The Long Search for ‘The One’: Finding the Right Pair of Hiking Boots

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Out with the old, in with the new!

The last pair of hiking boots I bought were Salomons and I bought them from MEC about 5 years ago.  They were great and lasted a long time but now, it’s finally time to retire them, sadly.

So I’ve been looking for a new pair of boots but buying hiking boots, I’m realizing, is a process. It requires a lot of time, which I often don’t properly plan for.  Instead, I tend to get distracted by all the other outdoor goodies there (“Do I need a lightweight shovel?   Do I need another jacket?  What about a knife?”).  It would also be wise to try on boots during off-peak hours because it’s much more helpful to have the time and guidance of a footwear specialist. I learnt that when I went to REI on a quiet day and spent close to two hours with an extremely patient associate, who really taught me a lot about how to know whether a boot fits or not.

I first walked in there, assuming that I was looking for another pair of size 7.5 Salomons since my first pair had fit so well.  But after trying on a few different Salomons and finding them way too roomy, I then tried Scarpa, Keen, Columbia and Lowa boots, but still no luck.  At this point, my footwear guy decided to measure my foot.  I was surprised to learn that I’m now a size 8, with my forefoot width at C+ (meaning wider than B, the average), and that my heel was more narrow than average.  Also turns out that my left foot is slightly wider than my right, and my right foot slightly longer than my left.  Who knew?!  He also noticed that I over-pronate (meaning my foot rolls inward when I step) and that I have “zero arch”, which mean I need more firm support under my in-step and possibly should consider orthotics too.  So the lesson here is to have your feet properly re-measured and re-assessed if it’s been a few years, because feet change, evidently.

Then, I tried on a pair of Vasque boots and….finally!  They fit!  It was helpful to be reminded that the shape of the boot combined with tightly lacing it up should really “lock” your heel in place.  The Vasque boots passed all the tests my footwear guy ran through with me:

  • Gently kick your toe against the floor – to check if your foot falls forward and hits the front of the boot, which could end in losing a toenail on a long hike
  • Walk around, get a feel for the boot – to check that it moves with your foot
  • Check for any pinching, discomfort, and areas of increased pressure
  • Then put it through the paces on the simulated hills / terrain (which MEC and REI helpfully provide). Walk up a steep hill, step up on small ledges – to check if the heel lifts up.  A little heel lift, up to 1/8” is normal, but no more than that.  Then go down the steep hill and “skooch” your feet down it, again checking that your toe doesn’t make contact with the front of the boot.

So if a boot doesn’t pass all of the above tests, the fit is a fail.  If it does pass all the tests, then you just might have found The One!

Here‘s a really in-depth, helpful guide from REI about how to buy hiking boots.

Thanks again to my footwear guy at REI for all the help!  Now to give my Vasque boots a try out on the trail.  I hope these are The One!

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Women’s Vasque Breeze III GTX Hiking Boots
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