Putting your best foot forward – Equipment for outdoor adventures Part 1
By Bren Whelan
Photos copyright www.mountaintraining.ie
Sir Ranulph Fiennes said, ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing’. This certainly rings true when it comes to outdoor clothing and especially footwear. Recently it seems to be more like winter than summer and last winter seemed much more preferable to this so called summer in Donegal!
Did you know that twenty-five per cent of the bones in your body are in your feet? That’s fifty two bones! Also worth noting is that year on year some thirty-five per cent of Mountain Rescue callouts are the result of what’s termed as ‘a lower leg injury’ i.e. when a walker has injured somewhere below the knee, normally a sprained, strained or broken ankle.
If the boot fits!
Footwear worn in the mountains should help you move easily and efficiently over varied ground. It should also hold the foot in a comfortable position. A well-fitting pair of boots, combined with quality foot beds and a well-designed pair of walking socks can really provide many blister free days of mountain use and enjoyment.
For example, boots with soft flexible soles and fabric uppers and limited water resistance are termed ‘one season’. Use these on easy walking paths and uncomplicated terrain.
Boots with a more robust, but flexible sole and aggressive tread pattern are termed ‘two season’. These might be suitable for a greater variety of terrain, but they will most likely only give a very limited amount of ankle support. They tend to have a fabric upper, possibly with a Gore-tex lining.
‘Three season’ boots have a stiffer sole unit and a leather or fabric upper which is Gore-tex lined, so they tend to provide very good waterproofness. This type of boot also offers much greater support for the foot over rough and broken terrain. Generally this type of boot is the best choice for the variety of walking that we have on offer in Donegal or elsewhere.
‘Four season’ boots generally have a fully stiffened sole and leather upper. They are suitable for rough terrain and are an ideal choice for winter mountaineering as it is possible to attach crampons to them.
Boot construction varies greatly and the quality of the leather used has a direct effect on the boots life span. The longevity of a pair of boots will be greatly enhanced if the boots are cared for properly. To that end it is important that boots are fully cleaned of all mud and dirt and if wet dried fully after use. The drying process should not be too intense or aggressive. You should remove the foot beds and stuff them tightly with newspaper (if possible change this once or twice overnight). This will help remove most of the moisture from the boot. Place them in a warm, but not hot, place and allow them to dry slowly. Once dried you can then apply a waterproofing treatment, allowing this some time to soak in, but try and avoid using too much treatment as it can soften the leather.
Breaking Boots In
Boots in the ‘three’ and ‘four’ season category tend to be a lot less supple than their lighter, softer and altogether more supple ‘one’ and ‘two’ season counterparts. It’s often quite risky to use a new pair of boots on a long journey without giving them some time to ‘break in’. Often wearing the boots at home or on shorter easier walks can allow your feet some time to get used to the boot. Personally I tend not to go with the idea of wearing two pairs of socks in my mountain boots. I like to go with something like a Bridgedale, Smart Wool or Thorlo sock. A good quality sock will help stave off blisters and if they do develop or you feel a ‘hot spot’ stop and address the problem as soon as possible. Compeed is a popular blister treatment plaster and you should consider carrying some when taking your new boots for a test drive!
Unless you really know what you want, don’t buy off the internet! Get yourself to a local outdoor shop so you can get some sound advice on what type of boot will suit both your needs and more importantly your foot!
Next time – What should you carry in your back pack?