Buyer’s Guide: Hiking Shoes & Boots

There’s one basic rule in shoe and hiking boot buying: fit first. Find a shop with knowledgeable staff, bring the socks you wear hiking, your aftermarket insole (we recommend them for all footwear) and shop later in the day when your feet are fully expanded.

1. Shoe or boot? “A pound on the foot is equal to five on your back.” Don’t buy more boot than you need. If the idea of heavy packs and a night in a tent are as appealing as a lobotomy, stick to light hikers. Does a week of rambling off-trail quicken your pulse? You want a stiff-soled, high-cut boot for support. For those who want to go far but stay on-trail, a softer boot is perfect. And yes, it’s OK to own a quiver of hikers, both low- and high-cut, stiff and soft, so you always have the perfect shoe for the adventure.

2. Features matter. Wherever heavy dew or rain is possible (i.e.: everywhere in Canada) go for Gore-Tex or other waterproof liners/treatment; besides being more waterproof, they actually increase breathability in full leather boots. Mesh is best for hot and dry places and for those with sweaty feet. Mountain goats will want a high rubber bumper to protect the boots from rocks.

3. Material choices: full-grain, reverse full-grain or Nubuck leather are the most durable. Split grain, suede or mesh are more breathable and less expensive.

4. Good craftsmanship equals durability and longevity. Ask about the quality of the stitching, eyelet attachments and the gluing. The fewer seams and stitching, the lower the risk of leaks and blowouts.

5. Dial in the fit. You have a good fit when: eyelets are roughly parallel to each other; there’s room to wiggle your toes; the heel fit is snug; there’s no pinching or empty pockets  (press around the outside of the boot to reveal loose areas).

6. Take your boots home and wear them around the house for a few days to test the fit further. A good fit is possible out of the box, not after a few painful hikes to “work them in.”

Buyer’s Guide: Overnight Packs

Like a pair of shoes, packs work best when they fit both you and the trip. The best way of getting the right fit is to shop at a store with experienced sales staff.

1. Size matters: 40 to 55 litres is the minimum for overnight trips, hut trips and technical day trips. Overall, 55 to 75 litres is a versatile range, good for everything from overnights to lightweight weeklong outings. And anything bigger has the cush and suspension for the really heavy loads of base camp expeditions, gear-heavy multi-days and five-day-or-longer backpack tours. For winter camping, add 10 litres to accommodate the increase in clothing and bulk.

2. Style points: packs come in two main styles, top loaders (one big pocket) and compartmentalized with multiple zippers partitions. Top loaders save weight, but don’t organize as well as compartmentalized packs.

3. Turn it around: check out the harness system. Venting channels will keep your back cooler. The thicker the padding, the heavier, but more comfortable, it will be. Swivelling hip belts add comfort. For heavier loads, look for metal stays that help transfer the load better than plastic sheets.

4. Fabric choices: light is good for weight saving, but not for durability. Look for tougher fabric on the bottom of the pack and reinforced stitching on haul points and corner seams; all key wear zones.

5. Get the right fit: this is the most important part. Have an experienced sales staff measure your torso length — from the big bump at the base of your neck to the hip-shelf. Compare the measurement to individual manufacturers’ pack sizing. Some packs have hip-belt sizing too.

6. Dial in the fit: loosen off all the adjustable straps, load the pack with some weight and lift it on your shoulders. Now tighten hip and shoulders first, then the sternum strap, load lifters off your shoulder straps and, finally, your hip-belt stabilizers. Most of the weight should rest on your hips. The shoulder straps should rest lightly on your shoulders and the load lifter straps should come down on a 45-degree angle. All straps should have room for adjustment in both directions.

7. Nice features: big top-pockets for essentials; handy hip belt pockets; lash points for hiking poles, ice axes, etc.; hydration sleeves; main pocket side-zips.
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