Time to hit the trails? I understand how tough it is to find trustworthy gear advice and I thought it would be useful to create a guide that can help you find the right pair of footwear. Our shoes should always be there with us, supporting us, getting us through different situations, and giving us confidence during our adventures!
Priorities vary among hikers, some of those can be comfort, fit, price, weight and durability, materials, waterproof vs non-waterproof, sizing, boots verses, shoes vs trail runners, break-in period, traction, socks, insoles, soles and feel.
Shop in the afternoon
Our feet expand throughout the day. You could choose footwear that feels great while in the store but out in the terrain it might be a different story. Walking boots or shoes are one of the more important elements of a comfy walk, so make sure you get a good pair. Always visit a reputable outdoor retailer with staff trained in fitting footwear. Ask why they recommend the shoes and what they have done in the past for a better understanding of why a person suggests specific footwear.
I usually want to have ~10-12 mm in front of my feet in the shoe, so get them measured while in the store and make sure there’s plenty of wiggle room for your toes. Feet are almost never the same length so measure both. This is also why you should always try on both shoes and not just one. In general people increase their shoe size by 1-1.5 sizes for a pair of boots as compared to their ordinary shoes. Try two or three pair of boots even if the first one is a great fit. Then you will know more about them and why you choose them. You should be open-minded when buying shoes. If a shoe fits, it doesn’t matter if it’s a larger size or wider than the previous pair. What matters is how it feels on your feet.
How to put on your footwear
- Get the heel firmly against the heel cap and point your toes up in the air keeping the heel cap on the ground. This way you will get free space in front of your foot and the heel tight against the heel cap. If you stand straight up, or sit down, and tie your shoes one most often ends up not only having enough space in front of the foot but also having space behind it, making the heel loose. Of course there are exceptions as everyones’ feet are different.
- I like lacing my shoes from the toes up. Pull them hard enough so that the index finger does not go under the string but loose enough so you still have circulation. At the instep where ankle meets the foot I also pay attention so I get it right to prevent my toes from hitting the front of the shoe. That way you get the maximum stability. At times I like them a little loose too, customize the lacing to suit your needs.
- Keep in mind that when you try new shoes in a store it’s usually a flat concrete floor you walk on, without backpack and so on. What I look for when I try a new pair is whether there is a lot of excess material around the ankles, or if they press on my foot in a bad way, how or where they fold when I walk and squat. Tap the front of one boot towards the ground and see if your toes touch the front of the shoe.
- Your shoes should be comfortable when you walk around. Even if they are in need of a break-in period. Shell boots can be a bit harsh from the start but should still be comfy when you try them.
Shoes are for ideal conditions and boots are for everything else.
Helpful Tips & Tricks
- I usually carry extra insoles with me when I’m out for multiple days so I can dry the used pair if needed. Putting clean, dry insoles into the boots can raise the general status when your feet are moist and they look like raisins.
- A foot generates a lot of sweat during a day’s walk so air them often. Change the liner mid-day or when needed. You can easily wash them in a sink or similar and then secure them on your bag. Maybe under a strap or in a mosquito hat so they stay on the bag.
- Do not dry shoes or boots by the fire as this may ruin them permanently. This could shorten the lifespan of your boots and can damage the leather and glue… Laces and insoles tend to dry much quicker than boots. Just leave them out in the air and they will dry pretty fast. I prefer to dry my insoles in my sleeping bag, secured around a Nalgene bottle with hot water or wear them against my body while walking. The boots I usually dry with the help of used old newspaper or a towel. 1) Take your laces out of the boots, 2) Remove any mud or dirt from your boots using a soft brush, 3) Fill the boots with newspaper, 4) Replace the paper when it is soaked.
- Hard soles easily chill you while standing still during winter. However, a simple solution is to stand on a sleeping pad or something similar for good insulation from the ground.
- There is nothing wrong with runners if you are a healthy hiker and on trails, if your feet are okay otherwise. Boots are still preferred: 1) when not on a trail, 2) when wearing heavy weight in difficult terrain, 3) when crossing creeks with weight, 4) when older and not as agile on the feet, 5) not frequently hiking.
- Badly fitted boots often counteract the purpose of them. A properly fitted boot allows good foot movement while preventing the ankle from rolling. A good test for boots is to, while wearing them, have someone else bend your ankle and see if the boot stops the movement before you feel terrible pain. If it doesn’t, then they are either not tight enough or not fitted properly.
- Use double socks in wool. The idea is that the inner layer is thinner and takes care of sweat and salt while the outer one is thicker and more for padding. The friction will also be in between the layers and not between socks and skin.
- I can feel most of the rocks through the sole…I like it that way because I tend to think about my stride and where I choose to place my foot more carefully. More sore absolutely, but also more aware.
There is a lot more to write and discuss about footwear but I’ll stop here and discuss in further detail during a walk.