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Tuesday, June 6. 2017
Here's my chance to elicit opinions from readers about hiking gear.
I'll limit the discussion to footwear for relatively rugged lengthy day hikes on uneven, sometimes wet, sometimes rocky, steep, or unstable ground with no more weight on your back than a full daypack (in other words, not real backpacking but not ordinary walking either. Something that would be good for our 9-mile urban hikes too). And I will stipulate that merino wool or wicking synthetic socks, with or without liner socks, are important for this sort of thing to prevent blisters. One blister or hot spot can ruin an outing - or a week.
I'm thinking of footwear that would be good for scrambling up Tuckerman's Ravine, for woodsy hikes through hill and dale, and for boggy spots. So I think we're in the realm of what they call "Light Hiking" or "medium duty" waterproof boots with good arch and ankle support, without the weight of those monster boots designed for mountain hikes with a 40 lb pack on your back - or 60 lbs of fresh elk meat.
I've done a lot of hiking in running shoes and it's not ideal but it is blister-free. I have also done a lot of backwoods all-day hunting in things like wellies, LL Bean Maine boots, and heavy snow boots. Those things are not great for distances - at least for me, they become fatiguing to wear after a couple of hours. I guess I am more experienced with the Hunting Boot category (though I don't know why they are different from the hiking boot category except that hunting boots are higher and often insulated - here's a good hunting boot) and with the steel-toed Work Boot category than I am with the Hiking Boot category. I have worn out many pairs of Work Boots at the farm.
In my research I have seen the yuuuge variety of offerings in the general category of Hiking Boots. Capitalism with competition certainly offers us endless choices in things and they all seem to be very good. These range from heavy-duty sneakers with heavy treads to slightly lightened, or ordinary, heavy-duty mountaineering backpacking boots. Some are higher, some lower, some softer, some harder. Some leather, some suede, some synthetics. Some insulated, most not. Hard leather boots need 20-40 miles of breaking in, others not so much. Waterproof usually has some Gore-Tex in it. Gore-Tex was one heck of an invention.
Well, maybe it makes sense to have a couple of different boots for different hiking purposes but I like the idea of a versatile boot which is well-broken-in, and I have no plans to do any mountaineering with a 40-lb. pack. I have not "done" the Presidential Range, but I would like to have done the Presidential Range just so I could say I did it.
What is your experience and what are your preferences?
Photo above is a Merrell Capra boot. A few random examples of pretty good boots below the fold -
Meindl Perfekt Hiker. Seems more like a backpacking boot to me but maybe I am too obsessive about the categories
Meindl Perfekt Light Hiker
Another Merrell hiking boot style
Merrell's Wilderness Boot
Vasque St. Elias
Salomon X Ultra
Hiking and Hunting Footwear #2
Photo is the Meindl Burma Our commenters to our Hiking Footwear post were well-informed, experienced, and helpful. Appreciate all of those offerings. Lots of hikers, hunters, and some field geologists among our readers. Two basics about boot sizing:
Weblog: Maggie's Farm
Tracked: Jun 08, 16:07
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Meindl Perfekt for the win! I've had two pairs (Cabela-branded) and they are the best I've owned.
DH and I prefer Merrells. We have had Scarpa heavy leather and they get too heavy or wet. Need the ankle flexibility to maneuver--but still have support. We always put arch supports in all of our boots. Will take a look at Meindl Perfekt they sound interesting. Don't forget to take both of your hiking poles with you. We each have a pair and they are amazing once you get the hang of walking with two poles! Get the best titanium ones you can find. I know you will be tempted to just take one pole each but don't do it--take both !
I prefer Vasque hiking boots. They light weight, water repellent, and rugged. I used them in my surveyor years in all types of climes. They were just as comfortable in the low desert of So. Cal. to frozen, snow covered Montana.
Even working on hot asphalt they keep my feet from burning. They also work great for yard work and chasing after the dog.
Also very long lasting as I had my previous pair for 23 years.
Maybe I'm weird, but I prefer a good pair of Teva hiking sandals over any heavy boot...
The ones I have are no longer available (they're old) but Terra Fi are pretty close.
Or for lighter terrain, like cities, the Original Lux.
If you need something to protect the soles of your feet, going barefoot isn't an option, wearing as little as possible that's stable is the way to go.
Less weight, less sweat, no sopping water and socks causing blisters and sores.
No substitute for going into a store like REI and trying on a few of the staff recommended hiking boots. Too many great hiking boots to try and limit to scattered personal recommendations. Leather v fabric, waterproof v breathability, 4" v 6" height, long lasting treads v very grippy treads, etc.
