ReBOOT: Finding the Best Hiking Footwear Designed Just For You
As a kid, my beloved pair of cowboy boots and Kangaroo shoes (yep, the ones with the zippered pockets on the side) reigned supreme. They were both stylish and versatile–I was ready for everything: tree-climbing, pollywog-catching, Nerf football-hoofing, the fall fair or a pig roast. Now, in a single day, I’m in and out of five different pairs of shoes. I took the garbage out in my retired, unlaced La Sportiva Bushido II’s this morning, changed into my Nike Venture “house shoes”, will run in my New Balance FuelCell Propels this afternoon, followed by a hike on Huron Passage in my Moab Speed EcoDyes and then a flip-flop down to the lake in my Havaianas for sunset.
Our footwear is as individual as us–there’s no right or wrong choice as long as you are blister-free. We all have a friend that is dead-loyal to a particular brand like Converse high-tops or Hokas or Birkenstocks, just like Peppermint Patty. (Maybe it wasn’t so strange that I played football in cowboy boots–Peppermint Patty only wore Birkenstocks! Year-round!)
Evelyn Hannon, the founder of JourneyWoman was synonymous with her signature blood-red lace-up KAYA boots from Israel. Those very boots are now on display at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto. Nishi Bassi, the museum’s Manager of Exhibitions and Assistant Curator, appreciated the story of Evelyn’s boots and “how they manifest one woman’s dream to inspire and empower women.“
Do you have a signature pair of trail runners or hiking boots that you pledge allegiance to? Jennifer Haddow, owner of Wild Women Expeditions swears by Vivo Barefoot. They are puncture-resistant which is vital–if you’ve ever owned a pair of Nike Airs and stepped on a nail, you’ll remember the hissssssssssssss forever as you stand on your own truly flat tire of a shoe. Vivo has vegan/animal-free options and a wholly natural approach to shoe design as they are “foot-shaped, not shoe-shaped, to let your feet do their natural thing.”
Don’t Get De-feeted!
The original intent of this post was to offer tips on buying the best footwear, for you. When I asked the Wild Women team for their input on the shoes and socks they prefer, the feedback was a curious mix. The conclusion? There is no definitive answer to what the universal best shoe or boot is because it has to be the best for you. It will take some trial and error, but don’t get de-feeted in your attempt. Our staff picks are listed below–you might find yourself nodding along and agree with the non-traditional votes for Birkenstocks or Saucony’s–from Julie-Anne who climbed to Everest Base Camp!
Knots so Sure?
There are countless online resources with expert advice from REI and Mountain Equipment Company on how to choose hiking boots or shoes. Did you know there are even tutorials on how to tie your laces? If you suffer from hotspots or heel blisters, this video demonstrates ways to prevent heel slippage with a surgeon’s knot and the difference between criss-cross, granny knots, double-slip knots.
While your hiking shoe or boot will be your very best friend on the trail, your other BFF will be your socks. You can’t skimp. My own mother almost collapsed when I told her how much I paid for six pairs of merino wool socks before walking the Camino. “I haven’t spent that much money on all the socks I’ve owned in my life!”
Sock it to Me
Smartwool and Darn Tough socks come with unique guarantees–each brand has its own merino magic bragging rights. Smartwool has a ‘stay put’ fit, meshed zones for breathability and Virtually Seamless™ toe. If you aren’t thrilled with their socks (within two years of purchasing) they promise to get you into some new gear. Darn Tough are guaranteed for life—really. If you’ve exhausted your pair of Darn Toughs, simply send them back to the company (no receipt required) and they will replace them (except if you attempt a fire walk or lose one in the laundry). Whether you opt for lightweight, midweight, quarter, over-the-calf, full cushion–these socks are the best investment you’ll make (next to your Wild Women trip!). Darn Tough also has a helpful chart that indicates what type of footwear the sock is best paired with. You should also consider a compression sock for your flight. Regardless of your age (hey, I’m 48), they help prevent calf fatigue and dramatically help with recovery after a long haul flight.
Here are Our Staff Faves!
