The Pilgrimage to Chartres covers approximately 70 miles spread over three days. Those 70 miles add up to a lot of wear and tear on your feet and legs. This article from Outdoorgearlab.com “walks” you through a guide to purchasing shoes that will hold up and more importantly keep your feet protected and comfortable over long distance hikes:
When it comes to choosing the best shoe for your outdoor adventures, it’s important to be critical about your uses and decide what style of shoe compliments your needs best. Do you travel with light loads in decent weather? Maybe all you need is a trail running shoe. We typically break shoes down into four categories (from lightest to heaviest): trail runners, hiking shoes, hiking boots, and mountaineering boots.
Trail running shoes
Although trail running shoes are built for exactly that, they can fit a nice niche of hikers. If you do not need a very supportive shoe to handle heavier pack weights or like moving fast with ultra light gear, trail running shoes could fit your needs. They only come low cut, have soft rubber soles but with thick tread for gripping the trail, an EVA cushion midsole, and a breathable mesh or nylon upper. Very occasionally do these come with waterproof options, but most of the time they do not. They are more sensitive and agile than traditional boots.
Best uses: ultra-light backpacking, day hikes, rock hopping
Hiking shoes find common ground between full cut hiking boots and trail running shoes. They are lighter than boots, but sturdier and more supportive than running shoes. Usually they come with a waterproof option and a non-waterproof option. They are usually low cut, though some shoes have a tiny bit of ankle support, but never as high as with a backpacking boot. They come usually with burly Vibram soles with a lightweight upper. Like running shoes, they are comfortable right out of the box and do not require any break-in time.
Best Use: moderate backpacking, long distance lightweight hikes, day hikes.
Hiking boots range on a spectrum of light hikers to backpacking boots, and the weight varies considerably along this spectrum. What mainly classifies a “boot” is a cut that reaches up on the ankle, a hard rubber sole, and the fact they are usually waterproof. A traditional backpacking boot has a higher cut above the ankle than a light hiker, and is usually constructed with a full leather upper. A light hiker might have parts of mesh or lighter textile on the upper, but typically still protects the ankle.
Best Use: backpacking with heavy loads, hiking particularly rough terrain, hiking through snow where kicking steps might be necessary.
With full shanks, very stiff soles, and a high cut that usually also includes a gaiter, these are the heavy-hitters in the world of boots. Mountaineering boots are also insulated and have hard plastic inserts along the heel and sometimes on the toe to accommodate crampon bales. Though the weight and stiffness of these boots is overkill most of the time, these features are vital to mountaineers and ice climbers who spend their time traveling in snow and need the option of strapping on a crampon.
Best Use: extreme hiking through snow, mountaineering, ice climbing.
After choosing which category fits your needs, there are a few important decisions to consider.
We all know a shoe poorly fit to your foot shape is a recipe for disaster in the backcountry, with discomfort being the best case scenario and infectious blisters and frostbite being on the bad end of the spectrum. We try to give you the best assessment possible for each shoe regarding the cut and fit, but this is a category that you need to decide yourself. Check out your local outfitter and try on as many shoes as you can that fit your requirements — see where the shoe breaks on your foot, how the heel fits, and how much room you have in the toe box.
It’s important to try on shoes with the footbed and socks you will be wearing in the backcountry. Some modern footbeds have a very high stack height which will drastically affect the shoe’s fit.
If you are in a rainy climate and expect to wear your hiking shoes to work, it’s an obvious choice. For a casual user, a Gore-tex membrane is going to provide great waterproofing without many drawbacks. However, long-distance hikers often prefer non-waterproof shoes because when they (inevitably) get wet, they dry quicker, and drain well. While Gore-tex and other membranes are becoming better every year in terms of breathability, they are still miles behind open mesh panels such as those found in the Merrell Moab Ventilator. If you will be in the snow often, the Gore-tex option is generally the right call.
The old mantra of long distance hiking states, “It requires five times as much energy to move weight on your feet as it does to move weight on your back.” Ask any PCT or AT hiker and they will attest to this. Going from a two-pound pair of shoes to a four-pound pair of shoes is equivalent to adding 10 pounds to your pack. With folks being as weight conscious as cutting toothbrushes in half, it would be silly to hit the trail with shoes that add virtual weight equal to hundreds of half-toothbrushes.
At Outdoor Gear Lab we generally advocate lighter gear because it can allow you to move faster and freer on your adventures. We have found that this also applies to footwear. Though heavy boots can sometimes have their purpose, the light weight of a shoe is preferable 90 percent of time.