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Boots most important piece of hiker's gear

This is an excerpt from Hiking and Backpacking by Wilderness Education Association.

Boots are the single most important investment that you will make. Every trip comes down to how comfortable you are with your footwear. Boots are the equipment that physically link you to the trail.

Selecting the Right Boot

Boot selection needs to be based on anticipated terrain, pack weight, and size and weight of the backpacker (Drury & Bonney, 1992). Try on as many different brands as possible and compare positives and negatives of each. When trying on boots, wear them around the store and shop for other items to assist in establishing how well the boots fit beyond standing in a single spot. If the retailer has an incline board, stand on the board and walk down it to ensure that your toes do not touch the end of the toe box when walking downhill. If your toes touch, you may incur black toe during a long downhill section of a trail. Black toe is caused by a bruising or blistering of the toenail bed when the toe is repeatedly jammed against the end of the boot. Different boot types include lightweight, medium-weight, and heavyweight boots. See figure 3.1 for a photo comparison. When purchasing boots, as the durability of the boot increases, the price and many times the weight will increase. This is due to the increased materials and products used in the construction of the boot to make it more durable.

Lightweight boots. Lightweight boots are useful for day hikes, when carrying little weight, and when the terrain will be easy to moderate (Drury, Bonney, Berman, & Wagstaff, 2005). They are generally constructed with some synthetic panels to reduce the weight of the boot and break-in time. Lightweight boots are often lower in cost; they also are less durable, waterproof, and stable (Graydon & Hanson, 1997). Before purchasing any boot, reflect on what type of hiking you are going to be doing; if you are going to be moving between moderate terrain and easy terrain, you will probably want to purchase a boot that is more durable.

Medium-weight boots. Medium-weight boots are useful for loads of 20 to 40 pounds (9-18 kilograms) moving over moderate terrain (Drury et al., 2005). Soles on medium-weight boots are more durable, and a solid leather upper often provides more support to the ankle than lightweight boots. Depending on the construction of the boot, medium-weight boots may be a mixture of leather and synthetic panels or all leather.

Heavyweight boots. Heavyweight boots are useful for heavy loads over moderate to rough terrain (Drury et al., 2005). These boots are generally constructed of leather, with the sole cemented or stitched to provide durability. Other items to consider when looking at heavyweight boots are a gusseted tongue to prevent water from entering the boot easily and minimal seams to decrease points of entry for water. The heavyweight boot will also have a shank in the sole to create a more rigid structure and assist in prevention of injuries to the feet from jagged points poking through the soles.

Feet, Socks, and More

The previous standard for socks in the outdoors was that each person must always wear two pairs of wool or synthetic socks to prevent blisters. However, with advances in boots, shoes, and sock fibers, this rule is now obsolete. For the majority of outdoor experiences you will want to wear socks that are wool, synthetic, or a wool-synthetic blend; use what works for you. Try a multitude of socks before deciding what is right for you. (See chapter 5 for information on blister prevention and care.)

Gaiters are another piece of equipment that may be valuable (figure 3.2). Gaiters provide protection by sealing the boundary between the pant leg and the boot. They can be valuable in keeping socks and pants dry, preventing debris from entering the boot over the cuff, and providing protection from biting insects. Gaiters can be used for both on- and off-trail travel. Full gaiters, extending to approximately calf height, provide extra protection in snow, water, and rough terrain. A half gaiter, which extends just past the top of the boot, does an excellent job of keeping small stones and trail material from getting into your shoes or boots and causing problems.

Breaking in Boots

Never purchase shoes or boots and expect to take them directly into the field. Just one person in a group doing this can cause an entire trip to be evacuated due to foot problems. The break-in time for boots varies, but a good rule is to walk approximately 50 miles (80 kilometers) in the boots before wearing them on an extended trip. The boots will need to be used in a variety of settings for you to understand how the boots and your feet match up. Wear the boots to places where you can change shoes if a blister arises or your feet begin to hurt. Better to have this happen at the mall instead of on mile 4 of a 12-mile (19-kilometer) day. This break-in time allows you to soften the boots for a better feel across rugged terrain. It also allows you to identify potential hotspots before wearing the boots for an extended amount of time. During the break-in time you might consider using the double-sock method to reduce potential hot spots.

Camp Shoes

Camp shoes, which are worn at the end of the day, are a valuable part of any backpacking trip. They allow swollen and heavy feet to relax and breathe. In addition, camp shoes are friendly for the environment. The softer soles of a camp shoe do not grab soil and thereby decrease possible impacts on the environment. Camp shoes do not have to cost a fortune, either; old running shoes, day hikers, or other comfortable shoes work well. The main thing to look for in camp shoes is comfort. If your boots fail, they could be an alternative shoe to hike in. A primary safety concern in a camp shoe is that it should have a closed toe. The enclosure allows for extra protection against puncture wounds to the toes. Any participant who stubs a toe has the possibility of puncturing a toe. This could be a trip-ending scenario based on the degree of the injury.

This is an excerpt from Hiking and Backpacking.

More Excerpts From Hiking and Backpacking