As we leave the warmth of summer behind us and look ahead to months of rain and mud and general splashing around in our wellington boots, now is the time to invest in a new pair of wellies.
Over the past decade, Hunter's have become the boots to be seen in; not just when working the land, but also when at festivals, where the wellies are now so commonplace they almost look like a uniform. Undoubtedly, Hunter pulled off an incredible marketing job (the company reported an 85pc year-on-year sales increase in 2007, just a year after it went into administration and was bought out by a private consortium) – but now that the wellies are so ubiquitous, it's worth asking: are they still the best?
After reviewing various market leading wellies to find the best, I'd reply in the affirmative – with a caveat. Hunter still makes a great pair of wellies, and they're top of my list. However, there are other contenders for your boot room worth considering, and some of them arguably do just as good a job when it comes to keeping your feet warm, dry, stylish and supported.
But before I get into all that, a note about material.
Wellingtons are normally composed of either natural rubber, PVC, or Gore-Tex. Natural rubber is an extremely waterproof agricultural product that comes from the latex sap of certain plants and trees in the tropics, and is known for being flexible and comfortable. (Rubber is also known as gum elastic – hence why wellies are known as gumboots.)
PVC is a man-made plastic that is lighter and much more affordable, and also incredibly watertight. However, it has an eventual impact on the environment in the form of plastic waste. It's also less kind to the skin and the shape of the human form, and less supportive and durable. PVC boots are often a case of 'buy cheap, buy twice'.
Gore-Tex, lastly, is amazing: a breathable membrane that repels water and wind, it's often used for high-performance outdoor wear. The drawback? You've guessed it: Gore-Tex products tend to be the most expensive of the lot.
Whatever you decide, here’s our pick of the very best wellies, tried and tested...
1. Hunter Field Balmoral wellington boot
Why we like them: A sturdy boot for rugged terrain
There’s a reason why Hunter, which holds two Royal Warrants of Appointment to HM The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and was founded in 1856, remains enduringly popular. They're some of the very best boots on the market; and they cater for a wide array of tastes. Hunter now has two categories: Hunter Original, the fashion leg of the business (check them out if you want to make a statement in ankle wellies, or with pink, red, or yellow wellies), and Hunter Field, which is their technical collection and the subject of my testing.
Design-wise, hunter boots look classic, and are crafted with natural, softer-than-soft rubber. They're snug and well-fitting, but with room for toe-wriggling and thick socks; and their “Newflex Vibram” outsole has impressive cleats for extra grip (Vibram is probably the world leader in high performance rubber soles for sport and outdoorsy pursuits – so you can trust the ground you tread on). On uneven, slippery, and muddy ground, I feel far less likely to slip and fall in drizzling rain than in any other pair. That's a big plus mark to these products, and one of the primary reasons why I liked them the most of all that I reviewed.
The Hunter Field Balmoral boot is also customizable, depending on the sort of fit you’re after. You can choose between three different linings, neoprene, bamboo carbon or leather. All three boast different properties for the wearer. The neoprene lining is insulating, resilient and waterproof; bamboo is moisture-wicking and cooling; leather is warm but can take some breaking in.
Why are they my favourite? Simply because they felt the most sturdy, protective, insulating and sure-footed of all the boots I tried. It's worth saying that at least in part this solidity is achieved because they're heavy: the soles are thick and the heel is substantial. That may put you off – some of the runners up, below, are lighter, if that's what you're looking for – but to me the heaviness is reassuring. It suggests this pair of Hunter's will last for many years, through all sorts of adventures.
2. Le Chameau Vierzonord neoprene lined boots
Why we like them: If they're good enough for Kate, they're good enough for us
French brand Le Chameau has been stomping its way across all terrains since 1965; their rain boots are famously built to last – which is probably why the Duchess of Cambridge is regularly pictured walking around in hers.
Each is handmade by an individual "maître bottier" (master bootmaker). They're tall, so these kept my calves nicely snug during a leisurely stroll to the village pub.
What makes them so good? The rubber is natural, which gets a big tick from me, and the 3mm neoprene lining keeps my feet and calves warm until I find the roaring fire and pint which I seek. The gussets on the outer sides are waterproof, and adjustable with the help of a quick, easy snap-fastening buckle, which ensures that they hug whatever size leg they adorn.
The “anti-fatigue” technology of the dual-density sole also means that I get the most out of the day out; they absorb shock, keep my feet stable and support my arches. Even post-pint, the abrasion-resistant outersole keeps me fairly sure-footed.
Not as heavy-duty as the Hunter Balmorals, the Vierzonord is the best all-rounder for the widest range of activities: lightweight enough for frolicking, but thick and sure-soled enough to provide stability during more serious country pursuits.
They're comfortable, supportive, durable, and sure-footed. I also like the look of the boot: sculpted without being fussy, with a bright blue easy-to-spot lining.
In case you disagree, they come with a free returns policy and a 2-year warranty.
3. The Original Muck Boot Company “Chore” boots
Why we like them: A practical, functional, comfortable pair
Like the Le Chameau Vierzonords and the Hunter Balmorals, the Chore range of boots by The Original Muck Boot Company are made of natural rubber, plus some neoprene. The women's Chore XF tall boots that I tried boast an adjustable waterproof gusset for a secure fit around the calf (it extends up to 7cm, or 3 inches, so there’s plenty of room for fluctuations in weight). They're the easiest to slip on and off of all the boots I tried, but still fit snugly around my feet.
