Sunday, November 30, 2014

Putting Your Best Foot Forward

Almost every hiker can tell you a shoe story.  Shoes can  protect of destroy your foot.  And, since hiking involves being on you feet all day, shoes make all the difference in having an enjoyable or terrible experience on the trail.  Well suited shoes will be one of your most important gear acquisition.

The following information was shared at the November 2014 meeting of the Gila Valley Hiking Club.

Twenty five percent of all the bones in the human skeleton are in the feet.  Their are 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments.  An individual's feet make up only three percent of their body mass, but support  one and a half to two time your body weight in force when you take a step.   Every pound you ad to your pack adds two pounds of force to each step you take.  Many foot afflictions and knee and back problems can be traced back to bad footwear.

Before you buy hiking footwear, consider the following questions:
     -Where are you hiking?  What seasons do you hike in?
     -What is your experience level?
     -What is the shape of your foot?  Have you suffered any injuries that affect your hiking? How much do your feet sweat?

Now research footwear that is available.  Talk to other hikers, and even consider talking to your doctor, chiropractor, or podiatrist.  Then make time to go try on shoes.

There are many kind of hiking footwear available. Trail running shoes are designed for running on trails.  They are very lightweight but provide little support for your ankles and feet.  Hiking shoes they are stiffer than running shoes and thus provide more support.  Their low ankle height does allow rocks and debris to get into the shoe, but are great for day hikers.  Hiking boots have added height meaning better ankle support and improved protection from water and debris entering the shoe.  Their added weight means a longer period of time to break them in.  Backpacking boots are for the long hauls.  They provide the best durability, support and stability.  You get supreme protection from the elements.  The are very stiff and heavy making finding the best fit a challenge.  Their thick materials reduce breathability for your feet.

Now it's time to head out to the store.  Always try on footwear in the evening.  Your feet stretch and swell over the course of the day.  A good way to ensure your feet are at their biggest is to get in a good, long walk before heading to the store.  Take along the type of socks you wear when you hike.  If you wear orthotic insoles, bring those, too.

In the store, get properly measured in your socks.  Try on as many different pairs of shoes as are available and spend a good deal of time in each.  You may need to visit multiple shops to try all options, so be ready to spend time in making the right selection.  You may end up buying the first pair, but don't only try on one pair.    Walk around--a lot.  Check for heal fit.  You should be able to put one finger, but not two, behind your heel to the second or first knuckle.  Walk up and down an incline.  Stomp around a bit to ensure your toes are not banging on the front of the shoe.  Walk around some more.  Note any possible tight spots or other problems.  Then try on another pair after resting you feet by wiggling your toes and shaking out your feet.

Remember that there is no such thing as "perfect fit."  Socks, lacing techniques, and after-market insoles effect the fit and comfort of a shoe.  Finding the right combination will provide for the best fit possible.

A word about socks--Heavyweight wool socks are best!  They provide superior warmth and cushioning.  They retain insulating properties even when wet.  Bamboo socks are also a good choice.   For longer hikes you should also consider liner socks.  They are made of thin synthetics or wool and are worn under you regular socks.  They wick moisture from your fee and help prevent hot spots and blisters.

Breaking in your shoes is imperative before hitting the trail.  Find a nearby trail with little or no elevation gain to walk on for several days.  Gradually increase the length and difficulty of you break-in walks.

The pay-off for all your effort is finding the right shoes which leads to enjoying the views, wildlife, and camaraderie of fellow hikers (or solitude if you prefer.)