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The Right Hiking Shoes
Finding good footwear for hiking is essential. Your adventure won't be very good if your feet are unhappy all the way.
As for what exactly you should hike in, that's entirely up to you. The most important part is that it's comfortable and will last until the end of your hike. Shoes or boots that don't fit very well are going to slide around and might cause you to trip or fall on uneven ground. Shoes that rub as you walk will start to cause blisters. Sometimes shoes are fine for going to the mall or going to work and back but probably won't cut it when you are hoping to hike for a couple hours over uneven terrain.
I've said before that you can hike in anything you want, most people hike in a couple different kinds of footwear because they're the safest and most comfortable when exploring out in the wilderness. Hiking boots and hiking shoes are the most popular way to get around in the woods.
Hiking Boots - Advantages
Hiking boots are the best kind of footwear to have on when out hiking. They offer several advantages over other kinds of footwear. Even still there are some times when you'd like to wear something different. The 3 big benefits to wearing hiking boots are they are more stable, can be more waterproof and tend to have better tread when compared to other forms of footwear.
When out hiking trails and mountains of all kinds safety should be in the back of your mind.It can be hard to get to where you are with a vehicle so you and your hiking buddies may have to get out on your own. The extra height on hiking boots and extra laces to hold your feet in create a more stable environment. After you've been strapped into your hiking boots the chances that you will roll an ankle on uneven terrain is much less than with runners or sandals.
Another advantage to wearing hiking boots hiking is the waterproofness. While not all hiking boots are waterproof, many of them are. Go into your local outdoors shop and you'll see a lot of waterproof hiking boots. You can get waterproof shoes as well but boots are taller, giving more of a waterproof barrier against cold stream or a big puddle of thick mud.
A third benefit to wearing hiking boots is that they usually have a bit more aggressive tread to them than just regular shoes do. When you're on a bit of a slope and it has rained recently you will appreciate this bigger tread holding your feet!
One last benefit that hiking boots can over other types of footwear is the stiffness they can have in the soles and midsoles. Over longer hiking trips (usually called multi-day hikes) having a stiffer sole in your boot will alleviate some of the pressure on your feet so they don't have to do all the work. The boot will allow less movement so you're feet won't have to keep moving this way and that to keep you upright. On short day hikes this won't come into play much but longer day hikes and multi-day hikes you will definitely see a difference. Having a stiff sole on your boots may just be extra weight on shorter hikes though.
Hiking Boots - Disadvantages
While hiking boots may be good for most conditions and trail types that you want to hike on, there can be disadvantages to them and it is good to be aware of them when you are picking out hiking footwear.
Weight: The first and biggest disadvantage to hiking boots is their weight. Having a thicker sole, a stiff midsole and a taller upper around your ankles means there is more rubber, metal and fabric when you compare a boot to a shoe. Even when comparing a shorter day-hiker boot to a taller, heavier, multi-day boot there will be a difference in weight. The standard rule is that the longer your trip and the heavier your pack, the heavier boot you will likely go with.
The exact weight of the boot is different for everyone. Some people may prefer to have a lighter boot at the expense of stability and midsole stiffness. Others will like to have the stability even on short hikes. The most important thing when choosing is that you are comfortable. The boot specs may be ideally suited to the trail and trip you are on but if it is not comfortable it won't be any fun wearing.
Stiffness: Most hiking boots will be stiffer than hiking shoes or runners. While this is by design and helpful on longer trails or when you have a larger pack, it can be cumbersome when you are moving quickly or are just going for a day hike. Many people will solve this problem and the weight one by having a heavier and a lighter pair of hiking boots for different trips. The lighter pair could even by substituted by a pair of hiking shoes on short trips or when a lighter pair of shoes would be more comfortable.
Warmth: Hiking in the winter can be a cold affair. You'll most likely appreciate the warmer bigger, taller hiking boots can provide. In the summer temperatures can be much higher and hiking in a bigger, taller boot could be uncomfortable. This is where you'll need to balance the benefits of having a taller, more stable, more waterproof boot with the disadvantage of being much warmer than a mesh shoe or sandal.
Hiking Boots - Things to look for when buying
All the advantages and disadvantages of hiking boots have to be taken into consideration. First you'll need to decide if you want a pair of hiking boots or something different altogether. Once you've decided you want a pair of hiking boots you'll need to look at things like fit, tread, height, and waterproofness to decide which pair you'd like to take out onto the trail.
Fit: Fit is the biggest thing when looking for a pair of hiking boots. Most of the other features you can move a bit on but if a boot doesn't fit, it doesn't fit. Make sure you take enough time in the outdoor shop to try on enough pairs of boots to know what fits and what doesn't. Remember to get some good hiking socks and take them with you when you try your boots on.
