Any outdoor girl knows that a good pair of hiking shoes are worth their weight in gold. But with so many options, how do you choose what is right for you? As women we are faced with so many choices daily, the idea of making even one more decision can be extremely daunting. So today, I want to go over my process for finding the perfect hiking boot. Now, I actually have multiple shoes for different types of hikes or runs. But, in this post I want to talk about how to find your go-to hiking boot. This is the shoe that you can hike 20 miles in one day, with a pack on your back, and be ready to lace back up the next morning. Its my old faithful, reliable and steady. I will also end the post by providing a gear review of my favorite all around hiking boot, the Keen Targhee III Waterproof Mid.
But first let's talk about what makes a great shoe. To me there are three main things I look for in a great hiking boot, comfort, functionality, and durability. Let's break these categories down.
My highest priority is comfort. Personally, I have sensitive feet, not only do they blister easy, but I also experience numbness, if my shoes are strapped to tight I quickly start to get a tingly feeling that eventually turns into a numb pain. So, I need a boot that holds my feet in place, so I don't get blisters, but isn't too tight, so they don't go numb. I know, I know, I'm so always so picky, but I want them to be comfortable!
Essentially what this all boils down to is, in order to find the most comfortable shoe, it's important to know your fit first. If you don't know your fit, I would recommend going into a high performance running store first. I find the sales people at big sporting good stores are not as well trained in determining your fit, but at high performance running stores they will go through a whole process to understand your foot more closely. In Monterey, where I live, I like to go into Fleet Feet. The sales people will put you through a whole process to determine your fit. They will watch you walk, look at your stance, and even place you on this strange machine that takes all your foot specs. The fit specialist will give you the information you need to really drill down into specifics of your foots, such as do you have a narrow foot, would arch support be a good option for you, or are both your feet the same size.
Now that you understand your fit, it is time to go try on some shoes, let the sales rep know what you are looking for fit-wise and have them bring out a couple of shoes to try on. Comfort can be hard to judge in the store, you want to make sure that your shoes are snug but that you can still wiggle your toes. Also, a good tip is to bring your hiking socks with you when you are trying on your shoes. Many people hike with thick wool socks, so this can impact the size of shoe you end up getting. Another trick is to go into the store directly following a workout, or even better, a hike. This way your feet are already tired and somewhat swollen, this is more realistic to how your feet will feel on the trail. To this point, I often have the sales rep bring me two sizes, my normal size and a 1/2 size up, because just as I said above, the combination of thick socks and swollen feet may bump you a half a size up. Lastly, sometimes, if I can't pick between two pairs, I will walk around the store and do a little shopping with them on, just having them on for an extra 10 minutes can really provide good insight to their comfort.
I always opt for function over style. Now there are a lot of features that hiking shoes can provide so it's it's important to determine 2-3 top function you actually need/want and focus on those while shopping, everything else is a bonus. For me, I need shoes that provide good ankle support, I like them to be waterproof but breathable, and I like them to be lightweight (I go to so much trouble to keep a lightweight pack, may as well make the same effort with the shoes).
Some other important factors I look for are the tread on the soles of the shoes and if there is a rubber protector around the toe. I am kind of clumsy so these two things seem to help with keeping me on my feet. Also, consider care, if your like me, you will get dirty. Any easy cleaning features to be able to care for the shoe, such as being able to remove the insole, can really extend the life of the boot.
One last feature I like to check out is the use of sustainable materials. A lot of these shoes (if not all) have leather, so I like to at least make sure it is at least vegan leather. But so many outdoor companies sustainability manufacture their shoes now and have some type of commitment to reduce their impact on the environment. its kind of a no-brain to do some quick due diligence to ensure your supporting a good company and product.
Lastly, I like my shoes to be durable and dependable. I'm pretty hard on my shoes, so I need something that is going to hold up on all types of hikes from forging rivers, trucking through mud, and climbing rocks. I also hate shopping for new hiking shoes because they are expensive and that just means I need to break in a new pair. So I like something that is going to last me years.
The moment of truth
The ultimate test is the first hike. There will be some degree of discomfort during your first hike because you need to break in the boot. I usually go on a short 2-3 mile hike, with little weight, for my first hike. Make sure you wear good wool socks for your first hike (I don't actually hike all the time with wool socks like a lot of people but I wear them on break-in hikes). During the hike pay attention to your feet, notice your hot spots and how much pressure is being applied, if it's severe it's probably time to switch to a new shoe. Also, if there is any pinching at an inseam that is an automatic red flag, shoes that pinch need to be returned immediately because in my experience this will not get better.
People say to wear the shoes around your house, but I don't really find this too helpful. Your not moving in the same way you would on the trail so the amount of breaking in is minimal. I mean I guess it doesn't hurt to wear them around the house, but don't trick yourself into thinking that you can just wear them around the house and then go on a huge hike and expect them to be broken in. You will regret it, trust me.
Hopefully after one good break-in hike your shoes are ready, but sometime depending on how rigid a shoe you have you may need a couple more. Gradually increase your hiking distance and weight until your boots are fully broken in. I don't recommend going on anything too strenuous or long until you have gone on at least one good 5 mile hike and came home with no blisters or pain. Once you hit that mark you are good to go, for the next few years you should be hiking blister free, with a durable reliable shoe.
My Go-To Boot - Keen Targhee III Waterproof Mid
Now for the good stuff. I've tried many different hiking boots but I seem to always come back to my Keen's. Currently, I'm wearing the Targhee III Waterproof Mid, and I'm pretty pleased with the shoe.
One reason I keep coming back to Keen's is they just seem to have an easy breezy feel to them, they provide all the features I need and are still light and comfortable. For instance, Keen's waterproof technology, specializes in keeping the water out while allowing your foot to still breath. I actually barely needed to break them in, I just put them on my feet and was ready to go.
The boot has a mid-cut ankle for a little extra support, it's nice and light, and has a removable insole. Also the Targhee is equipped with a dual comfort technology, that essentially cradles the heel, so you don't slip around inside your shoes, while providing a mid-sole that is super comfy and forms to your feet (Eva materials mid-sole).
Even though I have only had a shoes for a short time, they are holding up well. My last pair of Keen's lasted for years so I am optimistic on the durability. One function that aids in the shoes longevity is the materials, a leather shoe will typically hold up better and longer, however a lot of the time they do not offer the level of comfort I prefer. The good thing about the Targhee is it is a combination of leather and mesh, with almost entirely leather uppers the shoe stays incredibly durable.
I would recommend the Keen Targhee III Waterproof mid to all my friends. With all that being said though, in the end finding the right shoe is all about you! Don't worry about what other people tell you, or think, trust your gut because only you will know what works for you and you are the only one who has to wear them too!