Every hiker knows just how important having the right pair of footwear is. Here in Australia, walking is a popular pastime and from die-hard daredevils to casual aficionados, almost every Australian likes to get their travelling shoes on. That being said, it goes without saying that investing in a pair of quality walking boots is an absolute must, and the purpose of this article is to help you get the best shoes you can. From the upper, midsole and sole construction of the shoes, one-season to four-season models, many different styles and a variety of special technical features, you should put a lot of thought into buying the ideal travelling shoes. These things are important, since hiking and walking uphill can be strenuous on your feet and legs, so you want shoes that are comfortable and safe to wear over different types of terrain.
First and foremost, it’s important to make the distinction between travelling shoes and boots. There are a few major differences to note. For instance, walking boots are the preferred choice for hillwalkers, whereas shoes are a more casual option preferred by short-distance trekkers and seasonal walkers. Walking boots are sturdier and more versatile, making them ideal for challenging terrain, whereas shoes are more lightweight and comfortable, making them ideal for easygoing trails. Typically, travelling boots are breathable and completely waterproof, but shoes have limited waterproof protection properties and decent breathable properties. Boots offer incredibly ankle support, while shoes offer low or no ankle support whatsoever.
Once you’ve decided whether you want shoes or boots, it’s time to consider the construction of the footwear. Travelling shoes and boots are constructed of an upper, midsole and outsole. The upper construction refers to everything on the shoe that goes above the midsole. The upper construction is where most of the technical features of the footwear lie, and it’s what gives the footwear its style and shape. The upper construction of footwear can be made of a wide range of fabrics and materials, including leather, mesh, suede, and polyurethane. All of these materials have their distinct advantages and disadvantages and will impact the technicality of the boot. For instance, leather is very durable and waterproof, but it requires more maintenance and breaking in. On the other hand, boots and shoes made with a combination of mesh, suede, and polyurethane are great all-rounders which offer great comfort, durability and waterproofness.
The midsole refers to the layer of material sitting between the outsole at the bottom of the boot and the upper. The main functions of the midsole are to provide support and prevent sharp objects from penetrating the boot and reaching your feet. Some of the most common materials used in the construction of midsoles are Phylon rubber, EVA or a combination of both. EVA is comfortable and lightweight, but it will eventually lose its shape over time as the air trapped in the foam is slowly squeezed out. For that reason, it’s EVA is frequently reinforced with Phylon, which offers more cushioning due to its higher durability, density and ability to hold form.
And the outsole is the part that goes through the most abuse and works hardest in the task of protecting you against the elements, making it the most important feature to look out for. It tackles two opposing force: the force of the ground under you that brushes moisture and debris and the weight of your body. High levels of impact and friction endured by the outsole will put the quality and longevity of the boot to the test. Different types of boots and shoes will feature different treads that are designed to aid traction. Mountain climbers and hillwalkers need to make sure that the lugs on their shoes are deep enough to maintain great grip in wet and muddy conditions, but not too deep to cause loss of stability and lose grip.
When it’s all said and done, getting the correct fit is the single most important factor that can make or break your purchase, so you need to make absolutely sure that the boots fit you properly and are comfortable enough to walk in for extended time periods. When I talk about fit, I don’t just refer to the size of the boot, but its shape as well. Measure the width and the length of your feet before you start shopping, and pay attention to any unusual quirks your feet might have which may call for a custom fit. The travelling shoes should have a comfortable and snug fit as soon as you put them on, and no extra space for the foot to move around. Conversely, the shoes shouldn’t be too tight as to make your feet feel cramped. If you aren’t sure how hiking shoes are supposed to fit, consider asking for professional fitting advice at the store you’re buying from.