Your boots are probably the single most important item of all your hiking / hillwalking / mountaineering gear. This page provides some useful information about walking/mountaineering boots and tips for choosing the right pair, as well as details on boot/crampon compatibility.
Comfort, support, grip, and waterproofing are all very important. Keeping your feet dry and comfortable can make the difference between an thoroughly enjoyable day and a thoroughly miserable one. Keeping a secure footing is also very important for your safety and can only be achieved with appropriate and well-fitting footwear. A leather boot with full ankle support is still the best all-rounder for general hillwalking and mountaineering use, but look out for ones with a Gore-tex, eVent or equivalent waterproof lining as these can keep your feet dry even after the leather has started letting water through. Alternatively waterproof socks can be worn inside boots that don’t have a waterproof lining.
Crampons and Crampon Compatibility
In the Scottish mountains in winter, crampons (spikes attached to boots) are often needed as the ground can be icy. These can be borrowed from the club’s gear store but it is essential that they properly fit your boots; if they come loose this can be very dangerous. Crampons need to be size adjusted to your boots, which should always be done before you set off for the hills (this can be done in the gear store if you bring one of your boots along). However firstly you need to make sure you have boots that are designed to take crampons. In general this means making sure your boots are of the right type.
Boots are generally described by the number of seasons of the year they are intended to be used in:
- 2 season = summer + autumn
- 3 season = spring + summer + autumn
- 4 season = all year round (including winter!)
In the UK boots are classified as B0, B1, B2 or B3 to provide more helpful and specific guidelines on how they are intended to be used. Crampons are classified as C0, C1, C2 or C3.
This grading system was devised by
mountaineer and mountain guide Brian Hall and the descriptions below are taken from a good page on the Mountain Boot Co. website which they sadly took down a few years ago. These descriptions are only a guide and should be used as a supplement (not a
substitute) for good advice from trained shop staff, experienced
mountaineers or mountain guides.
B0 Boots (2-3 season, walking)
Most two and three season walking boots are not suitable for crampon use (despite what some people claim). They are designed to flex for comfort and do not have sufficient lateral and longitudinal rigidity in their midsole. As a result crampons cannot be fitted securely and may fall off in potentially dangerous situations. Additionally the upper is often made of thinner leather or a combination of suede/fabric that compresses easily under crampon straps causing discomfort and cold feet.
Crampon compatibility: Typically none
B1 Boots (4 season, hillwalking)
These are four season hillwalking boots and usually have a reasonably stiff flexing sole and the uppers provide enough ankle and foot support for traversing relatively steep slopes. When fitted with certain types of flexible C1 crampons (see below) they are suitable for the easiest snow and ice conditions found when hill walking. They are also suitable for emergency and occasional use when crossing a short patch of snow or ice, rather than setting out initially fitted for a full days walk.
Crampon compatibility: Some C1 crampons
Examples: Mammut Mountain Trail XT GTX / Scarpa SL (note SL doesn’t have a Gore-tex lining!)
B2 Boots (4 season, winter mountaineering)
These are generally mountaineering and four season mountain walking boots which have a stiff flex with the equivalent of a three quarter or full shank midsole and a supportive upper made from high quality leather (probably over 3mm thick). These boots can be typically used all day with C1 or C2 crampons (see below), for example on the easiest Scottish snow and ice climbs and straightforward alpine glacial terrain.
Crampon compatibility: C1 or C2 crampons
Examples: Scarpa Charmoz / LaSportiva Trango Alp / Scarpa Manta (note Manta has no Gore-tex lining!)
B3 Boots (4 season, winter mountaineering / winter climbing)
These are technical mountaineering and climbing boots that are designed to have a rigid midsole and upper to provide support when climbing. Their stiff sole provides a platform to fit any type of crampon including totally rigid C3 ice climbing crampons (see below).
Crampon compatibility: C1, C2 or C3 crampons (ideal for C3)
Examples: Scarpa Jorasses / LaSportiva Nepal Evo / Scarpa Omega (plastic)
Crampons are made for different purposes (walking, mountaineering and ice climbing) and need to be compatible with the boots they are fitted to, so they work in harmony. Even relatively stiff boots can flex and the crampon has to be able to flex and twist to stay safely on the boot. Crampons have two components which define their use and hence their grade. The metal spiked base (how flexible and how many spikes, or “points”) and the strapping or binding system (basic tie-on or various systems for clipping on).
C1 Crampons (8-10 points, winter walking)
These crampons are used for walking. They are generally made as a hinged or flexible 8 to 10 point crampon with or without front points and are commonly attached with straps or a plastic style binding system. The Grivel G9 typifies this grade of crampon. However the Grivel G10 with the “New Classic” (tie-on) binding system (which is often referred to as a C2 grade crampon) fits many B1 boots and can be regarded as a bridge between the two grades.
Boot compatibility: B1, B2 or B3 boots
C2 (10-12 points, winter mountaineering)
This is a multi-purpose mountaineering crampon with 10 or 12 points including front points. Attached with straps all round or straps at the front and clip-on heel.
The Grivel G10 is ideal for all day mountain walking, whereas the longer pointed G12 is a good choice for experienced mountaineers and ice climbers. The Grivel New Classic or Newmatic binding system are a perfect match for these two models.
Boot compatibility: B2 or B3 boots
C3 (12-14 points, winter climbing)
These are full on climbing crampons attached by full clip-on system of toe bar and heel clip. The G12 or G14 with a Crampomatic binding is a good combination for winter, alpine and mixed climbing. The more specialist Rambo crampons are designed for high-grade, technical ice climbing.
Boot compatibility: B3 boots
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
I think my Boots are only 2-3 season / B0.
Am I OK to wear them on club meets?
These are fine for hiking and hillwalking in spring/summer/autumn but note that many club meets are in winter, and using these boots in winter is inadvisable.
The winter hillwalking/mountaineering season usually starts around November/December and runs through to March/April but conditions can vary from year to year. To be safe on the mountains in icy winter conditions, you should wear 4 season boots that are designed for the conditions and can safely take crampons if wearing them becomes necessary.
That said, depending on the conditions and the area you are visiting you may still be able to find things you can safely do with 2-3 season boots even in winter (e.g. by sticking to lower level / easier routes).
I’m about to buy a pair of Boots – what should I get?
Ultimately this is a personal choice and will depend on your budget and what kind of hiking/hillwalking/mountaineering you want to do.
If you plan to do hillwalking and mountaineering in winter as well as summer and want one pair of boots you can use year-round, then you should probably be looking at B1 boots.
If on the other hand you aren’t really planning to do hillwalking in winter and are on a tight budget you may be tempted to consider B0 boots. It is worth thinking carefully about this however since many of the club meets do take place in winter, and winter hillwalking and mountaineering are popular activities within the club. You may then be faced with buying a second pair of boots later on for use in winter which will cost you more in the long run.
On the other hand if you are quite a keen hillwalker or mountaineer and feel you can afford to own two pairs of boots you may decide to have a more rigid B2/B3 pair for winter use only, and a flexible B0 pair which you can use the rest of the time.
Of course choosing boots that are comfortable is always really important in any case – see notes above.
Remember the above information is a provided for information only and you should seek advice from trained staff at a specialist outdoor retailer or from experienced mountaineers or mountain guides.