by Neely Lawson
Across the top of that mountain you’ll never forget, along the coastline during your honeymoon, senior trip or vacation, down the rocky trails and the paved ones—there is one thing that has more importance than even the photos you take along your journey. The thing that gets you to these places: your shoes. Preparing for past backpacking trips, I paid very little attention to my choice in the shoes I wore. In my eyes, shoes were shoes and would get me from point A to point B—who cared about the brand, ratings, or other details.
It wasn’t until I was hiking barefoot for the final five miles of a hike—miserable, and with my useless, uncomfortable shoes in hand—that I began to consider the importance of what I put on my feet. Nothing ruins a hike, dance, run, or any other activity quite like an improper, uncomfortable, poorly chosen pair of shoes.
On my most recent hike, I spent hours choosing a new pair of shoes that would make my hike significantly less miserable, and discovered how vast the shoe world really is. It can be overwhelming if you are unsure of what you need to look for, so there are a few tips I think I would have benefited from in the midst of my shoe search and some that I hope will help you as well. I am not a dancer, runner, skier, or rock climber—I am a hiker. So be warned that these tips are geared toward hiking shoes.
The easiest aspect to choosing the correct shoe is its purpose. If you are reading this, then odds are you are ready to begin searching for your next pair, and odds are you know what you will need them for. When I started my search, I thought, “I need to walk an obnoxious amount of miles, any tennis shoe will do” but I was wrong. I began to see the hundreds of shoes that were created just for the one simple passion I have. There were trail running shoes, mountain boots, barefoot shoes (which are pretty new, so if you’re interested in a more natural approach to hiking check them out) high impact, climbing and so many more. So my advice is to know exactly what the purpose is for your new kicks. This will prevent you from being overwhelmed with all the options you’ll find. And maybe it will take a few tries—a few blisters and a couple of trashed shoes later you will know for certain what you need and what you don’t need.
The more I researched, the more I began to notice small details about shoes I had never considered before: ankle support, arch support, tongue flexibility, and heel comfort to name just a few. These were the things that had ruined my feet in the past. Most of the time we are most concerned about the basic fit of the shoe—wiggle your toes, take a few steps down the aisle—but that is only part of it. The more you know your body, the easier it gets to find the shoe with details that really matter. For example, if you have weak ankles, it is essential to find shoes with ankle support, just as important as finding arch support if you are blessed with flat feet (welcome to my world). Also, if you have ever experienced blisters before, then you understand the importance of a well-cushioned heel and tongue: a detail that is often overlooked and underrated. And if even after researching for months you still find yourself with disastrous blisters, try packing some blister patches for temporary relief until you find a better pair.
Waterproof v.s. Mesh
This is one of the oldest arguments in the hiking shoe world. Some people swear by their waterproof boots, while others swear by their new-age mesh hiking shoes. The most confusing part of it all: both sides are right. Waterproof boots really are as durable and long lasting as they say, and mesh shoes really are as light weight and comfortable as you’ve heard. So how do you decide? Once I chose my brand of shoes and narrowed down my choices to a pair of boots or a pair of trail running shoes, I sat staring at them for months. I had one job—choose a new pair of shoes. But I couldn’t do it.
If I got this wrong I would be miserable for yet another trip. What no one told me, but what I finally figured out: I just had to choose. If you are able to narrow your choices down to only two types of shoes, then you probably can’t go wrong either way. Both waterproof and mesh have pros and cons. I finally chose a pair of trail running shoes and I could not have been happier. Over a distance of approximately fifty miles, I had zero blisters and barely any wear and tear on the shoes themselves. I was happy with my choice, but I am confident that I would have been happy if I had chosen the boots as well. The devotion that people have to one side of the argument or the other prevents them from sharing one important fact: how wonderful both types of shoe really are. Narrow your top picks—and just choose.
One aspect that cannot be overlooked is the price. If college has taught me one thing, it’s how to bargain shop. However, when it comes to shoes you truly get what you pay for. Some people say that boots are substantially more expensive, and what I’ve found is that regardless of the brand or type of shoe, if you get good quality (which you should) it is not going to be cheap. I finally landed on the brand La Sportiva, but during my search I saw many different high quality and trust worthy brands. These popular, highly rated, and expensive brands are that way for a reason—they make good quality shoes. So budget some money to pay for a good pair, and try your best to not cut any corners. It isn’t worth it if you do.
In addition to advice from close friends who had gone on the shoe-searching journey before me, I also turned to reviews in order to find the best-fit shoe for my lifestyle. Reviews are written by people just like you, who have searched and saved and planned for the best shoe they could find. If you see a reoccurring complaint (i.e., a shoe has a very slick tread) in reviews, then odds are you will find the same problem if you purchase that shoe. Start your search early enough to take your time researching the details and customer reviews of each shoe that interests you. And in the end, leave a review for the passionate people who come after you looking for the same thing.
Finally, one of the most overlooked aspects of shoe shopping is the trial run. I’m not talking about walking up and down the shoe aisle and posing in front of the small, slanted floor mirror. I’m talking about taking your new shoes out into your element and truly putting them to the test. I personally recommend finding a company or brand that has a “return for any reason, no questions asked” policy, because it may take fifty miles, three dance recitals, and seven track meets to really know how the shoe will treat you. These high quality shoe brand companies understand that, and they want to help you pursue your passion comfortably.
So research brands, details, and uses. Look for reviews, take time to read them, and take time to try them out. And in the end of your search, if the shoe fits—wear it.
ABOUT NEELY: Photographer, student, Jesus lover, used-to-be-writer, and wanna-be explorer. I’m a lover of all things outdoors, and though I don’t have talents I do have passions. Follow me as I pursue them! insta: Neelyjo94