Alico...all leather and made in Italy. The Tahoe and Summit are medium duty with a corresponding Vibram sole and will do well on and off trails. The New Guide Mountaineering are serious mountain boots with a serious Vibram sole...I have worn these for years as an exploration geologist from Interior Alaska to the deserts of Nevada and the Andes of South America. They are not for the day hiker as they are heavy but they will save your feet going across a scree slope.
GO to REI. Tell them about your hike. They will both recommend and fit you with boots AND guarantee their comfort or money back.
I went there before three day hike in high Sierras. Told them about the hike (overnight etc..) and they picked the boot for me.
Their policy is that they always reimburse you if you are dissatisfied with any product. (and 10% back at end of year if you are a member)
I purchased LL Bean Gore-Tex Mountain Treads Hiking Boots (item #TA290725) in April, and wore them on the 3rd Annual Maggie's Farm Urban Hike in May. They worked great, with only a couple of weeks to break them in. No blisters, very comfortable. I used them for some hiking in Nova Scotia the past couple of weeks, and plan to use them for all my hiking this year, including some trips planned for the Long Trail in Vermont later this summer. I wear two pairs of socks in my hiking boots: SmartWool PhD Outdoor Socks and Polypro X-Static Sock Liners, both available from LL Bean.
This combination works well for me, and the boots are lighter than the heavy EMS boots that I used when I was a hiking and backpacking merit badge counselor for the Boy Scouts in the 1990s and 2000s.
I like my Vasques (#7482). A week long hike in the Dolomites last summer and local hills. I would prefer all leather for the snow, but a good 3 season boot. Mine are marked "made in Vietnam". And I also got them at REI.
I almost wore them for the urban hike, but opted for urban shoes.
I do a lot of hiking/walking. I have purchased good hiking boots both leather and man made materials. I have tried above the ankle, ankle height and low quarter styles. Some of them felt great for the first two miles or so and after that blisters or worse. Perhaps with enough experimentation and "breaking in" I could have had better success.
Then I tried "sneakers" or running shoes, etc. Awesome! They are lighter, much lighter and comfortable. I have hiked with these over rough terrain, uphill and downhill (which is the real test of fit and comfort), in dry environments and wet. Love them. No blisters, no lost toenails, no pain, perfect.
What I do is try them in the store with my choice of hiking sox. If they seem comfortable I buy them and then wear them on local hikes/walks for a couple of weeks to make sure they are good and then take them for the bigger hikes.
I have never had a "support" problem with the low quarter style. Maybe because I watch where I step, and that is because I don't have the same balance and reflexes I did when I was a kid. Worst issue I have with them is on sandy trails I do get some sand in them. No problem I take them off dump out the sand and go on.
Two other points:
1. I bring at least two pair of broke in "sneakers" and one pair of leather boots and two pair of broke in sandals. This way if on any day I feel any indication of a problem I switch to something else. (I bring the leather boots when I hike the Virgin river, they provide better protection for my feet because you can't always see where you are stepping.)
2. I also bring a set of gel or foam inserts for the "sneakers" simply because over time the inner sole flattens out and the insert gives me another 1000 miles or so. If I wasn't so cheap I would throw the old "sneakers" away after a 1000 miles but to be honest I tend to fall in love with their comfort and it's hard to part with them.
One other point; Some of the "sneakers" I buy are colorful and don't look as good walking in the city with khakis so I have also found some in grey and black for when I'm urban hiking.
One last point: The socks are important. No more cotton socks for me. I search for decent hiking socks that are snug on my feet. Both in high top socks and ankle socks. For whatever reason this really reduces the hot spots and blisters. I also have a couple pairs of very thin (nylon I think) liner socks which I wear under my hiking sox ONLY when my feet tell me to. That is I'm hiking and either from the distance or the up/down hill I'm experiencing hot spots so I put on the liners under my regular sox and the problem is usually gone.
I don't hike any more, but I love my Red Wing Truhikers #8672 (made in China).
Uh oh! One more point. I love leather shoes/boots. But... There is a break in period and I have had leather boots that still caused my problems two years later. So... some people will disagree but wear them in the water (I take mine up the Virgin river) and then wear them the rest of the day. After that let them dry and when you wear them again like magic they will fit 100% better. I love my leather boots. I take care of them, I enjoy wearing them, they are quality boots, but... they pretty much suck for hiking any distance or over rough terrain. Let me explain that last point. Good leather hiking boots should be excellent for rough terrain but the stiff soles and stiff uppers will move around as your foot encounters the uneven surfaces and rub you the wrong way.
