|The following manufacturers
endorse this write-up as a valuable aid in selecting a pair of
well-fitting hiking boots:
||What's the big deal about boots? Jeez, they're expensive, aren't they.
Most look like they could take you up the north face of Everest. Do you
really need such an expensive item to start out?
I would say, "Yes".
There are a number of good reasons to buy a pair of those
"heavy" hiking boots. Boots are built sturdy to protect your
feet. They accomplish this protection in a number of different ways.
If good boots are positively out of the question due to price, athletic
shoes are always an option. But keep in mind that people have severely
sprained ankles in athletic shoes, or in some cases, broken ankles in
athletic shoes. Athletic shoes can not be waterproofed either. Also keep
in mind that there are many different types of athletic shoes, and some
may be better suited to their original design (such as running) than use
as a hiking boot. Calf-high work boots are a better option, but they
generally aren't as comfortable as a hiking boot, can rub the Achilles
tendon, and don't provide the kind of fit desirable for hiking. I
recommend that you make the boot investment. Because even if you decide
backpacking is not your thing, you can always wear the boots when you
hike, shovel snow in winter, or mow the lawn in the summer. Your
investment ultimately won't go to waste.
- Good boots are "solid" on the bottom. You shouldn't be
able to feel rocks or stones through the soles. If you can, there's
a good likelihood that after many miles on the trail, your feet are
going to start hurting. If you can press in the bottom of the sole
with your thumb, the soles are probably too soft to give your foot
proper protection. If you can "twist" the soles of the
boot, it's also probably too soft. Trails are not like the pavement
in front of your home. Trails are rocky, and you need good
protection to avoid bruising the bottom of you feet.
- Good boots provide good protection on the sides. They are heavy
because they either have extra padding to protect your foot from
stones, rocks, and branches you may step on which could gouge into
the side of the boot. Some fabric boots have protective
"welts" 1/2-inch or more up from the soles to give added
- Good boots provide good ankle support. Grab the top of the boot
and try to bend it over side-ways. If it bends easily, it's probably
not going to provide the level of protection needed on the trail.
The top of the boot should be stiff to hold the ankle in place and
provide it with good support.
- Good boots are either waterproof, or are capable of being
waterproofed with special waterproofing solutions. I would avoid
fabric boots that are not waterproof. While it's possible to treat
non-waterproof fabric boots with liquid silicone, it generally
doesn't waterproof the boot enough to be useful. Wet feet cause
blisters. Stick with waterproof fabric boots, or leather boots that
can be treated with Sno-seal, beeswax solution, or other more
durable waterproofing solutions. (If the boot that ends up providing
you with the "best fit" is a non-waterproof fabric boot,
you can always buy a "Gore-tex" sock to put inside the
boot to keep your feet dry. These socks are available from various
outdoor mail-order merchants, such as REI. So there is actually a
work-around if need be.)
- Good boots are heavy enough for their intended use. A
"lighter" boot used for hiking may not have the necessary
rigidly to provide your feet with good support under the heavier
load of a backpack.
"Well I have an old pair in the closet that I bought about 15
years ago, I'll just use those!" Think again. Feet change over
time. All those days your feet have been wedged into your favorite pair
of Florsheims, Hush Puppies, or Nikes has caused them to change shape
over time. Wear old boots on a long hike before you attempt a
backpacking trip. You'll probably end up buying a new pair.
"What's a good brand to buy?" -
Anyone who tells you that "you should buy [insert your favorite
company name here] brand boots" doesn't know what he or she is
talking about. On the flip side of the coin, anyone who asks "What
boots should I buy?" is also asking the wrong question. The best
boot for you, and the one you should buy, is the one that fits
YOUR foot. It's really pretty simple. If it doesn't fit your
foot, you shouldn't buy it. It may work GREAT for your friend's foot,
and he may think XYZ Brand was forged by the right hand of God, but if
they turn you into a cripple five miles down the trail, then what good
Why doesn't your friend's boot work for you? Because all boots are
made on different "lasts". The last is the "form"
the boot is built around at the factory. The size and shape of these
lasts, even between identical sizes of boots, can vary greatly. For
instance, some boots are built around a "European" last. This
last is typically narrow in the front, which can cause some Amercian
toes to feel pinched, but may feel great to a European. Asolo brand
boots are built on American-style lasts. Does that mean you should buy
Asolo because you're an American? The answer is "NO". Why?