Waterproof: Waterproofness can be an important factor when deciding on boots. Some boots just aren't waterproof at all. You may want to look at these if you are in a dry area or are only going to be hiking in the summer. Non-waterproof models tend to breathe better than waterproof ones. They will be a bit cooler than the waterproof models. If you are going to be anywhere you are likely to be in rain on or on a wet trail, I'd highly recommend a waterproof model. Hiking in terrible weather can be a lot of fun if you can stay dry. Even if it's not raining, being able to walk straight through puddles and small streams without getting your feet wet is a great feeling.
Height: The height of the boot can be an important decision. If you are going to do short hikes or light hikes all the time you may not need something that's taller and more aggressive. A taller boot will give you more stability and waterproofness but it will be heavier and warmer. I like to go with a taller boot for long trips or ones with bad weather, a medium sized boot for shorter trips and where it might be a little bit wet and hiking shoes when shorter trips when it will most likely be dry.
Tread: Tread is the hard rubber thats on the bottom of your shoes. It is the first thing that hits the mud and grass when you start hiking. You probably won't need to spend a whole lot of time checking out the treads of the shoes but it's good to be aware of the type you are getting into. Treads can be softer or harder. The softer ones are stickier when you're on the trail but don't last as long. The harder ones are the opposite. They'll last longer but they won't be as sticky on rock. Another feature to point out is the layout of the tread. Small tread will be smoother to walk on over hardpacked dirt but will fill up with thick mud faster. Bigger lugs will give you more traction in mud but may be less comfortable to walk on hardpacked dirt with. That decision is up to you. You will mostly finder lighter boots have softer treads than heavier boots but you'll have a bit of choice as to which way you'd like to go.
Another option for footwear is hiking shoes. They are a good choice for hiking when you don't need the height or stability of hiking boots. Most brands offer similar styles in waterproof or non-waterproof models. The waterproof models are great if you are just treaking around in wet bush or want to stay dry after accidentally stepping into a shallow puddle. Remember they have a waterproof membrane in them and they will be a little warmer than their mesh counterparts.
Hiking shoes can be as comfortable if not more so as hiking boots. They are lighter and can breathe better if they are mesh so they can be a very attractive option for hiking in the summer or warm places. Sometimes when you put your foot in the water you want it to get wet. Mesh hiking shoes can be good for cooling off in the summer when you do want to let water in.
Another point to make when looking at waterproof hiking shoes is that if you have waterproof shoes on and you step in water and it goes over the top, you'll have a tough time getting it out. Waterproof membranes are great not letting water through no matter what direction.
Often people will take their hiking boots to hike in on a trip and then a smaller lighter pair of shoes to wear in camp. Sandals work well in warmer weather or something else that's light and comfortable. This gets you out of the big, heavy hiking boots while you're in camp to give your legs and feet a rest from the weight, stiffness and warmth that come with wearing a pair of hiking boots. The biggest point to make with camp shoes is that they are light. You are going to be carrying them most of the time so you don't want them to weigh you down!
Other Hiking Footwear
People hike in all sorts of shoes these days. I recommend wearing whatever you are most comfortable in when hiking around. When you're starting out though you may want to try it with something you've already broken in just to see what hiking is like. Also, when your away from home or don't have your shoes with you, don't let that dissuade you from going for a hike. I wouldn't go for a big arduous hike in dress shoes even if they were broken in but if there is a great trail just waiting for you to hike it, you should get out there and hike it!
Last Notes about Footwear
There are a couple last things I want to mention before you rush out and buy shoes or boots for hiking.
Insoles: Pay attention to the insole the shoes have in them. Most boots come with removable insoles that can be swapped out. If you don't like the current ones or they don't fit your feet quite right, maybe try with a different pair of insoles. A word of caution though; they don't fix a boot that doesn't fit right. Make sure you start with some that fits well and then tweak from there.
Socks: Socks are very important as well. You can buy the best fitting boots and have a great pair of insoles but if you are wearing socks that don't fit or your Joe Blow cotton pair of sport socks, there is a good chance you'll end up with blisters. Make sure you check out your local outdoor shop for some high quality pair of wool or poly blend socks that fit properly. No point in wasting a bunch of money on shoes or boots and have them be problematic because of cheap socks.
No matter what you've got on your shoes, if they're comfortable they can be good for hiking. Longer trips and more rugged terrain definitely warrant a look at the variety of hiking shoes and light to heavy hiking boots that are on the market. Don't worry if you end up with a few pairs. There's a perfect pair of boots for every trail!