The saying “one pair of shoes can change your life” is true. Whether you’re dressing to impress or to scramble up a mountain, what’s on your feet can make the world of a difference. In my opinion, hiking boots are the most important piece of equipment a backcountry beauty should have. Without proper boots you’re SOL, no adventures for you. It’s the difference between rolled ankles and blisters to another mountain conquered, so take special consideration when choosing your boots. To help you with this, here are some things to think about when boot shopping.
1. What type of trails are you mostly going to be doing?
This is important because hiking boots come in a variety of shapes, strengths and sizes, depending on what level of activity you’ll be pursuing. Think of it as a spectrum, on the low end you have trail shoes, a running shoe with more traction and support to it. On the high end is your mountaineering boots, capable of attaching crampons and scaling glaciers with. If you’re new to hiking, you’re probably not going to need or want something as hefty as a mountaineering boot, but something more then a trail running shoe. Anything above walking on a forest trail such as scrambling (hiking up a mountain usually without a trail, typically on steep scree covered slopes) will require a sturdy boot with good ankle support, but still some mobility. For day hikes and scrambles I would recommend something like these Salomon Conquest Boots. Backpacking (multi day hikes carrying your possessions in your backpack and camping in the backcountry) will most definitely require strong sturdy boots with good ankle support like the Scarpa SL boot.
2. Try on different brands of boots
Each manufacturer uses different moulds to create their boots, therefore each boot has a different fit (i.e. narrow, wide). It’s important to try on boots from different brands in order to figure out what fit is best for your foot.
3. Wear a sock similar to the thickness you normally use when hiking
It is important to properly gauge the fit of a boot when trying them on, this means mimicking the real life scenario. I really like RedHead wool socks because they are thick enough to prevent blisters and the wool material wicks away sweat and keeps my feet feeling cool. They use a fine grade wool that doesn’t itch and they have a life time guarantee! An added bonus (especially to those in my tent) is the wool prevents bacteria buildup and thus reduces odors.
4. Give them a good walk around
Put both boots on, tie them up properly and walk around the store. Most places have an area to test them on uneven surfaces and slopes. On uneven surfaces the boot should hold secure without your foot moving inside. Going up a slope your heel should barely move, if it slips a significant amount, the boot is too big. Going down slopes your toes should not jam against the front, if they do, the boot is probably too small. An indicator of a good fit is that your foot should fit smoothly inside the boot.
5. After you’ve purchased you need to work them in
You’ve found a boot that fit well in the store, now you need to spend time breaking them in. Breaking them in involves wearing them around the house, to work, with different socks and with backpacks. Basically you just want to get an idea of where hotspots (areas of irritation that will lead to a blister if left untreated) are going to form and what type of sock works best for you. Try wearing them with footbeds or insoles to increase their comfort. If you require orthotics, make sure you bring them with you to the store to ensure the boot you pick can accommodate them. When you do start hiking with them, it’s important to recognize when you are developing hotspots so you can stop and treat them before a blister is formed.
With these things in mind you’ll have no problem finding a boot that’s right for you. Just set aside an hour or so and let your feet do the deciding. Unlike buying heels, comfort should be your number one priority, there’s nothing worse then hiking with blister covered feet. And since you’ll be flashing your feet about in the process, may as well get a pedicure too! Happy boot shopping!