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Backpacker Magazine – Gear Guide 2012

Rip & Equip: Boots

First: Buy the right boots. Second: Keep them in tip top shape with these tips.

by: Kristin Hostetter

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Shop Smart
Ask yourself five key questions before buying new boots.

1. Where are you going? As a general rule, you’ll be more comfortable with the lightest boots appropriate for your planned terrain. Dayhiking on trails? A well-cushioned, flexible low-cut should do. Carrying 50 pounds off-trail in Alaska? You’ll want a high-cut, heavy-duty boot. Once you’ve picked a category, don’t fixate on weight: With footwear, fit trumps a few ounces.

2. Do you need more (or less) support? If you have weak ankles, choose higher-cut boots with maximum stability. The extra weight is well worth the joint protection. Likewise, if you’re prone to sore feet, opt for stiffer soles made for heavier loads than you typically carry. Conversely, some trekkers need less structure and can wear trail runners for ultralight trips or 2,000-mile thru-hikes.

3. Waterproof? You need weather protection for soggy trails, certainly, but don’t always pick a waterproof shoe for just-in-case scenarios. If you rarely hike in cold, wet conditions, you might be better off with footwear that’s more breathable and fast-drying. If you’re getting a low-cut boot primarily for summer use, an airy upper can prevent sweaty feet—and blisters.   

4. What size? Feet grow and change shape with age and mileage. Get yours measured on a Brannock device (gauges length, width, and arch length) by an expert salesperson who should be able to recommend specific brands and models well suited for your foot’s shape. To best simulate your on-trail shoe size, shop in the evening, when your feet will be slightly swollen.

5. Do they fit? Try on boots with the hiking socks and insoles you intend to use. If you can’t slip your index finger between your heel and the back of the boot, try a bigger size. Wear your top-pick boots for at least 20 minutes in the store, then answer these focused fit questions: Do your heels slip? Test movement on an incline board so you can check fit on ups and downs. Feel any pressure points? Do your toes feel pinched or bang the boot front? Remember: A boot may stretch in width, but it can never get longer.

Shopping Tips

In-store

Pressure points may not be readily apparent in the store. For a good visual, remove both insoles and stand on them. The more similar the shapes of your feet and the insoles, the better chance of a good fit. Red flags: Places where your feet overhang indicate likely snug spots. A boot may be too loose (a recipe for blisters) if its insole is wider than your foot.

Online
Because manufacturers use differently proportioned lasts, stick with brands that you know fit well. ­If you’re unsure about sizing, order three pairs at once (your best sizing guess, plus a half size bigger and smaller) to compare. Zappos.com offers free shipping (on returns, too!), and backcountry.com and rei.com have no-questions-asked return policies. Be respectful: Restrict test-wearing to clean, indoor surfaces.


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READERS COMMENTS

:Bill
Jul 15, 2012

Wha is the name of the boot company?

Steve C
May 22, 2012

Here's a lesson I've learned for pairing up footwear to a specific hike: What are the condition of your feet? Just like your abbs, feet need strengthening. When I consider the category of hike I'll be going on and then consider the strength of my feet, that helps me determine what type of footwear I'll use.

When I buy new footwear, I often swap out the footbed insert with one that fits my foot.

Also, I can't say enough about the sock. A sock can make or break a trip. The interaction of a foot, a sock, and a boot can be synergy or agony. Pair up the right socks for the footwear and you will be going for miles in happy comfort.

RC
May 18, 2012

A water bottle may not apply enough weight to hold the boot down while adhesive sets for a heel repair. I've used a block of wood in the boot, then placed the leg of a table in the boot on the block. If you cut the wood block to fit in the heel you'll distribute the weight where it's needed. Then add weight as necessary to the table corner. That'll clamp it down good.

meanolddog
May 18, 2012

The number #1 item I found in buying boots over the years is finding a Company who uses a "Boot Last" that conforms or matches my foot the best.

Many Companies, Many Lasts. I go to many stores and try on the boots and then I check the internet to find a better price which usually includes shipping.

A boot Last is the pre-made Form they use to build the boot on at the Factory. After trying many models, manufacturers and blisters I finally found one Company that fits me right out of the box with little breaking in needed and I can't say that I never had another blister but instead of many blisters I might only get two on a 40 mile multi-day hike over varied terrain, as in cross country hiking with a two month period maybe between hikes of this length. Once you have that problem sovled, then your pretty safe in buying any of that Companies boots. The Company I bought from I now have 4 pairs I wear from various uses from Fishing, Walking to multi-day hikes and work boots. And their made here in the U.S.A..

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