Walking boots. I have always had a problem with walking boots. Everyone seems to have a pair. Everyone who ever goes for a walk in the countryside seems to default to their stout, sturdy, supportive, old faithful walking boots. It is instilled into you that when you go for a proper walk you must wear your boots to support your ankles, to protect your feet, to make the walk as comfortable as possible. People spend a lot of time choosing the right pair and then spend a lot money on their boot of choice.
It’s ironic that just about everyone I know ends up complaining of blisters, aching feet, sore toes and tight muscles after wearing their ‘protective’ boots. It has always defied me why we are expected to armour our feet with such heavy, bulky, inflexible bricks for doing the most natural, inherent activity that humans do – walking. You’re going for a walk, not working on a construction site.
Yes, I have such a pair, just like everyone else. I’ve had them for about 12 years. But I haven’t worn them for walking/hiking for about ten of those years; not for the Three Peaks Challenge, not for walking the South West Coast Path, not for backpacking across Dartmoor, not the Brecon Beacons, not the Cumbrian Fells, Scottish Munros, the Australian Bibbulmun Track. I could go on. Even before I learnt about minimalist footwear I preferred to feel what my feet were walking on, to be able to move my feet and to use them to grip and to balance. My ankles are strong enough to cope without being braced, and I would rather have as little weight as possible around my feet.
It’s been just about four years since I saw the light of minimalist footwear. In that time I’ve taught myself to run naturally in minimalist / barefoot shoes, or in no shoes at all. I walk in minimalist / barefoot shoes, or in no shoes at all. In fact I spend my life in minimalist / barefoot footwear, or no footwear at all. I even wear barefoot shoes for work. All of my old shoes have long gone because I have minimalist / barefoot shoes for every occasion. There is just one exception.
The only time I wear walking boots is for their waterproof qualities. When out walking in the wet, wearing waterproof trousers is great, and even waterproof shoes are fine (waterproof running shoes are another story). But with the over-trousers and shoes combo the water soaks through your socks, and your shoes if not waterproof, so your feet end up soaked anyway. For me, the big decision has always been whether to accept that I’ll have wet but light and unrestricted feet for most of the walk, or whether to have dry but heavy and bound feet. Light, unrestricted and dry has never been an option (unless you’re prepared to wrap your feet in plastic bags).
Freet have the solution. This is their brand new minimalist walking boot. And I love it.
For all intents and purposes it is a walking boot. Ankle-height, waterproof, durable, rugged, aggressive tread on the sole. But pick them up and you’ll notice they’re not normal. They’re refreshingly light weight, and their sole is thin.
As their name suggests they are based on the Mudgrip shoe which I reviewed last year. They have a low profile 4mm drop from heel to toe, and the thinness of the sole unit gives it far more flexibility than any standard walking boot. Freet have used Phylon for the midsole rather than the more mainstream injected EVA. This offers both cushioning and flexibility but in a thinner unit. They have the same super-aggressive outsole as their shoe cousins, which gives tremendous traction in all terrain. As I wrote in my review of the shoes, the sole is made from a rubber compound which sticks remarkably well to wet rock, and the spacing of the deep lugs allows mud to fall away without clogging.
Their uppers are a light and supple waterproof breathable soft-shell, with Freet’s FDry waterproof lining. I’ve always been a little sceptical about synthetic waterproof and breathable fabrics, so I have repeatedly put these boots to the test. Like water off a duck’s back. After some time in the wet, water does begin to soak through the soft-shell uppers where they bend and crease, but so far I have not had it get through to my socks. Waterproof: yes.
Although the claim is that the uppers are fully breathable, my feet always come out feeling hot and humid, gasping for air. But my feet do that even in my leather desert boots. Breathable: I remain sceptical.
As with the Mudgrip shoes you’ll probably need to go a whole size smaller than your normal size (I’m usually a 45 but with these the 44s fit perfectly). Other than that I can’t really find fault with these. They’re comfortable to wear all day, they keep the water out, they’re minimalist, they grip well, they’re light, and they look good. With this boot Freet have provided the answer to the problem you may not even know you had.
For anyone who is looking for a new walking boot, whether they’re looking for minimalist or not, these have to be the ones to go for. Based on their minimalism, weight, water resistance, and traction, I believe they surpass any standard walking boot on the market. Personally I will still always choose to wear minimalist shoes for walking and hiking in the dry, but I won’t hesitate to put these boots on when it’s wet.