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Best of 2021

Top Gear's quest for the perfect driving shoe: a collection

TG staffer talks you through his wardrobe. TG staffer instantly regrets opening up his wardrobe

The quest for the perfect driving shoe
  • The quest for the perfect driving shoe

    Driving shoes. Pure marketing guff. No one buys them, because the truth is we drive in whatever we can find two of nearest the door when we’re about to head out. But you have a pair of shoes you like to drive in. Of course you do. You’re thinking about them now. And realising how they are something you’ll never speak about in public.

    Welcome to your safe space. Because I admit it: whenever I buy shoes I always consider what they’ll be like to drive in. So instead of a barn full of cars I thought I’d run you through my driving shoe collection. Just be glad smell-o-vision isn’t a thing.

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  • Merrell Blue Dusk hiking/trainer jobs

    Merrell Blue Dusk hiking/trainer jobs

    You shouldn’t actually be looking at these, but instead a pair of Adidas Terrex. But then my wife threw them out. Fair enough, topside ventilation was far better than the manufacturer ever intended and the soles had completely worn away. But that meant pedal feel was nigh-on perfect. They still had much better structural rigidity than these Merrells which are now my default feed-the-pets/empty-the-compost/do-jobs/don’t-be-seen-in-public shoes. Easy on and off, zero grip on grass, not much more on pedals.

    Car equivalent: VW Tiguan

    Rating: 5/10

  • New Balance trainers

    New Balance trainers

    I know they look battered, but that’s because they’ve been loved. Bought because retro trainers go with anything, they then turned out to be quite the best pair of driving shoes I owned. Reasonably stiff sole, don’t slip off the pedals, comfortable on long drives so no sore heels. The only criticism is that they’re narrow soled, which in manual cars means heel ‘n’ toeing can occasionally be an issue. There. This is the sort of shoe buying advice you don’t get in Clarks.

    Car equivalent: Porsche Cayman

    Rating: 9/10

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  • Salomon hiking boots

    Salomon hiking boots

    Probably the best pair of shoes I own. Eight years old, have hiked all over the world, my default harsh environment footwear of choice. If I’m going anywhere icy or mountainous or sandy and deserty, these are the first things in the bag. Absolutely no pedal feel whatsoever. In fact the sole is so thick I have to slide the seat back an extra notch. Good for making me feel tall though. Used them for skidding about on ice. My satisfaction knows no bounds.

    Car equivalent: Bowler Wildcat

    Rating: 6/10

  • Skechers Classic 

    Skechers Classic 

    These were a mistake. Lovely to travel in – the perfect flight shoe in fact since they’re easy to slip on and off at security. But way too spongy and soft underfoot which means the brake pedal feels like a marshmallow. Baggy fit, too. Hopeless.

    Car equivalent: Kia Xceed

    Rating: 3/10

  • Sabelt racing boots

    Sabelt racing boots

    If I remember rightly these were a gift on a Nissan launch I didn’t even go on. I think the photographer got given them, didn’t want them, so passed them on to me. This is not footwear to be seen in anywhere other than a racetrack, and even then I am immediately suspicious of anyone who turns up to a trackday in fast footwear. Irritatingly they’re very good to drive in: really firm sole, loads of feel, wide enough forefoot for heel and toeing. But socially I just can’t do it.

    Car equivalent: Caterham 620S

    Rating: 10/10 (for driving) 1/10 (for social acceptance)

  • Inov8 Roclite 290

    Inov8 Roclite 290

    Latest addition to the collection. I have high hopes for these. My wife believes I bought them for running. I did. Kinda. But I mainly got them because I seem to grind away soles like I’m asphalt surfing and these claimed to have graphene in the soles. We’ll see. Lightweight and airy, quite firmly padded, but a bit too much flex in the raised studs at the moment. Not good for pedal feel. That will improve. Expect these to score more highly in a year.

