Big boots to fill THERE’S AN OLD JOKE about a man of limited means standing in court after being found guilty of some misdemeanour. The judge fines him. “Your honour, I have no money to pay the court, you only have to look at me to see that,” says the man. “In fact the soles on my shoes have worn so thin that if I stood on a coin I could tell if it was facing heads or tails.”
Reminds me of an old pair of dive-boots I threw out recently. I’ve been looking for replacements, so it was inevitable that this comparison test was going to be bootilicious.
Wearing full-foot fins brings problems – firstly, blisters caused by the foot-pocket rubbing the water-softened skin around the toes and heel, and secondly, lack of thermal protection as your feet get cold from prolonged immersion.
Unless you’re diving from a boat there is also the problem of getting to and from the entry point safely and in comfort.
Walking on a caster-sugar-soft sand beach in the Maldives is unlikely to cause a problem, but the trek carrying heavy scuba gear across shingle-, rock- or boulder-strewn terrain to access the water is likely to cause some injuries along the way.
There is also the issue of burnt soles as you hop shouting “Oooh! ouch! oooh!” across sand, wooden or concrete walkways superheated by the blazing sun in hotter climes.
The solution is to take the open-heel fin and bootie route. Your choice of footwear could mean the difference between a comfortable walk to your entry point and a trip to the local first-aid post.
When I was a young man, I used to look into shoe-shop windows thinking: “Wow, they look smart!” as I pondered parting with my cash for the latest in high-fashion footwear.
As I’ve grown older, comfort is the new fashion item. There’s little worse than a pair of shoes that pinch or rub, or are too small or stiff, especially if you’re on the move all day.
My choice of footwear drew the comment “Desert boots, are you sure Nige” as I schlepped around DIVE 2013. But for me the comfort factor is everything and for my dive-boots it’s just as vital.

The Boots
I asked various manufacturers and distributors to send samples from their boot ranges. Some sent me two pairs from the same line-ups but with different styles and uses.
I also included Rock-boots in this test. Mainly intended for use with sock-end-fitted drysuits, they’re also suitable (in a smaller size) for use with wetsuits and perhaps a pair of thin neoprene socks.
I left it up to the suppliers to decide on the spec, but asked for boots to fit my modest size 9 feet.

The Tests
The boots needed to fit neatly and easily into the foot-pocket of a pair of standard fins. I used Mares Plana Avanti Quattros in size Regular.
Each pair of boots was subjected to a five-minute finning test in my neighbours’ swimming pool, holding onto the side while I finned steadily, taking note of the stability of the foot and the pressure the boot-tops placed on my Achilles tendon as my feet were bent and extended.
Sole thickness and grip were assessed as the boots were worn to walk across boulder and stone terrain (as in some approaches to dive-sites).
I also noted how easy the boots were to don and doff. They are presented in price order.


Oceanic Ocean Pro £16, Sizes: UK 4-14
These classic-style dive-boots from the US Oceanic stables are basic in specification. The 5mm neoprene is stretchy and the joints are glued and blind-stitched. The boots have a low ankle profile and gusseted short zip entry. The thin moulded rubber sole has good grip and extends around the foot arches.
Rubber reinforcement panels around the toes and heel with a fin-strap lug positioned quite high complete the package.
These boots were very easy to get in and out of. On my feet they felt very unobtrusive, akin to wearing a pair of thick socks – which wasn’t so good when I took them for a walk across the test track, so they would be best-suited to boat or sandy beach entries.
In the pool they were comfy. I felt no pressure on my Achilles and they didn’t slosh around inside my fins. If you’re on a tight budget, these may be the boots for you. They come in blue or red livery.
www.oceanicuk.com

Beuchat Zip Booties £25, Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL
These classic boots from French manufacturer Beuchat have a simple but well-thought-out design. They were the only ones on this test to have a full-length zip and extra-wide gusset, so they can be opened up fully for really easy donning.
Also, you often have to overcome suction when boots are wet, but these release your feet instantly.
Rubber-covered toe, instep and heel areas added to a flat sole and reinforced
vulcanised band make the whole boot seem robust yet pliable.
The sole has a lined grip that didn’t slip or slide around the test track. I did feel some of the sharper stones underfoot, but it wasn’t a painful experience.
The booties slipped into the fin foot-pocket easily and performed well in the pool.
The lack of fin-retaining lugs allowed me to position the straps where I wanted them, preventing pressure on my Achilles. Sometimes, as in this case, less is more.

