Long-term travel and backpacking boots don’t seem to get on very well
If you were following my tweets last week you’ll know that for about the 6th time in 8 years yet another pair of my backpacking boots fell apart. I’d love to say it was due to a fault in the stitching or something similar.
Quite honestly they just weren’t up to the job. They simply disintegrated.
What’s the best boot for long-term travel?
The ones you feel most comfortable in.
That’s the honest answer. Forget ultra-neo-contour-memory-foam and Gortex-breathable-waterproof-antibacterial linings. If the shoe or boot doesn’t fit well then it will all be as worthless to you as you either slip and slide to blister misery or get your toes reshaped due to a size too small.
I’m utterly baffled by the sales assistants around the world who babble off brand names and technical shoe jargon whenever I go looking for new boots.
I just want to know if they’ll last longer than the last pair of Inferno-ice-breaking-insert-cool-sounding-name boots I bought the year before that are now falling apart in front of us.
“I’m really surprised to hear that!” is the usual reply I get.
I’ve heard this line about … ohhh … four times now. After this the staff are stumped. I’m guessing because they’ve actually never been too far. Not their fault. But hey … trekking/backpacking boot’s are not cheap and it would be nice if there was some decent info out there rather than fancy sounding names.
Trekking / Backpacking boot’s or shoes for long-term travel?
For the record: I like boots over shoes. Always have, always will. I don’t wear the tall lace ups. I wear boots to just above the ankle.
I like the physical protection it gives for rampant rickshaws, bicycles, city dogs, jungle insects, mud splashes, public toilets and everything else in between. Including terrifying the life out of rubber sandal wearing nations when boarding public transport and people don’t keep their feet in!
Boots are also a lot easier to repair in emergencies than shoes (Turkey/Iran – Everest Trek).
Anyway, here’s the story of my long-term travelers boot destruction …
My history of short lived backpacking boots
Boots one: Brandless leather boots already a year old, lasted 1.5 years – Soles wore out
Boots two: Cheap pair of basketball boots (Emergency buy), lasted 3 months – fell apart
Boots three: Hand made leather boots (Emergency buy again), lasted 6 months – too uncomfortable
Boots four: Expensive Meindl boots (leather), lasted 6 months – soles cracked in Turkey
Boots five: Mid range Technia boots (leather), lasted 2.5/3 years – Fell apart on Everest winter trek
Boots six: Mid range North Face boots (some fancy name) lasted 2 weeks – sides fell apart
Boots seven: Mid range North Face Boots (canvas) – fell apart
Boots eight: Expensive Meindl (no choice!) just breaking them in …
Okay so the basketball boots, leather custom and the First North Face boots don’t really count as one was just a quick fix, the other was a chance and the last can come down to a bad pair. That said I’ve owned about 2 other pairs of cheaper basketball boot when staying a place for a while too.
So it’s about 10 in total. But 6 pairs that did not survive as long as they should have.
The problem with long-term travel and getting good boots
The biggest problem is actually finding a good store with a good range! In West Europe no problems though many stores only stock one or two ranges so you have to jump between stores. Turkey so / so. Iran … quite good actually, at least in Shiraz where I spotted a great store. After that in Asia it’s been nothing but light-weight trendy good-looking trekking fodder.
In South East Asia it was mainly canvas backpacking boots with more trendy designs, rubber slashes, weight under 200 grams and glow in the dark logos than anything truly tough.
Worse yet for the long-term traveler is when you buy a pair when on the move it’s not like you can just hop back to the store and get a replacement. You’ve probably moved 1-4 countries by the time a new pair have broken apart. And, there’s really nothing you can do about it as you are unlikely to be caring a spare pair around.
When your trekking boots break when long-term traveling
My first wallet crushing Meindls broke after 6 months some 5 years ago. The Vibram soles cracked in the middle. Both of them. Spotted with glee by a man in Goreme Turkey. Sadly Turkey is not so great in finding great trekking boots. Better than Iran I thought. So when in Ankara I bought a pair of Technica Italian boots.
I didn’t like them as they looked like … well trendy new trekking boots. And I didn’t really want a shiny new pair of boots when going overland into Iran at the time.
I did contact Meindl at the time to tell them about all this re the warranty. It took ohhh one week to get a reply. I was to pack them up, with the receipt and ship them off to Meindl HQ where they’d be accessed and if proven faulty shipped back to me in about 3-4 weeks.
I explained I was just going into Iran and didn’t have 3 weeks to wait around due to the visa. I was told that this was the policy and worse yet they’d only ship the boots back to where I’d sent them from i.e Turkey.
So with great pride of pleasure I rammed the boots into a bin outside the Afghanistan Embassy in Ankara as I claimed my India visa nearby and hobbled off in my blister ensuing new boots. Meanwhile my binned boots were rescued by a not so well to do man who was not too happy to discover his were better than my 6 month old ones.
Sufficed to say the Technica boots lasted longer than any other backpacking boot I’ve owned. Heck, they made it to Everest Base Camp through snow and ice while being held together by electrical tape.
Buying new trekking boots when on the road
Again, when on the road forget having a selection of Berghaus, Brasher, Columbia, Jack Wolfskin, Mammout, Meindl, Merrell, Salomon, Technica, The North Face or whoever. Chances are you’ll only ever get a limited selection when you need them the most.
Last weeks selection for me was as follows. Mammut, Meindl and The North Face. I really don’t like canvas and it’s coming into winter so wanted something heavy and leather. That left Mammut and Meindl. I really wanted the Mammut to work. Big, black, heavy and will crush anything in their path vs big, brown, heavy and will crush anything in their path …. but would they break in six months like before?
The Mammut were too big in the heel by about two millimeters. The Meindl fit perfectly.
Yes, I really wanted the Mammut to work out. But I knew in my heart I’d regret the heel slippage within a week. So I am giving Meindl a second chance.
But, by gosh if they break in under a year I’m getting on a flight to Germany and will make headlines by inserting their remnants into the Meindl CEO’s personal boot holder of a rear passage – and in this day of taking everything so literally take that with a grain of salt – But Herr/ Frau Meindl, I will be on a plane and making a very public visit to your office should they break, again.
So what are the best backpacking boots for long-term travel?
Forget the people who say they’ve been wearing brand X for 3 years and they’ve been brilliant. They aren’t wearing them 24/7/365 or simply are walking on meadows of pansies or have the feet of blessed angels.
Maybe I’m too hard on boots. Maybe backpacking/trekking boots aren’t made for trekking trails… going into jungles … walking on city pavements …
The longest lasting boots I’ve owned were an unbranded pair of leather boots followed by Technica.
My best advice is to simply find a pair that feel just right for you and wear really good quality trekking socks. I still have two pairs that are 8 years old with no worn out patches! And if you want to be ultra smart try out a pair of SuperFeet insoles.
Lastly be sure to break in (wear) your new boots for several weeks/months before going traveling with them.
After that, I think the real secret to long-lasting backpacking boots for long-term travel is … luck.
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I’ll update this post as and when the long-term backpacking boots for travel saga continues (and possibly if it involves a flight to Germany – meanwhile I’m gong on a light trek)