Choosing the correct footwear for an adventure can be a challenge for anyone and even the “old hands” like me can make mistakes. There is a huge variety of hiking/trekking/backpacking boots out there and they come in all shapes, sizes and designs. Some are ridiculously expensive; others could be enticingly cheap and some could be so attractive that even those who don’t wear then might be tempted to house them in a display cabinet. How do you find a pair of boots that will suit the needs of a particular trip?
Common sense tells you that you leave out the fashionable stuff. There are still a dizzying number of rugged designs to choose from. The first thing for beginners is, unless you’re in for an alpine adventure, you can pretty much leave the hard soles out. They are heavy and unyielding – best suited to rocky ledges, heavy loads and crampon attachment. Nothing survives being repeatedly soaked and frozen. You’ll need a completely waterproof material and spare laces.
If you’re going for a day trip up a tropical mountain, you can more or less forget about these things. They tend to be expensive and can be uncomfortable. On hard ground with a layer of fine gravel, it’s very difficult to not slip as even though the pattern on the outsole can have excellent traction, you cannot control the pressure distribution. That is why for the budget conscious, I always recommend army combat boots. They work very well for dry, snowless terrain.
Below is a pair of hiking boots I bought at Decathlon for my upcoming NDP. It’s on clearance sale at $90 a pair. Most of the cheap stuff on Lazada and Shopee go for about $35-$50 but we need to compare apples with apples.
The fabric is light and should not have any breathability issues. It can also be rendered splash-proof with a spray of nano protector. The midsole, while not completely flexible, gives me room to adjust pressure and maneuver on uneven ground. I often pamper my feet with soft insoles into my boots, but this pair feels comfortable and well-cushioned even without soft insoles. With light weight, good fit and just a little bit of flexibility, I can feel the control in weight distribution that I need. Boots with with completely stiff soles will not do well on the kind of terrain encountered on most Indonesian mountains.
A word on fit. Our thrifty parents liked to buy us oversized clothes and shoes when we were growing up but we should remember that we have already stopped growing. You may want a lot of “allowance” in choosing shoes you wear to the office, but when you’re going on a hike, make sure your boots are tight. If you have too much space in the toe cap, your socks may slip and bunch up there. I’ve lost quite a number of toe nails this way. Another reason to go for tightness is control. When your boots are loose, you have little control over the distribution of weight and your chances of slipping will be higher. I used to have a lot of problems with oversized boots before I removed my bunions.
When you first fit the pair of boots, it’s OK that it feels a bit tight. Wear it a few time before the trip and it should feel OK after that. Keep a pack of blister aid handy. The moment you feel a sore spot, take off your boots and paste on the blister aid before you continue.
The outsole pattern generally doesn’t affect the grip. Unless it’s really disastrous, any decent pattern will do. Finally, boots cannot and will not last forever. Once they start to fail, throw them away. You don’t want to have the sole flying off when you’re still on the mountain. It has happened to me before – more than once when I wore a pair of old boots for a trip.
I’ll take a few long walks with this pair of boots before my trip in August. Wish me luck.