Footwear – The most important decision you have to make before you go hiking
If you have ever been miles from civilization with no way to get home but to walk, you appreciate the importance of a comfortable pair of hiking boots. If your boots do not fit well or are not appropriate for conditions, you cannot enjoy an otherwise wonderful outdoor opportunity. Hiking boots protect your feet and ankles and provide support as you stress your body moving over uneven terrain. As with any gear that you select, the features that are right for you are determined by what you want to do and the conditions you expect to encounter.
There are several excellent brands of hiking boots that will satisfy your needs including Merrell, Teva, Asolo, Timberland, Birkenstock, and Rockport. Your first decision is on the weight of the boot you need. The two primary weight categories for hiking boots are light weight and heavy weight leather hikers. Lightweight hiking boots are usually split grain leather with a rugged material between. The split grain is more flexible than the top grain leather used in heavy weight hiking boots and it is easier to break in. However, split grain leather hiking boots are not as durable, supportive, or waterproof as top-grain leather. It goes without saying that heavy weight boots are heavy, weighing as much as 2.5 kgs. The weight means that you will use more energy to get from point A to point B. Long hikes in heavy boots can be exhausting for the infrequent hiker.
An alternative to light weight leather hiking boots that is becoming very popular for day hikers are fabric boots made with Gore-tex or nylon. They look more like trainers than traditional hikers and are lighter, more flexible, and breathe better. This type of hiking boot would be great for day trips without a heavy pack.
Advice on weight:
- If you plan on long distance hikes or walking over multiple days, choose heavy weight hiking boots.
- If you will be carrying a pack that weighs more than 20 Kgs, choose heavy weight hiking boots.
- If you will be walking over rough terrain, choose heavy weight hiking boots.
- For a day hike, you may find that non-leather and lighter weight hiking shoes fit the bill for comfort and performance very nicely.
Two other features of hiking boots that should be considered are soles and waterproofing. A softer sole is better for hiking over rocks and a harder sole works best on uneven ground and mud. Your tread selection again sould reflect how you will be using your hiking boots. The tread is the ratio of rubber to open space. Deep tread work best in mud and less tread with minimal open space is best for rocks.
There are four basic kinds of waterproofing methods for hiking boots:
1. Oil - softer but will break down over time and the boot will become less supportive
2. Wax - works well but must be reapplied regularly. Wax also takes longer to dry when the boot becomes wet.
3. Silicone – can break down stitching and glue in the hiking boot and smells a bit when drying. However silicone is more breathable than wax-based waterproofing.
4. Fluoropolymer – sprayed on shoe and is well regarded by authorities on hiking boots. It dries quickly, repels stains, and does not change the appearance of most leather.
Advice on sizing:
- Pick a size larger than your normal shoe because your feet swell with exercise and warmth.
- Your heel fit should be snug or you will get blisters as you move your foot up and down during the walk.
- Lace the boots fairly tight for support. Your toes should not hit the front of the boot too easily. If it does, either your boot is too small or your laces aren't snug enough.
- Wear two pairs of socks to prevent blisters and help the moisture away from your foot.
Because selecting the best hiking boot for your planned activities is so important, it's best to get some good advice before you buy. Virtually every town has a camping shop somewhere and the staff are generally always happy to help, just make sure you're wearing clean socks...