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408Hiking shoes or boots are an essential part of any outdoor wardrobe. From waterproof sandals to lightweight walking shoes or protective boots, choosing the right footwear may be the most important decision you make as a hiker or backpacker. The shoes or boots you choose must be comfortable and rugged, mile after mile.

Outdoor footwear can be divided into a few basic categories. Begin your search for the right shoes or boots  by focusing on the category that best matches your hiking or backpacking plans.

  • Light hiking—Pick footwear designed principally for day hiking. These are usually  light-weight and  flexible, and allow for comfort and breathability. As a result, they may be less supportive and durable than your other options.
  • Hiking and backpacking— Pick shoes or boots designed for on- and off-trail hiking with light to moderate loads. These are more durable and supportive than lightweight shoes, but they are still intended primarily for short to moderate trips over easy to moderate terrain.
  • Extended backpacking and mountaineering—Pick mid or high cut boots designed for on- and off-trail, multiday hiking with moderate to heavy backpacking loads. Durable and supportive, they provide a high degree of ankle and foot protection.

Which is the right cut for you?

  • Low-cut —These shoes are fine for lightweight travel, but they provide less roll-resistance for ankle joints. Plus, on muddy routes or trails filled with  grit or sand, it’s tough to keep debris out of your shoes. They’re a good choice for lighter loads on maintained trails.
  • Mid-cut —These boots wrap around your ankles and offer some cushioning and protection from debris and hazards. They’re a smart pick for shorter multiday trips with moderate loads.
  • High-cut —These boots give you leverage and ankle support on irregular trails or cross-country routes. If you routinely carry heavier loads, high cuts make good sense. Be sure, however, to take the time to break them in before a long-distance trip.

Hiking sandals have become really popular and are useful on those hot summer days and  evenings. If you plan to hike and wearing boots or shoes seem to be too heavy for your feet, then opt for a pair of sandals and keep your feet protected without the unnecessary bulk. They’re ideal for extended trips on the river or easy hiking where your feet are sure to get soaked.

Hikers  also like newer, lightweight shoes and the comfort factor they offer over traditional boots. They’re really great for long and short walks or even just messing around. However, walking shoes are no replacement for hiking boots when the ground is poor and distance is great.

Waterproof boots are always a good choice as well, whether taking an outdoor stroll or  a serious trek.

Know Your Materials

The materials used in a  boot or trail shoe will affect its weight, breathability, durability and water resistance. Since boots made of different fabrics can be similar in performance, personal preference is often the key when choosing between them.

  • Full-grain leather—This is your best choice for durability and abrasion resistance. It resists water well and is used primarily in backpacking boots built for extended trips, heavy loads and rugged terrain. Full-grain leather is not as lightweight or breathable as nylon/split grain combinations and it usually requires a break-in period.
  • Split-grain leather—This material is usually paired with nylon or nylon mesh to offer lightweight, breathable comfort. Split-grain leather tends to be softer on your feet, takes less time to break in and is lighter than full-grain leather. These boots also cost less. The downside is that they are a bit less resistant to water and abrasion than full-grain leather boots).
  • Nubuck leather—Nubuck is full-grain leather that has been buffed to resemble suede. It is very durable and resists water and abrasion. It usually requires a break-in period.
  • Synthetic materials—Polyester, nylon and so-called “synthetic leather” are all commonly used materials. They are lighter than actual leather, break in quickly and usually cost a bit less. The downside is that they may show wear sooner.

PRETTY TOUGH TIP: The waterproofness (or water resistance) of your hiking boots depends significantly on how well you treat them. Be sure to follow all care instructions  so that they can perform well and last a long time.

Get the Right Fit

Once you’ve narrowed down your options to a handful of boots or shoes, the best way to decide between them is to try them on and give them a test drive.

Different brands and styles will fit differently. A good fit allows you to easily wiggle your toes inside the footwear. Feet should not slide around inside footwear. Good-fitting boots hold feet firmly without binding.

When trying on shoes, walk on inclines and declines. If you detect heel-lift on inclines, adjust the tension of your laces atop the instep and try the incline again. On declines, toes should not feel too compacted in the toebox.

PRETTY TOUGH TIP: Bring along a pair of your own hiking socks when trying on shoes in store. And it’s best to try on footwear later in the day; feet tend to swell a bit during the day.

Boot Care Basics

Keep your boots and trail shoes clean between uses by brushing off dirt and mud as both can ruin leather over time. Most fabric boots and shoes can be washed on the outside with mild soap and water.

If your boots get drenched, stuff them loosely with newspaper and dry them in a warm place. Never rush the drying process by placing them near a fire or heater.

Boots need to be conditioned from time to time, especially if they’re made of leather. This is true whether you hike in dry, hot conditions or wet, temperate ones.

So now that you know how to treat your feet right —  get moving!

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