Most years I do a backpack in the local mountains over the Memorial weekend. At that time of year the Pacific Crest Trail hikers are coming through. As best I can I check out their kit to see how the "pros" are doing it. These are folks (chicks and dudes) doing > 20 miles per day, 30 lbs < backpacks < 40 lbs. 2650 miles Mex to Can.
For footwear this year, I saw boots that looked like the Merrell Capra, Adidas Terrex and the Merrell below it, the Salomon X Ultra and Merrell Moab. Did not see a Keen Targhee style, although that is what I use for anything less than a week.
My "Keen Targhee"s (style, not exact make and model), originally fit too tight and I feared I had screwed up. After about 15 days of use, they came into their own and have been perfect since. Buy your boots early and wear them on real walks ( > 3 hours).
Foot blisters can be managed. One time I picked up one the first day of a long trip. Moleskin application 3/day kept it under control. It just means that at every longish stop, when everybody is goofing off and talking, you have to doff shoes and tend to it. The mini Swiss Army knife with scissors is one of the most important first aid tools you can carry.
Great post and comments, since I have been contemplating this very question in the last month. I've been doing some light hiking up the mouth of a local canyon (Slate Canyon in Provo, UT) and then across the foothills (Bonneville Shoreline Trail), but have been contemplating going farther up the canyon and wanted some light boots. Will bookmark this page.
I hike constantly in Appalachian valley fields and woodlands as well as the mountains. The hunting dogs need four to six hours afield daily, in all weather conditions. I have several pairs of boots, it's important to cycle between boots so as to give the feet some variety, per my avid hiking Doctor.
When it is not snowing or drenching rain, the best hikers I have found are Meindl Perfekt hikers (had a pair of the old Perfekt Light Hiker for twelve years, best boot ever, but they changed the Light Hiker to something more citified, the regular Perfekt hiker is updated and similar to the old model Light.
My secondary boots are Alico, as rocdotcom noted, very nice. I had a great pair of Zamberlan boots in a now discontinued model, the Vioz GT is the current equivalent. A few Scarpa boots are very good as well in the Italian contingent, some are not available in wider widths however.
But for ease of break-in and long life with excellent support, Meindl Perfekt Hikers at Cabelas can't be beat.
I bought a pair of Fabiano light-weight leather hiking boots from EMS Boston in the 70s. I am still using them.
I am on my 3rd or 4th pair of Vibram soles. The boots are constructed with a Norwegian welt so that the soles can be replaced by a shoemaker.
I use Snowseal to waterproof them.
I have used them in all conditions. Wearing 70 lbs up Mt. Washington, NH in the winter, with crampons or snowshoes. Summer hiking in the Adirondacks.
Why keep buying new boots when you just need to replace the soles?
I purchased a pair of very expensive Zamberlan boots several years ago. I believe from REI. Stock boots, best. Have ever had. They cost $595, were worth every penny to me, and will be inherited by a grandson, hopefully, some day.
I have to ask, and I don't necessarily think you're weird, but: how do you manage to fit a good teva sandal over a heavy hiking boot?
I wear Rockport Northfield mens boots 4-5 days a week. I wear them walking @ woek - 2-3 miles a day, on golf courses - yes, it's a sport, 4-5 miles with a 30-40lb bag! - and walking the city.Lightweight, waterproof, breathe well - I can't say enough good about them. Light cotton socks, never a blister, perfect. Good sole over moderate rocks, light ankle support. Inexpensive relative to other option here, too.
Another vote for the Alicos-good solid leather boots. For a lighter fabric, leather and goretex boot, look at Aso!o, also made in Europe. Sierra Trading Post is a good source. I won't trust the Meindls. I've worn one pair of their hunting boots where the soles catastrophically failed by delaminating a couple of miles from the truck. It was annoying, but if I'd have had an elk quarter on my back it would have been ugly. Another of my hunting companions had a pair that suffered the same failure. For any hiking boot, personally, a heel with a distinct "step", rather than a flatter,more running shoe style bottom, is important for traction on hills.
Belleville kyber boots made in USA
Good enough for our military good enough for me
I used to live in the heavier Fabiano boots, all leather uppers with speed laces. Re-soled the first pair 3x times, and by then the glove leather lining was pretty much gone. When I heard that EMS was going to stop stocking them, I bought a new pair that I still have and wear to this day. They are similar to the Vasque boots shown, but superior (they were then, and they are now). Still using them - a fine boot.
I agree. I used to have what I'd call "4 hour feet" because it didn't matter what I wore, in 4 hours they hurt like heck. I've spent so much money on shoes I hate to think about it.
