Are These Boots Made for Walking? A Guide to Backpacking Footwear
Ask anyone who has racked up some miles hiking or backpacking, and they'll tell you that footwear is one of the most important pieces of equipment. Nothing spoils a trip like getting a bunch of callouses or blisters halfway through your hike, and one of the most common reasons for ending a trip early or altogether is a foot-related injury. There are a lot of factors that play into choosing the right shoes or boots like sizing, support, durability, and water-resistance. ExperienceGear deliberately doesn't rent our boots because there are so many variables that go into selecting the appropriate pair, but this article provides some guidance for choosing your style and brand.
John Lennon once said, "the sole purpose of mankind is to kindle the warmth of one's feet among the dampness of mere being." Well, maybe we made that up, but in any case you want to do whatever you can to keep your feet dry to avoid some serious discomfort down the trail. Not only do your feet sweat about a half pint every day, but some of the most beautiful destinations tend to have rivers and streams that are just waiting to meander their way into your shoes.
One of the best ways to prevent against this is by choosing the right socks. Always use wool hiking socks when possible (we love Smartwool and Darntuff), as they're much better than cotton at wicking away moisture from your feet. Also, as silly as it sounds, sometimes waterproof boots actually make the problem worse, since they're usually worse at properly ventilating your feet. The same material that's keeping water from getting inside your boot is also usually preventing sweat from evaporating off your feet.
Sizing is potentially the most important factor and easily the most common mistake people make when choosing their hiking footwear. If you wear a size 10, shouldn't you simply buy a size 10 hiking boot? Nope. Backpacking usually requires that you go at least a half size up from your normal shoe size, and we typically go a full size higher. Why? Well not only do your feet tend to swell more than normal from the added weight of your pack and distance being travelled, but you also will (or should) be wearing heavier socks than normal (picture heavy grandpa socks). Also, if you're doing a lot of elevation changes, your feet typically shift into the front of your shoes or boots more than normal, and a little extra space allows for your feet to shift and swell with less abrasion against the interior. Go at least a half size larger for your next hiking footwear and your feet will thank you later.
Trail Runners vs. Boots
This is a common point of contention. On the one hand, boots tend to provide more support, durability, and protection than trail runners. On the other hand, trail runners are often much lighter and nimble, and the old saying is that one pound on your feet is the equivalent of 5 pounds on your back (we checked the evidence, and it appears credible). We personally like to split the difference by opting for a lighter boot like the Salomon Quest 4D, but the decision rests largely on the support your feet need and how many miles you plan on hiking. Insoles also offer a great additional layer of support, but they may also impact sizing. One thing is for sure- try not to wear sneakers, work boots, or other substitutes if possible. Trail Runners and Hiking Boots will make your trip a lot more fun and allow you to focus on your journey and not your limitations.
New boots or trail-runners? Make sure to break them in before your first trip to reduce the possibility of blistering.
Whether we're going for 2 days of 2 weeks, we like to bring 3 pairs of socks- 1 for wearing on the trail, 1 for sleeping, and 1 as backup for your active pair.
Bring flip flops or extra (lightweight) shoe-wear! This allows you to let your boots dry after you make camp, and you can putz around camp a little bit lighter. We love good old Crocs.
Bring moleskin and other blister treatment! This is probably the most commonly used part of a hiker's first aid kit (and a hot commodity when you're away from civilization), so always pack extra.
Cut your nails before your trip. Long nails can be a real bummer when you're on your feet all day, and don't be that guy trying to cut your nails with a knife at the campfire.