I bought myself some new walking boots in January, and I've been wearing them regularly and often since. I am quite particular about my footwear, so I thought long and hard about the decision.
For the past 20 years of Letterboxing, I've only worn Meindl leather boots, and considered them to be the best option on the market for me. I've worked in outdoor retail, and have tried and tested many boots, but the Meindl Nepal Pro, and latterly the Meindl Burma Pro's I selected were comfortable, capable, and generally indestructible. They were at home on the Inca Trail, Scottish mountains, snowy streets, and - yes - Letterboxing on Dartmoor. Perhaps they were a little unnecessary for these lowland hills. The 3-4 season boots are crampon compatible, high in the ankle, and at £200, a bit pricey too. But I loved them, and I was reluctant to replace them.
So why the change? Well, I turned vegan in 2015 and leather is not a material that I felt happy owning or wearing. Whilst the environmentalist in my head could reconcile that these were old boots, and my wearing them out was avoiding textile waste, their Moor days were inevitably numbered. I have been investigating alternatives for a long time.
Vegan walking boots are a thing. We're talking here about synthetic fabrics (avoiding leather, suede and nubuck) man made linings (ie, no wool), and glues with a conscience (avoiding those derived from animal bone, which is the norm for footwear adhesive). Merrell, Patagonia, Montrail, Zamberlan and Ecco are just a few of the brands which make vegan options.
I settled on the Innox Mid GTX by German brand Lowa. I wore them out to Ducks Pool and Cranmere Pool recently, and they were put to work as I brought in my Christmas Walk, checked my charity walk and more local wanders, especially during Storm Emma. Here is my verdict...
Comfort: Straight from the box these boots felt good. Indeed, Lowa pride themselves on comfort as well as durability. The Innox is a lightweight walking boot, and I didn't feel the need to break them in. A well cushioned sole and ankle cuff contrasted starkly with the rather simple construction of my Meindls.
Weight: 900g per pair. Equivalent to two tins of beans (or 2000 blank postcards) Clearly a very well designed, technically advanced, very lightweight piece of kit.
Support: Letterboxers clearly spend a lot of their time stood on their feet. But there's a good deal of crouching, squatting, crawling involved too. Flexibility is needed in both boots and wearer. The Lowa's mid sole is stiff enough, but the synthetic, plastic/nylon upper perhaps lacking a bit here. It leaves the feet feeling a bit exposed when clambering over clitter or scrambling around peat hags, but then this boot doesn't claim to be more than a 2 season rock hopper.
Durability: The Lowa outsole is bearing up very well to granite and tarmac. The lugs underneath aren't too deep, so I expect they will wear down relatively quickly. The fabric uppers bears a few scars of the scrapes in journeys taken, despite initial concerns about the quantity of nylon fabric and stitching involved.
Waterproofness & breathability: None of my past Meindls have been waterproof - let alone Goretex lined. I'd always resisted waterproof membranes as I had genuine concerns about breathability on warmer days (Letterboxing being a generally fair-weather pursuit!), plus water garnered from crossing a deep bog or stream inside a waterproof boot stays inside. The Goretex in the Lowa's case has held firm, and my feet have been dry after every use.
Sizing & fit: I selected a UK size 11.5, which compares to my normal shoe size of UK 10. I wear a thin liner sock, and a mid weight walking sock combined. I have average width feet, and these fit comfortably, with mild signs of straining the laces, so they will suit wide footed Letterboxers. There is a combination of D-rings and ski hoots to vary the tightness around the ankle, which is handy.
Price: The Innox Mid is available from £112-£150 online in a selection of colours. Cotswold and Taunton Leisure stores in Devon both stock Lowa boots too.
In summary: A comfortable, lightweight all-rounder - perfectly suited to Letterboxing. Recommend.