Top Tips for Choosing Hiking Footwear
As the cooler weather is setting in now, I’m super excited to be getting out on some of the awesome hikes we have around Adelaide and South Australia!
But how many of you have bought a new pair of hiking shoes, taken them for a couple of spins and found they’re just not quite right?!?!
Having a great pair of hiking boots really enabled me to achieve two of my big goals last year- walk the Inca Trail and climb Mount Kilimanjaro!
This has had me thinking, what do I look for when buying new hiking footwear? Keep reading below to see my top tips!
How Do I Know If I’ve Got the Correct Fit?
The most important thing when buying any new shoes is that they are comfortable. When looking for hiking shoes, you want your foot to be snug enough that it doesn’t move around when you walk but have enough room that you’re still able to wiggle your toes without them touching the front of the shoe.
In general, your shoe should be one thumbs width longer than your longest toe. If you slide your feet forward in the boots, you should be able to fit one finger between the back of the boot and your heel, ensuring the correct length. The midsole of the boot will not change with ‘wearing-in’ like the uppers will so ensure the width and length are comfortable and correct before you purchase the shoes.
Try to go shoe shopping towards the end of the day as this is when your feet are at their most swollen, so will ensure your hiking shoes won’t be too tight towards the end of a long hike. Always try the shoes on both feet as most people naturally have one foot slightly bigger than the other and wear the socks you plan to hike in as this can change the fit of the shoe. If you wear orthoses, make sure you take these along with you and try them in the shoes as well.
Most importantly, take your time looking for a pair of hiking shoes!
Allow plenty of time to try different styles and brands to find what best suits you!
There Are So Many Styles of Hiking Footwear, Which Should I Get?
Hiking footwear comes in a couple of different styles and it’s important to think about you’ll be doing them to determine which will suit you best.
1. Hiking Boots
These are your traditional style boot that comes up around the ankle.
Hiking boots are better in rough terrain, are more durable, and offer more support if you’re doing long walks.
I would recommend the boot style if you’re planning on doing lots of hiking, any multi-day hikes, having to carry a heavy pack or have any existing ankle problems.
2. Hiking shoes
These are a more traditional ‘sneaker’ style shoe and come up just below the ankles. Hiking shoes are a great option if you’re planning the occasional shorter hike. Hiking shoes are lighter in weight and require less energy to lift with each step, and they allow more airflow so your feet won’t get so sweaty.
Bear in mind though, a hiking shoe is generally less durable and sturdy and can allow more water into the shoe through the top.
3. Trail shoes
Trail shoes are, again, more of a traditional ‘sneaker’ style shoe, however, are made to be more durable than a sneaker and are made for running on all different surfaces. Trail shoes may be a good option for you if you plan on doing lots of hiking on concrete or asphalt paths, as these surfaces may cause quicker wear on a hiking shoe sole.
What Materials Should I Choose?
Again, when picking new hiking shoes, you need to think about what you’ll be doing in them as this will dictate which materials you want your boots to be made out of. If you’re planning to be doing lots of hikes on muddy, wet paths, you’ll need to be aware that the grit can get into the seams and wear them down more quickly, so choosing a shoe with less seams will allow for a longer life span and will have less areas for water to seep in.
Hiking shoes made from full-grain leather and nubuck leather offer good water and abrasion resistance and more durability, but require more wearing-in, are less breathable and are heavier. Split grain leather offers a little less water resistance and durability but takes less time to wear in. Boots made from synthetic materials are lighter in weight and allow more air flow, so may be better in more humid conditions or if your feet are prone to sweating in large amounts.
Most good hiking shoes made from synthetic materials will have a water-proofing system, so water resistance isn’t compromised. They also require less wearing in, however, they tend not to be as durable over the long run.
What Socks Should I Wear?
The socks you pair your hiking shoes with are just as important as the shoe itself, wearing the wrong socks can lead to discomfort, sweating and blisters. You should invest in a decent pair of hiking socks as these are specifically designed to protect the foot, provide cushioning, wick away moisture and are made so they don’t bunch, preventing uncomfortable pressure points.
Again, the socks you choose need to match the kind of activity you’re doing.
If you’re doing multi-day hiking, merino wool is great for its moisture wicking ability, while leaving your feet feeling warm due to its thermal qualities. On multi-day hikes, always ensure you have plenty of pairs of socks so you can wear a clean pair each day, with spares in case you need to change throughout the day due to wet conditions or excess sweating. If you’re doing a day hike in warmer conditions, lighter, cushioned cotton socks may be more appropriate. If you’re hiking in cold conditions, layering with a sock liner is a great way to add warmth, without increasing the thickness too much.
Your socks need to be slightly longer than the shoes to ensure they don’t slip down and cause you any problems.
How Can I Prevent Blisters?
Blisters are caused by a shearing force and can be exacerbated by heat and moisture.
A correct fitting boot needs to be tight enough to prevent your foot from sliding, but loose enough to allow your toes to wiggle, thus reducing the shearing force and helping to prevent blistering. Leather shoes do require some ‘wearing-in’ to soften the leather in the right spots, so start off wearing your new hiking shoes around home, then for walks, and then try some short hikes before attempting any large hikes.
You also need to control the moisture in the shoes, so wearing hiking socks with moisture wicking properties will help, as well as changing your socks during your hike if you feel they are damp. If you have any spots that are prone to blistering, covering these with simple dressings and sports tape can prevent their formation.
Otherwise, speak to one of our Podiatrists as we can offer you some simple solutions in the form of covers, paddings or offloading strategies.
In summary, to ensure the best boot for you, you need to consider what you’ll be doing in them and will need to try lots of different types!
Whether your goal is to be able to complete a short weekend hike comfortably or to reach Everest Base Camp, I'm so confident we can help you that I'd love to chat with you personally about your hiking footwear, it's what I'm passionate about!
If you need any further information selecting hiking footwear, or have any other foot related questions, please contact us on 8330 0004 or send us a message on our website.
Yours in helping to build amazing lives from the feet up.
Podiatrist at Complete Podiatry