Hiking Boot / Shoe Recommendations?

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Well-Known Member
Jan 17, 2009
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Woodstock, IL
Barb and I are signed up for a National Geographic led tour of Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks this summer. The list of "stuff" to bring includes a set of "good hiking boots or cross trainers".

Any recommendations out there in rocketry land for these?
A lot of it depends on what you want to spend.

I wear hiking boots at launches, as I've tweaked an ankle one too many times to not do so.

Mine are Cabela's brand and cost me about $95. You can spend a little bit less and get decent support, and you can spend a lot more!

One thing I'd suggest is wool socks with liners -- they'll do a lot for helping you get blisters. They're thick, so you'll need to fit boots with that sock combination on your feet.

I'd also suggest getting boots at least two months in advance, so you can break them in. Otherwise, you're going to be very uncomfortable.

With the socks & boots I've got, on a 100 degree day, while my feet are warm, they're not any worse than they'd be in tennis shoes, and with the sock combination I have, they're nowhere near as wet and miserable as they'd be with cotton socks.

I used to do a lot of backpacking...a looong time ago!

My suggestions always wear two pairs of sock. This way they rub against each other and don't cause blisters. make sure the boots can handle the extra socks.

Good high boots for better ankle support.

With boots lighter is better. A pound on your foot is equal to 25 pounds on your back. Or something like that.
I hike almost every weekend. What kind to get depends on what you want from hiking boots. Heavy duty hiking boots with ankle support can cost up to $300. Those will make you feel like you can walk anywhere and never afraid you will twist an ankle. Boots or shoes for trails have thick soles so the rocks are shielded from your foot. You don't need to spend that much money though. There are many good shoes/boots for under $100. It's important to be sure they are comfortable before you buy them, so wear them for a while around the store. Go up and down stairs if you can. Some places have a small ramp you can walk on.

I wear trail running shoes because I walk extremely fast and these serve me well. Also, they have thin walls, which let air in and, if they get wet, they will dry faster than heavy duty hiking boots. These shoes have served me well on all trails I've been on. Only down side for me is they have no ankle support.

As for socks, thick socks aren't necessary. I wear "Wrightsock", which are thin double layer socks. I've NEVER gotten blisters with these and I highly recommend them. Blister prevention means keeping your feet dry. Think about why gymnasts always put chalk on their hands before a routine.

Do you tend to twist your ankle? Get boots/shoes with ankle support.

One other thing most people tend to overlook is the insoles. The ones the shoes/boots come with never work well for me. So I always get "Superfeet" for mine, because they fit better for me. You want even support across the bottom of your feet including the arches. The right insoles can help you all the way from your feet to the top of your spine! The muscles in your legs will feel better! Your back will feel better! There are many brands to choose from. Finding the right one is a trial and error process, but can pay dividends.

Don't forget to consider the backpack if you plan to carry one. It can add considerable weight to your soles. You don't want to feel the rocks through your shoes/boots.

I grew up doing lots of backpacking all over the country. The correct boot depends on how much weight you are going to carry. The trend is definitely towards the lightweight nylon hiking boots, but I've never cared for those when carrying a backpack- not enough support, especially if walking in sand (do a lot of SW backpacking).

If you are ever going to consider having a heavy backpack then at least a mid-height full leather boot will be the best. Check out the guys on the Pacific Coast Trail- that's mostly what you'll see.

However, if you are talking primarily about day hikes with a daypack then rigid support isn't too necessary, and lightweight boot will be much more comfortable. The lightweight boots will also have better ventilation- but at a cost of rigidity.

If you remember one thing, just remember that once you have a load on your back that your boots are likely to flex much more than you thought they would when you were in the store.

I like Vibram soles which are good old standbys from Italy (since the 1800's) and will last much longer than any sort of cheapo imported soles.

Remember that you can customize the fit of any boot by buying separate insoles. I usually have to do that myself, and the stand alone insoles are usually of a higher quality as compared to the OEM ones.

Finally, there's no need to wearing two pairs of socks. Sock technologies have come a long way and you'll find all sort of hi-tech socks that are basically a composite of different fabrics offering good wicking and good cushioning characteristics.

I usually shop near Oakbrook Mall for backpacking supplies. There used to be an Eastern Mountain Sports store there (out of business now), Erewhon Mountion Supply (out of business), and the following stores which were still in business last time I was there- a North Face Store (in Oakbrook Mall), a Cabella's (just south of OB Mall), and REI (just west of OB Mall). You can find what you need within a few hours at all of those stores.

As for brands, consider Vasque and Asolo- both top of the line, especially with their higher end boots- will last the rest of your life.
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Whatever you buy, break the boots in well before they break your feet. I like to start by wearing a new pair of boots for a few hours each day (like after lunch until I went home from work) and working up to wearing them all day at work until I can eventually wear them all day, everyday. This process can take some time.

I had a drill sergeant that recommended getting the soles soaking wet and wearing them until they dried thereby forcing the soles to conform to your feet. I doubt that this is necessary for good quality hiking boots and would probably do more harm than good, but as a way of accelerating the process for leather soled Army boots, it works well.
Whatever you buy, break the boots in well before they break your feet.

I definitely go along with that tip. Break them in early, wear them often, get your feet "conditioned" to wearing them. Get them well before your vacation date and put 'em to work.

If your new hiking boots have much leather in the uppers, consider getting something like mink oil (yeah, even for brand new boots) and working it in.

I have a pile of merino wool socks that I love. They make just about anything comfortable. Keep spares in your backpack in case you get your boots wet during the day.

