Fabric or leather - buying the best walking boots for you

Whether you are a regular or occasional walker the footwear you choose for hikes, rambles, flat walks or even walking the dog is extremely important, and whether to choose leather or fabric walking boots will ultimately come down to two things:

Terrain and conditions – your choice can make the difference between a comfortable walk and “never again”.

Personal preference - despite all the practicalities known to you, this could quite easily override terrain with a shrug of the shoulders and a “just because”. 

So for the uninitiated how do you decide between leather walking boots and synthetic walking boots when purchasing, or if you’re lucky enough to own a pair of each, how do you decide which to wear for a particular walk and weather conditions? To be able to make an informed decision you firstly need to fully understand the differences between fabric and leather walking boots.

Leather walking boots

To make things even more complex there are differences in types of leather!

Full grain leather: Naturally waterproof and breathable, full grain leather is extremely durable and highly effective on abrasive terrain.

Nubuck: This is full grain leather which has been buffed down, but remains water and abrasion resistant. The process reduces its durability but produces a more flexible boot.

Fabric/Synthetic walking boots Fabric walking boots are made from a variety of synthetic materials such as nylon, polyester and polyurethane. They offer less protection to the foot because they are not as sturdy, and a waterproof membrane is used to keep feet dry in wet conditions. 

Waterproof and breathable 

Having wet feet during a walk can spoil the whole experience and in some cases make the walk a painful one. Your feet will become wet either because water has infiltrated the boot, or because your feet are sweating and there is no escape route for the sweat. Therefore, particularly for walking in wet conditions, you must establish if the walking boots you are considering purchasing are water repellent and breathable.
Are standard leather walking boots waterproof? Although the leather upper is waterproof, it cannot be claimed that the entire leather boot is fully waterproof because water can bypass the laces and stitching, or come in over the top of the boot in very wet conditions. Walking boots are generally tested up to the line where the boot flexes for how waterproof they are, even though the membrane may stop higher than that point. However, leather is naturally waterproof and breathable and therefore more water repellent than fabric walking boots.
GORE-TEX® membrane: Walking boots – leather and fabric – with a GORE-TEX® membrane are 100% waterproof and completely breathable. The GORE-TEX® membrane has over 9 billion pores per square inch. It's these pores that give the GORE-TEX® fabric its characteristics. All of the walking boots available for purchase at BCH Camping have a GORE-TEX® membrane.
Why do I want my walking boots to be breathable? If your walking boots are breathable, moisture can escape and therefore help your walking boots to lose the sweat from your feet. If your boots aren’t breathable the result can be the same as wearing boots that have taken in water. Fabric walking boots are far more breathable than leather boots.


Depending on where you’re hiking or walking, weight in your boot can be a good or bad thing. Leather walking boots generally weigh heavier than fabric walking boots so if your walking usually entails easy flat terrain, then you may choose a lighter fabric boot that gives you flexibility and comfort. If, however, you hike in all weathers over challenging terrain, and need the sturdy protection both for your foot and against the elements, then a leather boot will be more appropriate. If you’re carrying weight in a back-pack then leather walking boots are highly recommended as they give you the necessary support from the feet up, through your body to take the pressure off your muscles.

Love your walking boots!

For longevity in your walking boots relationship you need to care for them from the very beginning and onwards throughout their lifespan. As with all relationships, you will be rewarded if you do.

How long does it take to break in a pair of walking boots?

All walking boots should be broken in to make them as comfortable as possible. For leather walking boots, more breaking in is required than with fabric walking boots because fabric boots are naturally more flexible. As such, for leather walking boots you should buy well in advance of needing to use them properly. Wearing them around the house with the socks you would normally wear on a walk is a good way to make sure that they’re a good fit, and for the breaking-in process to begin. After a couple of days wearing them around the house they’re ready to wear outdoors. Wear them on an easy walk around town and then gradually increase the difficulty and length of walks until you feel they are comfortable enough to wear in more difficult conditions.
If after this process you feel your leather boots are still not adequately comfortable, flex the sole either with your hands or by doing squats whilst wearing them. That’s good exercise for you and your boots!
Synthetic or fabric walking boots break in very quickly. Some walkers prefer not to break in these boots because they are already very flexible.

How do I treat leather and fabric walking boots?

Full grain leather naturally dries and cracks if not treated over time due to the loss of natural oils and moisture. It is important, therefore, that they are regularly reproofed using a wax product recommended for the particular brand. The wax will also condition the leather which is essential for prolonging the life of the boot. Failure to condition leather boots will lead to them to drying out and cracking.
Nubuck leather can be treated with a recommended spray and suede brush.
Fabric walking boots can be more tricky to clean, using aerosols and needing to be left over night and then respraying the next day. Dirt particles find their way into the fabric which can reduce their lifespan considerably so it is worth making the effort.

Purchasing Guide

Boot Type Advantages Disadvantages

Extremely durable Weight - heavier
Naturally water repellent Less flexible
Naturally breathable Less breathable than fabric
Copes with abrasive terrain More expensive
Last longer if cared for
Boot Type Advantages Disadvantages

More flexible Less protection in bad weather
Lighter Less protection for the foot
Cheaper Less lifespan
Highly breathable More difficult to clean and maintain

As you will see from the guide there isn’t a huge difference in the number of advantages and disadvantages of leather and fabric walking boots. As mentioned above, the choice of walking boots comes down to their intended use (terrain and conditions) and personal preference. 

For further information on the brands we have available at BCH Camping please go to https://www.bchcamping.co.uk/Footwear or contact us on 01249 661501. We’d be delighted to help with any enquiries.