Tools of the Trade: Shoes

Tools of the Trade: Shoes

So last week we established that we’ve got a lot to do this year, but before we get into it we’re going to need some gear to make the most of our time outdoors. The most important of which is going to be a great pair of shoes for all the different applications out there. The style of shoe that will be right for you is going to be dependent on which subset of awesomeness you want to experience outside. For example, you’re not going to be wearing a heavily insulated boot while running the local spots. You would be ¬†wearing a trail running specific shoe. So let’s make this simple and break it down into six different groups. We’ll be looking at hiking, trail running, backpacking, approach, insulated, and water specific shoes. There are other styles as well such as mountain biking shoes and climbing shoes but we’ll get into those more in depth at a later time.

Your hiking shoes are going to be the most adaptable pair in your closet. If you’re on a budget you can use backpacking, trail running, or approach shoes in their place dependent on the kind of trail you’ll be doing. What we want in a hiking specific shoe is going to be a light to mid weight body with a semi aggressive sole. What this means is that the tread on your hiking boot shouldn’t be geared only towards one surface like rock, dirt, or mud. You also want it lightweight so that you won’t have too much of a problem with stamina on those longer hikes. A few examples for this kind of shoe will be Merrell’s Moab series, Salomon’s Xa Pro 3d, and even Chaco’s Brio boot. Now for trail running what we’re going to want is a lightweight, breathable, upper as well as good support and an aggressive tread. You’ll find the most aggressive soles in these shoes since they’ll be the most athletic oriented of the styles we’re looking at today. These shoes are going to be designed foremost for speed with protection as somewhat of an afterthought. There are actually quite a few styles of shoes out there since trail running is’nt quite as niche as it used to be. A few are going to be Salomon’s Speedcross and X Ultra series as well as Merrell’s All Out Charge. Typically, since these are running shoes, their livery is also going to be very colorful as well.

Salomon X Ultra 2's being put to the test in the red mud of Palo Duro Canyon.
Salomon X Ultra 2’s being put to the test in the red mud of Palo Duro Canyon.

Now there is going to be a massive difference between the trail running style and backpacking shoes. Where the trail running shoes were light and minimal, the backpacking style is going to be more supportive and heavy duty. Since backpacking involves carrying an extra load of anywhere between 20 and 50lbs, these shoes are going to be more about support than anything else. You’ll typically find a mid rise boot with about the same kind of sole as your hiking boot but with loads of support. This is also where it gets tricky. With that extra support comes more material which will add weight to the boot. So you have to decide between the extent of support that you want and the stamina increase that comes with a lighter shoe. It’s an old adage that, “A pound on your feet equals five pounds on your back.” It’s an argument that no one but yourself can answer. If you’re going for a month long through hike, then support might be the way to go. Or if you’re doing a quick weekend trip, then the lightweight style can help you cover the most ground the fastest. This kind of thinking can show just how specialized gear for the outdoors can be, and our last three categories are as specialized as we’re going to get.

The approach shoe can also be used as a light hiker but is going to be mainly at home on rocky, technical terrain. These shoes are designed for getting a rock climber to the base of their actual climb while still being able to use some climbing techniques themselves. The soles are going to be stiffer and have a stickier rubber compound for smearing and edging. These shoes will also be lightweight and tend to have laces that run all the way down to the toe for maximum fit. Because of the stiff sole, these shoes wouldn’t be recommend for your all day long hikes. A few styles that are to be suggested would be the Vasque Grand Traverse and the Five Ten Guide Tennie. Insulated boots are going to be geared only for your coldest of weather environments. There are different thermal ratings for different shoes so be sure that the shoe that you’re getting fits the weather that you’ll experience where you’ll be adventuring. These boots are going to have a tread designed for traction in snow and on ice to help you stay upright and trudge through feet of precipitation. Most of these boots are also going to waterproof so that you don’t freeze when you accidentally misstep into a deep puddle of snow melt. You won’t be able to wear these boots outside of cold weather due to the fact that your feet would simply overheat and turn into a puddle of sweat. The exact opposite would happen if you were to wear your water specific shoes in insulated boot weather. Now your water shoe, or sandals, will be the least protective of any of the shoes that you can have. These will leave most, if not all, of your foot exposed to the elements. This is also what they’re meant to do so that it can allow water to flow freely around your feet instead of collecting in the soles of your shoes. Most of the styles are going to be designed for use on the river where you still want great traction and support. Chaco is going to come to mind simply because they are designed specifically for rafting and kayaking. They have a polyurethane base matched with a form that supplies plenty of arch support for use throughout the entire day.

Now all that’s left for you to do is to decide which activity is most intriguing to you and find the corresponding shoe that best fits your feet. If you don’t already have a pair then the hiking category might be the best place to start to get acclimated to the outdoors. Also keep in mind what kind of terrain you have access to and where you’ll get the most out of your shoes. Whichever style you decide to go with, be sure not to let your new pair collect dust in the closet but collect mud on the trails.

-Nick

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