With hiking boots, you pretty much get what you pay for. I don't remember ever finding decent boots for much below $75 to $100 (although once, at a going-out-of-business sale, I did find some goodies for like $12---I bought three pair). Do you have any local outdoor activity clubs where you could get some reviews and recommendations?
Forgot to add: never use cotton socks, they can give you blisters.

You can't beat the $90-$110 Cabela's boots (if they fit you properly anyways.) They have good support, are fairly good about breathing, and have good treads and soles. I had a pair that lasted me two years worth of hiking, camping, and launches in Western PA and a 9-day 100-miler in Cimarron, NM. This included some very abrasive rocks and a grand total of about 10,000 feet in climbs and decents over very rocky terrain without a single blister. They won't last quite as long as some of the more expensive boots, but from what you are saying, I don't imagine you will be putting them through a lot of the abuse that mine went through.

One MAJOR tip on the boots: make SURE that the tongue is completely attached to the boot up until it it is level with your ankle. This helps greatly with waterproof-ness.

Also, to reciprocate what others have said, two pairs of socks are a must. I prefer Marina wool outers because they are less bulky than standard wool. Wool also will be nice to your feet if they do happen to get wet and dry out fairly quickly, unlike cotton. For the inners, I prefer either polypropylene or nylon, either will work. And as others have said, the most important part is to keep your feet dry.
REI has an interesting article at https://www.rei.com/expertadvice/articles/hiking+footwear.html about shoe/boot selection.

When they tell you "hiking boot or cross trainers" they're giving you an incredibly wide range of show type. My favorite outdoor shoe is a lightweight, ankle high, boot. Usually smooth solid leather uppers. The Vasque SunDowners used to be nice but they seem to have "upsized" that model and it has become much heavier and more rigid.

Lots of good advice in the previous articles. I'd stress the "pick shoes you'll break in before the trip" as a critical item. You need to spend some walking time in your shoes before the trip, otherwise you'll be miserable.

That being said, if you go to a decent hiking store, they'll let you return boots as long as they've only been worn inside. So, buy a bunch of the socks you like, get help with the fitting, and then wear the things inside for a couple of days.

Have fun on your trip!
I like Merrell and Salomon trail shoes. I buy Merrells the most and are my general all purpose hiking shoe. Buy shoes now and go for a few hikes to see if you like the fit and feel. leave room for the toes on downhills, you do not want to be jamming your toes against the front of the shoe. Buy some moleskin for hotspots. If you feel some rubbing on your heel cover it with the moleskin before the blister develops. Don't cheap out when buying shoes, you want something sturdy, comfortable, and light. Happy feet make for a happy hike.
If there is an REI store near you, go there, tell them what kind of hiking you will be doing, and they will (or should, anyway) do a good job of selecting and fitting you with an appropriate boot. I'm guessing your trip involves just day hiking, not backpacking. If so, make sure you tell the fitter that. It means you can be fine with any of the lightweight trail footwear. Lightweight means less fatigue for you.

REI will let you return boots even if you have worn them outside. My favorite pair of boots for backpacking is a pair I picked up on the "discounted because they're used" table (though they still looked like new). Also saved big bucks on a Gregory pack that had obviously been used but still had a lot of life left in it, and it even had the different size hip belt I needed!

I never wear two pairs of socks anymore, whether for day hikes or loaded backpacking. As Pat_B said, socks have come a long way. My favorites are some Smartwool socks and some REI socks, both wool-based but with synthetics engineered in. The only thing I vary is the weight (thickness): lightweight ones for day hikes, heavier ones for backpacking.

I'll go against the tide here on the "break 'em in" theory: properly made and fitted footwear should be very close to being "just right" the minute you walk out the store. This is particularly true with the mostly-synthetic footwear, which isn't going to change as much as an all-leather boot. Another way of saying this is, if it doesn't seem right when you're trying it on in the store, it probably isn't going to get better later, and you're going to have problems. That said, it is still a good idea to get them well before the trip, just to have some time to wear them to find out if there are any fit problems.

Biggest cause of blisters, after wearing cotton socks, is poor fit around the heel - usually too loose. Looseness allows the heel to slide up and down too much>friction>heat>blisters. Cheap and dirty solution if you're stuck with it: duct tape. Yup. Put a duct tape patch on your heel (or wherever) as soon as you have a clue that there is a problem. The duct tape becomes a second skin that slides easier than yours and can take the wear and tear. I've found it works much better than moleskin.
RimfireJim is probably right about this one, at least as far as synthetic materials:

I'll go against the tide here on the "break 'em in" theory: properly made and fitted footwear should be very close to being "just right" the minute you walk out the store. This is particularly true with the mostly-synthetic footwear, which isn't going to change as much as an all-leather boot.

I have always been a leather "snob", partly because of some bad experiences I had with manmade-materials boots I bought many years ago. I paid a lot (as I recall) and didn't get much, so I went back to leather construction. And leather often does need to be broken in for comfort.

And I just thought about something else; just in case you somehow don't already know, you need a backpack with a frame that will put the weight straight onto your hips, and off of your shoulders. You don't have to spend a fortune to get a decent frame pack, but it is definitely worth it!
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I've always been good with just the "outdoor" type shoe. Nike's ACG series, or the Merryls Im wearing now. I've hiked many a moutain trail in BC, and haven't had any problems! Look for a high tongue, or at elast one that's attached, to minimize water entry.. Do break them in though!

Moleskins are good to have! and a Camelback type back pack.. (You can never have enough water!)

Also look at some 'fly fishing' shirts. they're light, airy, many pockets, and some come rated up to SPF 30! (And they look cool too!!)