Footwear and gaiters

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Well-fitting, good quality boots or walking shoes are essential for safe and comfortable bushwalking.

A good fit:

  • Leaves room for the toes (they must not contact the front of the footwear)
  • Secures the heel snugly and prevents excessive heel lift
  • Prevents side-to-side slipping
  • Does not constrict the foot or have pressure points.

When purchasing walking shoes or boots:

  • Go to a store that has testing ramps imitating walking on uneven surfaces.
  • Take a pair of good quality walking socks for trying on boots or shoes. 
  • Footwear sizes vary considerably and can be inconsistent between brands and even between models of the same brand. 
  • There is a large range available, so even those with particularly narrow or wide feet should find a style that fits well. 
  • Those who use orthotics need to check carefully at the time of purchase that the orthotic fits.
  • Heavier boots with good tread are most suitable for snow walking and using snowshoes

It is important for safety and comfort to use the appropriate boot or shoe for the type of terrain and walking to be undertaken. Footwear that is too light for a rough, off-track walk is unsafe, can fail and won’t protect feet sufficiently. Conversely, wearing heavy boots on a well-formed track on a day walk is very tiring.

Runners or jogging shoes are sometimes worn on day walks along well-formed tracks, but are not recommended for longer walks or off-track routes.

Walking Shoes

  • Low and mid-cut walking shoes made of a fabric/leather combination are light and suitable for day walks and track walks.
  • Some tread patterns are more suitable for bush tracks than others.
  • Walking shoes have a more flexible sole than a heavier boot so provide less foot protection and support on rough terrain and when carrying heavy loads.
  • Walking shoes do not offer ankle support or protection.
  • May not last as long as a heavier boot.

Boots

  • Medium weight walking boots are usually preferred for overnight or extended pack carrying trips.
  • Are constructed of a sturdy fabric and/or leather. Full leather boots are more suitable for very rough or wet conditions.
  • Have a rubber sole and many are lined with a waterproof membrane.
  • Provide support for the ankle and have a firmer, shock absorbing layer in the sole that protects the foot from jarring when walking, particularly on rough, rocky surfaces.
  • Heavy boots can take time to ‘break in’ to feel comfortable.
  • Should be comfortable before undertaking an extended trip
  • Heavier boots are not as comfortable as walking shoes for day walks on good tracks when carrying light loads.

Insoles

  • Boots come with insoles that provide some cushioning and support.
  • Different insoles can be purchased to improve comfort and fit.

Socks

Walking socks are:

  • Designed to protect the foot, provide cushioning and wick away moisture.
  • Made from a blend of wool and synthetic materials to create the right balance between comfort, warmth, durability and quickness of drying.
  • Wick moisture to keep feet drier, many have built-in cushioning, some are seamless and all generally dry quickly.
  • Available in different heights. Socks should be higher than the footwear cuff to prevent rubbing 

Liner socks are very thin socks worn under another pair to give the same volume in a boot or shoe and help reduce rubbing and moisture on skin.

Toe socks can help prevent blisters by keeping toes separate and wicking moisture away between them.

Carry a spare pair of socks for dry feet at night.

Gaiters

Gaiters provide protection for the lower leg and attach to footwear. They:

  • Are made of proofed nylon, canvas or Gore-tex.
  • Are available in ankle, mid-calf and knee lengths.
  • Keep stones, sticks, mud and snow out of boots and seeds out of socks.
  • Protect shins from scratches and abrasion.
  • Provide some protection against snake bite and leeches.
  • Protect pants from catching and tearing in scrub.

Knee-length gaiters are an advantage in deep snow, thick scrub and on scree slopes.

Front fastening gaiters are easier to put on than rear fastening ones.

Velcro or stud fastenings are easier to use than zips. 

Instep straps prevent gaiters from riding up. Tough, hard-wearing instep straps are better than an elastic cord.

Additional footwear

A pair of lightweight runners or sandals with a heel strap (e.g. Teva, Crocs) give feet a rest from having been in boots all day.

For dry feet at camp if boots are wet put on dry socks, then plastic bags and then the wet boots. Socks stay dry, feet stay warm. Not suitable for walking in as feet sweat.

Rivers crossings

  • Boots should be worn for river crossings where the river bed is rocky or cannot be seen clearly, but wet boots are the result.
  • For shallow streams, sandals with a heel strap or runners are suitable.

Booties and camp slippers

  • Cordura/Gore-Tex booties lined with wool or synthetic fibre or down-filled can be very comfortable for camp use.
  • Are particularly useful for extended winter or alpine trips.

Care of footwear during and after the trip

  • Never dry footwear beside an open fire. Footwear can be burnt, synthetic materials can melt and sole adhesives can soften and later fail. 
  • Clean footwear thoroughly after each trip to remove potential soil-borne plant pathogens to prevent transference to other areas on future trips.
  • Use specially formulated cleaning and waterproofing agents.
  • Dry boots slowly at home.  Stuffing with some newspaper helps them dry.
  • Apply waterproofing to clean, dry boots and shoes before storing.
  • Leather boots are easier to treat if first warmed in the sun or a warm room before and after applying proofing.
  • Proofing several times, starting a week or so before a trip, may be needed particularly if leather boots have not been used for some time.
  • Boots made of a fabric/leather combination also benefit from regular application of water repellent treatments.