No two feet are alike. All come in different shapes. The best boot to
buy is always the boot that fits YOUR foot. (Are you starting to follow
me on this?).
The two questions you should really ask are:
Unfortunately, the answer to the first question can only be supplied by
one person - YOU. The salesman can't help you with this. No one in
rec.backcountry can either. You have to let your feet "talk to
you" on the matter.
- "Which boot fits MY foot?"
- "What do I need to know in order to find this boot?"
Fortunately, many outdoor shops understand this, and are willing to
let you wear the boots inside your home to try them out. If they don't
fit, they can be returned for a full refund, provided they are in
"new" condition. If you decide to venture outdoors and wedge
dirt in the lug soles or dirty the bottoms of the soles, your outdoor
merchant will probably refuse to take them back. Check with your
merchant first to verify he has a "wear at home" policy before
you buy. If he doesn't, buy your boots somewhere else.
Even if your boots feel good at home, there's never an absolute
guarantee that they'll feel great on the trail. But there's a way
to minimize this possibility - by getting an answer to the second
question, which I'll supply here.
Finding your "Golden Slipper" -
When shopping for new boots, I would recommend that you stay away from
boot brands made for hunters (high-top boots) or those sold through shoe
stores. "Hunting" boots generally go too high on the ankle,
putting unnecessary stress on the Achilles tendon. "Shoe
Store" boots are usually enhanced versions of street shoes. They
"look" rugged, but they're probably not going to feel very
good five miles down the trail. Shop at a reputable outdoor shop that
specializes in hiking and backpacking equipment. These shops generally
carry well-designed outdoor footwear for the hiker/backpacker.
A boot that fits well will not slip in the heel area, and provides
your toes with plenty of room in the front when you're going downhill
with a full pack load. For this reason, hiking boots are generally sized
a little longer than your standard street shoe. Before you head to your
local outdoor shop, grab the socks that you intend to wear in the boots.
For beginners, I recommend that two pair be worn - a thin or lightweight
pair on the inside, and a thicker pair on the outside. Two socks rub
against each other, whereas one sock generally rubs against your foot,
potentially raising blisters. Ideally, the socks should be synthetic or
wool. Cotton socks get damp and soggy, and will raise blisters on your
feet. Synthetic and wool socks do a much better job of wicking moisture
away from your feet, thereby keeping them relatively dry.
In the Store -
Choosing a well designed boot with the right fit is the greatest
challenge in reviewing your boot choices. Don't let the rugged
appearance of the boot, the salesman's recommendation, or even the brand
name steer you to a boot that won't work for you foot. After you have
reviewed your choices and "tested" each boot design for sole
and ankle rigidity (see the points outlined above), ask the salesman to
bring you a pair.
The Finger Test
This is where you'll perform your first "test". With the boot
fully unlaced, move your foot as far forward in the boot as possible. If
the boot is the proper size for your feet, you should be able to slip
your index finger down inside the boot at the back of the ankle. Your
finger is just about the right size for determining if that all
important extra space is available in the front. The extra space is
needed when backpacking downhill, when your foot has a tendency to slide
forward in the boot under load.
The Sensory Test
Next, take off your socks and slip your bare foot into
the boot. Using all your sensory powers, try to determine if any part of
the boot feels tight. This is especially important in the area where the
small toes are located. Some boots may be designed in such a way that
your small toes will feel "pinched" or "jammed".
This can be very difficult to feel through two pairs of socks. The bare
foot test will bring all this to light. Does the boot feel too narrow on
the sides in the area just behind your toes (the "ball" of the
foot)? Is it too tight in the middle part of your foot on either side of
the arch? If so, look for another boot. The "bare foot" test
will quickly eliminate any boots that are clearly not designed for your
Now perform the same sensory tests with your socks on. Make sure your
socks are stretched smoothly over your foot, not loose, which can cause
the sock to fold over when you slide your foot into the boot. The boot
should not feel tight in any area. Inversely, it shouldn't feet loose in
any area either. It should fit comfortably "snug". If any part
of your foot feels "jammed", try a lighter, medium-weight sock
on the outside. (Using different thicknesses of socks can always be used
as an option for making size/fit adjustments.) If the foot still feels
jammed (or inversely, loose), look for another boot.
Women should pay close attention to comfort in the width of the boot.
Some women may be used to tight-fitting street shoes. If a tight-fitting
pair of hiking boots are purchased, this can lead to problems later on.
