This is perhaps one of the most difficult things to advise people on. There are so many different types of trekking and climbing boots out there. It’s impossible for me to know all of them. So over here, I’ll just touch on some basic principles. But make no mistake about it, good and appropriate footwear is very important for any adventure trip. Having the wrong footwear or having footwear disintegrating on you during the trip can be uncomfortable, debilitating or even dangerous.
Weight and space are always issues that the trekker has to deal with. I’ve been laughed at for bringing 2 pairs of boots. Many people bring a very old and failing pair of boots for one last trip before they throw it away. Do they need to be reminded that they are taking an unnecessary risk? This sort of perfect planning often have imperfect results. There is no telling when that old piece of junk will fall apart. Very often, it’s halfway through the trek. Ouch!
A good pair of boots is seldom cheap. What do you look out for? Nowadays, trekking boots are often made of nylon and synthetic suede. These are usually the cheapest type of boots you can find.
Apart from the attractive price tag, these boots are light, flexible and comfortable. Disadvantages include not the lack of durability and water-resistance. I would definitely wear these for a long but technically uncomplicated approach hike to base camp, but they are not suitable for any serious climbing or other formidable terrain. Being light and slightly flexible, they won’t tax you so much on long walks. These boots are suitable for a climb up Mt Kinabalu. Don’t get anything more “sophisticated” than this.
Next, we have a slightly higher grade of trekking boots. You’ll find a combination of rubber, nylon and some synthetic leather-like or suede-like material.
Apart from price tags, these boots are heavier and more rigid. Again, there are advantages and disadvantages. If there are frozen puddles and some thin snow and ice on the trail, these boots will definitely do better than their flexible nylon cousins.
Whether it’s the toe, the heel or the sole itself, you’ll notice that these boots are tougher and stiffer. While they are not good for scrambling over fallen trees and loose rocks, they are a great help on snowy, icy ground as well as steep, rocky slopes.
On steep, rocky slopes where you need a grip on narrow notches and ledges, an absolutely stiff sole is essential. We’re now in the realm of technical climbing boots. Plastic double boots used to be the norm, but nowadays, single boots with a surface resembling kevlar are hitting the market. They claim to be more resistant to cracking. Of course, they’re as stiff as a poker. Definitely not for scrambling and other easy hikes.
Stiffness also make these boots crampon-friendly. Couple that with good insulation and you’re ready for some serious alpine adventures.
So you see, it’s not crazy at all to bring more than one pair of boots on a trip that varies from easy hikes to serious climbing. Very often, my trips are somewhere in between. If I have no one to impress, I’d go for SAF goretex boots. They are good enough for most trips.