Backpacking is more complex than throwing a tent, a sleeping bag and some Ramen Noodles in a pack, and hitting a trail. If you’re going to cover a number of miles and stay out for a night or more, you must consider the essentials of food and shelter. You should also consider the quality of the rest of your gear. For an enjoyable backpacking experience, comfort is king.
When I first started backpacking, I had no idea how to properly prepare for an extended hike with extra weight on my back. After many blisters, lacerated shoulders, and enough chigger bites for one lifetime, I’ve learned a few lessons. Winter weather takes care of the bugs, but demands a bit more gear for overnight warmth. Then there are your boots.
In my opinion, a backpacker’s most critical piece of equipment is their boots. I would rather have sore shoulders or a worn out back, than blistered, broke down feet. In today’s world of high quality, technologically advanced footwear, there is no excuse for having foot trouble on the trail. Buying quality boots is the first step.
Backpacking boots can be intimidating. Words like crampons, footbed, Gore-Tex, Cordura, midsole, outsole, shank 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 else blisters will most likely end your adventure. You need a boot that is durable and versatile. Your boots must be able to handle multiple terrains, from mud to steep rocky inclines.
Way back in the day, I worked at J.L. Waters outdoor shop in Bloomington, Indiana. During my time there I learned a lot from expert co-workers, including our in-house professional boot fitter. This guy went through a three week long training workshop in Utah to learn how to match people’s feet to boots.
Most people don’t realize how many possible problems they may have with their feet and the way they walk. Issues like supination, which occurs when a person walks primarily on the anterior of their feet, making them appear bow-legged. Or they could have pronation, the opposite of supination, which occurs when people walk on the exterior of their feet, making them walk like a duck. Issues like these need to be addressed when selecting a boot.
During my boot fit experience, I tried on several pairs of high quality boots. I walked laps around the store, climbed stairs and performed multiple foot exercises under the guidance of the boot fitter’s watchful eye. In the end, I was fitted for a pair of LOWA Banffs.
The Banffs fit my feet perfectly. They allow my ankle to flex naturally, but hold my heel for improved stability. The boots breath well, and have performed great under all the circumstances I’ve put them through, including long distance adventures, like through hiking the Knobstone Trail and aggressive hikes in Rocky Mountains and Ozarks.
If you’re serious about buying a pair of boots for backpacking that will last, then don’t turn to the clearance rack. Footwear is not a piece of gear you should cut corners on. Do some research. Learn about your feet. Learn what determines quality in a boot. There are a number of companies out there producing great backpacking boots. Try on as many as it takes for you to match your feet to the boots you need. Your backpacking adventures will be more enjoyable if your feet are comfortable.
See you down the trail…
Pic: Quality boots are essential for comfortable backpacking.