www.midlanddiving.com

Northern Diver New Style Wetboots £25, Sizes: UK 5-12
British based Northern Diver manufactures high-end products for the emergency services’ swiftwater and flood rescue technicians, so it came as no surprise to see these well-thought-out yet simple boots perform so well.
Made from 5mm neoprene with a titanium lining, they are based on a traditional design with a gusseted YKK side zip, rubber-covered toe, instep and heel areas with a fin-retaining lug positioned in just the right place.
The sole is rugged and thick enough to enable comfortable and safe trekking over rough terrain. These boots slid into the fins easily.
In the pool they placed a tiny amount of pressure on my Achilles tendons when my feet were fully extended, but not enough to cause alarm.
Finished off with a very subtle Union flag logo, these classic-style boots ooze understated style.

www.ndiver.com

Beaver Ocean 7 Hard Soled Boots £30, Sizes: UK 4-13
Again traditional-style ankle booties, these have a plush lining and gusseted ankle zip with rubber-covered toe and heel areas.
The soles are moulded and extend at the toe and arch areas, giving superb support and grip while I walked across the rock- and boulder-strewn test path.
The sole also extends at the heel to give an integrated fin-strap retainer. This is placed lower than on other boots tested here, and put the fin strap in the perfect position for my anatomy.
These boots performed well in the water. The 6.5mm neoprene proved to be very warm but it was flexible enough not to put any pressure on my Achilles.
The boots were easy to put on and remove, and slid in and out of my Quattros with ease. I wouldn’t have a problem wearing them on shore entries in any terrain.

www.beaversports.co.uk

TUSA Imprex Dive Slipper £31.50, Sizes: UK 4-13
These slip-on dive slippers from TUSA come with 3mm neoprene uppers and are attached to a moulded hard sole.
This has a toe- and heel-guard, the latter extended to support the rear of the foot and keep it from sliding sideways. There’s enough grip to cope in any terrain.
On the test track these little slippers felt robust. The soles are so tough that I felt I could walk on broken bricks for miles.
They slipped on and off like a dream when dry, but were tough to remove after immersion because the toe area collapsed with the suction caused by my retreating feet. Getting in and out of fins was easy.
The slipper felt good as I finned in the pool. I expected them to give me sore toes and Achilles as there’s no real protection in this area, but that didn’t happen.
They’re not as warm as booties but they were as comfortable as my own slippers.

www.cpspartnership.co.uk

Pinnacle Venturer £32, Sizes: UK 4-12
These traditional-style dive-boots from Pinnacle Aquatics are distributed in the UK by Sea and Sea. The 5mm neoprene is stretchy and the joints are glued and blind-stitched.
The boots have a high ankle profile and gusseted heavy-duty YKK zip entry.
The lightweight moulded rubber sole has good grip and extends around the foot arches. Reinforcing rubber toe and heel panels and a fin-strap lug positioned quite high complete the package.
These boots were easy to get on and off. On my feet they felt very light, lacking a robust and chunky sole to add weight, but this proved a problem when I took them for a short hike across the test track.
I could feel every lump and bump, making them better suited to boat-diving.
In the pool they were comfy and warm and I felt no pressure on my Achilles as I finned away furiously. Their light weight makes these boots well-suited for travel.

www.sea-sea.com

O’Three Zipperless Boot £33, Sizes: UK 4-12
I would call these “almost” traditional dive-boots from the drysuit guys down in Portland, because they haven’t got a zip and are therefore slip-ons.
This isn’t a problem, as the superstretch neoprene makes it a doddle to get
them on and off, and the Velcro’d strap minimises water entry, making for a very warm boot.
The soles are moulded with a fine but deep tread pattern and extend at the end of the toe, heel and arches.
The uppers have the classic rubber covering at the toes, instep and heel with
a moulded fin retainer, and slid easily in and out of my Quattro fins.
On the rocky terrain of the test track the soles coped really well and in the pool these boots proved very comfortable, with the fin-strap held in the perfect position by the well-placed retainer.
This is another go-anywhere boot.

