Over many years of backpacking I have used a variety of footwear. From flip flops to running shoes, from army shoes to cross training sandals and from hiking boots to backpacking boots, I have tried them all. But, among all these types of footwear, I felt the most comfortable with backpacking boots, especially when I am traveling long distances and through different terrain with a moderately heavy pack.
These days, there are a lot of shoes and boots to choose from. Sometimes, the sheer number of choices and the various trademarked terms can be confusing. Over the years, after trying out many different footwear and having field experience, I have laid out these simple and handy tips that should help you choose your new pair of backpacking boots.
Solid Out Sole to Handle Extra Weight
While backpacking, the boots not only carry our weight, but handle the extra load of our backpack. If proper planning is not done in this regard, you will end up buying a pair of boots that will wear out very quickly. The idea is to find a pair of boots that comes with a very solid outsole that is built to handle heavy loads for long periods of time.
This is a no-brainer for me. Lightweight footwear not only feels good while on the feet, but they feel even better when you carry them in your backpack. The last thing you want is to make your pack heavy while walking around in flip flops on a beach.
Focus on the Fit
That is the idea. You should be able to walk, climb, trek, run with your boots anywhere and at any time. Irrespective of the terrain, weather or exertion, your feet should not get blisters or feel sore. If they do, the purpose of the boots are lost. Hence, make sure that your boots fit your feet properly. There should be no abrasion, tightness, looseness, internal slipping, etc. Your boots should fit your feet just like your sock.
Breathability for Warmer Climes
Most of the destinations around the world are hot or tropical in nature. Hence, the bulk of your travels require a pair of boots fit for tropical weather. This means that your boots should have a breathable top so that you don’t feel like you are walking in a puddle of sweat all the time. When you travel to colder weather, you can either wear a pair of woollen socks with these boots or switch to a pair of winter boots.
Rain, snow or sun. The true traveler should be prepared for all weather. Like how we have ponchos, rain covers for our backpacks, we need to ensure that our boots are waterproof too. GoreTex or other equivalent technology is recommended.
Not Scream for Attention
If your boots look very pretty, they become prime targets for theft. I don’t think any of us would want that especially since the boots are important to us while traveling and they cost quite a bit of money too. Personally, I look for sober colored boots and stay away from all those fluorescent colors. If you cannot avoid loud colors for some reason, try and make it dirty
Ability to Use on Other Occasions
While traveling, we cannot carry different foot wear for different occasions. If you do, you will end up carrying a super heavy backpack. Hence, try and select a pair of boots that you can wear with your favorite pair of trousers or jean for a movie or dinner date with your girl friend. You can even wear them to look presentable when invited by local families.
Great Comfort and Grip
Boots should always feel comfortable with thick cushioning and they should come with deep grooves for solid grip. Thick cushioning and deep grooves in the outsole ensure that you find them comfortable and trust its grip even after significant wear and tear over many years of travel.
Toe Bumpers and Protection
If you are a clumsy walker, it is imperative that you look for toe bumpers and heel protectors in your backpacking boots. This will protect both your boots and feet in rough terrain. And will come in very handy if you are trekking and hiking traveler.
Ankle Support (Mid-cut to High Cut)
Ankle support comes in very handy at 2 times. One, they are useful if you are a careless walker and second when you are trekking or hiking in mountainous or uneven terrain. Depending on your preference, you can either opt for mid-cut to high cut. Personally, I prefer mid-cut for regular travels and high cut for travels in the mountains.
Plan for Breaking-in
These days a lot of boots do not need to be broken in, but when it comes to some backpacking and mountain boots, they might still need a bit of break-in. Hence, prior to taking them on your travels, do ensure that you have walked at least 2 weeks in your new pair of boots. In case there are any issues, you can always return them during this time and get yourself a different fit.
Value for Money
There are boots from $80 to $500 out there, but I always look for value in my purchases. Hence, try to stay away from the super expensive ones. The last thing I want is to kick myself for losing my expensive pair of boots. As a thumb rule, I look for boots in the price range of USD 100 to 200. In this price range, I usually find many options that fit most or all of the above mentioned requirements.
In the past, I have used backpacking boots from Vasque, Merrell, Columbia Sportswear and the Indian Army boots. Currently, I am using the Berghaus Men’s Explorer Light Gore-Tex Walking Boots, which fulfills all my above requirements is one of my favorite pair of footwear.