The boots are bendy and lightweight, and allow me to move with ease even when kneeling and clambering around. But they also seem toughtough, thanks to the thick rubber overlay, and reinforced heels and toes (that said, the shape of the foot is oddly bulbous, less sleek looking). Even in heavy rain I find that I remain blissfully dry.
The shank (supportive structure between the insole and outsole) is made of steel, supporting even my ridiculously high arches, which need all the relief they can get. Meanwhile, the neoprene lining is even thicker than that of the Le Chameau’s, with 5mm worth of glorious cushioning. Despite that, when the sun does deign to come out, the breathable air mesh does its job and keep me warm.
If you're looking for a wellington boot that's suited to snow, I'd also recommend checking out their "Arctic" range, with even more grip (ideal for après-ski). And if you love The Original Muck Boot Company but fancy something that will look a bit more stylish at the pub, they've also recently collaborated with British countryside-inspired textiles artist Emily Bond to create a sleeker pair with a labrador or daschhund print (£110, muckbootcompany.co.uk).
4. Dubarry Galway boot
Gore-Tex, the material used to line Dubarry of Ireland’s iconic Galway's leather boots, is highly recommend. The microporous fabric ‘membrane’ is waterproof (accredited Gore-Tex products come with a guarantee to keep you dry) and windproof, yet lightweight and breathable.
Coupled with leather, it makes a fearsome package: cool in warm conditions, warm in cold conditions, incredibly long-lasting and always as dry as a bone. Unlike the other wellies featured here, these add leather into the mix: like human skin, leather is completely waterproof, yet breathable. It's just as hardy against water, but also hardier against abrasion (though it's worth investing in leather creams, conditioners and protectors to make sure they last even longer).
Leather can be notoriously hard to break in, but these fit perfectly (and prove blister-free) right from the start. This is nubuck leather rather than full-grain, which means it's a finer, lighter leather that resembles suede – and that it dries off fast.
So, this is a very, very good wellington boot. The only reason I didn't pick them as one of my top recommendations? The price tag! If you're happy to spend upwards of £300 on a pair of wellies, and leather is your thing, you can't go wrong with the Dubarry; but you can definitely get seriously good wellies for significantly less.
5. Dunlop Purofort boots
Available from Amazon, in unisex (£49.93 - £56.83), in dark green
Dunlop is a byword for working boots – but there’s nothing to stop you from marching around a few fields in them, or slinging them in the car en route to the festival circuit. They’re not a global leader in affordable protective boots for nothing.
At the very cheap end of the welly market, Dunlop sell perfectly serviceable – if not entirely eco-friendly – PVC boots for about the same price as a pub lunch. You probably wouldn't want to go for long walks in them, but they'll do for the garden.
However, not too much more money gets you a far better product. Purofort is a synthetic material, developed by Dunlop back in 1980, that consists of evenly distributed air pockets, which is why it’s lightweight and thermally insulating, and a cross-linked structure, which is why it's flexible and strong. The actual recipe is a secret, but it's some form of polyurethane (so it is plastic, but in fairness, it’s very good plastic).
You're still not getting a premium welly boot here – the Puroforts I reviewed were pliable and floppy, offering zero ankle support – but on the plus side they're light and surprisingly comfortable. I like their lack of ostentation too: they're the type of boot you fling into the back of the car, for a rainy day.
For the price, they'll do nicely.
Buy now: in unisex (£49.93 - £56.83)
6. Ilse Jacobsen rain boot
Available from Amazon, in women's (£86.60 - £107.00)
Oh, Scandinavia, how we worship you. Ilse Jacobsen is a lifestyle brand (celebrating its 25th anniversary this year) which specialises in rainwear, and which hails from the Danish seaside resort of Hornbæk. The company's rainboot is made of 80pc pure, natural rubber and the other 20pc is a secret recipe (I’ve learnt that this isn’t unusual in wellies: Dunlop’s “welly recipe” is also a closely guarded secret). The lace-up detail is cotton; which looks great, but unfortunately proved impossible to clean, and offers little in terms of adjustment; and while they can happily withstand rain, they're not so great for muddy conditions.
For me, this is a fashion-first boot, more for strolling in the city or along a promenade than for practicality in the field (they're so featherlight and loose-fitting that I feel like I'm walking on air). Unlike the Dunlop Purofort boots, I don't think they'd pass muster with agricultural workers.
That's not to say they're not warm: the soles are made of made of oil-resistant lightweight EVA, which can withstand temperatures down to -40 degrees Celsius. Meanwhile, the rubber uppers withstand temperatures down to -20 degrees Celsius. And they definitely look good.
7. Barbour “Bede” wellies
These boots do a fair job. They're less expensive compared to most of others in this list, due, I suspect, to the materials: they’re composed of 55pc rubber and 45pc “other materials” (my bet is something plasticky).
There's also far less to them – the entire boot is much thinner than the others, they feel slightly floppy, and they don't keep me very warm at all.
Despite this, they perform well in mild weather conditions, and they feel comfortable enough, so I'd back them as a good affordable option with more style than substance, if you're going for walks in urban parks or doing a not-too-taxing ramble in the countryside.
Realistically, kids will grow out of their wellies fast. So while I’d like to recommend you check out Petit Chameau’s kids wellies by Le Chameau for the ultimate school gate bragging rights, allow me to point you instead to trusty Joules for both boys and girls.
Their range of puddle-jumpers are available in an array of bright, fun, expressive hand-drawn prints. Plus, they’re made of natural rubber, with removable insoles, and are covered by a one-year welly guarantee. I like the “Inky Ditzy” (above) and "Navy Acorn Dot" prints. If only they made them in adult sizes...