Your Guide to Picking the Right Boots For Hiking
Using your casual sneakers, pumps or formal shoes for hiking mountains and long distances is akin to having a death wish. It is not advisable to wear and walk with something not designed for hiking. That is why there are boots especially made for hiking, which make the wearer comfortable no matter how far and how steep the terrain he or she is traveling on. But here’s the catch: how do you know which is the right hiking boot to wear? When you are trying to find the perfect hiking boots for yourself, what really matters is that it matches the form of your foot and that you feel comfortable wearing it. But the true test of wearing the durability and quality of the boots is not in the store, but when you are using them during one of your (hopefully!) many hiking trips.
Features of Good Quality Hiking Boots
Split-grain – most of the time this feature is paired with nylon mesh or nylon in order to have a light weight boot and it also offers breathable comfort. The name of the feature means that the boot splits its rough, inner part of its crowhide from its smooth exterior. The number one benefit you can get from this feature is that it comes cheap. Its downside, because of its cheapness, is the reduction of water resistance and the abrasion, although you will find other boots that are made for hiking, which also offer waterproof liners.
Full-grain – this feature means the boot has excellent abrasion resistance and durability, and it also has a good water resistant ability. This feature is mostly added to backpacking boots as it is designed to withstand rugged terrains, heavy loads and extended trips. This feature makes these boot’s weight heavy compared to the split-grain feature. A good, time to break-in is needed before going with extended trip.
Synthetic – this is a common feature present in all modern boots. This uses lighter materials compared to leather, they break quickly, dry quicker, and are cheaper. The disadvantage is it wears quickly or it simply starts falling apart after a couple of hikes.
Vegan – a kind of boot that are environmentally friendly; does not use any kind of byproducts or ingredients made from animals.
Waterproof – boots that are labeled with this feature contain uppers that are designed to have breathable membranes or materials, in order to keep the feet dry under wet weather conditions. The downside of this feature is its reduced breathability of the membrane, which may promote sweating of the feet during summer days.
Insulated – A number of mountaineering boots are designed with synthetic insulation to keep the feet warm when using the boots during the winter season, especially at glaciers and snow.
Various Types Of Boots
You may think that all shoes are designed for a single purpose: to keep the feet off the ground and protect them against the harmful terrain. But there are different materials made for shoes, and of course, those materials have their own functions. There are certain materials that thrive in certain conditions, but will easily deteriorate when used in other weather conditions. There are also those designed to withstand heavy loads, while others for lighter ones.
Mountaineering boots – boots with a lot of weight, these has stiff modules designed to accept the crampons intended to travel over glaciers; and accommodate loads that are extra heavy. These boots are very durable, supportive and tough.
Backpacking boots – these boots are designed specifically for heavier loads for trips consisting of multiple days with not too many breaks, especially if the target terrain is somewhere in the backcountry. These are supportive and durable and they have stiffer midsoles compared to the lighter boots and shoes. They are suited for both off-trail and on-trail travel.
Hiking boots – available in this type are from mid-range to high-cut ones that are designed for a weekend backpacking or day hikes, in which hikers only carry lighter loads. These boots feel flexible and they require only a little time to break-in. But unlike the aforementioned types, this type lacks durability and support on boots for heavy duty backpacking.
Hiking shoes – these are low-cut models that have flexible modules, perfect for any kind of day hiking. A lot of backpackers that only carry a minimal load with them can choose trail-running shoes of this type, which are designed for long-distance travels.
Modules are a part of the shoe that provides cushion to the feet, making the wearer comfortable. They also act as a buffer of the feet against shock, and it also determines the stiffness of the boot. Stiff boots may sound like a really bad idea, but they are a perfect partner for very long hikes on terrains that are steep and rocky. They provide greater stability and comfort. Having stiff midsoles, or stiff boots will prevent your foot from wrapping around every tree root or rock you step onto, which will eventually cause you to wear out your feet pretty quickly. The most common materials for modules are the ethylene vinyl acetate or EVA and the polyurethane. The former is packed with more cushion, cheaper and lighter in weight. Many midsoles utilize a variety of densities of the EVA material in order to offer firmer support in place needed most such as the forefoot. The latter is generally more durable and firmer, commonly used in mountaineering and extended backpacking types of boots designed for hiking.
