Hey Everyone! Hope y'all are doing great this week. This week I want to talk about hiking and backpacking footwear, probably the most important gear choice you'll have to make. This is literally where the hiking meets the trail! Your whole trip depends on your footwear. Everything that you carry through every mile will be carried by your feet, so foot care is important. No one wants blisters or sore feet. Nothing is worse than being halfway through your backpacking trip and your feet are killing you and you know you have miles to hike to get to your car. Choosing the proper footwear and caring for your feet is one of the most important things you'll do in backpacking. First, let's choose a good hiking sock.
The sock that you choose is very important. You would think that something this small wouldn't make such a difference but it does. Like all of your other clothing, you don't want cotton. The preferred material choice is wool. I know most people have never worn wool socks before. These wool products nowadays are not your grandfather's itchy, scratchy wool. Nowadays wool is soft and water wicking, keeping your feet dry, which is a key step in keeping blisters away. Marina wool socks can be found in all sorts of places and by all kinds of companies. Some companies specialize in hiking and backpacking. These folks really know their stuff, and some warranty their socks to last forever. So if you get a hole in them, they will send you a new pair at no cost. So you know they are durable. I use socks by the company Darn Tough. They are expensive socks, but they are worth every penny. I have never gotten blisters while wearing these socks. I usually take two pairs while on a multi-day hike. I wear one and take a spare and change out every day. I'll rinse out the dirty pair and hang it on the outside of my pack to dry while hiking the next day. That keeps me in a clean pair every day.
Hiking boots or shoes? Traditionally boots were the choice. I guess because of the Army and all of the hiking and walking they did in their boots. But nowadays boots are the exception to the rule, usually only being worn in colder climates or in the wintertime. Nowadays trail runners are the rule. Trail runners are made to be worn while trail running. They have lots of support and a very grippy and aggressive tread. They are lightweight, and you can either get them waterproof or not. I tend to not get the waterproof ones, because if you stand in water that is higher than your shoes, like when crossing a large creek, your shoes just become bowls of water that your feet are in and it takes longer for them to dry out. I like the ones that are not waterproof because they dry out faster. Choosing shoes is a personal decision, and there are different strokes for different folks. There are many shoe companies, but here are some of them: Merrell, Altra, and Soloman. I know I always mention REI as a place to go to buy stuff, but to me it is the best place. First of all, they have specialized items like hiking shoes or boots. Second, they have a no-questions return policy. You can return anything within a year and get your money back (even if you have used them). Third, you get a 10% dividend at the end of the year, so the more you spend the more money you get for next year. Fourth, all the things that are returned are sold in a yard sale event that happens almost monthly, and you can get great deals on items that are slightly used. So REI is my store of choice for specialized items that are hard to find anywhere else. So if I don't see it on Amazon, I go to REI to touch and feel try on, etc...
The most important thing to do when choosing shoes is to get the correct size. Getting your foot properly sized is important! Many of us have worn the same size for years, but we haven't properly been sized. I wore size 8 1/2 shoes for all my life. Then I went to a small family shoe store and got my feet measured again and I was a 9 1/2. It was a whole size too small! On top of getting the right size shoes, you also should upsize your hiking shoes 1/2 to a full size larger. This is why. First, you should be wearing your hiking socks as I mentioned before, and they are usually thicker than normal socks. Second, your feet swell while you hike, so a larger shoe is needed for hiking. Wearing improper shoes can cause discomfort, blistering, and loss of toenails. Yuck! I have had the black toenails from improper shoe size. While hiking downhill my feet were sliding in my shoe and my toes were hitting the front of the shoe. My toenails were too long (trim them!) and were bending when hitting the front of the boot. My big toenail turned black and eventually fell off. Yuck Again! So please get the right shoe and socks for the hike!
Another thing to consider is the insoles of your shoes. You want something with lots of arch support. I had plantar fasciitis, and the insoles I put in helped me get better. These should be sized also to fit the shape of your foot if you need them. The ones that come in the trail runner may be fine for you. I use the ones by Super Feet. They are stiff and support my feet and arches and are definitely worth the extra cost. So keep your feet happy, and you will have a better hike or backpacking experience. Keep hiking and get outside!