How do I Choose the Best Hiking Shoes?
You will need to first decide what kind of hiking you will primarily be doing before you can choose the best hiking shoes. Some people will be better off with lightweight hiking shoes meant for day hikes, while others may need a more rugged boot for multi-day hikes through varying terrain and conditions. Still others may require mountaineering boots, which are extremely heavy-duty, rigid, and designed to be used with crampons. Once you have decided what kind of hiking you prefer, it is time to choose hiking shoes that will suit your needs and your budget.
Regardless of the hiking shoes you choose, you must ensure that they fit snugly but not uncomfortably. Shoes that are too lose can lead to hot spots and blisters, and shoes that are too tight can adversely affect the muscles, ligaments, cartilage, and bones in the foot. Remember that most hiking shoes will require a break-in period, in which the shoes will feel too stiff and somewhat uncomfortable. This period will last several days or several weeks, depending on how often you wear the shoes to break them in. Never break in new hiking shoes while on a long hike, as this can lead to foot problems that may end the hike early.
The most common type of hiking shoes are leather hiking boots. These shoes tend to be heavier than other types of shoes, but they are durable, water-resistant, and rugged enough to handle multi-day hikes through various conditions. These boots do not breathe exceptionally well, so the hiker can expect his or her feet to get quite warm. If you plan on backpacking, in which you will be carrying a significant amount of weight in your backpack while you hike, these boots will be the best choice.
For day hikes and light overnight hikes, boots made from lightweight, synthetic materials may be the best choice. These boots will be breathable and comfortable, but not nearly as stiff as leather boots. Make sure the boots you choose have adequate ankle support and a rugged, heavy duty sole that will allow you to gain traction on loose terrain. The boots should be water resistant or waterproof, and they should be breathable to allow sweat from the foot to escape the boot, thereby keeping the foot warm and dry. Some people prefer low-cut hiking boots for added weight savings and comfort. While these are great for some purposes, remember that they do not offer a lot of ankle support and can be hazardous on difficult terrain.
I always had a terrible time finding women's hiking shoes in wide width, especially at a good price and somewhere I can try them on. (No problem if you're willing to buy them online, without trying them on, and pay three figures for them.) Wide width women's shoes are not too easy to find in any kind of shoe, in fact.
But my feet aren't that long, and finally a friend made a suggestion that worked well for me: boy's hiking boots! Boys' sizes extend into the ranges worn by most women. I wear a six and a half wide, myself, which translates into about a four and a half in boys' sizes depending on the manufacturer.
Why boys'? Because boys' and men's shoes come in D width standard. But men's shoes are too big for me. No more hunting for women's wide widths, at least not for hiking boots!
If you plan on hiking in different kinds of conditions and for very different lengths, you really may need more than one pair of hiking boots. I don't backpack, so I do not have any high-cut boots; both of mine are low-cut shoes. If I did often carry a heavy pack, I would need more ankle support, but I travel light.
One pair is waterproof hiking shoes made with solid leather with Gore-Tex; they are very warm. I wear them if there's a chance of rain or if it's cold. But they are hideously uncomfortable in hot, dry weather. So I got a more breathable, lightweight pair, no Gore-Tex, for summer day hikes when there is little or no chance of rain. I also use that lightweight pair sometimes for "urban hiking" - that is, long walks on pavement as well as trails!
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