Hiking

Hiking Shoes: Boots Vs Trail Runners Vs Approach Shoes

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As the year slowly comes to an end, here comes new thoughts for the new year ahead, including preparation for new adventures. It’s always fun to plan and think about where to go next, what to see, and also what to bring! Hiking is still quite a new thing to me, so I love researching about the different types of gear to help me in my hikes, to lessen the pain and better the comfort levels. It is also very cool to find out derivations of the one type of gear you can have, depending on your preferences.

Let’s talk about the most important hiking gear of all, Shoes. Prior to preparing for my first hike, I’ve never seriously considered the importance of it, and thought, there shouldn’t be a big concern as long as my feet are covered!

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Here are 5 main factors that will help you to decide the type of shoes suitable for the trail you are heading for:

  1. Terrain: Is the trail going to be steep, with lots of uphill climb? Are you heading for lots of rocky scrambles?
  2. Weather: Will it be rainy, snowy or desert dry?
  3. Waterproofing: Will you be crossing over wet grounds a lot? Or are you fine with getting your feet wet? Or, do you have waterproof socks?
  4. Body Fitness: How fit and strong are your legs? If you have weak legs or feet, then a heavier, sturdier pair of shoe i.e Boots will provide more external support.
  5. Prep Time: Do you have sufficient time to break into your shoes (if new)?

To me, the shoe is the single most important gear to prepare for. When I first started hiking, boots came to mind first, as for most newbies. I thought that’s the most common, not forgetting the ‘cool’ factor (Timberlands, Danners… yum) . Unfortunately, a shoe that suits the common crowd doesn’t mean it does for every individual. Everyone has different needs and priorities so it’s always good to find out and thoroughly understand what you need most. Comfort? Specific features like waterproofing? Or are you okay with getting your feet wet, in exchange for some lighter weight? What kind of terrain are you expecting?

Boots

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Danner Mountain Light Cascade Hiking Boot

Pros: Sturdy support with thick soles. Long- lasting. Tend to be waterproof.

Cons: Heavy and bulky. Usually needs long break-in period especially if made from leather. Less flexible and comfortable compared to trail runners/ approach shoes. Tend to be more expensive.

Most Suitable for: People whose legs require more shoe support, have sufficient time to break- into the boots. For trails which are less rocky or scrambly, that does not require lots of traction for stability.

Bonus: Is hiking boots ankle support a myth? To be honest, I have never rolled my ankles in my trail runners before during my long distance hikes, so I would say this is a myth. In fact, people usually roll their ankles when they can’t sense the actual terrain on ground, something I feel that trail runners can provide more of.

My first mistake – Buying a pair of Boots because it looked cool.

I bought a pair of Timberland Waterproof Boot as my first ever pair of hiking shoes, and concluded that boots are made for tall people, especially so because of the ‘rise’, which tends to hit my lower calves area and impedes movement. I wasn’t a frequent hiker then, so I didn’t have enough time to ‘break into’ my boots. Although I added on some Anti Fatigue Insoles, my feet hurt about an hour into hiking. Furthermore, I didn’t like its bulkiness and weight. The only thing I appreciate about the boots is their waterproof feature. However, do note that while boots can keep out water, it also retains water for a long time if it gets wet!

Trail Running Shoes

Pros: Light weight, flexible, airy, softer, less break- in time required. Gets wet, but dries quicker than boots.

Cons: Wears and tears faster than boots. Usually non- water proof.

Most Suitable for: People whose legs require less shoe support, have sufficient time to break- into the boots. For trails which are rocky and rugged, and requires traction for stability.

Bonus: Trail runners were originally served for runners on trail. Hence, naturally they provide more ‘real feel’ of the ground and better grip. There are light trail runners, which resemble typical running shoes, rugged trail runners, which are stiffer and provide more foot protection. And there are also Off-trail shoes, which are more rigid and tend to be waterproof.

I gave my boots a few trials and after quite a bit of research online and on trail running magazines, I soon transited to a pair of trail runners (Brooks Women’s Cascadia 10). To me, it was a huge improvement from the boots and worked very well for me. The terrain I usually hike on tends to be flat surfaces, be it up or downhill. I didn’t even need time to break into these shoes and wore them straight out to trail. You’ll never know if a shoe fits you until you use it on the trail. And thankfully, this shoe worked out really well for me so far. Best part of trail runners is that they could be used for hiking and trail running at the same time! Talk about value.


Brooks Women’s Cascadia 10

New kid on the block: Approach Shoes, Not just for Climbers

Pros: Super Light weight, flexible, airy, softer, less break- in time required. Gets wet, but dries quicker than boots/trail runners.

Cons: Wears and tears faster than trail runners and boots.

Most Suitable for: For trails that requires light climbing.

Bonus: To be honest, these are funky and I’d love to try them some day, but I don’t think these will be suitable for serious hikers, because of the lack of support especially on the sole. Will be only best to have on trail as an extra pair of shoes when going off- trail for some light bouldering fun!

I recently discovered this ‘hybrid’ type of shoe, known as ‘Approach shoes’. These shoes combine features of hiking boots as well as rock-climbing shoes. It’s most suited for light trail hiking and provides better grip and traction for steeper rocky terrains. The ‘problem’ with most trail shoes for me is that the base tends to be thicker and stiffer, understood so as to protect the feet from fatigue and to absorb shock on bumpy trails. However, the downside to this is that this reduces the actual feel of the terrain and grip. Approach shoes on the other hand could provide much better balance on steep rocks, notably with less comfort for long- distance hiking because of its lack of sole support.

La Sportiva W’s Tx3 2016 Emd/mint 39

La Sportiva consistently produces shoes with such great colours, makes it even more tempting! That said, Approach shoes seem to be great for a day hike up a rocky trail, and I do hope to try one soon!

Bonus: Shoes for Snowy Trails? Crampons on Boots/Trail runners!

I have seen many people slip on slippery ice and snow whether they are in heavy boots or lightweight trail runners. They all have one thing in common — No Crampons! So the best accessory to have when hiking on these icy conditions is to attach a crampon. I bought a Hillsound Trail Crampon which pretty highly rated on Amazon reviews. It snaps on pretty easily onto my trail runners!


Hillsound Trail Crampon Traction Device, Black, Small

Conclusion: Prioritise what you need for a shoe, and head on trail to test them out

Recap on the 5 questions to ask yourself:

  1. Terrain: Is the trail going to be steep, with lots of uphill climb? Are you heading for lots of rocky scrambles?
  2. Weather: Will it be rainy, snowy or desert dry?
  3. Waterproofing: Will you be crossing over wet grounds a lot? Or are you fine with getting your feet wet? Or, do you have waterproof socks?
  4. Body Fitness: How fit and strong are your legs? If you have weak legs or feet, then a heavier, sturdier pair of shoe i.e Boots will provide more external support.
  5. Prep Time: Do you have sufficient time to break into your shoes (if new)?

I usually read reviews online especially from Amazon, and also outdoor blogs on REI before making my purchases. Researching for new gear is one of my favourite things to do. So there, start searching for your next pair of hiking shoes on Amazon!

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