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#157040 - 11/09/11 10:15 AM Boots for a newbie, soft or stiff soles?
Jackamo Offline

Registered: 11/06/11
Posts: 50
Loc: Central Oregon
hello all,

im new to the forum, and although ive camped in other capacities all my life, i havent done much backpacking. Some of my favorite sources for cheap camping gear are military surplus stores, so my first thought for boots was combat boots. i like the ankle support and rugged tread pattern combat boots usually offer, but they usually have stiff soles, and im not sure how that would relate to backpacking.

in the past, when ive walked long distances, i get what i imagine turf toe feels like, like ive hyper extended my big toes. It seems like a stiffer sole would offer some more support, but i dont know how this plays out in reality.

any advice for a green backpacker?

He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.
-Samuel Johnson

#157042 - 11/09/11 10:34 AM Re: Boots for a newbie, soft or stiff soles? [Re: Jackamo]
lori Offline

Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2801
Most hiking shoes or boots have EVA soles of varying degrees of stiffness. Some people hike in Five Fingers or other "barefoot" type shoes that don't even give you that.

I have found that for myself, hiking in mountains strewn with granite and roots and sharp slabs of rock sticking out of trails (never mind the cross country stuff), I do best with a somewhat rigid, but not totally stiff, sole. Asolo FSNs or Montrail shoes, and lately Trekstas, have been my usual. I have been going through a pair of hiking shoes every year or so but not everyone does 500-600 miles a year... The synthetic boots/shoes have a shorter lifespan than leather boots, but the offset is a lighter more comfortable shoe.

A good sole protects the bottoms of the feet from rough terrain. I like breathable shoes because my feet overheat. Since friction+heat+moisture=blisters, and my feet sweat, I try to remove most of the heat and friction - have not had a blister related to ill fitting shoes in four years. Fit is the other top priority when you are doing ten miles a day in the shoes. You need enough room in the toe box so you can tighten the laces and go down a hill without toe bang, and your heel shouldn't pop out as you walk.

I find that most hiking shoes/boots have pitiful insoles that don't last long. Replacing them with Superfeet becomes necessary after 50-100 miles or so. There are other brands of insole, some people find they need more arch or more volume.

Some of my SAR buddies have military boots, but they've worn them enough for their military career that they are used to them. Full boots don't work for me - the only damage I've done to my feet was in full boots, so I stick with mid height or trail shoes.

In other words, you have to figure out what works best for you, and the sole isn't the only factor. If you try on shoes or boots and they fit in the store, then go five miles in them and blister, they are probably not the right shoe. Unless it's a leather boot, which actually require breaking in - most synthetic hiking shoes do not ever "break in", they are as they are. I went through heck figuring this out due to my funky feet and a series of inept sales people. Hope you have better luck than I did.
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few." Shunryu Suzuki

#157045 - 11/09/11 11:04 AM Re: Boots for a newbie, soft or stiff soles? [Re: lori]
balzaccom Online   content

Registered: 04/06/09
Posts: 2100
Loc: Napa, CA
I am with Lori on this one. Maybe if I weighed less (175), and was carrying less(30), it would matter less. But I find that flexible soles leave my feet feeling pretty beat up at the end of the day.
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#157046 - 11/09/11 11:16 AM Re: Boots for a newbie, soft or stiff soles? [Re: Jackamo]
Gershon Offline

Registered: 07/08/11
Posts: 1109
Loc: Colorado
Trekking poles can solve some foot problems. Simply slowing down and going shorter distances may help until your foot adjusts.


#157055 - 11/09/11 01:13 PM Re: Boots for a newbie, soft or stiff soles? [Re: Gershon]
OregonMouse Offline

Registered: 02/03/06
Posts: 6765
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
Barefoot-type footwear (Five Fingers, sandals, flexible trail runners) is becoming increasingly popular, which is probably a good thing for those with young healthy feet. For mine, which thanks to genetics, old age and a number of pregnancies have become quite deformed (weak arches, bunions, hammertoes), I need quite a lot of support in my shoe structure, particularly anti-pronation and stability devices built into the sole.

On the other hand, I have found supportive trail runners to be a far less fatiguing and blister-producing alternative to boots! While I still have my boots, I have worn them only twice (in one of our very rare snowstorms in the Portland area) since I switched to trail runners three years ago! I plan to get a pair of the Neos overshoes for my trail runners for snow so I can toss the boots, which I can't stand to have on my feet any more!

I also agree about the trekking poles, a great saver of feet and knees as well as a booster for hiking speed and rhythm.

