Ever felt like your hiking boots are conspiring against you, plotting a blister uprising with every step you take on a backpacking trip?
You’re not alone.
We’ve all been there, trudging along the trail, daydreaming about kicking off those treacherous boots and going barefoot.
There’s a way to transform those rigid clunkers into slipper-like companions that’ll have you floating up mountains and frolicking through forests with ease.
The anatomy of the hiking boot
Knowing how hiking boots are made will help you find a comfortable fit for your backpacking adventures.
Exploring boot materials
Your hiking boots are crafted with a variety of materials that can affect their comfort, durability, and waterproofing.
Leather and synthetics like nylon are common due to their robustness.
You’ll also find waterproof membranes, such as Gore-Tex, which keep your feet dry while allowing them to breathe.
Analyzing boot structure
The boot structure is key to how it supports your foot.
A sturdy sole provides a stable platform, while a well-designed midsole absorbs shock.
Check out how the insole offers cushioning, and don’t forget about the importance of a snug-fitting heel cup to prevent blisters.
Selecting the right fit
The key to comfortable hiking boots is selecting the right fit for your feet.
Measuring your foot size
You’ll want to measure your foot accurately to determine your true shoe size.
Grab a piece of paper, a pen, and a ruler.
Trace your foot on the paper, then use the ruler to measure from the tip of your longest toe to the end of your heel.
Check these measurements against a shoe size chart to find your correct size.
Considering boot size variations
Remember that different brands may fit differently, even if they’re labeled as the same size.
Check the brand’s sizing guide, as some hiking boots may run larger or smaller than your typical shoe size.
Be aware of the width options and choose accordingly if your foot is wider or narrower than average.
Trying on boots with hiking socks
Try your boots on with the same socks you plan to hike in.
This replicates the conditions you’ll experience on the trail and ensures a more accurate fit.
Your hiking socks should be thick and supportive, which could affect the boot’s fit compared to a regular sock.
Choosing boots that can accommodate your hiking socks without feeling tight or loose will make a big difference.
Breaking in your boots
Before hitting the trails for a long backpacking trip, it’s important to make sure your hiking boots are properly broken in to avoid blisters and discomfort.
Starting with short walks
Begin by taking your new boots on short walks around your neighbourhood.
This helps the boots mold to the shape of your feet.
Using boot stretchers
If your boots are especially tight, consider using a boot stretcher overnight.
It can help loosen up the tougher spots.
Wearing the boots at home
Get used to the feel of your boots by wearing them at home.
Walk up and down stairs or stand in them to speed up the process.
Lacing techniques for comfort
Lacing your hiking boots properly can make a big difference in comfort during backpacking.
Standard lacing methods
Your boots came with a standard criss-cross lacing pattern, which works well for most hikers.
Adjust the tightness starting from the toes upward, leaving a bit of flexibility for movement.
Heel lock lacing
Heel lock lacing, also known as “locking” or “runner’s loop,” prevents your heel from slipping.
Create loops at the top of each side of the boot, threading the lace through the opposite loop to tighten around the ankle.
Surgeon’s knot for adjusting fit
To prevent your feet from moving forward in your boots, use a surgeon’s knot.
Cross the laces over and wrap them twice before moving up the boot.
This knot helps adjust the tightness in specific areas, offering a custom fit.
Advanced boot customization
To tackle tough terrains comfortably, you might want to customize your hiking boots.
Here’s how you can step up your game with some advanced tweaks.
Inserting orthotic insoles
If you’re looking to support your feet better, consider inserting orthotic insoles.
These come in various forms, designed to align your foot and reduce strain on your knees and back during long hikes.
Adding padded collars
To prevent blisters and discomfort around your ankles, add padded collars to your boots.
They cushion the contact between your boot and your skin, providing both comfort and protection.
Using tongue depressors
Finally, using tongue depressors can help secure your foot and stop the tongue from sliding.
This reduces the chances of irritation and ensures your laces stay tight, so you’re not stopping to adjust them constantly.
Maintaining foot hygiene
Good foot hygiene prevents blisters and keeps feet comfortable during backpacking.
Keeping feet dry
You’ll want your feet to stay dry to avoid blisters and other discomforts.
After washing, thoroughly dry your feet, especially between the toes.
It’s wise to carry foot powder or cream to maintain dryness on long hikes.
Blisters are often caused by friction and moisture.
To combat this, wear well-fitted boots and moisture-wicking socks.
If you feel a hot spot, address it immediately with tape or a blister pad before a blister forms.
Changing socks regularly
Don’t underestimate the power of fresh socks.
Change your socks daily to maintain hygiene and comfort, and always switch to a dry pair if they become wet.
If possible, give your feet some air during breaks to help with moisture control.
When you’re backpacking, the right footwear accessories can make a big difference in comfort and protection.
Selecting appropriate socks
Choose socks that’ll keep your feet dry and blister-free.
Look for materials like merino wool or synthetic fibres designed for moisture-wicking.
Using gaiters for protection
Gaiters are great for keeping debris out of your boots.
They come in different heights, so pick a pair that suits the terrain you’ll be hiking through.
Choosing the right hiking insoles
Quality insoles can reduce foot fatigue.
Seek out ones with good arch support and a heel cup to improve the fit and comfort of your hiking boots.
When your hiking boots cause discomfort, identifying the specific issue is the first step to finding a solution.
Rubbing or blisters
If your boots are rubbing or creating blisters, you might need to break them in more gently.
Consider wearing thicker socks or using specialized blister plasters on hot spots.
Toenail pain often suggests your boots are too small or your toenails are too long.
Trim your nails and make sure there’s a thumb’s width of space between your toes and the boot’s end.
For arch pain, supportive insoles designed for your foot type can provide relief.
Make sure they fit your boots properly to avoid further discomfort.
Top of foot pain
Lacing techniques can alleviate top of foot pain.
Try a looser fit across the foot’s top and tighter around the ankle for better support without pressure.
Heel or ball of foot pain
Proper cushioning is key for heel or ball of foot pain.
Insoles or cushioned socks can help absorb impact and reduce pain.
Shin splints can be a sign of poor foot support or alignment.
Consider using insoles with arch support and ensure your boots are not worn out, as they may no longer provide adequate support.
Foot fatigue often occurs from overuse.
Resting your feet, rotating boots, and using insoles with good shock absorption can help prevent it.
More about backpacking:
- How to deodorize your backpack without washing it
- This is how heavy your backpacking tent should be
- How hiking makes your legs and feet bigger
Elise is an experienced backcountry canoe tripper and winter camper from Ontario, Canada. She loves cooking up a storm over the campfire, taking in all the backcountry views, and enjoying a piña colada or two while relaxing at camp. She’s also certified in Whitewater Rescue (WWR) I & II and Wilderness First Aid (WFA).