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Hiking Footwear - A Deep Dive (Part 3)

Hiking Footwear - A Deep Dive (Part 3)

By Gerhard Nel

Hiking Footwear – A Deep Dive (Part 3)

This is the third and final instalment of my no-holds-barred, tour de force of a series on hiking footwear. Where I included a lot of information and may have forgotten something else. Lacking in continuity or understandability. But where you will learn a lot if you hang on, digest the information, and make it your own. 


In this article, I will walk you through the shoe buying process itself. By now, you should have a good grip on the most important technical aspects and know what you are looking for in terms of shoe design. The fun part remains – going to try out various shoes and coming home with a beautiful pair!

I will provide a few important bullet points below, call them tips and tricks, if you will.

  • Take with your old shoes

It is a very good idea to take with your old shoes / boots, or a similar pair of shoes that you find very comfortable. If you already have an (now defunct) pair of boots and are buying a new pair, it is a good idea to compare the fit of the new shoes to that of the old. If it isn’t broken, why fix it?

  • Bring your favorite socks

You should bring the specific socks that you want to use the shoes with. If you are buying trail running shoes, a thin pair of socks would work, and if you are buying waterproof winter boots you would want to wear a thick pair of socks. This would help you to get a realistic fit.

  • Different shoe on each foot

When trying on a new pair, keep your old favorite on one foot and put the new shoe on the other. When walking around the shop, look for similarities or differences. The same counts for comparing different models in a shop. If you cannot decide between two models, walk around the shop with a shoe on each foot to directly compare them. 

  • Remember that feet swell

Remember that your feet will swell when you hike, either due to the length of time spent walking or the weight of the pack. If the shoes are too narrow, you will get issues. It is therefore a good idea to consider the width of the shoe and mobility of the toes (can they “splay” inside the shoe?). The flipside of the above equation would be that the shoes are too big, in which case you might run into other issues (e.g., a blister on the heel). These factors are more important than the specific shoe design, because the best boot in the world is rendered useless if it doesn’t work with your feet.

  • “Walking-in” shoes is partly a myth

The only real shoes that are capable of being “walked-in” are leather boots. Synthetic materials will not stretch and conform to your feet as leather would. In most cases, it is more your feet that are getting accustomed to the shoes and not the other way around. A perfect-fitting shoe will be comfortable from Day 1. 

  • Be nice to the salesperson

Not all salespeople are created equal. If you have done your research, with my expert advice, you will know more than they do. And your instinct to brush them off might take over. But I recommend that you allow the salespeople to tell you their story and make them feel like they are in fact helping you. Just take their advice (or lack thereof) with a pinch of salt. 

  • Wear the new shoes around the house

When bringing home the new pair of shoes, it is recommended to wear them around the house (or around the office) before taking them out for a walk. This allows your feet to get used to the shoes, for the inner soles to take on the shape of your foot, and for the softer inner materials to conform to your foot shape. To “walk them in” so to speak. In case it is confusing that I said shoes do not need to be walked in under Point 5, I apologise. They do need to get walked in a bit. Just don’t use “walking-in” as an excuse to justify a bad fit. 


This rounds up my three-part exposé on hiking footwear. I hope that you learnt something. And that you can be more at peace when considering the myriad of options. And that you remember there is no right or wrong shoe. And that you can adapt your chose based on your budget and needs. 

If the shoe fits, wear it…

Previous article Snow Camping in the Western Cape (Part 1)
Next article Hiking Footwear – A Deep Dive (Part 2)

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