All of the boots’ outsoles utilize the rubber material, and the popular brand name associated with this part is the Vibram rubber. There are extra additives in order to boost the hardness of mountaineering or the backpacking types of boots, such as carbon. If the outsoles are harder, it means that the durability of the boot has increased, but also increases the possibility of slipping off the trail. Other considerations for outsoles include the following:
Heel brake – this pertains to the heel zone, which is distinct from the arch and the forefoot. This material reduces the possibility of sliding off when going through steep descents.
Lug pattern – the lugs are bumps that provide traction for the outsole. Thicker and deeper lugs are utilized for mountaineering and backpacking boots in order to provide more grip. Lugs with wider space provide good traction and can shake off the mud easily.
Plates – inserts that are semi-flexible and thin, which are positioned between the outsole and midsole of the boot, just below its shank, if it is included. It protects the feet against bruises by uneven rocks or roots.
Shanks – about 3 to 5 mm thick, this insert are placed between the outsole and the midsole of the boot, which adds to the stiffness of the load-bearing midsole. They come in various sizes, in which some of it covers the whole length of its midsole.
This is important for safety and performance. The type of boots will always tell the wearer the options they have when it comes to systems on crampon binding.
Step-in – this features a wire bail, in which it holds the place of the toe while the boot’s heel lever is attached to the crampon, which is then attached to the heel of the boot. This attachment process is the most precise and the simplest, but can only be done on specific boots. To use the step-in binding, the boots will need at least rigid soles measuring 3/8 inches welt or the groove of the toe and heel. The step-in crampons are usually compatible with the heavy duty boots’ type such as the mountaineering ones. But they are not suitable for lightweight types, including hiking and backpacking boots.
Hybrid – this kind of crampon system is a blend of step-in and strap-on. It features both toe strap and heel lever, and require that the boot that has a stiff sole and welt or heel grove in order to hold its heel lever in place. Its toe strap does not need any welt for safety fit. Hybrid systems go very easily and quickly, and they are compatible with almost any mountaineering boots (lightweight) and a couple of backpacking boots, but not so much with hiker’s boots.
Strap-on – systems that has webbing straps made of nylon which secures its crampons to the boots. This system takes a long process of attaching, but the beauty of this system lies in that any boot can be applied to it.
This can be found on boots that are breathable or waterproof, which has a wide rubber wrap that surrounds the boot, or often just the toe in some models. The upper part of it meets the midsole. This provides more defense against wetness from mucky and wet trails. It also provides protection against abrasion and rocks.
High-cut boots – best for heavy loads, like 40 pounds or more; compatible with hiking off-trail. This kind enhances the ankle and balance support on rough terrains and trails.
Mid-cut boots – recommended for shorter trips carrying moderate loads.
Low-cut shoes – recommended for maintaining trails and light or ultralight loads. This offer lesser roll-resistance for the ankles and leaves the feet more vulnerable to mud, sand, grit or scree.
More Tips on Hiking Boots
The most obvious tip of all is to know your foot size. Refer to online charts and see which of the size your feet belongs. This is highly recommended if you are going to buy a boot outside of your country. You have no means of measuring the actual boot. When you shop online, consider a brand you are already familiar with.
If you are purchasing through a boutique or department store, try it on and see if it fits. Normally, the feet will swell, so this make it a bad idea for you to buy small boots. You should also consider spending some time with the boots by strolling through the store, even if only for a while.
Wear socks you are familiar with. You can easily asses your feel and fit of your new footwear this way.
Bring along your orthotics if you wear them. They give impact fitting of your boot.
And lastly, consider the footbeds or aftermarket insoles. They enhance the fit, support and comfort of the boot.
A good pair of boots is important for hikers of all skill levels. It does not matter whether you are a merely thinking about going on your first hike, or whether you’ve already done dozens and want more… you will be lost without the right type of footwear. When trodding the trails, you can’t afford to get lazy with your research.
I have suffered from buyer’s remorse on more occasions than one, and I want to prevent my fellow hiker folk from making these very same mistakes. For that reason, I have compiled the above guide. I hope the above guide will help you to find a good pair of hiking boots for your upcoming hiking adventure in the great outdoors!
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