Choosing your hiking footwear

July 29, 2015

Nothing takes the enjoyment out of a hike more effectively than inappropriate footwear. When choosing footwear, the paramount consideration is comfort. As these guidelines will show,  little time spent "trying be­fore buying" can make the difference between bliss and blisters in the field.

Choosing your hiking footwear

The right shoes for the right hike

For walking on established tracks, lightweight, robust running shoes may well be sufficient, particularly if you are reasonably agile. For walking across steep or uneven ground nothing matches a sturdy pair of boots for providing ankle support, something which is particularly necessary when carrying a heavy backpack. They also protect your feet from sharp rocks and muddy ground.

If you are going to become a regular hiker, the best boots to purchase are constructed from a single-piece, leather upper. The fewer seams the better: lines of stitching are potential points for wear and water entry. A snug-fitting, gusseted tongue and padded ankle collar also help to keep out moisture, sticks, stones and pebbles.

Good-quality leather boots are not cheap but they will give years of service if you care for them well and treat them regularly with a waterproofing spray or cream. Remember that they require breaking-in so that they mould to the shape of your foot. Eco­nomical alternatives to the traditional walking boot are designs that incorporate features of the running shoe, such as lightweight synthetic materials or a cut-down ankle.

When shopping for boots, take along the socks you plan to use. (Thick wool socks are the best. When wearing particularly stiff boots, the addition of a thin, soft inner sock can help reduce rubbing.) Narrow the selection to the style that suits the kind of walking you have in mind, then try out a number of brands. Some manufacturers produce boots in a range of widths.

Having settled on one or two options, spend five minutes or so wearing the boots around the store. They should fit snugly. If there is room to slip more than one finger behind your heel when the boot is unlaced, then the boot is probably too big. Feel for any points that are rubbing. You need room to wriggle your toes but you should not be able to move the ball of your foot sideways to any great extent. If possible, walk up and down some stairs or do some knee bends. Your toes should not touch the end of the boot and you should not be able to lift your heel more than about three millimetres.

How to test a new pair of boots

  1.  Before lacing, push the foot forwards. One finger should fit behind the heel.
  2.  Lace the boots and stand up. Wiggle your toes; they must not be cramped.
  3. Lightly kick a wall. Your toes should not touch the end of the boot.
  4.  Rock up and down; squat and bounce. The heel should not move in the boot.
  5. Stand on the sides of the feet to test for adequate ankle support­ and flexibility.­

Follow these tips to find the right shoes for your perfect hike.

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