Summit Steps: Footwear
These boots are made for walking . . .
We are all different, our preferences are different and most definitely: one size does not fit all when it comes to shoes!!
What you pop on your feet for your next walk, hike or trek (the exact difference between these will be a topic for another post just btw) could be the difference between feeling like you are strolling on the clouds or have cement block tied to your legs. This post will guide you to your shoe cloud!
What goes on your feet is the product of three main criteria: how far am I walking, how much am I carrying and what terrain will I be walking on. Overlay these with personal preference and health considerations then you should be okay. The choices available are essentially 1) trail runners, takkies, gym shoes; 2) hiking boots: something that goes up past the ankle, can be in leather or material; 3) hard-core mountain boots with a steel shank to support crampons, and can have double lining/inner boot.
Here are some rough guidelines:
Sunday stroll around Emmerentia Park: distance = low; maybe small hydration pack = trail runners
Drakensburg overnight: distance = moderate; larger backpack with gear = boots
Everest Base Camp: distance = moderate, moderate backpack = trail runners or boots (personal preference based on ankle strength, and overall fitness)
Kilimanjaro: distance = moderate daily; moderate daily weight = maybe trail runners for lower altitudes if strong and it’s dry, muddy definitely boots; but also definitely boots for protection against cold and rough terrain on summit night
Aconcagua/Elbrus/Island Peak = moderate daily distance, heavy weight and snow environment and require crampons = mountaineering boots BUT – we are all different, so know your own ankle strength. Some people like the support of a boot while others feel their ankles get claustrophobic (yes it happens!). If you are coming off a rest period we would opt for light carrying weights so regain ankle strength, or wear boots until legs are stronger.
Jeannette’s personal preference is mostly trail-runners but knows her ankles are quite strong while Saray’ personal preference is hiking boots for a hike and trail runners for a run and very short hikes with even terrain. Often a consideration is leather or synthetic/goretex: once again personal preference and what you will be using the boots for. Remember that synthetic boots are cooler, dry quicker if crossing rivers and are often lighter weight. Leather boots last longer, stretching your Rands over many more years, take longer to get wet, but once wet take longer to dry, and can be heavier – but much warmer for winter hiking. Saray’ preference are leather boots for both winter and summer hikes as they add a little weight for training and are warmer in winter apart from the obvious longevity. Jeannette preference are leather boots as she does most of her hiking in winter.
For climbing on ice, boots which can take crampons would be best and there are a few great brands available but cost a little more than basic boots. The question is will you need double plastic or just simple boots? For mountains like Aconcagua and Elbrus, double plastics are essential for higher altitude where as Kilimanjaro can be done with basic but good boots for your comfort. Another not so obvious tip is know how to tie your laces! This often makes a difference to your ankles, especially when they are not as strong or if you just miss a step.
We will discuss foot health in another post but need to end this post with the fact that your feet and toes are important. The cost of foot surgery will fast exceed that extra R100- R500 you wanted to save on shoes. Decide what activity you will be doing, if all three categories then over time get all three types of footwear. Don’t shop in a rush, have the time to compare different shoe widths and always buy at least one size up (mountaineering boots might even be 1,5 or 2 sizes up due to feet swelling at altitude and the need for double socks). Be careful not to fall for sales people who have no experience necessarily but are keen on the commission. If the shop has a test ramp go play . . . make sure that when you are going down steeper terrain that your toes have lots of room otherwise no pretty pedi’s for a while after those nails fall off . . . (urgh). Tired feet = Tired mind.
On a lighter note, get some crocs for the evening while around the camp to give your feet some breathing time. These can even be used inside your tent with socks if very cold.
Pop your questions in the comments below, additional tips and happy Summit Steps . . .
————- Co-authored by Dr Jeannette McGill and Saray N. Khumalo