When you come right down to it, the most essential piece of hiking gear is most likely what you wear on your feet. Footwear
protects your feet from sharp objects, biting bugs, cold ground, hot ground, wet ground, etc., etc. You can’t do much without it.
There are all kinds of hiking footwear; shoes, boots, lightweight, heavyweight, hikers, backpackers, waterproof, insulated, the list goes on. Personally, I like slightly heavier, waterproof boots — I need them to make it through 500 or so miles a year. It’s just a matter of choice.
This is going to sound painfully obvious, but the most important consideration to make when choosing footwear is how well they fit. It doesn’t matter how nice they look, how much they cost (or didn’t cost) or anything else. It’s all about the fit.
I learned the hard way. This past fall, it became obvious that the boots I had been wearing since the previous year needed to be replaced. After a little shopping around I bought a pair of popular brand-name boots and gave them a try. It was apparent pretty quickly that they were going to need some breaking in, which is normal, but soon after it was obvious that something was wrong.
The right boot tilted my foot outward causing some pain and discomfort, and I couldn’t hike very far without being rather uncomfortable. Since the brand and model of the boots were new to me, I tried some fancy insoles to try to fix the problem. That didn’t work. So after about a month of pain and discomfort I returned the boots and bought another pair of Asolo
s, the brand that I had been wearing. They fit perfectly, require almost no breaking in, and they’ll last me a long time.
But that’s not the end of the story. Even after replacing the bad boots, I still had the pain and discomfort on the trail. Anyone I’ve hiked with since this past fall can attest to seeing me limp along after four miles or so — on a good day. Then, a few weeks ago, I went to my doctor because of a problem with my right knee. He prescribed physical therapy and as part of the evaluation, the physical therapist watched me walk. She told me that my gait was off and I seemed to be favoring my right side. While we tried to sort this out, our discussion made its way to those hiking boots I had in the fall, and everything suddenly made sense.
Without boring you with the details, by causing my right foot to lean outward the bad boots are the root cause of some problems I am now having with my right knee and hip — along with some associated issues on the left side caused by compensating for the right. Although it’s gotten easier, I still limp on occasion — without even realizing I’m doing it.
Had I paid attention to what was happening, and got rid of those boots earlier, I’d be in much better shape now. So, the moral of the story: If your boots don’t fit properly, or cause you pain, don’t “tough it out.” Get rid of the boots and try again.
Bob Falcone is a firefighter, arson investigator, non-profit board president, college instructor, photographer, hiker and small business owner who has lived in Colorado Springs for 23 years. You can follow him on Twitter @hikingbob, Facebook, or visit his website Hikingbob.com. E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to firstname.lastname@example.org.