The best hiking footwear depends on what you’re going to use it for, the kind of terrain you’ll be trekking on, the climate, and your foot type and personal preferences. What’s perfect for your friend may not be the same for you, which is why there are so many varieties of shoes out there in the market.
One thing is for sure: the best ones for you is waiting out there. You just need to keep the following points in mind in choosing hiking boots or shoes at stores or researching for the best brands online.
Suitable for Terrain and Climate
So you’re going on a hike, but what kind of ground will you be treading on? If you’ll be walking through muddy trails, for example, you’ll need shoes with lugs on rubber soles that can provide good traction despite the soft, wet, and slippery surface.
A good number of hiking shoes are able to handle grassy, gravel-filled, and muddy surfaces well, so look out for those. However, you should not be walking in this kind of footwear on paved roads a lot as the concrete will wear down the lugs quickly.
If you want a versatile hiking shoe that you can also use on pavements, you can get the hybrid models. These can be used off-road and on. Be warned, though, that the grip of these shoes are not as good as the specialist types, although they generally perform better on trails than, for example, running shoes.
Also, consider whether you’ll be hiking in snow or in hot weather. For the former, you’ll need the kind of footwear that protects your feet from the cold and moisture. Those made of leather and/or has great waterproofing features (with waterproof liner and/or sealed seams) are your best bets, although these can be on the heavy side. You can pick models that combine leather and synthetic materials so you don’t feel the weight as much.
If you’re hiking in summery conditions, you’ll need shoes that make your feet feel as if they’re enjoying the breeze even while tucked safely within the confines of your footwear. The shoe should allow air in and out (through vents or mesh-type fabric for the uppers) while keeping your feet protected from moisture. They should be quick-drying, too.
For the cut, the low-cut types are suitable for trail, while the mid-cut ones are appropriate for rough trails, glacier or snowy terrains, and for technical scrambling, as well as mountaineering. You can use gaiters with low cut shoes to keep pebbles and mud from entering. For snow or glacier, you’ll need to strap on crampons for better traction. See to it that you get the kind of shoe that is compatible with crampons if you’re going to hike on ice.
Additionally, you’ll need to consider how long you’ll be out walking. If it’s a multi-day hike, you may find the lighter shoes kind to your feet, although these are not as durable (but will likely last you the whole trip). However, you’ll save energy and have a more pleasant hiking experience. If the terrain is really tough and the route long, you’ll need the sturdier shoe that has a stiff mid-sole and great heel support.
One of the worst scenarios on a hike would be having your shoes break down in the middle of your trek. You didn’t sign up for the trip just to walk barefoot, right? Considering this, it’s wise to invest in well-made shoes having good quality materials and construction.
Look for shoe models that have few seams so there’s less friction and blister-producing opportunities. Toe caps are great as they protect your toes from bumps and also keep your shoe’s shape even after kilometers of travel. Check the stitching and the reinforcements.
Great Fit and Feel
Various hiking shoes are made from different lasts, which are the forms on which the shoes are created at the manufacturing facility. What may fit your buddy’s foot well may not be as comfortable on yours as no two pairs of feet are alike. There are those that are rather narrow in the front part while other have wider toe boxes. Some feel as if they’re hugging your foot like a glove while others feel clunky and cumbersome.
There are ways of determining perfect fit. One is the finger test, which involves pushing your foot into the unlaced shoe so your toes are touching the tip on the inside of the footwear and inserting an index finger into the back part (ankle) of the shoe. Your finger should fit without feeling like your blood circulation is going to be cut off. This should be the minimum “room” left in your shoe so that your toes have space to wiggle and move. Your toes and the rest of your foot should not feel pinched or tightly squeezed as your feet tends to swell during the course of your physical exertions. If the fit is already really tight, imagine how you’ll be feeling when you’re huffing it out on the trail.
Also, try on shoes with and without socks so you can assess the level of comfort more accurately, even though you’ll be using socks, or even two pairs of socks. This will help you identify trouble spots in the shoes, whether there are parts that feel rough or tight.
Further, try walking about while wearing the shoes, even when you’re still in the shoe store and haven’t bought the pair yet. Notice carefully how your foot is feeling while you’re walking around and look at the shoe as you do so. This is so that you know how it looks when used. Is there a part that goes out of shape or creases significantly as you walk? Do your toes feel as if they’re pushed forward every time you stride forward? Do your heels lift when you walk? Do note that your heel should not rise from the insole as you walk. Check also the level of support and weight. Pick the one that feels most comfortable for you.
Don’t hesitate trying on as many pairs as possible. If you need special orthotics or shoe inserts, you can take out the insole of the shoe and replace them with the ones suitable for your foot.
One Last Note
To ensure you’ll have a good hiking experience with your shoes, break them in way before your outdoor adventure so they’re softer and more conformed to your foot shape. This is especially if you picked the models made of full-grain leather, which is stiffer and needs a longer break-in period. You can walk around your home in these shoes for a couple of days or do a short hike at a nearby trail with them.
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