Considerations regarding shoes and socks for backpacking
1) Shoes vs. boots - There is a decided weight advantage in hiking in running shoes over high top boots if your ankles are strong, and if you're using trekking poles for the more difficult sections of trail. Everytime you take a step it reduces the work you must do when you hike with lighter footwear. On the other hand if you don't have very strong ankles, or if you are hiking on very rough terrain, or if you're not using trekking poles you might be better off with boots. Spraining or worse yet, breaking a weak ankle is a disaster on a wilderness trail away from help. Another consideration is how rocky the trail you will be hiking on. Some trails are very well maintained, and not rough, like the grand canyon corridor trails, which are well maintained, and easy hiking. For those kinds of trails, you don't need a shank in your shoes or boots. On the other hand trails that have frequently exposed sharp rocks protruding from the trail surface, or if the trail is made out of sharp rocks, you should probably have either shoes or boots that have metal shankes in the sole to prevent injury or bruising of your feet when hiking there. When hiking thousands of feet of elevation downhill, if your toenails are not properly trimmed close, you can easily lose a toenail, which is a very painful experience, or not quite as bad, you can bruise your toenails. The important thing to remember here is consider getting 1 size larger shoe than you need, and get thick socks so your toes don't beat against the front of the boot when you hike downhill.
2) Socks. Some people believe that it's better to get wool. Merino wool is a tighter blend, and less "harsh" against the skin if wool is chosed. Wool tends to take the moisture away from the skin better than cotton socks. Other people prefer the comfort of cotton, but bring 3 or 4 pairs of socks, so that when one pair gets wet, one can change the socks out for a fresh pair. Of course that approach adds weight. Some people like better to sleep in cotton socks, so they wear 2 pairs of socks, with one cotton and one wool. Wool for the hiking in the day, and Cotton for at the camp and sleeping. As far as thickness goes, it may be worthwhile to experiment with various thicknesses of socks to see what works best with ones shoe style and size and gait of walking so that one doesn't discover that one has the wrong combination when out on the trail resulting in a blister, lost toenail, or other type of footpain.
The feet is where the rubber hits the road. You don't hike with comfort if your feet are in terrible pain. If you're backpacking for fun, you won't accomplish the goal if your feet feel like they're on fire. Beyond comfort, ones safety or wellbeing can be directly connected with foot health when one is out hiking in wilderness areas. Proper fitting shoes and socks are critical to the successful outcome of your backpacking trip. Do not underestimate the importance of shoes and socks when planning a backpacking trip. Don't go out and buy a pair of new shoes or boots just before one leaves, or there is great risk of foot problems and all it's baggage.
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Last Update: May 8, 2015
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