When it comes to hiking gear, nothing is more important than having a shoe “system” that works for you. There are a ton of different styles of shoes and boots on the market now, and sometimes it can be difficult to determine which one is right for you. When we choose which shoes to put on our wall, we make sure that we have something for any adventure you might be planning next, so in this month’s newsletter we decided to break it down and provide you with River Rock’s guide to picking your perfect hiking shoe.
So, what is a shoe “system”. Shoes are no different then any other piece of gear, you have to think about the entire system in order to have your gear perform at it’s peak. In the case of shoes that includes not only picking the right type of shoe but also considering your socks and insoles. Bottom line – steer clear of cotton. Wool socks will help your shoes perform the way they were intended while protecting your feet and elongated the life of your shoe. Wool regulates temperature by keeping your feet warm in the winter and cool in the summer. They wick away moisture reducing friction in your shoe and helping to prevent blisters and unnecessary wear and tear on the inside of your shoe. Yes, they are pricey but worth every single penny.
Now on to the shoe. The first question to ask yourself is what exactly you’re planning on doing with your new shoes. While everyone hikes their own hike, I tend to separate them out into four main categories:
Casual everyday wear/day hiking:
If you want a shoe that you can wear everyday around town, at a casual day in the office, or for a half day out on the trail, then go for a low, below the ankle shoe with a reasonably stable sole. While you don’t want something so heavy it’ll tire you out (not to mention the sweat), it’s helpful to have a good stiff arch that will support you all day on the pavement and on the rocks. My favorites in this category are the Vasque Grand Traverse and the Asolo Agent.
Lightweight day hiking/trail running:
For those that plan on moving a little faster and shedding a few ounces, trail runners are an excellent choice. Whether you like scrambling over rocks on technical trails or simply don’t want your shoes slowing you down, look for a shoe that is flexible, has a relatively low profile, and weighs less than 10 oz. per shoe. My picks for this category are the North Face Ultra Cardiac for men and the Merrell All Out Crush Shield for women. For those that want to go light but aren’t ready to sacrifice cushion (a sentiment I can empathize with), consider a slightly beefier trail runner like the Salomon Speedcross or the Merrell All Out Peak.
Long day hikes/lightweight backpacking:
This is a tough category to be in for a really good reason: there are a lot of options. A lot of us want a shoe or boot that can take a couple days of pounding the trail while schlepping around an overnight pack, but won’t be overkill for a moderate day hike, and the shoe manufacturers have heeded our call. The two main directions you can go in this category are a moderately heavy low-cut shoe like the Oboz Sawtooth or a lightweight mid-height boot like the Vasque Inhaler II or the Asolo Reston (Mesita for women). The benefits to a low shoe are increased mobility, less sweat, and less weight. A boot in turn will deliver increased ankle support and better protection from the elements. Whichever side you lean to, look for a sole that has limited flexibility, sufficient padding to absorb sustained impact, and a heel cup that keeps your foot locked down.
If your plan is to take your shoes on the trail for longer overnights (3+ days) with a heavy pack, consider a stiffer boot that will provide you rigidity and support, preventing trip-ending injuries. Backpacking boots are stiff and inflexible, meaning that they will hold up on the toughest terrain and protect your feet, but also that they will take some time to break in. Always wear your boots around the house and around town for a week at least before taking them out on the trail… your feet will thank you! There is a wide range of boots, spanning from ultralight to tanks on your feet. A good middle ground are the Oboz Bridger for men and women, the Asolo Fugitive for men, and the Asolo Revert for women.
With all that being said, it’s important to recognize that there are a lot more factors that go into picking the right shoe. Many people will find they are most comfortable in a shoe that is not technically “in the right category” for what they’re doing. So here are some extra things to consider while you ponder which shoe style to go for:
- If you have naturally weak ankles or tend to be clumsy on the trail (I definitely fall into the clumsy category), you may want to consider a boot even for small day hiking. A twist on an already weak ankle can lead to some serious damage. If that applies to you but you’re worried about weight or getting too hot, try out the Vasque Inhaller II, my top pick in the shop. It is an ultra-breathable summer shoe with the support of a lightweight boot.
- If you have a particularly high arch or require extra foot support, think about going with a brand that includes an insole with a rigid arch. Asolo includes them in some of their shoes, and Oboz includes great rigid insoles in every single one of their shoes. Inserts such as Superfeet are also a great option.
- Most boots and some hiking shoes include a waterproof liner such as Gore Tex or a brand specific technology. If you are debating whether or not to go for a waterproof shoe, think about what kind of terrain and weather you are planning on hiking in. If you are a summer, fair weather kind of hiker, go with a non-waterproof. You’ll be glad for the extra breathability. If you’re planning on going out in some messier conditions and are already thinking about a boot, waterproofing can make a huge difference in comfort. However, be wary of low-cut waterproof shoes; rain and splashes can easily get in the top and they’ll take much longer to dry out.
Whatever shoes or boots you end up going for, the most important thing is that you’re putting them to good use. So lace em up, get out there and go hiking!