HOW I CHOOSE MY HIKING BOOTS:
DEFINE YOUR NEEDS
- The first question to define your needs is this: do you hike often or rather occasionally? Because if you only hike two to three times a year, a pair of flexible shoes (therefore less expensive) will do the job perfectly for you and will be comfortable while walking.
- The 2nd issue is related to the duration of your walks. You go for day hikes only, or for hikes of several days? Almost the same with the first question, because if you hike often over several days, it is important that your shoes are durable and of good quality.
- The 3 rd issue is the nature of the terrain in which you hike. Is it a dry environment, is there mud, will you be walking on steep trails, or on beaches and coasts? because each type of terrain needs a different insole and outsole; we will see all this in detail in the features section.
- A load of your bag; will it be rather light, large, or very heavy? Yes, it does make a difference, we’ll see which one to choose for each situation.
- After the load you are going to carry on your back, is the weight of your shoes an important thing for you?
- How do you feel physically? Because, if you are not in good physical condition, the risk of injuring yourself is high. So you need shoes that help maintain your balance.
- Do you hike most often in hot or cold weather? Is the climate rather dry or humid?
- Finally, to finish, rank these four criteria from the most important to the least important: price, weight, durability, and performance.
Now that you have a clear idea of your needs, let’s move on to the types of hiking shoes that are right for you.
TYPES OF SHOES
- RUNNING SHOES :
This is a good option for people who prefer to have a lightweight pair of shoes, with good traction on different types of terrain, like steep trails or uneven surfaces (like sand or granite).
Of course, they are not intended for hiking, but with the lightness of these shoes, if you are experienced, in good physical condition with a mountain foot, why not maximize the distance covered for the same effort.
Among the drawbacks of this type of shoe is their rather low level of protection, especially around the toes and under the foot. In addition, the support of the foot is limited, as well as the ankle, which is not properly supported in this type of shoe.
- HIKING SHOES:
For the toes, this type of shoe has more protection, a thicker sole, which protects the feet on moderate terrain.
Since these shoes have a low to mid-cut, if you are going to be hiking with a heavy load and without hiking poles, these shoes become less secure.
The impermeability in this type of shoe varies according to each model; there are waterproof hiking shoes and others not.
- DAY HIKING BOOTS
The first thing to notice about these shoes compared to the previous ones is their cut height; they have a high-cut or mid-cut stem.
More than protecting the toes, this type of shoe has side reinforcements, which are not found in hiking shoes.
These criteria are very important in off-trail hikes, where the terrain is often difficult because they offer more support and stability.
The outsoles of backpacking shoes are harder, so they’re a better option for people looking for durability.
Aside from the height of the upper and the durability of the outsole, this type of shoe has a good grip with relatively average stiffness, which allows it to be light compared to the following model.
With the use of trekking poles, this type of shoes becomes the best option if you do not have mountain feet and want to hike for several days while staying safe.
These shoes remain heavy and with weak breathing.
- MOUNTAINEERING BOOTS:
Mountaineering boots are very heavy, very rigid, and with a very high shank; their use is therefore only reserved for hiking on snow or ice.
Yes, they provide excellent insulation against cold and humidity, and yes, they are more waterproof than any other type of shoes.
Since the practice of mountaineering does not require walking long distances, the difficulty of walking in these heavy and rigid shoes is not the biggest problem.
Indeed, all the parts that make up these shoes are very rigid, especially the outer sole, because the practice of mountaineering sometimes requires the use of snow crampons.
It is quite normal if you are still hesitating between two types of shoes; the following section talks about the features of choice and should go a long way in helping you make your choice.
The materials that make up our shoes are very important because they are the ones responsible for the friction and discomfort of our feet, or on the contrary, responsible for giving them freshness and freedom of movement in the shoe.
Here are the different materials used in shoes, along with the pros and cons of each.
Since the plastic is rigid, waterproof but does not breathe, it is often only used in the heel and the part that protects the toes.
- Full-grain leather:
There are several types of leather and among them, full-grain leather. Since it retains its original thickness, it is very durable, abrasion-resistant, and water-resistant, but at the same time very heavy, less breathable, and less flexible. This is why it is mainly used in mountaineering boots.
- Nubuck and suede:
Nubuck and suede are leathers that are softer and more breathable than full-grain leather, quite simply because if they keep their full-grain leather side, the other side is sandblasted (the nubuck on the outer side and the suede on the interior side).
This sanding makes them thinner, therefore less durable and less resistant to water.
- Synthetic fabrics:
Polyester, nylon, and kevlar are all synthetic fabrics that can make up the lining of your shoes with varying thicknesses and densities.
