Close your eyes and think of a traditional image of a hiker. Are you seeing someone who knows exactly what they are doing, with a pair of heavy old Scarpa boots, a big rucksack, and all the gear?
If you are like a lot of new hikers, this image can put you off starting because you may feel overwhelmed with needing to ‘fit in’ and not wanting to be the last, the slowest, or the least prepared. There are many reasons why people do not start a new venture or activity, and many of these relate to fear. However, we’d like to reassure you that everyone starts somewhere, so don’t go and buy complicated or expensive gear, just wear what you have and bring your enthusiasm for an adventure and a learning experience.
We really like to keep it simple when it comes to what to wear, and nine times out of ten your favourite activewear and your runners will do the job.
The one question we get asked about the most is about is shoes or boots?
While it’s each to their own, our opinion is that lightweight shoes outweigh (pun intended!) the heavier ones. For most day and overnight hikes, trail shoes are the best combination of grip, shoe rigidity and response, thickness, comfort and price.
Hiking shoes & trail runners – why we love them
For most of the walking we do here in Victoria and across Australia, a walking shoe is all that you are likely going to need.
Firstly, because traditional hiking boots are much heavier than trail runners or shoes, the extra grams that you are carrying on your feet are going to make your legs and your body work that much harder, therefore making fatigue quicker and potentially causing poor balance, tripping, stumbling, and general fatigue.
Secondly, hiking shoes/trail runners are quicker to wear in – the thicker material in a hiking boot is often quite thick and rigid and therefore takes much longer for the boot to adjust to the shape of your foot. During this period, many people suffer blisters, and often in a short period of walking time because there is very little pliability in the shoe. Also due to the softer materials, trail shoe or a trail runner will often feel more comfortable on your feet and respond better to the motion of your foot on the trail.
This leads to the third point which is proprioception – ‘proprioception’ (otherwise known as kinesthesia) is your body’s ability to sense movement, action, and location, which in hiking means your body is able to feel the trail more clearly and help you to walk with more fluidity, balance and better technique. This is sometimes taken to the next level by wearing toe shoes, or ultra minimal footwear.
Fourthly, they allow you to increase ankle and foot stability – due to the lightness of the shoe your feet are going to have to do a bit more stability work, however the more your feet and ankles stabilse and get stronger the likelihood decreases that you will have ankle and foot problems later on. Like most muscles, use it or lose it.
Finally, they dry quicker. While leather hiking boots may be waterproof, once you get water in the big holes in the top the shoe will take a long time to dry. Trail runners are much quicker to dry and even goretex style boots can be a lighter and better alternative to a traditional boot. Something to consider is that most main manufacturers also have goretex options in their range as well, which are great for slightly wet conditions.
Midi boots – (also called three quarter or ankle boots) are a good alternative than a full ankle boot if you are looking for something just a bit higher and tougher than a trail shoe. They are a good comprimise between weight and ruggedness and can cope with tough terrain. This type of boot will last longer than a trail runner, and there are often both a trail shoe and three quarter boot from same manufacturer.
Now, after all this, we do need to point out that there are some circumstances where a full boot is more suitable, however this tends to be at the very technical end of the market, ie: when fitting crampons or snow shoes is required, or where there is significant mud and water crossings and the boot can be pairing with gaiters to keep out water.
It really is a preference. If you have been walking for 40 years in your Scarpa’s and love them, that’s awesome. Though for most walks in Australia, there is an ever increasing range of trail hiking shoes or trail runners that are going to fit you quicker, allow you to walk further, increase muscle development in your lower legs to strengthen them, and be a more cost effective option for days or weekends on the trail.
You can read more about purchasing footwear in this article HERE.