It may be a bold statement, but I think footwear is the most important piece of gear for a hiker or backpacker. In the backcountry, your feet are your sole (pun intended) method of transportation. A well fitting pair of hiking boots can protect your feet from harm, while an ill fitting pair can lead to a blistered nightmare. Whereas supportive footwear can prevent a nasty sprain, the incorrect pair can cause foot pain that leads to knee, back, and joint pain. So, if you want to stride into camp at the end of a long day with a spring in your step you need to choose the right pair of boots.
Before we talk boots though, we need to talk socks. Your socks will be the layer closest to your feet and choosing the proper kind can affect your foot comfort and how your boots fit and function. Here at Gear we recommend a merino wool blend sock. Wool is an amazing fiber; naturally anti-microbial, wicking, anti-odor, and does an amazing job of keeping you warm when you need to be warm, but breathing when you need to stay cool. Did you know that your feet have 250,000 sweat glands on average and produce about a cup of perspiration per day?! That's a lot of sweat! Wool socks will help wick that moisture away from your feet, keeping them from feeling moist or clammy and preventing blisters in the process. Plus, merino wool is known for it's natural softness, so you won't have to worry about your socks feeling like an itchy sweater.
Choose the proper size socks (ours are sized based on shoe size) in a height slightly taller than your intended pair of boots to prevent ankle chafing. We have various thicknesses of socks in store for both summer and winter. Once you've selected a comfy pair I guarantee you'll never want to go back to your old cotton socks. And you'll also be ready to find your perfect pair of boots!
The number one way to find a well fitting pair of hiking boots is to shop in store. I know what you're thinking, "Of course you say that, you guys are are an outdoor retailer!" But hear me out. Everyone has a unique foot, with individual width, arch support, and shoe shape needs. The easiest way to find the pair that fits you best is to shop in person so you can try them on, walk around the store a bit, and compare them to other styles side-by-side. When coming in to try on boots expect to spend up to 45 minutes trying on boots. That may seem like a long time, but you want to have enough time to not feel rushed, to try on multiple pairs, and to make an informed decision. Hiking boots are an investment, and you want to make sure you're getting the right pair for you.
When deciding which hiking boots you want there are several features you'll want to consider. One is mid vs. lows. A mid high hiking boot comes up to your ankle, whereas a low is more the height of a pair of sneakers. Mids offer more ankle support and are a great all-season option. They will be supportive in summer and less likely to fill with snow in winter. Lows tend to weigh less because of their diminished height and can be cooler and less restrictive in the summer time.
Another decision you'll need to make is waterproof or non waterproof. A waterproof boot is a great year-round choice. They'll keep rain, mud, slush and snow from soaking into your boots. They do come by that feature, however, by sacrificing a bit of breathability. If you plan on only wearing your boots in the dry summer, you may be less concerned with exterior moisture, and more concerned with the moisture produced by your feet. In that case a non waterproof boot may be the best option.
You'll also want to consider where you will be wearing these boots. Not all trails are the same. A lighter, more flexible boot might be great for day hikes and walking, but may not offer enough support for rugged peaks or days of backpacking. Don't be afraid to ask the sales associate what is the best use for each of the boots you're looking at.
Once you've selected a few pairs that fit the features you need, you'll want to try them on. When you take the boots out of their box start by loosening the laces so it's easier to slide your foot in. This may seem like a given, but you may mistakenly think the boot is too narrow simply because the factory new boots have their laces pulled tight. Tuck the tongue of the boot against your foot and pull the laces snugly, but not tight, starting towards your foot and working towards your ankle. If the boot has lacing hooks, cross the laces first before hooking them up.
After tying the laces, don't stay sitting! Stand up and walk around the store a bit to see how the boot feels with movement. You'll want to take note of the size of the boot. Does your foot feel pinched anywhere? Do you need to go up a size or a try a wide width? You want to have a little extra space at the toe of the boot (a 1/2" or so is a good ballpark). You'll know if the boots are too big if it feels like your foot is sliding around inside of them, or if you're tripping over the toes as you walk. Pay particular attention to any areas that might be rubbing, pinching, or chafing. A tiny hot spot in store could end up being a blister on the trail.
Get specific when you're describing to the sales associate what doesn't feel right about a particular boot so they can find one that does. Don't be afraid to try on more than one pair. Remember, these are arguably the most important piece of gear you'll buy... you want them to feel great!
All of this may seem overwhelming and difficult to decide which pair you should choose. But honestly, once you put on THE pair of boots, you'll know! And remember, you don't have to decide alone. Our knowledgeable Gear for Adventure staff would love to help you find the right pair of hiking boots for YOU. Trust us, your feet will thank you!