I should feel bad about it – buying myself footwear when it’s so close to the holidays. Usually I exercise more restraint. December rolls around, and I devote my savings to buying presents for my friends and family. But when you see the right hiking boots, you can’t let them just walk away on someone else’s feet.
I’d feel guilty about it, if they weren’t so awesome. Plus, my old hiking boots have been falling apart for a while now. Recently, I’ve found myself looking for a replacement in every sporting goods store and outfitter I wander into.
I was Christmas shopping in Epic Sports. SmartWool socks, hand warmers, headlamps and indestructible sporks will fill the stockings of my loved ones, whether they like it or not. It was while admiring some merino wool long johns that the women’s footwear section caught my eye. Before I had much time to think about it, I was at the shoe wall picking up boots, weighing them in my hands.
An employee convinced me to try a few pairs on. I didn’t want turn her down and possibly make her feel bad, so I sent her into the back room to search for all of the boots that fit my criteria: high ankle, stiff sole, aggressive tread and size 9.5. Meanwhile, my mother continued to shop for gifts, which I would have been doing if I hadn’t been hypnotized by the smell of fresh Vibram soles.
For my alien feet (exceptionally long and dexterous), Vasque, Merrell and Keen boots didn’t feel quite right – too padded around the ankle, too short and too wide, respectively. A good sport, I marched up and down the shop’s stairs, testing each pair.
It was time to try on the shoe I’d been avoiding because I knew it was one of the most expensive shoes on the wall – the Asolo Sharp GTX.
I was doomed before I even laced them up.
I’ve owned two pairs of Asolo boots before, and they’ve always fit just right, as if the Italian company makes them just for my feet.
In addition to feeling like heaven, the Sharp has an upper of water-resistant suede and breathable nylon mesh, a Gore-Tex waterproof lining, an anatomic footbed and a rubber Eva outsole with Active Heel Support technology. For a boot that an be used for backpacking, it’s remarkably light – estimated at 1 pound 2 ounces. It sounds ridiculous, but these features make the boots comfortable and durable on woodland and mountain trails.
It was no contest. The Sharp left with me, after I paid $240. Maybe that’s why BDN Outdoor Editor John Holyoke told me to mention that I’m a “boot nut” (when it comes to both athletic and fashion boots). But if I hadn’t purchased them right away, some other Sasquatch would have swept into Epic Sports and robbed me of my find.
There is one downside. I imagine the silver and sky blue Sharps might look pretty on a smaller foot, but when I wear them, I look like an astronaut. That’s OK. My only hope is that, after a few muddy trails, the silver will fade and feet will look a little less radioactive.
Tips for figuring out if a boot fits:
1. Try it on. I buy things online – like books and samurai swords – but I would have nightmares waiting for a pair of shoes to arrive in the mail. How do you know if they fit if you don’t try them on?
2. Try them both on. Let’s not pretend your feet are exactly the same. One is usually bigger than the other.
3. Lace them up as if you are about to embark on an epic journey.
4. Stand like a flamingo (I Googled “flamingo” and now realize that their knees bend the opposite way – don’t try that) and bang your toe down on the ground lightly. Your toe will probably hit the end of the boot, but it shouldn’t hurt. If it hurts, the boot is too small or you need to tie the laces tighter.
5. Walk around the store and up and down some stairs if you can. If the back of your foot is slipping up and down, the boot is a size too big or the style is too wide for you.
6. Your feet know when they aren’t comfortable. You will be able to feel “hot spots” or places in the shoe that hurt your feet. But sometimes if a shoe is slightly uncomfortable or stiff, that’s OK. Most hiking boots take a little while to break in. If you aren’t sure about them, wear them around inside for a while before taking them outside.
7. Your size is just a starting point. Each company and style is different. I wear typically size 9.5. But in Merrell, I wear size 10 or even 10.5. And my Asolos are size 9, with plenty of wiggle room.