One of the hardest things for a hiker to let go of is a good pair of boots — Just ask all of those hikers out there who are still rubbing leather treatment on their 15-year-old Vasque Sundowners.
Alas, the time has come for my Asolo Rhythm XCR low hikers. I can’t turn a blind eye to what’s happening. Seams are busting and rubber is starting to separate. It’s not a defect. It’s just that every shoe has its expiration date, even if the shoes are made by an award-winning company like Asolo, which claims to have created the first lightweight and comfortable trekking shoe.
For years, my Asolo hikers protected my feet as I’ve climbed up and down the mountains of Maine. They’ve carried me over Mount Katahdin rockslides and through the muddy terrain of the rainiest summer in the state’s history. (I was happy that I chose the Gore-Tex version of the shoe, which has a waterproof liner of premium material.)
I’m talking about good hiking shoes and why they’re important. This isn’t a PR campaign for Asolo. In fact, many people can’t stand Asolo boots because they are often stiff and way too narrow. I just happen to have narrow, extremely long feet. Actually, my feet are so long (size 9.5) that I trip over them on occasion and therefore require extra good hiking boots to make up for my lack of coordination.
Recently, I’ve been noticing that my boots are lot less supportive, and I know it’s because my seams are giving out. My boots have lost a lot of their once-aggressive tread. In other words, I’m slipping and tipping more than usual, and I’d like to blame that on something.
So I’m on the search for some new kicks, and there are a few things I’m looking for when I walk into a sporting goods store or outfitter:
1. Starting with the bottom of the shoe. Does it have a good tread? Does it have a “true heel”? A “true heel” is a 90-degree angle in the rubber sole right before the heel. This small feature, this little groove, can help a hiker if she is slipping. It’s great at catching roots.
2. Next, I bend the shoe by holding the toe and the heel and pushing up. Where does the shoe bend? If it rolls right up, it probably isn’t a good hiking shoe. This means it has no internal support along the sole, a rod that is called a shank. If it bends at the forefoot but seems stiff along the heel and middle of the shoe, it has half a shank or a ¾ shank. This boot will be supportive for hiking and especially good for speed hiking because it flexes at the toe. If the shoe just doesn’t want to bend at all, that’s because it has a full shank. I love stiff shoes, but not everyone does. A full shank will support your foot more than anything. You also won’t feel rocks poking up into your feet.
3. I’m looking for a mid-high boot, which means it covers the bottom part of my ankle and keeps me steady. My last pair of hiking boots were low-hikers (didn’t cover my ankle), and I have rolled my ankle in them a few times. If you’ve ever sprained your ankle, that means you probably have weak ankles and should consider getting mid-high boots. Some boots lace up even higher to cover your entire ankle. I don’t fancy those because I like to jog on flat sections of trail, which leads me to my fourth requirement.
4. I want my boots to be lightweight, or as lightweight as you can get with an aggressive sole and ankle protection. At the store, I pick shoes up and weigh them in my hands against each other. I know some popular hiking boots that are ridiculously heavy, but I don’t feel like slamming anyone in this post. All I’m going to say is that weight becomes important to you after you’ve been hiking for a few hours.
5. What’s the upper (the material that wraps around your foot) made out of? Is it full-grain leather? That’s too much for me, though some people only buy full-grain leather because it’s so durable and supportive. I’d prefer a material that breathes a little more. And I want it to include Gore-Tex, which means it’s waterproof. Maine is not a dry place.
Those are my basic criteria for hiking boots. But the only way to find the right hiking boot is to try on the boots that fit your initial criteria and walk around in them for a bit. It’s all about your foot. I don’t particularly like feet, and so I don’t make a habit of looking at them, but I hear that everyone has different feet. Never buy a hiking boot without trying it on.
When you’re looking for an athletic shoe, it’s about purpose. What do you need it for? Did you notice that “brown with blue accents” wasn’t part of my criteria? With athletic footwear, it’s all about comfort, not fashion. If an ugly shoe felt like heaven on my feet, I’d buy it in a heartbeat. Come to think of it, my Asolo Rhythms are this exciting color called “Snapdragon,” or as I would describe it “vomit yellow.”
Maybe I can find a new pair of hiking boots as equally attractive and comfortable. Wish me luck.