“Always break-in your boots before going hiking in them.” That’s the wisdom, but in practice we often go hiking in new boots. Sure, wearing them around town, walking the dog, or even doing chores around the house is a good idea, but in practice we often don't find time to break in our boots.
However, with the recent crop of lightweight, soft, forgiving boot designs, breaking in hiking boots isn’t as brutal as it once was. The synthetic materials that are part of the vast majority of today’s hiking shoes don’t “break-in” like all-leather boots anyway. If you have a poor fitting boot, it will probably never fit quite right, but if you get a pair that fits your feet, you can often hike comfortably from day one. The fleet of high-end hiking boots (shown above) at CMH Summer Adventures, with a few brands for different shaped feet, fits virtually everyone, from the first step into the helicopter until the last step out of the tundra.
I’ll admit, I’m terrible at the break-in process, and often end up with a new pair of boots right before a trip to the mountains. Thanks to too many trips with new boots, I’ve learned some tricks for making new boots - or any shoes for that matter - feel better while hiking.
The key to comfort is how you lace the boots.
First, I like to lace the boots as tightly as I possibly can for a short time before going hiking, and then I lean hard on them in every way I can imagine flexing them in the mountains. This seems to provide an accelerated break-in period, giving the shoes a chance to conform slightly to my feet.
From then on, I take the time to adjust my laces depending on terrain:
- For flat terrain, try for an even lace tension from toe to bow.
- For uphill hiking, tighten the upper part of the boot while leaving the toebox loose. This helps prevent heel rubbing since the ankle is held snug and the toes can relax and flex comfortably with the hill.
- For downhill hiking, lace your boots tight around the forefoot to keep your toes from banging into the end of the boots as well as to minimize slipping and friction on the soles and sides of your feet. Leave the ankles loose so you can articulate easily on the steeper sections.
- For rugged, uneven terrain, start with snug lacing throughout the foot, and adjust as needed - as soon as needed - based on comfort.
Common trail wisdom is that you should use some kind of blister kit before getting blisters, but even better, you can often avoid the blister kit in the first place if you adjust your laces at the first sign of rubbing. Tying a simple extra twist in the lace at the point you want the tension to change will keep the shoes laced how you’d like them to be, and many modern hiking boots have a lace cleat that is designed to hold tension differently on the upper and lower part of the boot.
Lacing for different terrain is a big help, but the ultimate pleasure for your feet is stopping for a soak in a cold mountain stream. I have no proof, but observations reveal that hikers who stop to soak their feet are happier, make more money, have better marriages, take better vacations, and generally enjoy life more thoroughly...
Photo of heli-hiking at CMH Bugaboos by Topher Donahue.
A group of four British women, ranging in age from 59 to 72, have been ticking off the world’s most famous adventure travel destinations. The foursome, who call themselves the “Ladies with Altitude” are featured on the BBC program - Fast:track - and are part of what is statistically our culture’s traveling-est age group.
People over 50 now account for more than half of tourism spending. As one of the ladies explains, “When you reach a certain age, I think you suddenly feel like you need to cram a few things in.”
The financial success many of the the baby boomer generation have enjoyed is part of the reason for the explosion of older travelers, but on BBC correspondent explains that another reason is that the baby boomer generation didn’t travel as much when they were younger as people do today. Taking time off before college, or traveling after college before settling down is accepted today as normal, even encouraged by many parents and educators.
One of the Ladies with Altitude said, “Everywhere we go, we meet people our age, and it’s absolutely brilliant!”
And another added, “I want to see as much of it as I can, while I can, while I’m still fit.”
The correspondent explained, “They don’t just do sun and sand holidays, they really want to go places, to explore and see the world.”
Here at CMH Summer Adventures, the enthusiasm many older travelers have for adventure is no surprise, nor is it really new. Since the 70s, we’ve been hosting adventure travelers of all ages, but older travelers are the ones who encouraged us to begin heli-hiking and develop a comfortable and relaxing mountain adventure program that is not available anywhere else in the world.
In recent years we’ve tailored our programs to appeal to younger Generation-X travelers, with via ferratas, glacier treks, and adventure trails that include ziplines and other safe but adrenaline-inducing fun, but the core of CMH Summer Adventures has always been perfectly suited for older travelers who want the adventure without the discomfort.
The surprising thing at CMH Summer Advenures is not so much that older travelers like adventure, but that the adventures we design for younger travelers, like the via ferrata, end up being a highlight for older travelers as well. And the adventures we designed for older travelers, like heli-hiking, have become popular among younger travelers thanks to the helicopter providing complete immersion in alpine beauty without the crowds, dusty trails, parking lots, and tourist towns.
In many ways, CMH Summer Adventures is where the generation gap disappears. It’s where grandparents and grandchildren, parents and kids, can - and do - share common adventures and return home with common memories of the best times of their lives.
