The Right Hiking Footwear Make the Difference Between Pleasure and Pain
If you’ve ever stood atop a mountain after an exhilarating hike, take a moment to thank your feet. They’ve trekked on dirt trails, jumped over rocks and waded through streams for you. Without their help, you’d still be at the trailhead checking your map, no summit to brag about. More than most outdoor activities, hiking puts an immense amount of stress on your feet. That’s why choosing the best hiking footwear and the best hiking boot insoles is essential to your life on the trail.
But choosing the right boots can be as daunting as hiking the Appalachian Trail blindfolded. There are three main types of hiking footwear—all designed for different levels of intensity. Matching your hiking goals with your footwear will increase your enjoyment, and your mileage on trail.
Choose Between the 3 Types of Hiking Footwear:
Light Hiking Shoes - A low-cut model with a flexible mid-sole. Best for day hiking, trail running, and ultra-lightweight backpacking trips.
- Backpacking Boots - High-cut boots for additional ankle support. These boots will have stiffer mid-soles to protect the bottoms of your feet from rough terrain. Designed for hikers carrying heavier loads over longer distances.
Mountaineering Boots - Heavier and more durable than typical hiking boots. Sometimes leather and sometimes plastic with a removable inner boot. Constructed for alpine climbing, glacier crossings, and high altitude. Most mountaineering boots have stiff soles and are designed for use with crampons (spikes for walking/climbing on ice).
Pick the footwear category that best describes your intended use. Wearing heavy mountaineering boots for a short day hike will slow you down and feel clunky. At the other extreme, climbing snow-covered peaks in light hikers can be a dangerous undertaking.
7 Tips for Purchasing the Best Hiking Footwear:
- Fit is everything - A great-fitting boot with fewer features will always be better than a poor-fitting boot with bells and whistles. A great fit holds your foot very securely without constriction or ‘hot spots’ (a place where you shoe rubs your foot, causing irritation). If you shove your foot to the front of the boot, you should have space behind your heel for the width (not the thickness) of your index finger.
- Time of day - Feet swell as the day goes on, much like they will on the trail. If possible, shop for hiking footwear later in the day when your feet are at their biggest.
- Visit a brick and mortar store - Feeling the difference between the different kinds of boots and finding the best fit is best done in an actual store. A good retailer will have a rocky incline ramp to give you a better idea of what each boot will feel like on the trail.
- Take your time - Good boots aren’t cheap and once you’ve worn them outside, they’re yours. Try to shop for boots when you have a block of time.
- Online shopping - This option is best for shopping, not buying. Online can obviously give you a better idea of the full selection available, but it won’t help you know how a boot fits. Online can be good for repeat purchases of a tried-and-true pair of boots.
- Home try-on - Spend time walking around the house in your new hiking boots before wearing them outside. It’s a great way to confirm the right choice before it’s too late.
- Replace factory insoles - The generic factory insoles in your new boots won’t provide the kind of support that even light hikers need. Invest in arch-supporting inserts that have the support necessary for all-day comfort.
Choosing the Best Hiking Footwear Insole is as Important as Choosing Your Boots
Nearly everyone will benefit from additional arch support and a heel cup that helps stabilize the foot. Foot fatigue, sore feet, or ‘hot spots’ are all signs that more support will yield more comfort. Adding an aftermarket insole to your hiking boots will help prevent injury and solve these 3 common foot issues:
Overpronation - Also known as collapsing arches. Characterized by an inward rotation of the ankle and resulting in a flattening of your arch. Overpronation decreases the efficiency of your stride resulting in more effort to go the same number of miles. It can also cause blisters when the forefoot moves too much inside the shoe.
Plantar Fasciitis - Overpronation can also lead to Plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the tendon that connects your heel to the ball of your foot. It is extremely painful and can take weeks to heal.
Heel slippage - Usually caused by a loose fitting heel pocket. Leads to increased friction, ‘hot spots,’ and blisters. Remedied with an insole that has a deep heel cup and strong arch support.
Here’s a few tips for buying insoles
- Stand on the insoles on the floor - It’s helpful to compare one against another rather than buying the first one you try.
- Close your eyes and shift your weight back and forth - You should feel a broad ramp of support—no pressure points—as you compare one to another.
- Try them in your shoes - Insoles always feel different inside your shoes. The true test will be in the shoes that you hike in.
- Break them in - Good insoles will not break down. They should offer firm support, not pillowy cushion. Your feet however, will need some time to get accustomed to this new level of support. Give them time to get acclimated before tackling long miles on the trail. Wear your insoles for a few hours a day before heading out on the trails.
What hiking boots and insoles have you found the most success with?
What do you think is the best hiking footwear? Have any tips to share?