Bug Out or Hiking Footwear Choices

Choosing footwear is a personal choice. It’s just that some choices are garbage. When you find yourself foot-mobile, there is very little room for failure. Injured feet absolutely will slow you down, limit the terrain you may cover and potentially make you ill (or dead). That said, I’m going to share with you my personal beliefs regarding footwear on the move.

Whatever it is you put on your feet, it must begin with socks. The material of choice for many is wool. I prefer a good merino blend or say 25% wool, but that’s a comfort choice. Whatever blend you go for, you must have socks! I know people that choose to go without them, and they are all destined to break down on a mandatory hike. I don’t care if it’s 15 miles to a town, or 5 miles in the back country. No socks = no arrival. Bare feet in shoes create a humid environment. Direct contact with the inside of shoes or boots will result in wet feet that suffer from motion abrasion. They will blister, scuff or even tear. The only way to limit motion within the foot wear is to achieve a snug fit. This decreases any chance of moisture removal in a sockless application. Throw in some hill walking and the increased pressure on the balls of the feet and the toes will lead to more abrasion. You must have socks. They create a permeable layer suited to moisture wicking and evaporation. They cushion against impacts.  Lastly, socks also allow for a degree of swelling and greatly aid in the removal of damp footwear from sweaty feet. You must have socks.

Some people promote the use of open or breathable footwear such as sandals, low top shoes or moccasins. I’m against these for any serious walking. They leave feet and ankles subject to cuts, punctures, pokes and bites. About the only thing they do is keep the bottoms of the feet from direct contact with the ground.

My choices are boots, or hiking shoes that cover the ankles well. You can’t keep feet dry and safe without good socks and shoes /boots with moderate to heavy material coverage. Pack extra socks and rotate them out as they get wet. Humidity in the footwear can lead to trench foot. Foot rot. You don’t want that! These types of footwear will protect against most dangers found on the trail.

What to Look for in a Good Boot

The sole should have an aggressive tread pattern. A good grip is mandatory in loose earth or on wet surfaces. The grooves must be deep and form a pattern mainly side-to-side to encourage resistance to slipping fore and aft. This kind of pattern also allows the sole to bend in concert with your foot.

The body must be firmly bonded to the sole. The upper portion, above the top of your foot, has to flex well enough to resist pinching your foot. New boots will force a bend into the top of your foot to some degree but, if built well, they will break in and soften up. Cheap footwear might not do this. I bought a pair of “Rapid Response” boots from Big-5 for $59. At first, the pinch was a problem, and the upward curve of the fore end proved to be an issue walking up the side of a levee. After they broke in, I found them to be quite comfortable and I don’t pay any attention to them even if I wear them all day. The upper body of the boot broke in well enough to relieve tension at the seem where it meets the sole. I don’t expect that they will separate any time soon.

The heel of the body needs to fit your heel well enough that it won’t allow you to slide up and down. This is an abrasion issue and will make you lame at some point. Part of the cause of mobile heels is the overall stiffness of the boot /shoe. If the sole won’t bend, the heel will pull away from you as you step forward. The boot may also have a lace-up problem. The laces should pull the heel toward you, and help keep it there. This stress is relieved as it breaks in, but you should see if it has a tendency to do what it’s supposed to do at your first test walk.

Wellco-T161Some people like a loose ankle. My Wellco desert boots are extremely flexible simply because there is little rigid structure above the ankle. It’s just canvas, designed to protect against flying debris and keep trousers properly retained and bloused. There are times when you need your ankle to flex and bend in order to keep the sole on uneven terrain. It is a traction issue. True, a twisted ankle is possible with this arrangement, but proper conditioning hardens me against that. Boots that keep your feet from bending side-to-side are simply too stiff. They need to be broken in well, or replaced. Stiff structure is no replacement for proper leg conditioning.

Check the boots’ ability to bend at the ball of your feet, and to stay tight to your heel, by squatting, or kneeling down to sit on one foot. Even a new boot will give some indication that it will eventually bend with you. Think of your pair of boots as gloves for your feet, with extra grip built in. They should not hurt.

Drainage holes are nice, if you plan to be in and out of water. They also help the inner lining to breath. They should be protected with a stiff mesh material to keep out annoying stones, sand and small creepie crawlies. Check drain /breather holes for some kind of screen material. Waterproof boots will not have drains, obviously. This isn’t an issue unless you expect to have the boot completely submerged. Even then, a quick dunk might not result in wet feet if the top is laced tightly enough and the boot was treated with a waterproofing spray.

Your boots should include laces long enough to lace all the way up, and then perhaps around your ankle one whole turn before securing. They need to be strong enough to yank on, and built to resist deterioration from water, mud and heat. A waterproofing treatment will help protect them. Remove them periodically to check for wear and abrasion damage.

Really, a boot should feel like a heavy shoe, and move like one. It needs to allow your feet to move in a natural way and work with you, not against you. If you can’t get a set of boots or shoes to break in properly, replace them. If they cause any issues with your feet, replace them. Something has to break. You or the boot.

This is very similar to my Wellco pair.

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