Luckily, my new ones - Atmosphere Women's Walking Boots - come in at what I think is a decent price for a good pair of boots - £59.99 from Mountain Warehouse's Extreme Range. I have to admit I was a little bit dubious about how high quality the boots would be for that price, but I've been really pleasantly surprised by both their comfort and performance.
One line review and score
If you want the top line on these boots, here it is: good-looking, comfortable boots that will keep you walking happily in all but the most extreme winter conditions. I give them a solid 4/5.
I'm a big fan of the look of these boots. I would call them inconspicuous, which in my mind is a good thing.
The dark grey and black, with just a hint of purple, are lovely, subtle colours that I feel comfortable wearing. And while the boots are sturdy, I don't feel that they look 'clumpy'.
In fact, I'm struggling to find any criticisms of the look of these boots. I think they're lovely and happen to go very well with my waterproof jacket (which wasn't deliberate, but is a nice bonus).
Fit and feel
I usually take a size 7 shoe and got the size 7 boots. I'd previously been advised to buy a half size up in walking boots which is why I think, as mentioned, that my previous boots were a bit big. These ones fit perfectly when I'm wearing liner and walking socks, and are really comfortably cushioned inside.
My ankles felt suitably supported by the boots when I took them on their inaugural (and subsequent) outing and the insole supported my feet really well. Given that I've had problems with both my achilles and plantar fascia in the past, the importance of this for me is not to be underestimated.
I always think that the best footwear is footwear that I don't notice I'm wearing - these boots fall into this category. Unlike on other walks I've been on this year, where I've been (literally) painfully aware of my feet, I was able to enjoy the walk without worrying about blisters or any other sort of foot-related problems. The boots feel sturdy, but light and easy to walk in - essentially I'm pretty pleased with them!
Practicality and function
Well, from a very basic perspective I am certainly able to walk in these boots - big tick! On a more serious note, I think these boots have fared well on the walks I've been on so far. I'm ever so slightly worried that the hook eyelets for laces don't feel like the sturdiest I've ever come across, but having said that I've given them a pretty good pull on a few occasions now and they've stayed resolutely in place!
I can't give the boots top marks in this area simply because I haven't been able to put them to every test I think they may face - e.g. heavy rain or snow - but they've coped really well with muddy and slippery surfaces, ground water and steep scrambles. They've provided excellent grip and haven't let any water in. Based on my experience of walking and walking boots over the years, I'm pretty confident they'll stand the test of most conditions. The only thing I think they might struggle with is serious winter weather on the slopes, but then, you'd hope anyone attempting walks in those conditions would have some proper winter boots!
All in all, I've been pleasantly surprised by these boots and think they represent really excellent value. I'm looking forward to putting them to the test with lots more walking over 2014!