How to choose Gardening Shoes
It can be quite tricky when it comes to choosing the right thing to wear on your feet in the garden. Its an investment that needs to make sense whether you are a serious gardener or allotment keeper or even someone who like me has had a tiny but important patch to tend. There are all manner of details to consider so lets go through a few of them and consider the options.
Different types of garden shoes suit different people and their needs. Feet are a funny thing and we need to care for them and make sure they work well for our whole lives so choosing footwear that is comfortable, fits well, and is fit for the purpose is really important.
Comfort is often the first goal for the gardener and we need to remember it’s a blend of fit and choice of materials. If the shoe doesn’t fit then even the softest comfiest materials wont be comfortable. And if the shoe fits well but uses inappropriate materials ( I’m thinking of Cinders and the glass slipper here) then that will fail the test too! So be prepared to consider BOTH of these important aspects.
Make sure your garden shoes fit properly
Its easy to make the mistake of thinking that if you buy gardening shoes that are a bit too big for you then they will be easier to slip on and off and will accommodate your thick woolly socks. The problem with this approach is two fold – they will flop about on your feet and calves and might rub your skin and the other reason is less commonly understood; shoes that are too big for you across the front of your foot will crease and fold when you bend your toes in a deep flex , for example when you are kneeling to get at the ground and do the weeding etc. That big crease of material ( whether its leather or rubber or canvas) will potentially hurt your foot and over time will strain and eventually split the material….So a shoe that fits well is a much better bet for gardening.
On the other hand avoid going for a pair that it is too tight over the toes and arch of your foot. When your foot sits inside the shoe you should be able to gently move your toes a little bit but still be aware of the top and sides of the shoe. Look at the UK Society of Shoe Fitters for some great general advice about finding the right shoe for the job. If you suffer with bunions or tricky feet then this subject can be very challenging. Try brands where the front of the shoe is a little generous and the material is soft enough to avoid that tight painful feeling of your feet being constrained, this is a good example; Poddy and Black .
Another piece of advice is to consider the sole and heel. You don’t want a totally flat, smooth bottom like a flip flop. In the garden you need be able to get a good grip on grass and soil and the use of tools, like a spade, is made much easier if there is an obvious sole arch at the centre of your foot, that way your foot won’t slip off the top of the spade as you dig. A fairly thick sole that is cleated is another bonus, keeping you a bit elevated out of mud and helping to prevent too much slipping in wet conditions. Farmers have had the right idea about this issue for generations and so styles that emulate that somewhat farmyard look aren’t a bad idea!
And finally the subject of easy foot access. In my experience I find I am forever running inside and out when I have a day of gardening to attend to. And so the idea of having to mess about with laces and other fastenings just doesn’t cut it. So find a style that you can easily slip in and out of , a bit like a back door shoe but with more foot cover and ideally with a back part to the shoe to hold your foot in place…..not many styles meet all these criteria, but we think this one is just about perfect!
What is the best material for garden shoes?
Some people do prefer to wear a sturdy pair of leather shoes such as walking boots. If you are doing lots of digging and using tools it can be handy to feel that your feet are well protected from accidental slips of the garden fork for example. Some of the best all leather walking shoes can certainly do a good job and its worth looking at UK brands such as Brasher and Berghaus for some serious walking footwear that will double up in the garden. However remember all that lacing up that’s needed before you go outside so only go this route if you are planning on staying outside for the whole day with no need to pop inside for a cuppa or to collect that packet of seeds you left on the kitchen table!
Some less serious gardeners start out on their gardening journey adapting other footwear from their wardrobe. Not an unreasonable thing to do if you aren’t certain of your commitment to spending time outside pottering amongst your pots or enjoying time spent digging up the dahlias! However the shortcomings of the adapted sneaker or old pair of sandals or flip flops become quickly apparent as you will have dirty shoes and feet in a flash and honestly these options are not very comfy for longer than a few minutes.
There is strong evidence to suggest that gardening shoes that can be wiped down and washed are a good approach and as long as you can get the right blend of comfort and flexibility the rubber boot approach is favoured amongst many serious gardeners. However be warned! You will find lots of folk out there who claim to be selling “rubber” boots but in reality they are selling nothing of the kind. It’s a lazy description that hides a darker truth which is that many waterproof wellies are infact made of oil based chemicals. These materials are extracted from the earth at great environmental cost and then processed in ways which can be pretty harmful to health in the production stage or in the waste-disposal stage. We are talking here about PVC ( often very shiney in appearance so they are easy to spot) and eva or polyurethane foam products ( those big spongey looking clogs often made with holes in the design). Both of these materials are simply squirted into a mould in a machine and the fully formed shoe or boot pops out the other side. The use of oil based non renewables and the quick manufacturing process are 2 of the reasons that these types of shoes are often very cheap. And we arent the only ones to note the benefts of rubber over PVC and the like, check this other article on the subject.
So if you want to be a little bit kinder to the planet then the obvious choice is natural rubber. It grows on trees after all and is turned into welly boots using a hand made process that dates back to the nineteenth century. And it takes a whole lot more skill and TLC to make a pair of rubber boots, that’s why they cost a little more.
Can gardening shoes have too much style over substance?
And now we get to the heart if the matter! Until now your average gardening shoe may have been practical and comfortable, it might have been hard wearing and easy to clean. But it was rarely stylish. Infact for generations gardeners have had to make a choice between style OR substance and knowing everything we know about the demands of the sole design, foot access, materials and fit we think its fair to say that until now women gardeners have had to make do with ugly gardening shoes. Well the great news is that now things have changed and Poddy and Black have produced a range of gardening shoes that allows you to look great AND be a gardener! Dare we say it we think you can still look stylish in the garden even when you have the weeding, the watering, the digging and the compost turning to do! Check us out😊