Selecting the Proper Hiking Shoes

How to Select the Proper Hiking Footwear

Your hiking shoes are the most important piece of backpacking equipment. A poor pair of shoes can make an otherwise great backpacking trip completely miserable. A good pair of hiking shoes helps prevent blisters, gives foot and ankle support, helps prevent knee pain and keeps the most valuable tool for a hike (your feet) comfortable.

Here are a few FAQs and answers that will hopefully help you select some shoes for your next backpacking trip.

Do I need to purchase new shoes? While having shoes that are already broken in is ideal, backpacking shoes that are lacking good tread, cushion and support would make a better rear view mirror accessory. Also, consider the age of your shoes. I once had a guest on one of my backpacking trips that I led through the Grand Canyon who had shoes that were rarely worn, but broken in. The problem? They were so old that the glue holding the soles on the shoes was old and worn out. Let’s just say duct tape is an amazing invention!

Should I get leather or synthetic? This depends on where you are hiking. Synthetic shoes that can breath and are light are best for warm/hot weather hiking – such as a Grand Canyon backpacking trip April through October. Full leather boots are best for your cold weather/snowy hikes.

Should I get high or low cut? This can also depend on where you are hiking but the determining factor should be comfort. High cut boots don’t always work for every foot, but do provide a little extra ankle support. If you are like me, I can’t wear a high cut shoe since every pair I have ever tried cuts into my Achilles Tendon. If you need the ankle support, a low or mid rise shoe with a sturdy foot bed will give support. Plus, all the training you will be doing to prepare for your hike will strengthen your ankles.

Here are a few more tips when purchasing shoes.

• Go shopping in the afternoon/evening when your feet are the most swollen and be sure to have your foot measured.
• Try on your shoes with the same socks you will be wearing with your shoes. We recommend finding a good hiking sock and then buying several pairs of the same sock.  We recommend Darn Tough socks as they are made from Merino wool – a great, natural moisture wicking fiber that your feet will love!  It is best to break in your shoes with the same socks you will be hiking in and change into the same socks throughout your trip. Your feet will not like any surprises during long trips. This will help prevent blisters; as will Super Salve or GLIDE.
• Try to walk on an incline and decline when trying on your shoes. We recommend buying a 1/2 size bigger than your normal size to give ample space in the toe box; but not so big that your heel rubs.
• Test the support of the shoe. Take the shoe by the toe and heel and twist like you would a wash cloth when ringing out the water. If the shoe easily rolls up like a ball (try with a running shoe and see it rollup), then you won’t have enough support for rocks and uneven terrain. If the shoe is rigid and resists your twisting it (it will move, just not near as easily), then it should provide proper support.

Keep in mind that you know your feet best so if you have prior foot issues that require additional support (over or under pronation), padding (bunions), weak ankles, etc., please take these things into consideration when selecting your footwear.

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