As the snow fades into the memory it's time to pack away the winter kit and bring out your lighter clothes and boots. With Britain's unpredictable weather, where you can experience 4 seasons in a day, and mixed terrain, from canal towpaths to mountain ridges, finding a good all-round boot is essential. Of all the outdoor kit you use your boots will do the most miles and their performance will have the greatest impact on your enjoyment. As Spring takes hold we've taken a look at six of the best 3 season boots on the market this season.
What to Look For
Fit: There is, quite simply, nothing more important about a pair of boots than how it feels on your feet. While you only use other gear occassionally you're usually on your feet for the whole day and the slightest compromise on fit will amplify as you hit the trail. Choosing the right boot is far more than picking a size; boots are designed on templates, called lasts, which vary in length, width and volume, giving each last a subtly different shape. Each manufacturer will use their own lasts, meaning a size 42 from one brand may feel tight or narrow while a 42 from another brand will feel too spacious. It's not unknown for manufacturers to use different lasts for different models of boots, just to confuse the matter. The general rule on fit is that unless you're directly replacing like for like you should always try a pair of boots in the shop - and spend as long as you can afford, and get away with, walking in them in the shop. Don't feel embarassed at walking up and down or asking for assistance in testing their grip. Try and slide your feet around in the boot, checking that they hold your heel well and your feet down slide forwards on downhills. You're going to be spending hours in those boots and making a not inconsiderable investment when you part with your cash.
Uppers: In general almost all uppers on boots are made of leather, either nu-buck or full grain. In lightweight boots the leather may be combined with fabric for weight saving. With full grain leather boots you have the advantage of leather's ability to stretch, along with its natural waterproofing, and the traditional image of heavy, unwieldy, thick leather boots has been transformed over recent years with full grain leather boots now far lighter.
Lining: Since the advent of GoreTex the membrane lined boot has become almost universal. There are still a significant number of people, however, who feel a membrane is unnecessary and a well maintained leather boot requires no additional waterproofing without compromising on breathability. It's indisputable that a memrane lining does make a boot warmer to wear and decrease breathability by putting a waterproof barrier between the foot and the outer, and manufacturers have spent fortunes on trying to arrive at the perfect compromise. As with fit the choice of membrane lined or not is a personal one, although you'll find the majority of boots only come in a lined version. In 2015 GoreTex have released what they hope is a game changer in terms of membrane breathability with the new Surround membrane.
Sole: The majority of 3 season boots will come with an all round tread pattern suitable for a range of terrain from heat-baked trails to mud and grass. If you're looking for something more adventurous with a bit of scrambling possible then look for a slightly stiffer outsole to allow you to stand on the edges.
Cut: 3 season footwear comes in three basic cuts; the approach shoe, mid cut and full boot, refering to the height of the ankle cuff. The general principle is the higher the ankle cuff the greater the level of support but the less flexible a shoe or boot is.
Meindl X-SO 70 Mid GTX
The Meindl X-SO 70 is one of the first of the new generation of boots using the new Gore-Tex Surround technology which uses a mesh wedge that is inserted between the GTX liner and the sole which allows hot air to flow away from the sole of the foot and pass out through laser perforated holes on the side of the boot.
Price: £160 Weight:920g (pair size 42) Upper: Ventilation mesh Lining: GoreTex Surround Sole: Meindl Magic
At a glance the Meindl X-SO 70 Mid GTX looks very much like any other lightweight 3 season boot, it was even the 3rd different boot to arrive in a week in the same blue/black combination of colours, but it doesn't take long to realise this is a different boot. In physical terms it's a slightly wider than average fit with a medium volume and a quite low toe. The mid cut is a good compromise between support and flexibility, complementing the flexibility of the sole unit which bends readily. The heel cup is excellent with minimal movement even on angled slopes and carefully laced it's a very comfortable boot if it fits your foot shape.
You can't get away from the fact that boots using GoreTex Surround look different, with escape holes in the side of the boot to allow the under-foot generated heat and moisture an outlet. In the Meindle X-SO 70 the precision laser cut holes form black plastic strips along each side where you'd expect a rand in traditional boots. Early tests would indicate the Surround membrane does reduce the inevitable build up of heat inside the boot without impacting on water resistance, with the difference becoming more noticeable the longer the walk.
As with any new technology it's going to take time before the verdict is in on GoreTex Surround but based on comfort, flexibility, support and construction the X-SO 70 would be good value for the £160 price tag with standard membrane technology. If the Surround membrane proves durable and maintains the initial perceived improvement in breathability the price tag will look a bargain.
Verdict: 8/10 - Lightweight, comfortable, Surround membrane
Zamberlan Gardena Z85 NW GTX
The Zamberlan Gardena NW GTX looks like you probably imagined a hiking boot as a child; classic brown full grain leather with the subtle variations of colour you only get in full grain leather. The contrasting tan ankle support and tongue bellows added to the Dr Martins style stitching empasise that this a solid and durable boot.
Price: £255 Weight:1464g (pair size 42) Upper: Full grain Tuscany leather Lining: GoreTex Sole: Vibram NorWalk
The Z85 is a special edition boot commemorating 85 years of boot making for Zamberlan, and it's a boot built on 85 years of tradition with the Italian flag proudly intergrated into the tongue of each boot. In physical character it feels slightly short for the size and the last is noticeably lower volume than average. While nowhere near the weight of a traditional boot these do feel like a solid unit, an impression reinforced by a sole with very little lateral flex. In use there's enough flex for miles after mile of trail bashing in comfort but the lateral rigidity means the Z85 would be equally at home taking on a scramble.
The midsole combines comfort with support, making it a very comfortable boot underfoot and with the centre of gravity being noticeable towards the front of the boot the the low rockered sole gives a natural stride pattern with a positive launch from the toes. The sole provides good grip across a mix of terrain and performs noticeably well on gravel and scree while being a durable enough compound to handle miles on tarmac if necessary. With a solid construction and a GoreTex lining some may find the Zamberlan Z85 a warm boot for summer use but step off the trail and onto the mountains and you'll appreciate its classic feel. At £255 they're a major investment, but these aren't single season boots - these are beautifully made boots that will last you for years.
Verdict: 7/10 - solid and durable, day long support, premium price