Started going lighter and my MOST comfortable backpacking trip was in 5 finger shoes. Which are barely shoes. I don't wear them much because I'm too vain and they look silly, but I do wear the minimus new balance running shoes for all my hiking now. (in the Rocky Mountains of CO)
Any boot is fine as long as it is made by Danner. While it is not mentioned by you at all is inexplicable. Danner, dammit!
My last two pairs of boots have been inexpensive Redhead Kilties from Bass Pro. The fact that they fit my feet perfectly lets me forgive some other faults. Besides, my walking is always less than 15 miles a day and usually on trails or flat ground so I don't need superboots.
That's for late fall through winter into early spring. Summer is different because my feet sweat and I hate sweaty feet. For the last two years I have been wearing Keen Arroyo II sandals in warm weather. Excellent.
Belleville Khyber Boots--good enough for the military good enough for me
There is lots of good advice above. A good shop can be very helpful.
I have been hiking for many decades, and have done the White 4ks three times, as well as NE 4ks and Katahdin a half dozen times. I have done Huntington Ravine, Flume Slide, and even the Hancock Slide.
The most important part of my boot is the sole. I want grip to avoid slips particularly in the wet. I want some stiffness to avoid too much flexing on rough terrain, which can also lead to slips or just tired feet from trying to grab rocks with your toes. The second most important part is protection against strains for when I do slip, so I want full ankle protection.
For many years I bought Montrails and had them resoled in classic Vibram. (The early Montrails were great.) The last few years I have used the LL Bean Cresta leather (with long break in). Some friends like Merrill and Danner. Vasque fits me well but have poor grip. Resoling boots is ok, but uppers do wear out and go mushy or rip out.
The vast majority of hiking boots get worn in the city, and I suspect that many city people don't like the full grip of a good hiking boot since grippy boots tend to twist people's ankles, and city ankles go pop when you twist them. Thus most boots on the market do not have the grip appropriate for rough wet terrain.
My favorite trip is the Gulfside Trail between Lakes and Madison (either way) on an sunny September day, but Mosilauke or Franconia Ridge work pretty well too.
Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail - 2,550 miles from Mexican border to Canada. After ditching my 600$ Asolo GoreTex boots because they were too heavy, I ended up wearing Brooks Cascadia's (running/trail shoe) and worn loose. A lot of other hikers did the same. No way to avoid blisters at first, but after these heal then no more problems. Can walk thru streams without missing a beat, dry quickly, easy to slip on and off, but only last about 600 miles. Sometimes less is more. There are applications for the heavy leather boots, but the PCT was not one of them.
This is an additional thought on boot traction.
Just up the road from me in Thornton NH is a popular training-maintenance hike: Welch-Dickey. It has great views, great open ledges with relatively little broken rock underfoot to stumble on, occasional rock scrambles. But with a bit of rain for most people it becomes treacherous because their boots slip. To satisfy me a boot should be able to negotiate all of W-D with damp rock, the opposite way (D-W) with dry rock, and be comfortable on the (dry) class 3 open ledge approaching Dickey from Welch. It is sad to see people sitting on their butt with tears in their eyes because they are afraid to stand up, as I saw twice Memorial Day weekend. If your boots have less traction than your pants did you maybe make some wrong choices? Before I bought the pair of LLBean's that I am now breaking in, I asked around. Several people said the Keen was good, so I bought a pair. On dry rock they were fine,
but they tended to break away on wet rock with no warning. This property matches other plastic soles I have tried, so I stick with rubber.
Remember that feet will swell with exercise and even more with dehydration. Buy boots at least a size or even two larger than shoes and use heavy trekking socks to fill in the space. Tightness not excess space is what causes blisters. (This statement always gets me arguments from people who admit to getting blisters, but I never do. I rest my case.)
One of my friends did the JMT portion of the PCT, 200+ miles, 11 days. They did it in something like a Teva Omnium or Kitling, a closed-toe sandal, basically a hiking shoe with cutouts so you can see the sock inside.
They motored right through the creek and river crossings, all the water leaked out right away, and the Smartwool socks dried quickly. If need be, they just changed socks, one pair was always drying on the outside of their packs.
What's not to like? Feet stayed dry, socks got rinsed out naturally, shoes are very lightweight. Their whole trip was an ultralight adventure. Don't carry heavy packs, don't need heavy boots with lotsa ankle supports, skip down the trail like Legolas.
As long as there are no serious snow-choked passes, it's all good.
I had a pair of Rockport waterproof hiking boots for ages but eventually the lugs wore down. Very comfortable for just about everything except the really heavy duty hiking which I'm not ambitious enough for anyway.
Just looked in their on-line catalog and could find nothing similar. But then here in the UAE "waterproof" is an unnecessary feature.