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On Footwear

These Boots are Made for Walking
 
No item of equipment gets more attention from hikers that footwear.  After all, if your feet are so sore that you can't hike, what the heck are you going to do with all the rest of that equipment?
 
We come from two very different schools of thought on this one.  P has done major backpacking trips in everything from Converse All-Stars to cowboys boots, and lived to tell the tale.  M has spent many hours trying to find boots that really work for her:  tall ones, short ones, heavy ones, light ones.  It's an on-going quest. 
 
So here is what we are using right now: 
 
P has a pair of very cheap Denali boots that fit well and cost under $20 at Big 5 Sporting Goods.  He wears a lightweight sock over his foot, and a heavy hiking sock over that.  And he is ready to go.  In fact, he likes these boots so much that he bought three pairs of them at the same price.  He has boots for a few years now. 
 
M is pretty darn happy these days with some expensive trail shoes she bought at REI.  They are lightweight, breathable, and even an attractive play blue-gray color. She usually wears only one pair of hiking socks, but P is slowly convincing her to wear two.  (She wasn't pleased when P led her last boots into a wet and muddy meadow the first day she wore them...see the photo below) 
 
 
M--being welcomed to Showers Lake©http://backpackthesierra.com
What do we look for in a hiking shoe? 
 
1.  Comfort.  It has to fit, and feel good after ten miles or more on the trail.
2.  Stiff sole.  Because when you are carrying a pack over sharp rocks, it can bruise your sole.  See #1 above.
3.  P likes the toe to have some kind of rubber cover, so that his feet don't get wet when he is hopping from rock to rock.
4.  M likes breathable to keep her feet cool on a hot afternoon on the trail
5.  It helps if the fit is perfect.  That way you still have room to tighten the laces just a bit before you start a long downhill section---this keeps your toes from being completely mashed.
6.  Lightweight--because your legs lift every ounce with every step.
 
Neither of us is a fan of high-ankle boots.  We just don't feel that we need that kind of support, and those boots are just plain heavier.  We've never twisted an ankle yet, in thousands of miles of hiking.
 
And can anyone explain why hiking boot laces are so long?  P always has to tie three knots in the laces, just to keep them out of the dirt.  And then they wear through right at the knot anyway...sigh.  He swears that he is going to cut the laces of his next pair of boots in half...and use only half the lace---keeping the second half for repairs.
 
And now for a story:  
 
Many years ago, M had  a pretty nice pair of hiking boots. These were all leather, really built to last, with metal eyelets for the laces except for the very tops, which had little curved metal hooks for the laces.  State of the art in 1971 or so.  And she wore them forever, and they lasted forever.  All that began to change with a hike in Lassen Volcanic National Park about twelve years ago.
 
We had walked up to the top of the Chaos Crags trail, and our whole group was then enjoying the lovely feeling of walking downhill.  But M changed all that in an instant, in a rare and comical performance.  As her feet swung forward, step by step, the lace of her left boot suddenly caught on one of those little metal hooks on her right boot.  The result was instantaneous, as her body kept moving forward at a good clip, but her feet were suddenly stopped in place.  She went catapulting down the slope with truly astonishing speed. 
 
Once she came to her senses, she diagnosed the problem and finished the hike walking a bit like a sailor, with her feet well apart.  The children were giggling the whole way back to camp. 
 
That night in camp, she borrowed a pair of pliers and carefully bent those hooks down and out of the way.  Problem solved.
 
Until, of course, she started hiking on a dusty gravelly trail and discovered that her now open-top boots let in way too many small pebbles. 
 
It was time to go shopping for new boots. 
 
 
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