smooth to prevent sore spots.  Examine the seams closely and look at how well they sit on your foot.  In the best socks, the seams are barely noticeable.  The socks shown here have flat-knit toe seams.

Thickness:

Socks come in various thicknesses, with thicker ones offering extra warmth and cushioning, while thinner ones are cooler and less cushioned.  Broadly speaking, a thicker sock is ideal for winter and a thinner sock is suitable for summer, but walkers may find that a well-designed thicker sock is best all year round as the padding may make rocky terrain more comfortable.  Thin liner socks have traditionally been worn under medium-thickness socks to reduce blisters, and sometimes a combination of think and thick socks may help improve the fit of boots – particularly if you have one foot that is markedly different in size or shape from your other foot.

Sizing:

It’s vital that socks fit well, as loose areas may lead to rubbing and blisters, so having a sock that comes in a broad range of sizes may increase your chances of finding the perfect fit.  Low-priced socks may only be available in a small size range, while others are designated ‘left’ and ‘right’ to improve fit further.