Jenny, Program and Operations Director
My current hikers, which I like (except for the lacing loops which have come apart in places and I’ve had to sew them back on) are Merrell Moab Speed (mid-height, Gore-tex, Vibram sole.) My go-to hiking socks are Icebreaker or Smartwool but my favourite socks for everyday wear (for most months of the year except maybe July and August) are good ol’ fashioned wool work socks from Mark’s (classic grey with the red stripe or sometimes navy and white stripe–paired with Blunnies of course)! *Note: we are unsure if Jenny has ever made a sock monkey out of her work socks, but maybe!
Julie-Anne, Adventure Expert and Photographer
Well, the Wild Women on the Beauty of Wild Bali trip got a kick out of it, but I’m Team Birkenstocks all the way, even for the Mt. Batur hike and mountain biking (simply because it’s all I brought). I literally live in them. And socks? What socks? Surprisingly (to some), I actually wore my old Saucony runners to Everest Base Camp. They rocked.
Kyra, Client Care Manager
I really like my Salomon hiking boots. I’ve worn mine in all kinds of conditions and they hold up really well. I like to wear Icebreaker hiking socks when I’m backpacking. Because of this, I’ve never experienced blisters.
Sonya, Expedition Support Specialist
My favorite trail runners and hikers are Merrells. For socks. I like Feetures for running and Smartwool or Icebreaker for hiking. But probably Icebreaker over Smartwool because I have more pairs of them (which I bought on sale–those socks are $$!!!).
Franny, Program Manager
I originally went to Mountain Equipment Company to buy Salomon trail shoes, because the coolest women I knew were wearing them. They didn’t fit me. I instead got a pair of La Sportiva Bushido II’s. The person who helped me explained, “there are two kinds of people in the world. Ones with Sportiva feet, and the other Salomon.” (I thought that was too funny). I guess I have a Sportiva foot (they do have a wider footbed).I have also been using the new Cloud Chacos! They are so lightweight and amazing for travel!
Jen, Business Development and Partnerships
I’m very athletic but I’ve been had to backburner super adventurous pursuits as I have had 4 knee surgeries (the result of an extensive soccer career), so I’m a bit limited in what I can do. I walk anywhere from 1 to 3 hours a day and just upgraded my usual Nike sneakers to Merrell’s and I do really love them. They are very comfortable and great to walk outside in, especially during those fierce Toronto winters. As for socks, I can’t say that I have a favourite brand to be honest. I usually just go to Sport Chek (or somewhere similar) and find something there, but I don’t really pay attention to the brand.
Julia, Marketing Manager
My feet are pretty messed up from all the marathon races I used to run, so any shoe I buy needs to just fit in my orthotics. My everyday go-to is Skechers GOwalk and when I travel/trek, I go with Chacos!
Jules (me!), Content Curator
I walked 920km on the Camino de Santiago in Vasque Grand Traverse. I always, always buy men’s shoes primarily for the fit but also for the more palatable colours (bungee cord and rooibos tea!). I am devoted to La Sportiva and have had 5 pairs of the same Bushido II but the tarmac around our house does wear down the sole in five months. I’ve also loved Salewa Firetails which are no longer available but are similar to the Wildfires. I’m a New Balance fanatic for running and when it’s recess, I do love a good pair of Converse high tops. For socks: Darn Tough delivers! My wife and I also walked the Camino Krk in Croatia and you can truly hike in their socks for four days and they remain stink-free. Jimmy Chin (*not to be confused with Jimmy Choo) has a lot of fun socks too and they don’t ride down or sag as you hike.
Whatever direction you choose, it’s going to be a step in the right direction.
Now, take a hike!
It’s time to tie the knot already! Who will you be wearing? Remember, whatever trail runner or hiking boot you choose, you gotta put in the legwork. Trial your footwear in every condition–soupy hot days, soggy days, on sidewalks, scree, chipped trails, inclines, road shoulders…in the end, you don’t want to feel your shoes at all. They should be a part of you! And like every good, loving relationship, that takes time and effort.