Taking on a trekking adventure can reward you in more ways than you may anticipate. During your treks, you rely heavily on your clothing and equipment to keep you warm, dry and provide comfort where Mother Nature forgot to. One of the most important ways to maintain your comfort on the trail is to get the best hiking boots for you and your adventure. Here’s a comprehensive guide on how to find the right shoe or boot.
Think lightweight, comfortable and flexible. Basically, they should feel like your favourite pair of trainers or walking shoes, but give you a lot more support and stability. They won’t offer the protection and ankle support of a bigger, more cumbersome boot, but when that’s not required, they can be much more comfortable!
At the leaner end of the scale there are options like the ever-popular Salomon XA Pro – a super sturdy trail runner providing plenty of stability, arch support and agility. These are not to be mistaken for a regular running shoe, as they offer much more protection and stability. If you don’t like the idea of a trail runner, fear not, a great example of a full hiking shoe is the Merrell Moab, or the KEEN Targhee. This style of shoe has a thicker sole which will provide greater underfoot protection, keeping you comfortable after a long day on uneven terrain. For the lady adventurers, check out Ahnu, they innovate some of the best hiking shoes for women on the market and they’re a great responsible manufacturer to boot (pardon the pun!).
Mid Height Hiking Boots
A mid height hiking boot is basically a sturdy light-hiking shoe that sits a little higher to cover your ankle. A common myth is that ankle support from a boot will stop you rolling your ankles, sadly this is untrue. While it is still possible to roll your ankle, a little extra support can help you feel more stable when the terrain gets rough and also help hold your ankles together when the load gets heavier.
Just like hiking shoes, there is a vast range of mid height options. Generally speaking, the thicker the sole, the more support and cushioning. Conveniently, the 3 samples of shoes given above also come in a mid option. The mid height XA Pro from Salomon is quite a formidable light hiking boot and great if you need strong arch support. The KEEN Targhee Mid is a lot stronger and stiffer through the mid foot, but still really flexible in the front, making it super comfortable to walk in. It also boasts KEEN’s notorious wide toe box, making it a great option for those with a broader foot. The Moab Mid Gore-Tex® Hiking Boots from Merrell sits comfortably in between the Salomon and KEEN options.
Full Height Trekking Boots
We’re starting to get serious here. Full height trekking boots, as you could probably guess, have a higher top than a mid boot and therefore more support (sorry, they still won’t stop you rolling your ankle, but they can help!). They also sport a much stiffer sole, stronger more rigid upper, more toe protection and usually a few extra lacing rungs that give you a bit of control of fit.
From a design concept perspective, lightweight is out the window and the focus is on protection, support and longevity. If you’re looking to bullet proof your lower extremities against heavy loads and hardcore terrain, the weight and rigidity are an easy sacrifice. Zamberlan make a great range of solid trekking boots, with their leather range handmade in Italy. The Swiss also put out some great boots with Mammut having over 100 years of boot making innovation and experience.
Which One is Right for You?
There are 2 main factors that will determine the best hiking boots for your adventure. One is the type of terrain you’ll be walking on and the second is how much weight you will be carrying.
Terrain: There are a lot of well-maintained hiking trails in very adventurous places around the world that can be comfortably trodden in a well-fitting pair of hiking shoes. As the conditions of the trail decrease, the support and protection you’ll want from your footwear should increase. If you plan on tackling rough or uneven terrain, a mid boot could help you out. If you’re going all out on a longer journey, really rough or untracked terrain, even loose rock, snow or ice, you may lean towards the security of a full height trekking boot.
Weight: As for your load, if you’re carrying a heavy pack you will want to employ a little assistance to help your body cope with the additional stress. As a general guideline: daypacks, or anything up to around 5kgs, are usually manageable with hiking or solid walking shoes. Between 5-15kgs, the ankles may need a little support and a mid boot can help. Once we’re talking loads greater than 15kgs, you may want to consider a sturdier trekking boot.
Narrowing it Down: Right! Now that you know how to choose the best category hiking boot for your trip, let’s look at how to narrow it down to one pair! The best advice you can get is to try on as many different options as you can. The most important thing is to find the perfect fit for YOUR foot. Specific advice can be a great start, take note of friends’ stories of reliability and quality, but remember their feet are probably different to yours – what fits them, may not fit you!
What to Look for
There are a few important steps to follow when trying on a pair of boots in a store:
- Make sure you have a pair of your favorite hiking socks on. If you don’t have any, borrow a pair of the same weight (Any decent outdoor store should have a range of socks to try on with your boots). This may seem odd, but the thickness of socks can make a surprising difference to the fit and feel of the boot.
- Get both boots on and lace them up properly. They should be tight enough to be secure but not so tight that they cause uneven pressure.
- Spend some time in them. It may take 5 or 10 minutes for the boots to warm up, which may change how they feel. It can take some time to start to feel any uneven pressure spots or rubbing that could lead to possible trouble.
- Lastly, test them on angles. Some stores will have a ramp or steps you can test out your potential footwear. There are 2 basic tests to conduct on a ramp:
- Walking up, step right up onto your toes and over emphasize your movement. As your heal lifts make sure it’s not slipping out of the shoe. There will always be a little bit of movement (5-10mm is normal) but you don’t want to be slipping right out of the heel cup. The softer the shoe, the less movement should be expected. Bigger, stiff boots will allow your foot to move inside them because they will move less themselves.
- Next, turn downhill and stomp your feet like a 4 year old throwing a tantrum! Here you’re testing to see if you slide around inside the boots. Excessive sliding could indicate the boots are too big. A little movement is ok – try readjusting the laces.
If at any point during your high tech testing your toes are touching the ends of the boot, you can feel any noticeable friction and pressure points, or there is discomfort, you may have the wrong size, or maybe the wrong boot. If you notice an issue in the first 10 minutes it will be quite uncomfortable after a whole day and likely painful after a week.
Finding the best hiking boots may lead you on an adventure just as long as the trek you’re about to undertake. It is very important to take your time, try on different brands, narrow down options, and then try them again! Your future self and your comfortable feet will thank you for the time you’ve invested.
Bonus Tip: Inner Soles and Orthotics
Aftermarket or custom inner soles can revolutionize a pair of boots. A good pair of inner soles can offer you a softer ride and increased support specific to where you need it. If you’re unsure, go and see a good podiatrist or physiotherapist for an assessment. Unfortunately, inner soles will likely alter the fit of your boot as they usually take up a bit more space than their thin foam counterparts. If you plan to invest in good inner soles or orthotics, make sure you get them first and test your prospective boots with them in.
‘Breaking in’ your boots doesn’t necessarily mean they will become more comfortable. If something rubs, presses or hurts, they’re simply not the best hiking boots for you. The bottom line, golden rule and number one tip is that the perfect fit is most important.
Note: While it may not be necessary to ‘break in your boots’ I still strongly recommend, as with all of your gear, getting them well before your planned adventure and wearing them all through your training. This allows you to get used to everything and highlight any issues that may arise, giving you enough time to deal with them before you get out into the real wilderness!
About the Author
Adrian Manikas is Director, Operations Manager and Lead Guide at Impulse Adventures. He has led countless expeditions around the world starting his guiding career in Canada in 2006. Impulse Adventures offers high service international expeditions with a great focus on pre-expedition care. The team put their years of field and guiding experience into making sure every traveller is inspired, equipped and prepared to take on their chosen adventure!
Contributed by: Mountain Designs