Tuesday, April 9, 2013
How to choose the best footwear for your adventures on and off the trail
If there's one thing that watching Mad Men brings home is that there have been some advertising slogans that rise above the rest. In the photo industry, Nikon's "We take the world's greatest pictures" immediately comes to mind. In outdoor gear, one of the best ever is W.L. Gore & Associates' "Get out and stay out." Simple, direct and to the point. For a nature photographer, being able to get out and stay out at the times and under the conditions when the best photographs can be taken is an absolute requirement. Being comfortable over long periods on the trail can make the difference between getting an award-winning photo and heading home before sunset to nurse sore feet and blisters.
Anatomy Of A Boot: The Sole
The basic construction of a boot consists of the sole, the welt and the upper. The upper is built with some way for your foot to get in and out easily. In some boots, the upper is split with a tongue to fill the gap, and with others the upper is a single piece with pleats instead of a split/tongue assembly (the split upper can lead to ingress of moisture). Each of these parts can be made from a variety of materials, each with advantages and disadvantages.
The sole is made of a rubber compound. One of the main differences between various classes of boots is the hardness of the rubber sole. Softer compounds are more comfortable, especially when traversing hard surfaces like granite, but they aren't as durable as harder compounds. Also, harder soles typically offer less traction compared to a softer option. For most nature photographers, softer soles are a better choice despite the reduced longevity. If you do a lot of hiking in sand or loose surfaces, a harder sole may be better, but our rule of thumb is to opt for softer soles. With a priority on getting out and staying out comfortably, having to replace the soles or the boots more often is a small price to pay. And having sore feet is a sure-fire way to prevent you from being able to be creative as you compose a perfect landscape shot.
To keep the boot stiff, a shank is used. Some boots have steel shanks, but there are so many excellent, lightweight composites available today that you're more likely to be choosing boots with a shank made of some other material than steel. The shank keeps the sole from twisting, and it helps with arch support. If you need heavy-duty backpacking boots, steel shanks may be the best choice, but for lighter duty such as day hiking or weekend hiking trips, composites are fine. Some light-duty hiking shoes have no shank at all, but generally we suggest you choose a model with a shank for the support.
Anatomy Of A Boot: The Welt
Connecting the sole and the upper is the welt. In most cases, the welt is glued while more expensive or technical models feature a sewn welt. Either sewn or glued is ultimately fine. While you can get a sewn welt resoled easier, once the sole wears out, you're probably going to replace the boots anyway since the uppers are likely worn out, too.
Anatomy Of A Boot: The Upper
If the sole is where the rubber meets the road, the upper is like the car body. It's the upper that gets your attention in the store. It has styling and color or leather and synthetic materials to make it look good. Underlying that styling, one hopes anyway, is a structure that protects and supports your ankles and provides resistance to moisture. We highly recommend that you look for boots that have some sort of waterproof and breathable membrane. W.L. Gore & Associates pioneered the use of waterproof and breathable Gore-Tex® booties in hiking footwear, and they continue to work with some of the best boot makers to build models that keep you dry and comfortable. Breathability is critically important. You'd be amazed how much your feet can sweat on an easy day of hiking. If your boot isn't breathable, that sweat will lead to blisters, which are uncomfortable, at best.
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