By: Blonde Two
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If you’ve ever bought a good quality pair of walking boots or shoes, you’ll have noticed (perhaps) that their upper construction includes sections of material that join the sides of the tongue (the bit under the laces) to the main part of the upper.

This is known as the bellows (or gusseted) tongue.

Keeping water out of your hiking boots

When you buy walking boots, you expect them to do multiple jobs. 

  1. Protect your ankles from injury
  2. Stop you getting blisters
  3. Keep your feet dry

But not all boots are made equal. For example, a boot with a softer upper might not give as much ankle protection as a leather boot. An ill-fitting walking boot will almost certainly give you blisters rather than prevent them. And boots that don’t have a waterproof membrane like Goretex, won’t keep the water out. Especially if you’re experiencing epic rain.

And it’s not just the waterproofing of outdoor footwear that matters.

Another important aspect in the waterproofness of your walking boot or shoe is the bellows tongue. It’s simple really. Imagine a puddle. Unless you’re wearing gaiters, your feet are obviously going to get wet if the puddle is deeper than your boot.

Five ways to enjoy being outside in the rain.

But without a bellows tongue, they will also get wet if the puddle reaches the laces.

And it’s not just water that might invite itself in. Without a gusseted or bellows tongue, uncomfortable bits of debris can also enter your boot and impede your progress.

Sometimes a half gusseted boot is enough

Some people choose to wear waterproof socks instead of worrying about waterproof boots and others do their best to avoid puddles. Half-gusseted boots, where the extra material is stitched half way up the tongue can sometimes cost less and allow in more air on hot days.

Trail running shoes can also benefit from a gusseted tongue

One thing I hadn’t realised until recently was that some trail running shoes and trainers also have gusseted tongues. In this case, the aim of the tongue isn’t so much about keeping water out (because the shoe is so low) but more about holding the shoe firm and stopping debris from entering.

You will also sometimes find a gusseted tongue that is stitched to just one side of a pair of trail running shoes. This does nearly the same job as a full gusseted tongue but makes the shoes easier to put on, for example during a triathlon.

I was recently gifted this pair of trail running trainers for women by adidas (I’m hoping to rediscover my running mojo). Their Trailrider trail running shoes don’t have a waterproof membrane but I’m already noticing the stretchy bellows tongue holds my feet steadier than usual inside the shoe, something that’s important for someone like me who worries about her ankles. The bellows tongue is also doing a good job of keeping debris out when Fred (the dog) and I go walking in the woods.

Which is most of the time if he gets his way!