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Trekking Footwear - What do I wear on my feet?

People often ask me what footwear is the best for trekking in the UK mountains. Generally they are referring to summer hillwalking, so let’s put aside winter conditions where snow and ice are the norm. Saying that, of course, throughout the rest of the seasons the weather can still greatly vary from beautiful blue skies with sunshine to gale force winds and heavy rain, so this can dictate what footwear is ‘best’ for trekking. There are a variety of different factors to also consider when choosing the best footwear, but for the purpose of this, I will cover what’s appropriate for the 3 Peaks and day challenges on the highest of the British mountains.

Other factors to consider:

The weather is of course an important factor to take on board, however, we need to consider the terrain of the mountain we are planning to hike up. Are there well-defined paths all the way to the summit? How rocky are these paths or the surrounding terrain? Is there loose rock and scree? If you don’t know the terrain of the mountain you are attempting, it would be best to prepare for all eventualities. The problem is with trail shoes or trainers becoming more and more popular, do you go with shoes or boots?

Walking shoes versus boots:

In the summer months on well-defined trail paths it is possible to wear both. However, in my experience, if you are going for these mountain challenges, then risks are increased and not wearing the appropriate footwear can result in slips and falls, and potentially wet, cold and sore feet, where blisters are the most common injury on the skin. I therefore recommend 2 to 3 season boots. This will provide good stability on rocky and loose terrain, especially with ankle support and waterproof lining, such as Goretex. Where the weather conditions can vary greatly, boots will provide better grip on wet rock, and more control on loose stones and rocks. Also, they will generally keep your feet warm and dry. Another important point to note is that boots will help reduce the impact on your feet from trekking long days and possibly up several mountains. Trainers or shoes won’t be as better equipped to deal with this impact, and could potentially cause serious injuries, especially if you are going for the National 3 Peaks, which puts a significant strain on the feet after 12 hours (minimum) of quick-paced trekking.

Brand new footwear:

This deserves a sub-heading of it’s own, due to the amount of times I’ve witnessed people turn up to a challenge in brand new boots. In every case, they have suffered with severe blisters and sore feet, and most of the time pulling out of the challenge. My advice is to wear them in plenty. Around your home if necessary, to the local park and back, and of course up any hills, but start small, an hour here and there, increasing over time. If you feel pain in your feet you may need to make a few adjustments with laces or socks, but if problems persist, it may be worth seeing a foot specialist or buying a different pair of boots.

***It is important to note that if borrowing footwear from someone, you may still need to wear them in, and even then there’s a risk that they won’t be suitable. Also, find out how old they are and examine the state they are in, so that they don’t fall apart whilst you’re halfway up a mountain!

From my experience, I’d say the right footwear is one of the most important pieces of gear to have on a mountain challenge, and therefore, it requires time and consideration, and possibly professional advice to ensure you have the best pair for you.