Edited by OregonMouse (11/09/11 01:14 PM)
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view--E. Abbey

#157075 - 11/09/11 02:37 PM Re: Boots for a newbie, soft or stiff soles? [Re: Jackamo]
oldranger Offline

Registered: 02/23/07
Posts: 1735
Loc: California (southern)
The longer I have hiked and backpacked, the lighter my foot gear has become. I prefer low cut trail runners, often worn with low cut gaiters.

#157126 - 11/10/11 12:58 AM Re: Boots for a newbie, soft or stiff soles? [Re: oldranger]
phat Offline

Registered: 06/24/07
Posts: 4107
Loc: Alberta, Canada

It *really depends*. for me on typical "trails" a trailrunner is fine. (basically, and comfortable running shoe). for off trail work in heavy terrain I still wear boots, but good ones.

In all honesty, it depends *what your feet feel good in*. If you can walk in it all day, who cares what it is. People spend too much time in general analyzing footwear rather than trying it on and wearing it. Personally, if it feels good on my feet and I can walk in it I don't give a darn if the accepted wisdom is completely different.
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#157129 - 11/10/11 01:07 AM Re: Boots for a newbie, soft or stiff soles? [Re: phat]
OregonMouse Offline

Registered: 02/03/06
Posts: 6765
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
There's also the fact that feet are really the most individual part of a person, so what works for one person is liable to be hideously uncomfortable for the next. Keep trying until you find what is perfect for you! Then buy several pair because the model will probably be discontinued in a few months.

Edited by OregonMouse (11/10/11 01:08 AM)
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view--E. Abbey

#157214 - 11/11/11 12:14 PM Re: Boots for a newbie, soft or stiff soles? [Re: OregonMouse]
Jackamo Offline

Registered: 11/06/11
Posts: 50
Loc: Central Oregon
thanks for all the help, everyone. Ive got a pair of new balance cross country running shoes ill give a go, luckily theres a few soft dirt walking trails a couple blocks away that loop around within the same sq mi for me to test on. eventually ill probably get something with more ankle support, and in the meantime maybe test the new balances in the lava fields to see how the soft soles hold up.
He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.
-Samuel Johnson

#157363 - 11/13/11 11:42 PM Re: Boots for a newbie, soft or stiff soles? [Re: lori]
Gary V Offline

Registered: 11/13/11
Posts: 1
Excellent reply, Lori. Everything you said makes perfect sense. I find that the 3/4 flex sole works best for my feet because it keeps the small stones, branches, sticks, etc. from driving me crazy on the trail while allowing just enough flex to all some give and prevent rubbing. Each person is in their own personal category when it comes to hiking boots and there are a number of factors and features that should be considered when choosing a top-grade hiking boot. One other thing to consider would be the type of socks that you wear. Any anti-blister type socks that have great wicking ability and excellent breathing capabilities will help alleviate blisters and make the trail a much more tolerable landscape to confront. Make sure you get only hiking boots that feel great to you. Don't settle. Keep looking until you find the perfect ones or you may well regret it.

#157431 - 11/14/11 07:48 PM Re: Boots for a newbie, soft or stiff soles? [Re: Gary V]
Allison Offline

Registered: 09/19/11
Posts: 21
I agree with what many of the others said. I have two pairs of hiking shoes. one is a pair of Lowa Boras (good ankle support, waterproof) and the other is a pair of vibram fivefinger KSOs. The KSOs are great (in my experience) for dayhiking without a heavy pack. I experience a deeper connection with nature and feel better hiking with them. For example, with stream crossings I feel like I am more stable/confident as I can feel my foot gripping the rocks.

However, I will grab my Lowas when there is inclement weather (snow, rain) or when on a multiday trip as I feel like more sturdy shoes will help with the load and frozen toes in the colder months.


#157433 - 11/14/11 08:42 PM Re: Boots for a newbie, soft or stiff soles? [Re: Allison]
wandering_daisy Offline

Registered: 01/11/06
Posts: 2865
Loc: California
I find a shoe that fits well and this usually is a flexible low-cut shoe. Then I replace the insole with Superfeet. Although the Superfeet add $30 to the cost, this works well for me. I also take the original insole as a spare- that way I can dry out the Superfeet insole and walk around camp in the original- particularly nice if I have had to get shoes wet crossing a creek.

I too have progressed from heavy high boots to the lightest shoes possible. For a while I just put Superfeet into regular tennis shoes ( I did this on a 100-mile trip with lots of off-trail travel including going over Harrison Pass as well as short sections of strapping on crampons!). I think the smaller you are, the more easily you can get by with light shoes.

If I were you I would try to find a good pair of trail running shoes with roomy toes, fit large for using thick wool socks. Then if you feel too much through the bottom, exchange the insole for Superfeet. And only if that does not work, go to boots as a last resort.


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