    Car equivalent: Alpine A110

    Rating: 8/10

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  • Paul Smith boots

    Paul Smith boots

    Quite simply the least comfortable pair of shoes I’ve ever owned. Leather soles are only grippy when wet, where the shoe flexes over my toes it digs in, ankle area throbs constantly, zero sole padding. They’ve caused me to hobble on many occasions. I’ve even tried double-socking. Nothing works. Almost always worn to drive to/from some evening event I don’t really want to be at. I have now learned to carry a set of trainers in the car to drive home in. The relief of removal is exquisite.

    Car equivalent: Maserati Quattroporte

    Rating: 1/10

  • Aigle Wellies

    Aigle Wellies

    The other day I was driving a Defender through Wales. I was wearing waterproof trousers and that was good because we were driving through rivers. Sometimes the footwear has to fit not just the car, but the scenery. I once, for about 200 yards, tried driving in ski boots. No ankle flex whatsoever so you operated the pedals by sliding your knee, and by extension your entire buttock, forward. Weirdest. Thing. Ever. Anyway, wellies. By welly standards these are a snug fit, but that still means they can never be worn to drive anything with sensitive pedals or a tight footwell. All said, better than expected.

    Car equivalent: Land Rover Defender

    Rating: 3/10

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  • Loake brogues

    Loake brogues

    Barely ever have a reason to drive in these. Barely ever wear them in fact. Believe I’ve had them since school actually. So for the purposes of this review I did go and drive the long term Porsche 911 in them for a mile or two. Agony. Heel cup digs in, heel itself slips on carpet, soles slip on pedals.

    Car equivalent: Daimler Double Six

    Rating: 2/10

  • Merrell desert boots

    Merrell desert boots

    I’ve just found out these are called the Merrell Coriander. My humiliation knows no bounds. Tragic to drive in – the fit is too sloppy so my narrow foot isn’t held properly. Disappointing, as apart from the heel cutting into my Achilles Tendon a little, there’s more torsional stiffness in the sole than I expected so they’re pretty decent for driving. A surprise.

    Car equivalent: Alfa Romeo Stelvio

    Rating: 7/10

  • Joe Brown boots

    Joe Brown boots

    I used to have a really good set of these, I think they were from Barbour, and they fulfilled the launch shoe role (see below) very well. But they wore out and went off to the charity shop and were replaced by these. Bloody useless mail order things. Should have sent them back really. Too loose and ill-fitting, flexible sole, unsupportive insole, not as robust as they look.

    Car equivalent: Dacia Duster

    Rating: 3/10

  • SoulCal Flip-flops

    SoulCal Flip-flops

    Let’s not go there. Except to point out that I did once go there, while driving a McLaren Senna from Estoril to Monaco. It was hot and the car had no aircon. Excuses I decided not to unleash on the Spanish policeman who pulled us over and proceeded to double my fine because of my footwear.

    Car equivalent: Citroen Mehari

    Rating: 1/10

  • Other shoe types: the photoshoot shoe

    Other shoe types: the photoshoot shoe

    The dream is this: a shoe that’s good to drive in (thin, stiff, feelsome sole etc), yet is also warm, waterproof and grippy. This is because we live in the UK and the pretty parts that suit photo locations are mostly remote moorland. Which is boggy and covered in sheep crap. Yes, Wales, I’m talking about you. Some sort of Goretex adventure hiking/running shoe is needed. Neither too heavy-duty, nor too flimsy. The Goldilocks shoe. The search never ends.

  • Other shoe types: the launch shoe

    Other shoe types: the launch shoe

    Car launches tend to take place – or at least they did pre-Covid – somewhere warm and sunny. Spain is popular. Less Gore-tex requirement. But now you need a shoe that’s not only good for driving, but that can be worn to dinner with some urbane French or Italian exec. Deck shoes were once worn by every motoring journalist worth their aviator jacket and Serengeti sunglasses. Times have changed: the jacket-and-trainer combo is now acceptable. Provided the trainer has not just been across Welsh moorland. Influencers tend to turn up in footwear that looks like an overgrown set of sugar puffs, but they tend to be regarded with curiosity by the people in immaculate tailoring.

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