Monday, May 14, 2007


When I was outfitting for my first High Sierra Trail attempt, most of my gear advice was from the staff at an outfitter chain. When it got to footwear, they were quite adamant that a good, sturdy pair of hiking boots was a must for trekking in the mountains. I ended up with some waterproof, all leather mountaineering boots weighing in at just under 4 pounds for the pair. I can't imagine why I got blisters...

For my second Sierra attempt, I did a lot more research, mostly on the Web. A common adage I noticed was "A pound on the foot is worth 5 on the back" or other similar variations. Although the issue seems to be continually debated, hiking shoes were definately winning out with lightweight backpackers. I went to a local, knowledgable outfitter and ended up with a good quality, breathable pair of hiking shoes weighing just over 2 pounds for the pair. If the adage is true, I just shaved nearly 10 pounds off my load! Not to mention they were less than half the price of the boots.

Not wanting to go blindly this time, I tested out the hiking shoes on a lot of local trails, and was absolutely thrilled with the results. They didn't need to be broken in, my feet stayed cool and dry so I didn't get blisters, and the flexibility made scrambling up steep rocky trails much easier. I wore them on my second High Sierra Trail hike, and I'm sure they're a big part of why I enjoyed that hike so much.

I should mention some drawbacks. Not being waterproof, I don't enjoy wearing them on coastal hikes where mud is an issue, and it also takes some getting used to a thinner sole and feeling sharp rocks beneath your feet. For people with weaker ankles or very heavy packs (we'll talk to you later..) you won't get any ankle support with hiking shoes.

For coastal hikes such as the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail and the West Coast Trail (both to be reviewed here soon) I prefer to go with a lightweight boot. I have a pair of Garmont boots that are Goretex and leather, and I absolutely love them. At about 3 pounds for the pair, they aren't too heavy, they are waterproof, and they have ankle support for the slippery coastal rocks and boardwalks.

Summary? Hiking shoes for dry, mountain hikes, and lightweight boots for wet, coastal hikes. Always look after your gear with the appropriate cleaner and waterproofing - I'm personally a big fan of Nikwax products, but I will usually check the manufacturer's web site to see what they recommend.

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