October 28, 2017 @ 7:00 PM

by: TRAVELANDLEISURE.COM/Richelle Szypulski

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.”

VIDEO: Here’s How Much You’re Spending on Shoes

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.

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