Choosing Hiking Boots
by Ruby Bayan
One of the most important items your backpacking trip's success will depend on is the pair of implements you put your feet in. Outdoors, your hiking boots are your primary means of transportation; if you are meticulous about choosing a vehicle, you should be as fussy and detailed in choosing your trek shoes.
Your boots will be your constant companion in your hike, so the pair you lace up in will spell the difference between a splendid spree and an excruciating excursion. Remember to pick out your shoes well ahead of time, and to choose wisely based on these three major criteria: they should be the right pair for your feet, the ideal pair for your trip, and the best pair in the long run.
The Right Pair for Your Feet
You can certainly start with your standard shoe size when asking for trek shoes off the rack, but let it just be your starting point -- then factor in all the other criteria you need to consider when zeroing in to the right boots for your feet.
You know your feet best so check out the shoes if they were designed with your feet in mind.
Are your toes wide? You need shoes with ample room in the toe box. Cramped toes can't be good.
Before you sign off on the boots purchase, take time for the following:
Are your soles high arched? You need shoes with footbeds that rise to meet your soles. Your feet shouldn't slip and slide inside the boots.
Are your feet curved? You need shoes with baseplates (called "last") that are shaped the way your feet curve.
Do the top of the shoes crimp along the line where your toes fold when you walk? You need shoes that "fold" where your toes do, otherwise, your shoes will compete with your skin and your skin will lose -- end result: blisters.
Do you prefer to wear double socks? You need shoes that fit comfortably with two pairs of socks.
The Ideal Pair for the Trip
- Lace up with the socks you will be wearing on your trip.
- Walk around the store for a few minutes. Some boot stores will have an incline, to get the feel of ascent and descent, and a bumping station, to get the feel of toes crunching into the shoe's toe box.
- Talk to an expert bootfitter if you have concerns.
There are different types of shoes for different types of hikes. Get the shoes that best fit the level of trekking you will be doing. For example:
Casual Day Hike: Terrain is mostly flat, established trails. Weather is dry and moderate. Backpack is relatively light. You can get away with the average running, jogging, tennis, or crosstrainer low-cut rubber shoes. You may want a pair with more stability and waterproofing -- consider some lightweight fabric-and-leather boots that are flexible and don't require breaking in.
The Best Pair in the Long Run
Rough Trail Overnights: Terrain is irregular and unpredictable, so is the weather. Backpack is moderate to heavy, with stuff for pitching camp. Boots would ideally be suede-and-leather for comfort and breathability, but with sturdy, stable, and slightly threaded soles for traversing rocky ascents and muddy descents. Ankle support helps in trekking across uneven surfaces.
Off-trail and Mountaineering: Terrain is totally rugged with steep inclines. Weather explores the extremes. Backpack is full-capacity and adventure is high-mileage that can last for weeks. Boots need to be top-notch all around: full-grain leather, almost seamless construction, waterproofing and insulation, high ankle support, deep traction, and exceptionally rigid for short strides under heavy loads. All this strength and durability means the shoes need to be broken in before its first full-fledge adventure.
There's no sense in spending a month's pay on a pair of boots that you will wear only once, or in hikers that "look good." There's also no sense in getting boots that will tear apart before your second backpacking trip.
It makes sense, though, to know that as a beginner, in the next year or two, you will be joining trips that are relatively moderate. You can, therefore, consider getting a first set of trekkers that you can use in both casual day trips and rough trail overnighters. They would be flexible yet durable, and protective yet lightweight. Sometime in the future, when you feel up to more serious backpacking and mountaineering expeditions, you can look at "advanced" boots for your more challenging trips.
With the advent of technologically enhanced products, all sorts of hiking boots are all over the market. The best boots don't need to be expensive -- they just need to be the right pair for you and your trip.