Autumn’s haute hiking boots were made for walking — the catwalk, that is
Finally, fashion designers have woken up to something I’ve known for years — if you want to combine style and comfort, wear hiking boots. This season, designers from Prada to Chanel and Maison Margiela to Aquazzura have come up with what I can only describe as very loose interpretations of the footwear I use to stride across the Yorkshire moors or climb a Munro in Glencoe in the Highlands. Most of the new hiking boots are more suitable for a saunter across a cocktail bar or cafe than ascending a one-in-three mountain path. Overdecorated, festooned with buckles, zips, embroidery and chunky soles, they scream, “Look at me!” Some are so oversized, they must make going up and down stairs a challenge — a bit like wearing the entire contents of a rucksack on your feet.
Anyone trying to hike in them would fall down the very first pothole they encountered
The trend towards practical footwear started a few seasons ago, with trainers, flatforms and tennis shoes. Suddenly women were liberated from the excruciating pain of wearing high heels — our feet could resume their normal shape and we were still on trend. Once millions of us seized the option of fashionable — and comfortable —shoes, designers realised it would be hard to lure us back to the bad old days of bunions, blisters and designs that forced us to walk slowly and totter, especially after a few drinks. I stopped wearing heels at all about four years ago — I do so much walking, my feet have expanded and hate being crammed into anything dainty. Now, I spend more time in my favourite walking boots than anything else.
My addiction to boots started about 10 years ago, when I forgot to pack any shoes for a trip to the Cannes Film Festival. I wore a black beaded shift dress with the black-and-white basketball boots I’d arrived in to an A-list dinner — and they went down a storm. Since then, I rarely wear heels, and only thick, chunky ones for a couple of hours at most. This season’s boots are hilarious — anyone trying to hike in the vertiginous pair by Aquazzura (emblazoned with a cross, a bit like a medieval female Crusader boot crossed with something from Game of Thrones) would rapidly fall down the very first pothole they encountered. Most of these boots have thick, ribbed rubber soles, but feature so many laces and zips that they must be a pain to get on and off. The secret to the best hiking shoes is their weight. Modern technology means that technical boots are now lighter than most trendy trainers and far more robust, because long-distance walkers, fell runners and rock climbers all want shoes that are sturdy, waterproof, have nonslip soles and a cut that supports your ankle to prevent knee and ankle strain. Some of the latest designer styles must weigh a ton before you’ve even crossed the pavement from cab to restaurant. Prada boots even have brass plates on the toes, along with their laces and buckles — the end result looks like Pinball Wizard. Russell & Bromley’s hiking boots have names like Outlander and Glamper, but would you really wear a pair of taupe suede boots for a visit to the toilet tent in the middle of the night?
I have hiked in the Himalayas, walked from Edinburgh to London and trekked long distance in the Australian Outback, and on each trip, my boots become my special friend — I am going to spend more time with them than any bloke. At the start, we may have a difficult relationship — they will be a bit stiff, and my heels might blister. I usually just pop it and bathe it in white spirit to harden the skin. Job done in 24 hours. My top tip: it’s important to wear new boots around the house for several days before you walk for more than an hour. They gradually mould to the shape of your feet and then you never want to take them off. Of course, I’ve had some disasters: thick leather boots that never softened to fit my knobbly toes; eventually I gave them to a charity shop. And heavy Austrian boots with plates in the soles — OK for climbing the Matterhorn and weight training, but too heavy for me.
Of all the new designer boots, only Chanel has come up with a pair that look comfortable, but at that price, you’d expect it. Zara’s boots are very cool, with their chrome chains, but some designs, such as Kenzo’s white rubber soles and Pierre Hardy’s high wedges, are hardly flattering. There’s a fine line between style and stupidity. In the end, the best boots are like great architecture — form must follow function. Which is why I am writing this wearing a black pair of Inov-8 fell-walkers’ boots — British made, cool and without embellishment. Like the best UK brands, they do the job brilliantly in an understated way.