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Which Footwear is Best for a Summer Adventure?


It was 1985.  I was clomping down a Colorado trail in my hiking boots.  We called them “waffle stompers” for the pattern left by the heavy tread.  I was proud of my waffle stompers, and the suffering I endured while wearing them was part and parcel of mountain adventure.   We stopped at the side of the trail to rest our weary feet, and I vividly remember watching two climbers coming down the trail with their packs heavily laden with ropes and various implements of vertical fun.  My eyes were immediately drawn to their feet.  No waffle stompers!  Instead they were wearing lightweight running shoes and it seemed they were floating down the trail instead of walking.  The rest of the way down the trail, my feet felt as if they were clamped in a hot waffle iron, and I would have given anything for a pair of running shoes.   After that I became a committed light shoe hiker.

Fast-forward 20 years.  Adventure travel is mainstream.  I'm heli-hiking in the Bugaboos.  I’m wearing running shoes.  Everyone else in the group is wearing new-school hiking boots that are lighter and more comfortable than my old waffle stompers.   The marshy area we crossed earlier has my tennies squelching with ice cold water and my toes feeling weirdly numb and tender at the same time. 

Then, while walking across a short scree field, the sound of a huge ice avalanche calving from a vertical glacier face in the distance catches our attention and we all stop to stand awestruck by the display of wilderness power.  Then I take another step onto a sandy slope without paying attention, slip, and in trying to recover my shoes scoop up handfulls of gritty sand.  So now I have wet, sandy socks and I looked with envy at my fellow hikers in their lightweight high-top boots.

Today, outdoor footwear companies make a shoe for every occasion, and I realize there is a place for all of them.  Here’s a list of iconic mountain adventures and the footwear I choose for each one:

And, no matter what shoes I choose, I leave a pair of flip flops at the car, hut or lodge because my feet are always craving fresh air at the end of the day. 

Do you have any footwear epics or opinions you'd like to share?

Photo by Topher Donahue


I've hiked in everything from heavy-duty mountaineering boots to light-weight "approach shoes". No matter which one I choose for a particular trip, I always have shoe envy.  
My best advice - break in the boots BEFORE your trip, and don't shy away from taking them off during the hike. There is nothing more refreshing than dangling your toes in an icy creek, or feeling the cool of the rock against your tired feet.
Posted @ Thursday, April 22, 2010 4:10 PM by CdnJake
I'm loving my Keen Targhee II hiker shoe these days. Lightweight yet supportive. But no matter how good the shoe or fit, I never leave home without a packet of Compeed blister bandages. They're the BEST.
Posted @ Thursday, April 22, 2010 4:22 PM by Ellen Barone
I agree with the icy creek comments! I only own day hikers these days and I love them but whenever I'm up at the CMH lodges, I use the lodge boots. I know it sounds a bit like rental bowling shoes but honestly, the lodges stock the best boots and they are already broken in. Most of our guests use the CMH boots and have happy feet for their entire trip!
Posted @ Thursday, April 22, 2010 5:53 PM by Jane Carswell
I like that idea about keeping a pair of flip flops in the car. I often take my shoes off entirely, once I'm back in the driver's seat heading home. As far as having all those shoes available; it sounds great, but I can't afford to buy all those shoes. I try to pick a shoe that will match the majority of hikes that I will be doing. Maybe someday...
Posted @ Friday, April 23, 2010 11:19 AM by Bob Bennett
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