Boots for Kilimanjaro
When it comes to choosing equipment for a climb, the one question readers ask more than any other is this: ‘What are the best boots for Kilimanjaro?’ And understandably so. Bad footwear can seriously hamper your progress up the mountain. Bad boots can also make your trek an incredibly uncomfortable experience. And in extreme cases, poor footwear can even cause you to abandon your climb.
A good pair of boots, on the other hand, can make you feel like you’re walking on air. They’ll also ensure your feet stay warm, dry and blister-free. Which, on Kilimanjaro, allows you to concentrate on all the other aches and pains the rest of your body is suffering.
What to look for in a pair of hiking boots for Kilimanjaro
So you must choose the right pair of boots for Kilimanjaro. In particular, you need ones that are durable, waterproof and, more importantly, comfortable.
In the book and on the clothing for Kilimanjaro page on this site, we write the following:
“Mountaineering boots (ie ones with stiff soles that take a crampon) are unnecessary unless you’re taking an unusual route or trekking in the low season. (At those times, crampons may be necessary but speak with your agency first about this.) But for most trekkers on Kilimanjaro, a decent pair of trekking boots will be fine.
The important thing about boots is comfort. In particular, you need enough toe room. Remember that on the ascent up Kibo you might be wearing an extra pair or two of socks. Furthermore, on the descent your toes will be shoved into the front of the boots with every step. So buy a pair of boots that are half a size too big. Or at least a pair that feel roomy. If they already feel tight with just one pair of socks on, go half a size bigger.
Remember these points when trying on trekking boots in the shop. Make sure they are also sturdy, waterproof, durable and high enough to provide support for your ankles.
Finally, ensure you break them in before you go to Tanzania. That way, if they do give you blisters, you can recover before you set foot on the mountain.”
How much should your boots cost?
So how much should you spend on a pair of boots? Well, I should start by saying that, as usual, I don’t accept any ‘bribes’ or ‘incentives’ to promote one brand over another. The following, therefore, is simply my unbiased opinion. It’s based on my experience of climbing Kilimanjaro for the past 20 years or so. (In addition, I also walk and write guidebooks to Britain’s long-distance trails. So boots are, as you can imagine, important to me!)
And my opinion as follows:
How much you spend on a pair of boots should largely depend on how often you think you’re going to use them. Because I’ve found that the main advantage with a more expensive boot is that they tend to last longer. That is great for someone in my line of work. And if, like me, you plan on walking regularly before and after your Kilimanjaro climb, then a more expensive pair of boots is recommended. For the simple reasons that a more expensive boot tends to last longer. So investing in a more expensive, good quality pair makes sound financial sense.
But, that said, what should you do if you’re not going to be doing much trekking after you’ve finished with Kilimanjaro? In this instance, there is a case to be made for buying a cheap pair. (When I say a cheap pair, I mean a pair that costs about £30-60 (US$50-90). If you can find a pair that cheap, then get them… as long as you can say yes to the following three rules:
a) These cheap boots will be tough enough to survive a strenuous week’s walking on rugged terrain.
b) They are waterproof.
c) They are comfortable.
How to improve the performance and comfort of your hiking boots
You can, of course, influence these last two questions. Firstly, by using a suitable spray or dubbin to improve the water-resistant capabilities of the boot. And secondly, by breaking the boots in properly before setting foot on Kilimanjaro.
This last action is, of course, vital, however much you’ve spent on your boots. And it needs to be done well before you reach Kilimanjaro. So wear the boots everywhere you go, for several weeks/months before you even arrive in Tanzania. Take them on both long and short walks. That way, by the time you get to Africa, you can be confident that you aren’t going to succumb to blisters.
All of which, of course, is just basic common sense – but you’re going to ask me about brands next, aren’t you? So once again, I repeat the statement I made at the start: I do not get paid by anybody to mention their products, so this is very much a personal review of the boots that I have bought over the years (or at least the ones I can remember).
What brands make the best walking boots for Kilimanjaro?
I can think of five boot manufacturers that have impressed me over the past couple of decades: Salomon; Asolo, Merrell, Meindl and Brasher. The first thing you will note is that these are all at the medium to expensive end of the market. But then, what do you expect: I make my living by walking, I also spend much of my leisure time walking (I do, after all, own a dog) and so you would probably expect me to spend much of the laughably meagre pittance that I earn as an author on a decent pair of footwear.
So what impressed me about the footwear of each of these five manufacturers? Well, for one thing, they all felt right from the moment I put them on. There was little in the way of ‘breaking in’ to be done as they were pretty much comfortable from Day One. They are all reliably durable too, even though I am ashamed to admit that am largely neglectful when it comes to looking after my boots and am a virtual stranger to polish. So the fact that these boots all hung around long enough to imprint themselves on my memory is testament to their toughness.
As to the choice between the five brands, Merrell, Asolo and Salomon are fairly similar in terms of quality and durability. So your choice between these will depend largely on the style and whether any of them are on sale.
As for Meindl, these are pretty much top of the range, and the price reflects this. I’ve had about four pairs now, and have yet to be let down by any of them. Though at around £150-200 for a pair, I’d be very disappointed if I was.
What boots am I currently using?
I recently bought a pair of boots made by the UK brand Brasher. This is the first pair of Brashers that I’ve owned and I have to say I’m very impressed. They were very comfortable from the off. They are wonderfully waterproof. They are fairly attractive. (Or, rather, as it’s trekking boots we’re talking about here, at least not hideously unattractive!)
And whilst I have had them only about three months now (having picked them up for £115 in the January sales; I think the RRP was about £150) they feel well-made and durable.
So I think I’ll use these on my treks up Kilimanjaro, as well as my trek along Offa’s Dyke in May this year.
The above are just my thoughts and opinions, based on my experience. And like I say, as long as you obey the advice above, you should be fine. And don’t worry too much if you think your boots aren’t up to it. I have, after all, led one Indian hiker up the mountain (take a bow Mr Rao) who wore a pair of patent leather slip-on loafers – and yes, he did make it to the summit!
For more information about boots for Kilimanjaro – or just to watch to old guys rambling on about footwear – do watch the following: