There are a few things you should not skimp on when it comes to the outdoors, and footwear is at the very top of that list.
What you put on your feet can make or break your experience on the trail and leave you limping back to the car in absolute pain, saying things things you don’t mean. Nobody wants to go through that.
So, now you ask, “So how do I find this perfect pair of magical outdoor slippers!?” I could tell you to take time and do research and blah blah, but let’s be real - there are more online articles written on outdoor gear than there are selfies of college girls in yoga pants posing on Angels Landing.
So, what I have done is taken what I know to be true from experience, thrown in some universally agreed upon advice, and included some brands you should check out. Before we get started, I will state that you should go into the nearest outdoor retailer and try on some boots. You should also make sure they have a great return or exchange policy in place so that you aren’t stuck with the wrong shoe, and Cinderella can kick some ass when she finally gets to the ball.
Here we go:
There are a lot of great brands to choose from out there, but I have had personal relations (calm down) with Merrell, Solomon, and La Sportiva. They’re all great, and I would personally start there.
The Merrell Moab is an divinely diverse shoe, and comes in many options. I have two pairs of them - one pair for the tour bus and one at home. Yeah, I just said that.
Solomon makes great footwear, but I have a pair of their trail running shoes which I got a deal on in New Zealand (Good Dealand). They’re amazing for basic hiking and walking on manageable terrain, and kick some serious ass in the canyons, so long as you watch the ankles and don’t John Cena yourself.
La Sportiva makes incredible boots from trail running and approach shoes all the way to the critically acclaimed Olympus Mons that has taken thousands of climbers to the top of the highest mountains on Earth.
Holy hell this could be an incredibly long section, and I’ll try to keep it short. Essentially, there are five types of outdoor footwear and three types of insulation range:
Approach shoes: Sticky rubber bottom and toe coverage for clambering up sketchy terrain rather quickly. Light & fast.
Trail running shoes: Also light and fast, but with more grip on the bottom, and built more for running. Good option for light hikes!
Hiking shoes: Tough in nature, and are pretty much the bang trophy of trail running shoes and hiking boots.
Hiking boots: Extremely wide range of rugged footwear, and pretty much covers the breadth of “on foot” outdoor activities.
Alpine climbing boots (not covered here)
The sun will never shine again and I am forever an ice cube weather.
Your choice on insulation range is completely up to you and the weather/ region you’ll be hiking in. I recommend a pair of warm weather and a pair of cold weather boot- that’ll cover most of your outdoor excursions.
Below, at, or above the ole foot hinges? Here’s what you should know- anything you wear that does not support the ankle is leaving it exposed to injury. Could be as mild as a scratch, or as involved as a full on rolling or dislocation where you immediately curl into the fetal position and want your mom to come pick you up early.
FIT(NESS) SHOE on my DANG FOOT
The way your shoe fits is crucial. Too large or small, and you’ll be in pain faster than you can say “Dammit we forgot the toilet paper”. The type of socks you wear also play a large roll in this, so keep that in mind. Your local outdoor store salesperson should be able to assist you withe the correct fit, so don’t be bashful!
WATERPROOF OR NAH
Personally? Yeah. All of my hiking shoes are. It’s worth the extra money to not have to deal with wet socks every time I walk through some muddy grass or shallow crossing. But, here’s the thing: waterproof shoes keep water out AND in. This means they don’t breathe as well, and your foot sweat will take longer to evaporate. Gross, but whatevs. Also, keep in mind they’re only waterproof up to the top of the shoe. So, don’t go plunging through a stream expecting to part the red sea like Moses did for his homies.
DO NOT use heat to dry your boots or shoes - it WILL shrink them. Also, may possibly light them on fire an then you’re really up shit creek without a trolling motor. Let them dry out in the sun or under a fan. Also, nothing better than walking them dry.
No, not using your drivers license to jimmy the lock on your back door. ALL hiking footwear should be broken in before committing to taking it on the trail. This means actually wearing these shoes where people might see you and, yes, ask you “what are those???” That’s OKAY! You’re going on a badass hiking trip and they are not. Pity them. Also, there is something to be said for soaking your boots in a bucket or a hose and walking them dry. This really helps them form to your feet and loosen up any hinge points. #worthit
Cotton is the devil. Use wool or polyester/wool mix. Smartwool makes an incredible range of socks, but there are also less expensive off brand hiking socks. Don’t skimp on this. Trust your Sambo.
Overall, these are my thoughts. YOU decide what’s best for you, and take the time to make an informed decision. There are hundreds of articles out there, but www.OutdoorGearLab.com has incredible write-ups on outdoor gear. Not the gospel, but damn close.
Now go get some new hiking kicks and let’s kick some ass!