Backpacking is more complex than throwing a tent, sleeping bag and Ramen noodles in a bag and hiking a trail.
If you are going to travel several miles and stay out for a night or more, you need to consider the basics of food and lodging. You also need to consider the quality of the rest of your gear. For an enjoyable hiking experience, comfort is king.
When I first started hiking, I didn’t know how to properly prepare for an extended hike with extra weight on my back. After many blisters, lacerated shoulders, and enough chigger bites for a lifetime, I learned a few lessons. Winter weather takes care of the bugs, but requires a bit more gear for nighttime warmth. Then there are your boots.
In my opinion, a backpacker’s most critical piece of gear is their boots. I’d rather have sore shoulders or worn backs than swollen, broken feet. In today’s world of high quality, technologically advanced footwear, there is no excuse for having foot problems on the trail. Buying quality boots is the first step.
Hiking boots can be intimidating. Words like cleats, footbed, Gore-Tex, Cordura, midsole, outsole, upper, and rand are just a few of the many high-tech terms that can confuse a person. The most important aspect of any boot is that it fits you perfectly. It can’t be too tight or too loose or the blisters will most likely end your adventure. You need a durable and versatile boot. Your boots need to be able to handle multiple terrains, from mud to steep rocky slopes.
A long time ago, I worked at the JL Waters outdoor store in Bloomington, Indiana. During my time there, I learned a lot from expert colleagues, including our in-house professional boot fitter. This guy took a three-week training workshop in Utah to learn how to match people’s feet to boots.
Most people don’t realize how many problems they can have with their feet and the way they walk. Problems like supination, which occurs when a person walks mostly on the front of their feet, causing them to appear bow-legged. Or they could have pronation, the opposite of supination, which occurs when people step on the outside of their feet, causing them to walk like a duck. Issues like these should be resolved when selecting a boot.
During my bootfit experience, I have tried several high quality pairs of boots. I walked around the store doing tricks, climbing stairs, and performing several foot exercises under the watchful eye of the bootfitter. In the end, I was fitted for a pair of LOWA Banffs.
The Banff fit my feet perfectly. They allow my ankle to flex naturally, but hold my heel down for better stability. The boots breathe well and performed very well in every circumstance I put them through, including long-distance adventures like hiking the Knobstone Trail and aggressive hikes in the Rockies and Ozarks.
If you’re serious about buying a pair of hiking boots that will last, don’t turn to the clearance rack. Shoes are not equipment you should cut corners on. Do some research. Learn about your feet. Find out what determines the quality of a boot. There are a number of companies that produce excellent hiking boots. Try on as many as you need to match your feet to the boots you need. Your backpacking adventures will be more enjoyable if your feet are comfortable.
See you on the trail. …
Brandon Butler is an outdoor columnist for the News Tribune. Contact him at [email protected]