Footwear for hiking is something I’ve spent a lot of time and money exploring. I’ve yet to find the perfect do-it-all boot and at this point, I question whether one exists. I’ve tried the light weight boots, trail runners and the traditional leather boots. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. The tradeoffs seem to be between comfort, weight, support and durability. To get one, you give up another.
Some of my observations:
Last season I bought a pair of Keen Targhee II mids. Super comfortable right out of the box. Breathable and waterproof (when new), decent support and light weight. They lasted all of 8 hikes before the soles began peeling. Throughout the life of these boots I’ve had to repeatedly glue the soles back together. At $140 a pair, I expect a little more from a hiking shoe.
So this brings me to my next thought. Maybe this boot would have lasted someone else much longer. At 240 pounds I’m not exactly a light weight and that’s very likely a big part of the problem. If I were a 160 pounds and light on my feet, I suspect these would have held up much better. Never the less, when I did my research, these were sold as a hiking boot. Based on good reviews, I laid my money down. It’s not something I’d do again.
This past winter I took the plunge and picked up a pair of Limmer Standards (off the shelf, not the custom fitted). These folks have been making custom leather boots since the 1920’s. They know their stuff and make a boot that will literally last 20 years. I have a love/hate relationship with my Limmers. On one hand, they are a beautifully made boot, consisting of one piece of leather, very thick, super high quality leather, and one seam. They have traction like you read about! Nothing I’ve ever had on my feet grips wet granite like these boots. Amazing! They are totally waterproof. You can step in to water right to the top of this boot and your feet remain nice and dry. Also breathable, they are pretty amazing. Their protection and support are far better than any other boot I’ve worn, with the exception of maybe a ski boot. I have no doubt that these boots will be around for years. When you consider the cost per hike value they will be tough to beat.
Now, for the not so good news. If you’re looking for a pair of boots to wear on a 15 mile hike next weekend, look elsewhere. Be prepared to spend some time breaking these bad boys in. When you are fitted for these boots, it’s hard to believe they will ever be comfortable. The leather is thicker than anything I’ve ever seen in a boot. As a result, it takes a lot longer to break them in than some people are willing to deal with. They are heavy (almost 5 pounds per pair). There is no cushion in the bottom of these boots, just leather. It will take a bit for you to condition your feet if you spend most of your time in a running shoes. Wearing heavy wool socks is highly recommended.
After talking to a few very knowledgeable people who make a living selling boots to folks like me, I’ve come to realize you have to be realistic about your expectations. If you’re a heavy weight too, you just aren’t going to get much life out of a cushy pair of light hikers, especially if you spend any time above tree line in the White Mountains of New Hampshire or similarly rugged terrain. Conversely, a pair of rugged boots that will hold up to the pounding of rocky terrain and protect your feet will not feel like two big fluffy pillows right out of the box. As I mentioned before, no one boot will do it all. Just as it’s necessary to have the right boot for winter expeditions, you also need to have realistic expectations of your summer boots. Are you a sub 150 pounder with minimal gear? Maybe a light hiker or trail runner will be just the ticket for you. If you are approaching the 250 pound mark with all your gear and 5 days’ worth of food, you may want to look at something more substantial. I wish boot manufacturers and reviewers would start giving a weight ratings for their shoes to help keep things in perspective. Until then, I recommend you find a good boot fitter you can trust and do your homework when is comes to materials and design.
Do you have a go to pair of boots? A nightmare story? Great fitter in your area? I’d be interested in hearing how others approach this topic.