www.othree.co.uk

Waterproof B1 £35, Sizes: XXS, XS, S, M, ML, L, XL, XXL
These traditional-styled boots from Swedish manufacturer Waterproof are feature-rich, with 6.5mm neoprene uppers that have been angled along with the footbed for stress-free finning.
These B1s are extremely easy to don and doff, with the aid of a smooth Glideskin panel in the heel section and a pull pad at the top. Fully gusseted YKK zips along with Glideskin seals make the boots semi-dry. Rubber-covered insteps and heel areas complete the uppers.
The soles are flat with lined treads and are of medium thickness, so didn’t cope too well with the rough test track, though on anything other than sharp-edged boulders they were comfortable enough.
In the pool they performed impeccably, with the angled design and low position of the fin-retaining ridge cutting out any pressure on my Achilles. These were the warmest boots on test and among the most comfortable in which to fin.

www.cpspartnership.co.uk

IST Proline Titanium S55 £36, Sizes: UK 5-12
These high-leg traditional-style booties from IST’s Proline collection are distributed in the UK by Sea and Sea.
They come in 5mm titanium-lined neoprene with glued and blind-stitched joints in contrasting silver, with a full-length gusseted YKK zip to match.
The toes, instep and heel areas have a stiff rubber covering, which makes the boots feel very robust.
The hard soles are built like sneakers in a non-marking yellow and blue. They’re certainly tough and had enough grip to eat the test track.
Getting in and out of them was easy, the stiff rubber keeping them from collapsing, but in the pool the same rubber at the heel cut into my Achilles.
The fin-retaining lug is high, so I tried the strap underneath it and this eased the pressure considerably.
If you regularly need to hike to your entry point across rough terrain you might consider these as the kiddies to use.

www.sea-sea.com

Oceanic Neo Classic £40, Sizes: UK 4-12
These US-made traditional-style boots are typically constructed to very high standards. They feature 6.5mm double-glued and blind-stitched neoprene uppers with a high ankle line, and a reinforced tab at the rear to eliminate stress to the neoprene when putting them on.
The soles are solid and hard, and felt virtually impenetrable as I took them for a walk across tough terrain.
They also incorporate an arch support and an air bubble in the heel (similar to Nike Air training shoes) to reduce stress when walking. They certainly felt comfortable and provided plenty of grip.
In the pool these boots performed well, although with just a little pressure on my Achilles due to the high line at which the moulded retainers held my spring-straps.
They slid in and out of the fins easily, with the stiffness of the sole proving advantageous.
This is a classic boot with a go-anywhere sole.

www.sea-sea.com

O’Neill Freaksneak Hi-Top & Lo-Top Boots Hi-Top £40, Sizes: UK 6-11 Lo-Top £35, Sizes: UK 4-11
I just had to include some high-fashion boots in this test, which meant the retro-looking Freaksneak Hi-Tops from the legendary Jack O’Neill’s house.
Designed for the surfing community, they’re also suitable for getting under the waves.
Built from 3mm fluid foam neoprene uppers with glued and blind-stitched seams, the Hi-Tops feature a fully laced closure with a breathable tongue.
The soft rubber round toecaps and heel areas are very soft and pliable, with a webbing loop on the latter to aid donning. The soles are of a medium thickness, with a zigzag pattern for grip.
Getting into these boots with wet feet was awkward but well worth the effort, as they proved the most comfortable of all the footwear tested.
They handled the test track reasonably well, too, although I could feel the larger stones through the soles.
In the pool they were delightful to use as I finned away, unaware that I was even wearing boots. Fashion and comfort in the same package – I must be dreaming!
The Lo-Top shoes are from the same mould as the Freaksneak Hi-tops. These 2mm plimsoll-style shoes share the same features and sole but in a low-cut profile.
The Lo-Tops performed the same but were a lot easier to get on and off. They wouldn’t look out of place in the pub under jeans or shorts, either.

