Your enjoyment while walking rests literally on your feet. Nothing can end a great outdoor experience quicker than painful blisters, pinched toes or even injuries caused by inappropriate hiking boots. (The comfort, fit and construction of appropriate footwear can also add to your margin of safety in rugged terrain.)
Here is some help to help you choose the right hiking boots for all your outdoor adventures.
Select boots that are designed to provide the support and protection you will need for the most difficult terrain you expect to encounter. Before you begin shopping for a pair of hiking boots, think carefully about what kind of hiking you plan to do.
Select boots that are designed to support the load you expect to be carrying. The heavier your load, the more support you will need.
Remember that great hiking boots do not have to weigh a great deal.
Once you have identified your terrain and load, consider the various advantages of fabric versus leather boots. Fabric/leather boots are lighter in weight and easier to break in. Many hikers today are returning to traditional leather hiking boots for added protection and durability in rigorous terrain. Leather boots are supportive and water resistant yet still allow your feet to breathe.
Consider the advantages of a waterproof boot. Today's top-quality hiking boots are made with a Gore-Tex lining that lets perspiration escape while keeping water out. Gore-Tex is more expensive, but you can walk through puddles and shallow streams and not get your feet wet.
Note that there are four distinct types of hiking footwear, ranging from rugged walking shoes suitable for smooth paths to rugged mountaineering boots that carry hikers to the world's highest peaks:
If you are hiking in a dry climate and on well-established paths that don't have a lot of rocks, a pair of trail shoes may be just what you need. Trail shoes are the most versatile type of hikers and are sometimes referred to as "trail shoes." This refers to their use for getting comfortably to and from difficult climbs.
If you are going to encounter steeper inclines, muddy paths and need to ford small streams, then you will need some sturdier, higher-cut waterproof boots.
More rugged wooded trails, brush-covered terrain and rocky slopes. Boots can vary from all-leather and leather-and-fabric combinations.
If you plan to climb in the mountains (and might even need to attach crampons for a better grip on glaciers or hard-packed snow), you will want an extremely strong boot with a stiff sole to give your ankles sturdiness and support as you climb.
Finding the Best Fit
To find the best-fitting boots, wear the socks you plan to wear on the trail. Most suggest polyester liner socks that wick away moisture, as well as an outer pair of heavy-weave wool or synthetic ragg socks for cushioning.
On the trail, wear any kind of socks but cotton, which absorbs water and perspiration and holds it next to your skin. If you get into a situation where you are hiking with wet feet and the temperature drops below freezing, you risk getting frostbite. A good sock system and hiking boot reduce that possibility.
Boots should feel snug but comfortable, so you can still wiggle your toes. Most hiking boots won't feel as instantly comfortable as sneakers, but they shouldn't pinch, cause hot spots or constrict circulation. They should fit securely around your ankle and instep.
When trying on boots, try walking down an incline. Your feet should not slide forward, nor should your toenails scrape against the front of your boot. If your foot slides forward, the boot could be too wide. If the back of your heel moves around, your boots might not be laced up tight enough.
Breaking in Your New Boots
Once you purchase a pair of boots, break them in slowly and don't tackle Mt. Everest on your first day out. Leather boots in particular take a while to break in, so take a couple of two- or three-hour hikes before your big trip or wear them around the house or even while mowing your lawn. If you find any sharp pressure points, use boot conditioner or wax to soften the leather.
Care and Maintenance
Cleaning and waterproofing your boots from time to time is critical. Use waterproofing on leather, and be sure to concentrate on the seams, which can become porous over time. For boots with a Gore-Tex? lining, use a silicon-based waterproofing treatment, not a wax-based treatment. Wax-based treatments keep the leather from "breathing."
On the trail, if a blister or hot spot develops, place padding such as moleskin or an adhesive bandage over the area. You can cut a donut in the moleskin to create a buffer around the blister.
TWMC c/o John Payne
Tsukuba Walking & Mountaineering Club