This is a guest post by CMH Bugaboos Hiking Guide, Lyle Grisedale.
When I teach mountain walking to Heli-Hiking guests on a CMH Summer Adventure they are amazed at the lack of blisters, how much easier it is and how much terrain we can cover.
Although we can sometimes blame ill fitting boots for blisters, I have found proper walking technique goes a long way in preventing blisters. Don't get me wrong, good fitting boots are also important, but the way we walk is a much bigger contributing factor in the development of blisters.
Here are some walking suggestions that will prevent blisters from developing:
1st - What you are wearing:
Socks: Never wear cotton socks, wool is the very best and you can buy excellent specially designed hiking socks from companies such as Thorlo, Icebreaker and Wigwam. Allergic to wool? Try Merino wool - its fine fibres are non itching and should not cause allergic problems.
Boots: When buying boots it is very important to get a boot that has an excellent heel counter, the more supported the heel is the less likely that you will get blisters.
2nd - How you walk:
We spend most of our life walking on engineered surfaces: sidewalks, pavement, etc. All stair risers are the same height: 7 inches. This makes walking very easy and because of this I think people get out of touch with their feet. Then, when they get to the mountains on rough trails, or come heli-hiking on a CMH Summer Adventure, we mostly walk off-trail or on game trails. As a result, people often take big, inconsistent steps and blisters become a problem. So, most importantly people need to change their stride. In rougher terrain a long stride causes us to press onto our toes as we move to the next step, and as soon as you lean onto the toe the heel comes into contact with the back of the boot and causes friction - especially walking up hill.
Also, we can prevent blisters by changing our heel-to-toe, rocking walking style. Instead, try to place the foot down parallel to the slope and pick it up parallel to the slope for the next step without getting up on to the toes. This way the foot comes straight up rather than rocking onto the toe and moving in the shoe causing friction.
Then when going down hill:
• Take small steps - As the foot is placed ahead, point the toes down so that the foot lands parallel to the slope.
• Lean slightly forward at the waist to eliminate heel slips on loose rock.
• Keep your knees slightly flexed.
This walking style prevents blisters, results in less stress on the knees and is more stable.
Remember, you don't need long strides to cover big distances; small steps will take you just as far with out stressing the feet and causing blisters.
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REI Adventures describes a stay with CMH like this: “...a high mountain adventure of helicopter rides and spectacular encounters with nature, combined with private rooms in remote, alpine lodges and fantastic food.”
Indeed, there are few outings in the adventure travel world that combine such lofty adventures with such comfortable and relaxing hospitality. By day you can explore pristine alpine areas, under the watchful eye of an experienced mountain guide, where you can’t find even a single human footprint, trail, or road - and by night you can relax in a hot tub overlooking paradise of the wilderness kind.
Then the next day you can be lifted by a Bell 212 helicopter, known as the safest helicopter ever made, to a place that would be among the most photographed viewpoints on earth if there was a road to get there. From there, you can wander across tundra overlooking white glaciers, steep black mountains, and enjoy a lunch where the only difficulty is deciding which way to sit to take in what part of the 360-degree panorama.
That night you’ll enjoy a massage, a gourmet meal shared with knowledgable mountain guides, and a fine bottle of wine.
When it’s time to leave the Lodge, you’ll be happy if you’re one of the lucky ones who booked the Lodge-to-Lodge adventure, because while the rest of the group is going back to the real world, you’ll hike across an easy ridge and the CMH wizards of logistics will take the rest of your travel kit, suitcases, and clothing to the neighboring CMH Lodge.
That night you’ll be comfortably at home in a different lodge, with a different world-class view, but the same hospitality and incomparable wilderness comfort of CMH Summer Adventures. The CMH Lodges were built to provide easy and comfortable access to some of the most difficult to access mountains in North America.
Imagine Yosemite with only a couple dozen people in the entire park or the Tetons where the nearest paved road was 50 kilometres away. Then imagine a comfortable lodge that feels more like home than a hotel, with a staff that is passionate about adventure, hospitality, and wilderness. Combine the two visions and you'll just begin to understand the CMH flavor of wilderness adventure.
Upon waking in the morning, it will be as if you are in your own personal National or Provincial Park - the second in less than a week. Mountain guides will accompany you on relaxing adventures (or tough hikes, climbs, or Via Ferrata ascents if you prefer) and share their vast knowledge of the geology, glaciology, and ecology of the area - as well as keep your holiday safe, easy and stress free.
Most of the world’s travel options that provide the kind of adventure found with CMH Summer Adventures require weeks rather than days, athletic fitness rather than everyday walking ability, and third world travel logistics and complications rather than a short flight to Calgary and exemplary service that allows you to just relax and enjoy yourself.
In fact, here’s a challenge: does anyone out there know of anywhere else on earth that offers both adventure and comfort equal to CMH Summer Adventures?
Photos by Topher Donahue and Andrea Johnson.