How are your feet? Right now, don’t think too hard. Are they happy?
They should be.
We ask a lot of our shoes, and in turn they can take us to amazing places. They can also feel like a liability. Blisters, achy feet, twisted ankles, or black and blue toenails are day enders. So, if you’re looking for a trail friend rather than a trail foe, I’d like to suggest a few questions to ask yourself to find the perfect shoes.
- What socks should I wear? Seems like a funny question to star with, but absolutely the first step to happy feet. I don’t think I can overstate the importance of socks. So what are they doing for you? They are managing moisture (if you’re sweating), they are cushioning the heel, the ball, and the ankle. They are preventing friction (blisters!). They are keeping dirt, twigs, and other trail crap off your feet. So, check your socks. They should be made of something that breathes and doesn’t hold on to moisture (merino wool, CoolMax), be cushy enough to keep your feet happy, not too cushy to cramp your toes, and tall enough for where you’re going. Basically, do your sock match your activity? Which leads us to…
- What are you doing? It seems like you get a shoe for the most specific thing, like, are you going for a 3.2 mile run on technical talus. or are you going for a 8 mile day hike on smooth dirt? I think the minutia is less important than thinking about what you do generally. If your feet are happy, and the shoe can “keep up” with you, then you’re set! But if you’re trying to go for long runs in a boot, or backpack in a lightweight runner, you may not be very happy.
- What benefits do i need? A stiff shoe or boot can support your foot if you’re carrying a lot of weight, or if you’re walking long miles and your feet are getting tired. A soft, minimalist shoe can feel like a feather, can give you a great feel for the terrain, and can reduce fatigue over some long miles.
- What size are you? Seems like a silly question, but when was the last time you had your feet measured? Our feet change over time. I’ve fit and sold thousands of pairs of shoes over the last 15 years, so here are a few lessons I’ve learned. Many people wear shoes that are too small. If you were a size 9.5 ten years ago, there’s a good chance you’re now a 10.5. Get measured, know your foot length, width, and arch length, and make sure you use the info as a starting point. At the end, make sure that the shoes you’re getting fit the feet you have.
Mostly, you’re the best expert on your feet. The simplest advice is to find the footwear that feels the best. My feet have taken me to some of the best experiences in my life, and when they’re comfortable I get to enjoy them all the more. So, find the footwear you’ll forget about, and you’ll get to have the best adventures possible.
Sometimes I like to keep this John Muir quote in mind, because our feet, when they’re happy, can take us anywhere.
“I don't like either the word [hike] or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains - not 'hike!' Do you know the origin of that word saunter? It's a beautiful word. Away back in the middle ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going they would reply, 'A la sainte terre', 'To the Holy Land.' And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not 'hike' through them.”