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A Hiker's Guide to Shoes

A Hiker's Guide to Shoes

Timberland Hiking BootsHiking demands the right boots for your feet and the type of hiking you do. The perfect hiking boots for you depend on how and where you hike. Before choosing a pair of boots, consider the different types of boots available, their components, and fit. Just like other shoes, if your boots don't fit properly, you'll be miserable.

Types of Hiking Boots

  • Hiking Shoes: This low-cut footwear is ideal for day-hikers. They have flexible midsoles, and many are ultralight. Some people use these shoes for trail running.
  • Day Hiking Boots: This type of shoe can be mid- or high-cut, and they are intended to be worn on day hikes or for short backpacking trips. You won't have to wear them long to break them in, and the soles flex easily. These boots don't have strong support and durability, however.
  • Backpacking Boots: These boots are designed for backcountry backpacking trips. They are usually high-cut, giving the ankles more support. The midsoles are moderately stiff, and these boots are ideal for both on and off the trail.

Hiking Boot Components

  • The Uppers: Choose from full-grain leather, split-grain leather, nubuck leather, synthetics, waterproof membranes, or vegan, and consider your insulation needs. Full-grain leather is durable and water-resistant but not completely breathable. Split-grain leather may be mixed with nylon, enhancing breathability. Nubuck leather is full-grain leather that resembles suede, so it's durable and water-resistant. Synthetics are made of polyester or nylon, so they are lighter, faster to dry, and less expensive. Waterproof membranes are designed to keep feet dryer, but they don't breathe well. Vegan hiking boots do not contain any animal ingredients or materials. Insulation may be added to some boots for added warmth.
  • The Midsoles: The midsole gives cushioning and protects feet from shocks. People hiking for long distances need stiff boots for more comfort and stability. Midsoles may be made of EVA, which is less expensive and lighter, or polyurethane, which is more durable.
  • Internal Support: The shanks sit between the midsole and outsole, adding stiffness to the midsole. Plates are inserts that are also between the midsole and outsole, just below the shanks. Plates protect the feet from shocks.
  • The Outsoles: Hiking boot outsoles are made of rubber, and they may have carbon added to make them harder. Hard outsoles are durable, but they may be slippery. Lugs are bumps on the outsole, making the sole better at gripping terrain. Heel brakes help make it less likely for slips to happen when going downhill.
  • Crampon Compatibility: Those engaging in winter backpacking need to have boots that are compatible with crampons for added safety.

Hiking Boot Fit

Hiking boots need to be snug but not so tight that you can't wiggle your toes freely. After a long day of hiking, feet tend to swell, and you may also want to wear extra-thick socks in your boots. Your hiking boots need to be large enough to accommodate swollen feet and thick socks.

  • Sizing: Have your feet measured professionally for length, width, and arch. Double-check the measurements, and then compare your foot length to a boot sizing chart to find your size. Ideally, you should have a thumb-width between your longest toe and the end of the boot insole.
  • Trying on Boots: Try on boots and shoes at the end of the day when your feet are bigger. Bring along orthotics to try on boots if you wear them. Always wear the type of socks you'll likely be wearing while hiking when you try on boots. Walk around the store in a pair of boots before you buy them to make sure they're comfortable.
  • Other Considerations: If you shop online, stick with a brand of boot that you've worn successfully before. If the boots feel uncomfortable, try a different lacing method or consider adding aftermarket insoles. If firm lacing doesn't fix an extra space above your foot, the boot volume is incorrect for your foot. Don't forget to break boots in before a hiking trip.

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