On this website, I have yet dedicated any posts on just discussing the equipment we use. My equipment page at the time I’m writing this is in pretty disrepair and with this series of posts, I’ll go back and work on it with the affiliated links (guess I should try to monetize this site like all the spam out there tells me to do).
I thought it would be good to start breaking down the major necessities that are required for backpacking, which are backpack, shelter, sleeping system, equipment for sustenance, and shoes. This series will be based on our experiences and will generally be for beginners looking to get into hiking and backpacking. The page for our current load out will be added in the future and the reviews of our current footwear can be found here.
A big issue for anyone starting to hike is choice overload. When someone interested going outdoors, the first thing that comes to mind is do I have the right shoes? But when they start looking out there, there may be so many different choices and varying costs making the actual choice to buy a pair difficult. This could lead to the loss of interest of the outdoors all together.
My first advice about footwear is that what you wear isn’t all that important, just go with the shoes you find comfortable walking distances and start figuring out what bothers you. You have more experience about your walking and hiking style than anyone else in the world, so your experience is the most important on what works for you.
Once you get out there, you can adjust your footwear depending on the different type of trails you’ll typically hike. Specifically, look for solutions in footwear to addresses those the issues that bother you. For example, switching to something with more ankle support or more arch support. It’s part of walk your own walk.
For me, I use 3 different type of shoes – hiking boots, trailrunners, and hiking sandals. They fit the 3 specific situations and trails I hike. This article won’t discuss the specific brands, but rather the functions I get out of these three-different types of shoes.
Before I get into the shoes, an aspect of footwear almost more important is the socks you wear. It should be wool, merino wool, or synthetic materials like wool. With hiking or backpacking, you want to avoid blisters. This involves keeping your as dry as possible. Wool is best at that by wicks moisture away and it will dry out the fastest. Other solutions that are known to work is to wear sock liners so the friction is kept between the linear and the sock (however, I personally have not tried this).
Trailrunners are my default backpacking footwear. These are more like running shoes with thicker soles and better treads than boots, so I feel more dexterous with them on. Some have Gore-Tex patterns to be waterproof. The main focus of these shoes is comfort with the ability to handle most challenges.
They weigh less so it’s not as much of an effort to walk with them and they aren’t as stiff so they don’t beat up your feet. These usually have less rigged with lower ankle support, though they may have more arch support since the soles are more fitted. Another benefit that makes the preferred footwear is that they dry faster, which is also an argument for non-waterproof ones, so they don’t hold the water in. One of the best parts is that they are much easier to put on and take off at the end of the day or in the morning when I get out of my tent, so it potentially saves on bringing a pair sandals for camping.
A negative about trailrunners is that they don’t have as much ankle support. More and more, companies are putting out more high tops on their trailrunners as a hybrid. But part of hiking is training and using your body, the more you hike without ankle support, the more you’ll train your ankles. So, it’s not out of the question to hike sometimes with boots and trailrunners to build up your ankle flexibility and strength.
Lastly, the less rigidity nature of the trailrunners also mean they won’t last as long as a good hiking boot. The word is that they tend to last around 500 miles before the supports start going.
For me, trailrunners are what I wear for more technical hikes and backpacking trips. For Meg, I pretty sure at this point only wears either her trailrunners or just running shoes. Even her sandals are more trailrunners like.
My main footwear these days is actually the hiking sandal here in Virginia. The trails here in Virginia can get pretty wet with stream crossings and hiking sandals allow me to cross streams quickly and not worry about my feet staying wet. The temperature is generally above freezing here in Virginia, with majority of the year being muggy. So, I do like that sandals allow my feet to air out. One thing I do look for sandals are ones with thicker soles so I can walk over rocks without feeling it poking through my feet.
A worry other might have about the hiking sandals are the lack of ankle support. However, I don’t really run into instances of twisting my ankles. My personal experience is that whenever I would have twisted my ankles severely, only sandals would actually turn and my foot wouldn’t follow and really come out of the shoe since it was only held down by the straps.
In the other direction of worry, there is a worry that your foot would slip out in the case where you would depend on a hard edge. For me, I don’t have much a problem scrabbling in Virginia with my sandals because they are still tight enough that I still have control of my shoe. I am also aware that slipping out is a possibility so I then to put myself in less situations where I’m depends dent on holding an edge with my sandals.
Meg runs a lot colder than me, so her sandals is actually more trailrunners like as it’s closed toed. At times in our Huemul Circuit trip, she wore her sandals rather than her boots when the blisters were too much (she didn’t have a trailrunners available for that trip since she wore hers out in New Zealand previously).
Hiking boots are what I started out with when I started backpacking. They are tough and supports my ankles very well. They are usually waterproof and have a hard toe box so kicking a rock wouldn’t hurt your toes. Usually they have a thick and tough sole with good treads. They are very useful if you have a lot of weight in your pack so your ankles are supported.
The downside of them, and as I mentioned above, is that they can beat up your feet. If they actually do get wet, it will take a while to dry out. Some also don’t have great arch support because the soles are tougher. Lastly, due to the rigid nature of the boot, I also have a harder time to find the best fit of boots. That leads to most likely the formation of blisters with boots.
Currently, my role for hiking boots is for snow. They work well in conjunction with good gaiters to prevent snow from going into the boots. Secondly for crampons, it’s important to have a stiff boot to allow the crampon to be strapped on tight.
Our snow experiences are limited, specifically to our Walker’s Haute Route before the season began. Eventually, I hope to get into more mountaineering, where the rigid nature of boots is necessary.
Hopefully, this is helpful for you to find the right footwear to make your hiking and backpacking experiences the best. If there is one take away, it’s just to put on whatever you have and go from there to learn what fits your style of hiking and the types of hike you do.
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