My last visit to a hiking shoe store had me eavesdropping in on the conversation between the retail assistant and the buyer wannabe. And it went like this…
Assistant : How can I help you sir?
Buyer wannabe : I am looking for a pair of hiking shoes.
Assistant : This is our latest pair of shoes. It is quite good.
Buyer wannabe : Is it okay for hiking on hill slopes and also wet ground?
Assistant : Yes sir, this is the best pair and many people buy it. It is waterproof.
Buyer wannabe : How much is it?
I shall go no further as the conversation makes no more progress for both the assistant and the buyer. Try walking into many shops in Malaysia, and you will be faced with one of a few scenarios:
- a knowledgeable assistant that is unaware how to help the customer with specific needs.
- a knowledgeable assistant that is focused in closing the sale as their commission and/or targets depend on it.
- a clueless assistant that is utterly clueless.
- a knowledgeable assistant that is articulate and knows what to ask to help the customer arrive at an informed decision.
Much of the problem lies at the heart of two things: a lack of product knowledge and how to ask the right questions to help the customer. However, we, the buyer can do better by arming ourselves with a broader and deeper understanding than to head to a shoe store and struggle along with a poorly trained assistant. What do we look out for?
One of the key factors in selecting a shoe is the comfort in wearing and walking in it. Selecting the ideal cushion can allow you to minimise hurt in your legs and especially feet. The heel collar and tongue has to be sufficiently padded with no stitched-on overlays on the inside of the shoe to prevent pain and possible blisters.
A crucial point in comfort is the ‘zero drop’ feature. Many seasoned hikers might not aware of the importance of this. The drop is essentially the difference in the height between the ball of the foot and the heel. Imagine standing barefoot without shoes. Now relate this to a shoe where your heel and toes are equally grounded. A zero drop shoe sees the foot sitting level to the ground, with no slope from the heel to the forefoot. This is better illustrated by looking at your heels. Your heels are not elevated. And that is the reason why medical experts state that it is not natural for hikers, or even runners to go long distances with a raised heel.
Have you hurt the front or top of your toes when hiking? Or had the experience of your foot sliding in the shoe? These are some very common problems and you are not alone. Establishing the correct fit for your hiking shoes can make the difference between an enjoyable or discomforting hike. It is crucial that you have your feet correctly sized using either a Brannock feet measurement device (https://brannock.com/pages/instructions-fitting-tips) or an instrument that measures your feet accurately. Blisters are commonplace when an oversized shoe causes the foot to keep sliding. Yet, a small shoe will hurt your toes and cause soreness when clambering downhill. If you are uncertain, you can opt for a marginally larger shoe because the feet swell during a hike or walk. You can also take further measures by using a sock liner or a blister prevention tape to avoid bruising.
Ask any hiker or walker, and they will tell you that they have slipped during a trek. Lugs or ‘shoe teeth’ or ‘tyre treads’ or flattened rubber cleats are important for traction. To manoeuvre easily during a hike, deep lugs deliver a more stable footing and hold in loose dirt and mud but they may trap mud and can be slippery during a hike and feel less stable due to the added height; conversely, hard solid trails will be best met by shallow lugs in a shoe, and may not be ideally suited for hikers with nagging feet problems like plantar fasciitis.
We are highly accustomed to tying our shoelaces in how we have done since our conventional school days. However, lacing and tying our laces is not something we should turn our nose up at for hiking shoes. We will normally use a basic criss-cross lacing method and fasten the ends in a bow-knot. But this is not the most effective method.
Have you wondered why there is an added or mysterious extra lace hole at the very top of the shoe? When you meet your friends in your next hike, take a quick peek at their lacing. Was the extra hole not laced in? Ask them why they did not lace in. That added hole is used to lock in your feet. This prevents you slipping on steep and muddy terrain. If you have a narrow heel or cankles (a lack of definition between the ankle and the calf due to a variety of medical conditions like fluid retention, poor blood circulation, being overweight, or at times due to genetics), using the extra hole is even more crucial by locking in and keeping your foot sturdy and secure. You must never go sockless or use thin socks when using the lock-in method for this may cause damage to your feet.
The most common lace and tie method is the Runner’s Loop that locks the heel firmly in place. Here are the step by step instructions:
- Lace your shoes by criss-cross until the second eyelet at the top on each side.
- Pull each lace end up on the same side. Then insert the lace into the top eyelet on that side, forming a loop.
- Pull each lace end across and through the loop formed on the opposite side of the shoe.
- Pull the lace ends up and out a few times to shrink the loops so they hold the lace securely on each side.
- Complete by tying your shoelaces in your usual way.
Hikers are frequently concerned with the safety of the ankle since this part of the feet takes a fair bit of pounding during long treks. We spend time finding shoes that give us more support in the ankle thinking that this equates to more protection and less injury. But a hiking shoe that rises above the ankle can serve like a stone cast preventing the natural movement of the muscles, and making you more prone to a nasty ankle injury. You will be better off with a hiking shoe that has a more mid-soft inside to support the muscles in the ankle. A more effective solution is to strengthen the muscles in the ankle area through a sport science specialist in strengthening and conditioning.
In selecting the ‘right fit’ hiking shoe, you will better spend your time looking at the variety of shoes on offer, including the ones that pack more punch in performance and reliability. Ultimately, the shoes on your feet will help you to improve your posture, walk, and overall health.