There are two things you need to know to find the perfect pair of hiking boots: the different types on the market and how to ensure proper fit. Here is the basic information necessary to find a pair of boots that will carry you through many a hike safely and in comfort.
1. Types of Boots
Hiking boots come in three styles: light hikers (AKA trail runners); light “over ankle” hikers; and full backpacking boots. The latter style is not recommended for guests of Mountain Trek as the trails we’re doing do not require them. Light hikers are the better option for short day hikes on maintained trails and, depending on the strength of your ankles, you can either get the “over ankle” supportive model or the low-rise version. Typically they are made of leather or a fabric combination and most have a durable waterproof finish. (A note about waterproofing: most hiking boots come with a DWR finish, depending on the quality of the boot and frequency of use, this can wear off after a short period of time. If you notice that water does not quickly bead and roll off a boot’s surface, it’s time to add a waterproofing treatment, which is a very simple process. First, clean the boot and then spray on or apply a waterproofing product such as Nikwax or Granger’s. Each company makes products specific to the material of your boot, weather it’s leather, suede, nubuck or a synthetic. Be sure to follow the instructions on the product’s label and once you’ve completed the application let the boot dry naturally – do not use a hair dryer.)
2. Ensuring Proper Fit
Any reputable outdoor gear store or shoe store will have trained boot fitters on hand to take you through the selection process. They will measure all aspects of your foot (from length to width to arch size) and then suggest a number of different pairs of shoes to try. Try on at least five different pairs of shoes and be sure to lace them while standing up and putting your full weight on your foot. (Your foot changes shape when it’s weighted and on the ground.) The right boot for you should feel comfortable right from the beginning. Here are some other tips to ensure the perfect fit:
- Take the time you need – Budget the time needed to be fitted and make the proper choice. Don’t show up to buy boots near the store’s closing time and then rush a decision.
- Wait until the afternoon to shop – Feet swell as the day progresses, and you want the boots to fit well when they’re at their “pudgiest.”
- Bring or buy good socks – Bring your own merino wool or similar wicking-style socks to wear while trying shoes. (Don’t rely on the “loaners” provided by the store.) We can’t say enough about the necessity of wearing a quality sock whenever you hike. They can make the difference between all day comfort or misery, with the newer “hi-tech” socks offering exceptional padding and wicking capabilities. So many people pay top dollar for good boots, and then skimp when it comes to socks. Expect to pay a minimum of $15-$25 per pair. Merino wool is highly recommended brand, and there are many good synthetics in the market as well. Cotton socks hold moisture and create blisters.
- Consider your foot’s measurements – Good shop attendants will measure everything about your foot before you even consider putting a shoe one. This includes length, width, volume and arch height. Regarding length, when the boot is unlaced and the toes are pushed to the front of the boot there should be ¼ inch of space (you can slide a finger in) at the back of the boot. This small amount of space is necessary for some “give” when going up and down hills.
- Note how they feel – The right boot for you should feel comfortable from the beginning. Do not purchase a boot thinking that the comfort level will rise after a break-in period. If something is “off” in the store, then time and wear could make it worse, not better. Take time in the store to put the boots through their paces, and then wear them for several days indoors to make sure that no trouble areas develop. If, during this trial time, a sore area is noted, return the boots to the store and try again. The perfect boot is out there, and this initial attention to detail will reward you with happy feet on the trail. Plan your first few hikes to be short ones, so that you and your new boots can gradually become acquainted.