If you love to hike, camp, fish, or just spend time in the great outdoors, you’re definitely spoiled living here! There aren’t too many places in the world that can compete with Southern Idaho—at least in the summer, anyway!
Stunning views of Snake River Canyon, the Perrine Bridge, and Shoshone Falls are of course the most obvious and breathtaking features of our little slice of America, and the main tourist spots. But if you’re looking for someplace else a little off the beaten path, you don’t have to look too far.
And if you’re a particularly adventurous sort, of course, backpacking excursions (or even quick weekend trips) to Sawtooth, Craters of the Moon, or Castle Rocks are very manageable (and transcendently beautiful).
All that being said, whether you’re a hardcore backpacker or you just like to go on short evening hikes after work, you’re going to want to make sure you and your feet are up to the challenge!
When it comes to enjoying a safe, fun, and pain-free hike, few things are as important as selecting the right pair of hiking boots.
How to Choose the Right Footwear for Your Hike
The right pair of hiking shoes or boots (or even sandals) can make a huge difference. A good pair offers all-day comfort, protection from the elements, and minimizes the stress on your feet. A bad pair can leave aching, soreness, and feet covered in blisters!
Part I: Finding the Fit
First and most obviously, your hiking footwear needs to fit your feet properly. That’s going to be true no matter where or how often you hit the trail, and it really is the single most important thing to be concerned about.
While it’s true that you don’t want your footwear too loose, one thing to keep in mind with hiking boots is that your feet will tend to swell after you’ve been standing, walking, and climbing for a few hours (or the better part of a day). So, you need to make sure you have ample wiggle room—especially around the toes.
At the same time, the fit should be a little snugger around the balls of the foot and the heels, so the heel doesn’t slide around or lift off the insole of the shoe with each step. (This is where most blisters come from.) You also don’t want your whole foot sliding forward and your toes slamming the front part of the shoe—a common problem when hiking downhill, especially if you’re carrying a heavy backpack.
Remember to wear your trail socks when trying on boots at the store, so you have an accurate idea of how much space they occupy inside the shoe. Also, try shopping later in the day, when your feet are likely already a little swollen.
Part II: What Style Do You Need?
Are you just planning to do a few loops around the local park, or hauling a backpack up a mountain for four days? Your hiking and trail preferences will dictate the style, cut, and even materials that are going to be the best for your hiking boots.
If you’re decidedly on the “casual” end of the spectrum and usually stick to relatively short, paved trails, a pair of walking or light hiking shoes (basically slightly bulkier running shoes) with a low ankle cut and relatively flexible midsoles will probably be sufficient. They have the advantage of being light and flexible, but don’t always offer the necessary protection for more challenging routes.
On the other hand, if you’re looking to do some longer and more aggressive hikes, carry more equipment, or even do some mountaineering, you’re going to need something a lot sturdier and more rugged. More robust day hiking boots, for example, will tend to feature a middle or higher ankle cut, to give you a little more stability and reduce the risk that you’ll roll or sprain your ankle on the trail.
For really rocky terrain and multi-day backpacking trips, you’re going to need high ankles and relatively rigid soles for support, protection and comfort. We’d also recommend full-grain leather uppers—although they’re less breathable and take more time to break in, they can’t be beat in terms of stability, weather and water resistance, and durability. Synthetics do have some advantages (including being cheaper and lighter weight), but also tend to wear out faster.
So why not just get the heavy-duty mountaineering boots and use them all the time?
Basically, what you have to understand is that you’re making a trade-off with each of these styles. While off-trail and mountaineering boots are the toughest and offer the most protection from injury and inclement weather, these features also add a lot of weight. If you’re just walking around the park, heavy-off trail boots are going to wear you out much faster than sneakers.
In short, go lightweight, flexible and breathable for shorter distances and less technical challenges. Go bulkier, stiffer, higher, and more weatherproofed if you’re going to crossing challenging terrain, weather conditions, or carrying a heavy backpack.
Other Quick Tips
If you’re a beginning hiker, here are a couple of other quick tips to keep your feet happy and safe!
- Know your limits and pace yourself. Start with small, easy, short routes that are either paved or have a very well maintained and clearly defined trail. If you wish to take on more challenging hikes, make sure you’re physically ready for them. Go at a slow and steady pace that you know you can maintain for the duration of the hike—you don’t want to discover that you’re completely worn out with several miles to go before reaching the car or the camp.
- Know the trail. Trust us: Getting lost in the middle of nowhere is really not a good idea. Loops are of course pretty foolproof as long as the trail is well marked and not too long. But whenever you’re trying out a new trail, make sure you have a map and compass and pay close attention to your surroundings, any signage, notable landmarks, etc. Don’t rely on a phone or GPS to get you home! If they fail, your brain and memory are the only backup.
- Carry appropriate emergency supplies. Now, if we’re talking about a 3-mile loop around a very busy and popular trail, “appropriate emergency supplies” might simply mean “a bottle of water and a hat.” But it’s good to carry along things like sunscreen, first aid, extra food, or even emergency shelter if we’re talking about longer-term hikes where assistance from the outside world may not be immediately available.
- Tell someone about your whereabouts. Even if you hike with a buddy (or several), it’s important that at least one person back at home knows where you’re going and how long you’ll be gone. That way if anything bad happens, you have someone who can call for help in a timely fashion. For longer hikes, consider carrying an emergency device (such as a SPOT tracker) for backup in case you get lost and need emergency help.
One last thing to mention.
If you find that your feet are aching at the end of a hike, no matter what you do—or if you’d like to go hiking, if only your feet would cooperate!—give us a call for an appointment.
Foot pain is not normal, and a sign that something needs to be fixed. We’re pros at diagnosing the underlying causes of pain, whether it’s fault foot structure or just bad shoes. And we’ll set you up with whatever you need to relieve your discomfort and live life to the fullest.