Give it the boot: Hiking and footwear

Today’s blog posting, boys and girls, is for all the gearheads out there.

I’m going to tell you how a pair of wet socks led to a few musings on the merits of different types of hiking footgear.

It was Thanksgiving, and the whole clan (or at least a substantial chunk of the clan, anyway) had gathered out at my grandmother’s place out in western New Jersey for the annual feed.

Around noontime, we decided to take a break from kitchen duty and go out for a walk down to the bridge crossing over a branch of the Raritan.

It had snowed during the night, so there were about four inches of snow on the ground.

We’d only just set out, about five minutes into the walk.

I was chagrined to discover that my favorite hiking boots, a pair of dayhikers that I’d had for about four years, and which had kept my feet dry on numerous romps through the Palisades and the Watchungs, had sprung a leak. And the toes on my right foot were starting to get uncomfortably cold and wet – we’re not talking slightly damp here.

Now, I think we can all agree that 30-degree weather, in snow, is the wrong time to be walking around outdoors with wet socks. So it was back whence we came.

Maybe the signs were there. I’d been noticing lately that it had been taking longer for the leather uppers on the right boot to dry out.

I’m still trying to assess what can be done with the boots – whether it’s something I can fix with a good shot of waterproof spray (or even duct tape; I hear that works in a pinch), or whether it’d be worth my time or money to try to have them repaired or resoled. My mother’s told me just to chuck the boots and buy a new pair. I’d rather not have to – I think they’re at least still okay for dry-weather hikes.

Well, I’ve got other trail-worthy boots at home, so I’ve got time to figure out what’s to be done.

But I’m a little disappointed – the day I’d bought those boots, I’d promptly broken them in with a short amble up at High Point State Park.

A lot of hikers, I understand, get serious bragging rights out of being able to make a certain piece of gear, like backpacks or camp stoves, last for a decade or more.

But four years of use out of one pair of hiking boots is not too bad. With most pairs of shoes I own, whether they’re sneakers or dress shoes, I tend to wear them out within a year because I’m a really intense walker – and I’ve noticed that it’s usually the heels that are the first to go.

Hikers, being hikers, will argue until they’re blue in the face over what specific gear they prefer for hiking. And considering that hiking is all about using your feet, boots are one of the most crucial pieces of gear. Just this morning, on a Facebook page for hikers, I saw some of the members debating the merits of Vibram soles. But the basic rule for footwear is that it has to be comfortable and provide decent support for whatever hiking you’re doing that day.

For long-distance trekking, I’ve seen ads for boots reinforced with enough steel to build a small gunboat.

For day hikes, some people can get away with a well-broken-in pair of sneakers, depending on the terrain and the weather. I’ve always preferred a pair of boots that at least cover my ankles. For one thing, I find it’s easier to go climbing over rocks if I’ve got boots on. Besides, I’ve sprained my ankle on more than one hike, and I’ve noticed that having boots on makes it easier for me to hobble back to the trailhead and the car; the boots keep the swelling down until I can get my hands on an ice pack.

But the rule is, wear whatever works for you.

And don’t forget a few pairs of dry socks. And a roll of duct tape.

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Categories: Equipment, Hiking, Walking | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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