Your feet are your direct connection to the trail, so what you wear on them really matters — and it can make or break your day. But that doesn’t mean you have to spend a boatload on a new pair.
The key is getting a good fit and picking the right shoe for your needs. Gear Guy is here to help with shopping tips, plus a look at some of his favorite new boots and shoes.
RIGHT BOOT FOR THE JOB
The truth: A pair of sneakers with good tread and a stiff sole is probably all you’ll need for 70 percent of your troop’s outings. Trail-running shoes are always a great option. The main exception is multiday hiking and backpacking, and trail activities in cold or wet weather. For those, you’ll want sturdier hiking shoes or boots with extra ankle support and possibly waterproof protection.
Since you’re probably growing out of your shoes quickly, durability is less important. Odds are, you’ll grow out of them long before you’ll wear them out. So cheaper entry-level shoes and boots will probably be good enough. Also look for clearance sales at local shops and online deals at sites like Campmor.com and REI.com/outlet. When you see a really good sale, think about planning ahead and buying for the next size you’ll need.
Some troops have a shoe/boot bin or hand-me-down program. Donate a pair of boots you’ve outgrown, and grab a pair that fits. And if your troop doesn’t have a boot bin, start one! (Remember: A new set of $20 insoles can really freshen up a pair of used boots.)
When trying on shoes and boots, make sure you’re wearing the type of socks you’ll be hiking in. The heel should be snug with enough wiggle room for your toes up front. Kick the floor — your toes shouldn’t hit the end. Then spend at least 10 minutes test driving them, walking around the store. If you buy online, try them inside your house, because once you’ve worn new shoes outside you usually can’t return them. If you’re planning to do winter hiking, look for extra toe room for thicker socks and better foot circulation.
BREAK IN YOUR BOOTS
While your new boots or shoes might feel comfortable right out of the box, it’s not a good idea to wear brand-new shoes on a long hike without breaking them in first — unless, of course, you like painful blisters! So start by wearing your new shoes to school, around the house, anywhere you can. The more time you spend in them ahead of time, the better off you’ll be on the trail. This is especially important with new leather boots.
Whether you’re buying full-on boots or a pair of trail runners, pay special attention to the sole and its traction. The deeper the tread, the more grip (and less slipping and falling) you’ll have on the trail.
Boots and shoes with waterproof membranes like Gore-Tex, eVent and others usually do a good job of keeping the water out (think: stream crossings, heavy rains). That said, some guys find waterproof shoes to be less breathable and often sweaty in warmer, drier weather. So keep in mind where you’ll be hiking most and what the weather will be like.
LEATHER VS. SYNTHETIC
Leather boots are more durable and traditionally provide more ankle and foot stability on tough trails than boots made of synthetic materials. But they are also heavier and more expensive. Synthetic boots are lighter-weight and more comfortable straight out of the box, with less wear-in time.
CARING FOR YOUR HIKING BOOTS
Always clean your boots after every hike. If you have leather hiking boots, apply a leather treatment like Nikwax every once in a while to keep them waterproof and prevent cracking and drying out. Never dry wet boots by the campfire. The heat will damage the soles and weaken the glue that holds them together. To dry them out, just remove the insoles and stuff your boots with newspaper.