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March 2001 Hiking Boots

Buying Better Boots

There are different boots for different types of terrain. Follow these 10 essentials to match sole to trail.

1. Ask for the ace. When you walk into an outdoors store, ask to see the best bootfitter in the shop. If that person is not around, make an appointment to come back.

2. Measure your dogs. Don’t assume you’re a size 9 just because that’s the size you’ve always worn. Your feet grow with time and over the course of long, heavily laden trips. Get your feet measured for length and width using a Brannock device, with sliding brackets and size markings. All shoe stores and most outdoors shops have them, but they’re used too infrequently.

3. Don’t get hung up on numbers. U.S. sizes vary considerably in their actual length and volume, and one company’s 10 is another’s 9. The key is to try a variety of sizes, then trust your feet to know what fits.

4. Shop after dark. Try on boots at the end of the day, when your feet are slightly swollen, like they’ll be on the trail.

5. Don’t rush! Take your time shopping for boots. Budget at least two consecutive afternoons for shopping and fitting. Try on as many different makes and models as you can.

6. BYOS. Bring Your Own Socks or (sock combination) to the store so your feet are wearing what they’ll wear on the trail.

7. Wiggle your toes. Once boots are laced, you shouldn’t be able to kick your toes into contact with the very front of the boot. Boots may gain width or volume once they break in, but they won’t ever get any longer. Too-short boots will bruise your toes and hammer your toenails on long downhills.

8. Go for a walk. Spend some time hiking around the store in any boot you’re considering. The uppers have to warm up for impregnated leathers or stiff fabrics to mold to your foot, which means pressure points may not become obvious immediately.

9. Don’t “overboot.” Choose footwear that matches the majority of your trips, not the expedition you might take just 1 week a year. If the boot’s heavier and stiffer than you need, you’ll needlessly suffer through the breaking-in and blistering problems of bigger boots.

10. Listen to your feet. Pick the boot that’s most comfortable. Stress that one quality over all others. In the end, only one person will know when you have the perfect fit, and that’s you.

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