Wide feet wedged into tight boots can eventually cause the boot leather
or fabric to relax and stretch, allowing the foot to extend beyond the
sole of the boot. This can lead to increased stress on the body as the
hiker works to maintain balance on a shoe platform that is too small for
the foot. In more severe cases, the edge of the sole can dig into the
bottom of the foot through the boot leather/fabric, leading to foot
bruises and blisters. The "paper doll" test mentioned further
on is highly recommended.
Women who have very wide feet might want to consider a men's boot. As
a guide, a women's "D" width is generally a men's
"C" width. Be sure to play close attention to the heel area of
the boot if you decide to try men's boots, because women have narrower
The Stride Test
Walk around in the boots. Do they feel good? Does the boot
"break" (or crease) across the top of the toes comfortably
when you stride forward? If the top of the boot feels like it's jamming
the back of your toes when you stride forward, then look for another
pair. What about the heel? If you feel your heel sliding noticeably in
the heel area, you probably have a boot that's a little too large, or
one that's not going to work for you. New, rigid boots will always cause
your heel to slide a little (and I emphasize, a little) when they're
new, due to the newness and stiffness of the sole. If you think the
sliding is due to a boot that's too large, go 1/2-size smaller, ensuring
that the smaller size passes the "finger test".
The Slant Board Test
If everything still feels okay, ask the salesman if they have an
"slant board" where you can test how they feel on an incline.
Walk down the incline. If your foot jams into the front of the boot and
your toes feels pinched, look for another pair. If your toes touch the
end of the boot, ask the salesman for the next half-size larger.
If you've managed to locate a pair that meets all the criteria above,
there's a good chance that you've found a reasonably good fit for your
foot. If you haven't, keep trying on different brands until you find a
pair that "makes the grade" so to speak. If none of the boots
available meet the criteria, visit another outdoor shop. Boots can be
expensive. Take the time to choose wisely. Your bank account and feet
depend on it.
At Home -
The "Paper Doll" Test
Once you have your boots home, slip on the socks you intend to wear
while you're hiking. Then, place a blank sheet of paper under your foot,
and carefully trace an outline of your foot with a pencil. Using
scissors, cut the foot outline from the paper. Then, very gently, slide
your "foot cut-out" into the boot. Press the paper flat onto
the bottom of the boot, working the paper into all corners of the boot,
just as you would press pizza dough into the corner of a cookie sheet.
Then, remove the cut-out. Any spot where the paper is folded up (i.e.
not flat) is a spot where the boot is tight. Now remember, some
snugness is okay, but if you have spots where the paper is folded up
1/2", you may well have some problems later on down the trail.
The Long Walk Test
Next, wear them around and see how they feel. I would recommend that you
perform a "long walk" inside your home, or even better, inside
a local shopping mall to see how they feel after a little distance.
Wearing them while lounging at home will not give them the proper test.
Put a little "indoor distance" on the boot. If they still feel
good, you've found a reasonably good boot for your foot. If they don't
feel good, resist the temptation to keep them - take them back and keep
On the Trail -
Assuming that you've found your "golden slipper", the final
step is breaking in your boots before you take them out on the trail.
With the evolution of fabric Gore-tex boots, this is not as great a
factor as it used to be, but should still be performed. All-leather
boots will definately require some break-in time prior to backpacking.
Wear your boots on progressively longer hikes until you're certain you
can do some comfortable distance with the added weight of a backpack.
Being Prepared for Problems
Finally, even the best fitting boots can still cause you problems. Small
spots may rub, or tender feet may require some toughening. Be sure to
take along some "moleskin" on your hikes and backpacking
trips. Moleskin, and other similarly designed abrasion padding with
adhesive on one side, and a felt-like padding on the other, will
minimize the possibility that blisters are raised. (It will minimize,
not eliminate the possibility.) Medical adhesive tape, with a smooth,
slick covering on the outside can also be used. Spenco "second
skin" is also an outstanding option for providing relief for boot
"hot spots". My Podiatrist recommends another approach - rub
Petroleum Jelly on areas where you are known to get foot blisters (using
your new boots as a guide). While some might hesistate at this approach
with the thought that it will gunk up your socks, standard laundry
detergent will generally wash the Petroleum Jelly from the sock
effectively. (However, I do NOT recommend that you slather your entire
foot with petroleum jelly.) And finally, remember that sometimes it's
your foot that needs conditioning, not the boot. Regular hiking and
backpacking will help toughen your feet until they are prepared for the
abuse you'll give them on the trail.