How to Choose a Comfortable Travel Boot, According to a Podiatrist
As anyone who's walked a mile in boots knows, there's a difference between a pair that feels comfortable when you initially put it on and one that feels supportive after hours on your feet. In pursuit of the latter, Travel + Leisure spoke with Jacqueline Sutera, DPM, a spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medical Association and a member of Vionic’s Innovation Lab, where she advises the comfort shoe brand on the biomechanics of the foot as it works to develop health-conscious footwear.
Though, according to Dr. Sutera, a walking boot's comfort is not so much about the brand or the style, it's about the way it's built. There are three design components you want to look for: shock absorption, cushioning, and arch support.
The first, shock absorption, protects your joints and the natural padding in your heel each time your foot strikes a surface. In most cases, it comes from the construction of the shoe’s outsole. With boots, it's smart to look for a thicker sole that’s sturdy and structured.
“You want to stay away from really flimsy—I call them ‘buttery’—super flexible and mushy boots like the traditional UGGs,” Dr. Sutera said. “They’re pretty bad, especially for people that have flat feet and especially when they’re worn out. After one season, unfortunately, UGGs are just made of such soft material that it wears away and you can hurt yourself by walking around in shoes that are old and worn, when the sole is deformed.”
If you pick up a boot and you can totally bend the sole, it’s too flexible and won’t give you enough support. It might feel comfortable when you step in, because it’s “squishy,” but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good for you, Dr. Sutera advised. She does think there are some newer UGG styles that are getting better, with a higher-quality sole and a bit of a stacked heel.
"If you’re really partial to that brand, don’t go for the traditional pair," she said. "Look for the newer style that has a thicker sole that’s a little more sturdy and you can add an insert."
The next two key components, cushioning and arch support, both come down to the boot's insole. Several brands, Vionic included, already have arch support built in; though if a boot you like does not, Dr. Sutera recommends swapping out the manufacturer's insole for an insert. Choosing one can be a bit intimidating, so she broke them into three categories: basic drugstore brands, those sold at running shops, and the custom orthotics you can get at the doctor's office.
"In the middle category, Spenco and Superfeet are probably my favorite," Dr. Sutera said. "They’re a higher quality than the drugstore brands, but what they’re missing is the ability to give you a prescription. So for people that have one foot that’s larger than the other or a bunion on one side or extremely flat feet, there are a lot of different customizations we can make at the doctor’s office."
As for upper materials, Dr. Sutera suggested looking for leather boots because the material is soft yet very durable. But she cautioned against certain suedes because if they're too flimsy the upper won't add any structure to the boot.
Once you've got your new comfy boots, you may not want to wear them right away. Dr. Sutera warned that you can actually damage your feet by using them to break in a shoe that’s too stiff. She recommends taking them to your local shoemaker or using a wooden shoe-tree. For a DIY version, she also mentioned using a baseball or a softball to stretch the material, depending on how big the shoe is.
With Dr. Sutera's tips in mind, we found 11 pairs of comfortable boots that set your feet up for a day of exploring in style.
Classic Chelsea Boots
OluKai makes some of the absolute comfiest sandals, but the brand’s boots are not to be overlooked. The “Maile” boot is made of smooth leather and the footbed boasts arch support and a plush leather lining.
Timeless Riding Boots
If you’re a fan of Kate Middleton’s travel style, a pair of riding boots is a must in your footwear lineup for winter and fall trips. This cognac leather pair by Dr. Sutera's preferred brand, Vionic, is equipped with a removable orthotic insert, a rubber outsole with a traction-enabled tread, and a stretchy elastic panel for a comfortable fit around the calf.
The suede upper of Coach’s “Bowery” chelsea boots is embroidered with tiny Prarie flower bouquets. They’ve got a sturdy heel that’s just about an inch tall, and a leather footbed and lining that will mold to your feet when you start wearing them every day like we plan on doing.
Simple (but Smart!) Heeled Booties
Canadian footwear company Blondo’s waterproof "Villa" boots have become a crowd-favorite for their cushioned footbed, durable rubber outsoles, and sleek style. The fully seam-sealed uppers come in seven shades of leather or suede and are resistant not just to water, but also to staining from salt on the street during winter.
Waterproof Boots That Feel Like Slippers
As Dr. Sutera suggested, you'll want to lean toward UGG's newer, sturdier models, like the “Kesey” boot. The leather and wool-blend upper are fully waterproof and they have a grippy rubber outsole, but the supportive interior—which is lined with the brand’s signature cozy wool lining—is by far the best part.
Vintage-inspired Hiking Boots
Trusted hiking-shoe brand Merrell really delivered with the waterproof “Sugarbush” boot. With a padded tongue and collar, air cushioning in the heel, and an insulation that lets moisture out but not in, they’re ideal for a full day of adventure. Plus, we love the contrast of the red laces.
Stuart Weitzman’s 5050 boots are a cult-favorite in the over-the-knee category, with their glovelike fit and cushioned soles. They’re available in narrow, medium, and wide (yes, big enough for athletic calves) sizing and a variety of leather and suede uppers.
Modern Western Booties
Heading out west? You’ll want to pack OTBT’s pull-on “Venture” boot with its high-low silhouette, distressed leather, and decorative stitching. Inside, they’ve got a broken-in feel to match the look, letting you take on places like the adobe town of Taos, New Mexico atop a soft leather lining and a lightly padded, anatomically contoured footbed.
Sleek Block Heels With Comfort Technology
You'd never guess it by looking at them, but Rockport has worked its proprietary truTECH comfort system into this sleek pair of pointed-toe, leather ankle boots. The heel is engineered to absorb shock and the insole is constructed with anatomically cushioned retention-foam to provide support where you need it most.
Heeled Booties With a Metallic Touch
One of Travel + Leisure's editors reported this pointed-toe pair by Franco Sarto is “super comfy for how they look.” We love the gold detailing on the 1 1/4–inch heel and the pull-tab on the back to make on-and-off easy. They’re also available in slate gray, black, and leopard print.
Stylish Leather Hikers for Narrow Feet
This season, Timberland released an updated take on its “Wheelwright” waterproof hiking boot that looks just as at home in the urban jungle as it does on the trail. The outsole has lugs designed for superior traction on any terrain and an anti-fatigue footbed provides ample support from dawn to dusk.