Trail Runners and Day Hikers and Boots, Oh My!

Talking about hiking footwear can be exhausting.  Trying to find the right shoes for you and your trip can be downright frustrating.  But it’s probably the most critical piece of equipment and can make or break your hike. Get it right and your tootsies will thank you after putting in some grueling miles over rough terrain.

lounging
Still in my comfy shoes after a long day of hiking in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

You’ll find a ton of advice suggesting you should wear trail runners on your backpacking trip.  You’ll find an equal number of experts saying you should wear hiking boots.  Others suggest day hikers. Still others suggest barefoot hiking!  You can read as many articles and listen to as many experts as you like, but the bottom line is: you simply won’t know what’s right for you until you start trying out the options.  And don’t think, for one second, that whatever you hike in normally is guaranteed to work.  It quite possibly won’t once you factor in many miles over a period of days AND a heavy pack.

Let my story be the perfect example.

I wanted to backpack in trail runners.  That’s what I hike in and they are comfy.  I had read so much about the joys of backpacking in trail runners.  I even researched the most popular trail runners amongst successful Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers the previous year. I ended up with a pair of trail runners that came highly recommended by one of my favorite gear review sites (outsidegearlab.com).

The next weekend, I packed my backpack with 25 lbs of gear and out I went.  And within six miles, I knew the shoes were going to be terrible.  The bottoms of my feet were so sore from a lack of cushion and support whilst carrying weight.  I promptly returned them.  From there, I tried a pair of day hikers that offered more support and rigidity.  But with a heavy pack, I still felt like my feet were too sore by the end of a long hike.  Returned.

A lovely sales person at REI suggested I get real hiking boots.  She said what I needed was to NOT feel the trail beneath my feet.  I needed shanks and lugs and support.  And I did, indeed, love those boots.  Sure they felt kinda heavy compared to the trail runners and day hikers, but that was a small price to pay for happy feet at the end of the day.

But then I began to developed a heat rash of some kind around my upper ankles every time I hiked, where the top of the boots touched my legs.  No amount of creams, lotions or spiritual tonics stopped it from happening.  So I returned those, too.

sandal-hike
Hiking in sandals due to an ankle rash in Henry Coe State Park

By that point, I knew I needed a shoe that would act like a boot, but not be a boot.  My quest continued through a total of NINE pairs of footwear before I got it right.  Thankfully, REI has a very user-friendly return policy for reasons like this (and amazing used gear sales!). All that testing and returning was worth it.  My feet did not suffer one bit during my first long trip.  I watched other hikers desperate to get their hiking shoes off at the end of the day while I was happy to just loosen the laces and wear them around camp at night.

So what did I end up with?  Oboz.  I love my Oboz.  A shoe that is built like a boot.

Fall seven times, stand up eight. – Japanese Proverb

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