The advantage of these fabrics is that they are light, more flexible, more breathable, so they dry faster; one of the important points is that they are also cheaper.
But on the other hand, they are less durable and less water-resistant.
WATERPROOF AND BREATHABLE MEMBRANES
Since waterproof and breathable membranes, like Gore-Tex, eVent, or Novadry, are fragile (because they are just thin layers), shoe manufacturers integrate them between two other layers, like the inner layer and the outer layer of the shoe, in order to make the shoes more waterproof and breathable at the same time.
But be careful, that does not mean that you will not sweat with these shoes.
The purpose of the insole (which is often removable) is to keep your feet dry by absorbing their perspiration and to limit friction by conforming to the shape of your foot.
If you are hiking in cold weather (so the heat problem is less) and you want to increase the support of your foot, you can change the insole (which is sold with your shoes) with one made of carbon fiber, foam shape memory, or gel.
This sole is located between the inner sole, in contact with our foot, and the outer sole, in contact with the ground.
The first purpose of the midsoles in our shoes is to protect our feet from impact while walking. This is why it is absolutely necessary to look for shoes with midsoles, providing good cushioning.
Today, most hiking shoes have EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) midsoles. The advantage of EVA is that it has very good cushioning, which is softer, cheaper, and quite light, but less durable, which means a shorter life for your shoes.
The second material used in midsoles is PU (Polyurethane), which is often found in mountaineering boots. Why? Because compared to EVA, it’s more durable but less cushioning and quite heavy.
The purpose of the outsole is to provide grip and traction to your shoes. And since this is the part in direct contact with the ground, it is important that it be hard; it is for this reason that shoe manufacturers often use rubber for this part, sometimes with carbon, in the case of mountaineering boots.
The main thing to look at in this part of your shoes is the size and space between the crampons. The deep crampons are great for snow, sand, and mud because they have a good grip.
On the other hand, if you are going to hike on hard ground, you need wide crampons to have a good grip.
Aside from the size of the crampons, if the outsole of your shoes is flexible, it will add grip and traction on rocks, but on the other hand, your shoes will wear out quickly.
So this is still a good option for you, but only if you only hike occasionally.
The major problem that hikers try to avoid (especially on multi-day hikes) is the problem of blisters. This is why you should always avoid and at all costs that your feet do not get wet!
When hiking in a hot and dry climate, such as a hike in the desert, always opt for shoes with breathable uppers (which are made of mesh or have perforations) to facilitate heat dissipation and a low-cut, to allow air to enter.
At the same time, avoid all waterproof shoes, as they are generally warmer than others, not waterproof.
To hike in a cold and humid or cold and dry climate, avoid having wet feet so as not to be cold. Because as I have already explained since sweating is not a problem, in this case, you have to opt for shoes with a waterproof upper, or a pair of shoes that keep the heat.
LOAD WEIGHT AND EXPERIENCE
If you have a heavy load weight (as is the case with many beginner hikers in multi-day hikes), and you have an average physical condition, therefore slightly more fragile ankles, opt for rigid shoes and high-cut for good support and protection, to limit the risk of ankle injuries.
Every 500g reduction in the weight of your shoes is equivalent to 4 or even 6 lbs less on your back.
I’m not saying it, it’s the result of a research study on the English journal Ergonomics, volume 29, pages 433 to 438.
So the weight of your shoes is a very important thing.
HOW TO TRY ON A PAIR OF SHOES
If you buy shoes that are a larger size, you risk getting your feet rubbing against the shoes, which ends up causing blisters, the most unwanted thing in hiking.
For this, trying on your shoes is a step to which you must be very careful.
- In order not to choose shoes that are too small, it is better to try on the shoes in the evening, because with the activity of the day your feet will be bigger.
- Try on your new shoes with socks similar to what you will be wearing during the hike.
- For an online purchase, it is best to look at a brand that you have used before and are happy with, as each brand has a similar foot shape, even between their different models.
- Now that you have the shoes on your feet, without tying them up, when your toes are in contact with the front of the shoe, you should be able to slide a finger between your heel and the back of the shoe; if not, take a larger size.
- Since soft shoes stretch when your feet swell, it won’t be a big deal if you only take them a half size larger. On the other hand, for rigid shoes, it is imperative to take them larger by one size.
- If you have a choice of two sizes, take the larger one because, with the addition of an insole, it is easier to reduce the size of a larger shoe than the opposite.
I think I’ve said everything about choosing the right hiking shoes and boots; If you have a question, feel free to ask me in the comments below.
Updated on January 23, 2021 by Ben