www.oneillwetsuits.com

Poseidon One Shoe £41, Sizes: UK 3-12
Converse AllStar shoes are said to be the world’s best-selling brand, and are worn by everyone from paupers to presidents. Poseidon’s One Shoe is based on their style. Made in Supratex neoprene with a hardwearing outer skin and waterproof rear YKK zipper, they’re warm, flexible and very easy to get into.
The sole is thick enough and has just about enough grip to take you across rough terrain without drama.
A neat bungee cord replaces laces and keeps the boot tight around the foot.
These boots were very comfortable in the pool and slipped in and out of the fin’s foot-pocket with ease. There was no slippage of the fin-strap or pressure on my Achilles. Once again, a fashion item that’s also extremely comfortable and practical.

www.poseidon.com

Fourth Element Pelagic £48 including insole, Sizes: UK 4-13
This lightweight zipped model is intended for occasional shore-diving. These boots are designed to accommodate an ergonomic footbed insole featuring a cushioned EVA midsole with a stiff chassis, arch support and a heel strike pad.
The soft 6.5mm neoprene uppers have limited stretch, but are form-fitting and proved extremely comfortable and warm to wear.
The moulded sole is quite thin, with limited grip, so walking on the test track was a little painful until I added the insole. This made a world of difference.
In the pool the Pelagics were extremely comfortable with and without the insole.
I didn’t feel any pressure on my Achilles or around the toes when finning hard.
With the option of adding or removing the insole you get two pairs of boots in one. The Fourth Element guys have used recycled materials for the double-lined instep, toe and heel construction too.

www.fourthelement.com

Poseidon Flexiboot £80, Sizes: UK 5-13
Designed for use with drysuits fitted with sock ends, these lace-up boots are also suitable for wetsuit diving.
They are built from 3mm neoprene uppers with rubber-reinforced toe and heel with a fin-retaining lug. The lace-holders consist of four webbing straps and loops, a spring-cord lock and a Velcro retainer at the heel, making adjustment easy and secure.
The sole is vulcanised rubber with a deep military-style grip pattern and reinforced arch for painless ladder climbing. I found these boots extremely easy to get on and off, and although they have a larger profile than most of those on test they slid in and out of the fins easily.
On the test track they proved the perfect solution for really tough terrain. No problems in the pool either, although if I was going to wear them in colder waters I’d add a pair of 3mm socks. Soft on top, tough where it matters – a great combo.

www.poseidon.com

O’Three Abyss £90, Sizes: UK 6-13
These O’Three Abyss Rock-boots are built to US Navy Seal standards by New Balance and feature padded ballistic mesh uppers with synthetic toe and heel coverings.
The padding is non-absorbent and, along with the mesh, allows for quick drying. A full lace-closure system keeps everything tight and in place.
The footbed incorporates an insole lining ergonomically moulded for comfort and has drain holes that line up with channels in the sole, so sloshing water is eliminated. The vulcanised rubber sole’s tread pattern, designed for wet conditions, proved the best on test over the wet track.
These boots also had the largest profile of all those on test, but still squeezed into the Quattro foot pocket. They felt a little stiff when finning, but there was no undue pressure on my Achilles.
The addition of neoprene socks is essential for cooler climes. If you have to climb mountains or walk for miles over broken rocks before getting wet, look no further than these “go-anywhere” boots.

www.othree.co.uk

Conclusion
This really was a big boot test, with 17 pairs tried out, but then the sheer number of boots and styles on the market is jaw-dropping.
I’ll be replacing my discarded favourites with something that’s stylish, comfortable and warm, but they’ll need to be able to take me across rough ground without making my eyes water.
When I first started to dive such an animal didn’t exist, but now you can opt for a type of boot for your specific needs and expect fashion, comfort and practicality in the same package.
It just depends how much you want to pay, and as can be seen from this test price covers a wide range. Fortunately there are good boots for every budget.