Hiking in the Alps—whether you’re guided or independent—requires some thoughtful preparation. Most would agree that one of the most important pieces of gear you choose is your trail shoes. Remember the old adage: “Happy feet equals happy hiker.” Your feet demand protection and support. And they’ll squawk if you don’t take care of them.
Fortunately, technology has advanced such that trail shoes and boots have become lighter, stronger, sturdier, and more stable on slippery trails. Set aside enough time to find boots that are right for you and will keep you lacing them up with a smile each morning.
Don’t go for the cheapest shoe you can find. You’ll regret that decision every day on the trail. However, you don’t have to purchase heavy-duty mountaineering boots either. Go to a quality sporting goods store that has staff who understand hiking. Plan on spending $80-$200. Try them on with cushy wool hiking socks to make sure they fit (those will be $20+ per pair). Your feet will thank you at the end of the day. Every day.
You know your feet best, but most hikers last longer on the trail with some arch support and firm sides. A wide toe box may also be helpful. Well-constructed shoes will put a little spring in your step. If you need additional support, you may want to purchase inserts that give you a little extra cushion.
This is always a bit controversial as waterproof shoes may not “breathe” as well as non-waterproof. But if you’re hiking in the Alps, you have a good chance of rain, puddles, mud, small stream crossings or a patch of snow throughout your hiking vacation. Slogging along with soggy feet and wet socks can really slow you down. Whereas, having dry feet at the end of the day is always a thrill.
Vibram is a specially treated rubber that gives you the maximum traction and wears the longest. There are still brave folks on the trail with leather soles. Not the best idea if you want to be stable on slippery surfaces.
On trips such as the Tour du Mont Blanc or Haute route trek you will be hiking for around 10 miles a day on rugged terrain for a week or more. Over this distance, it really pays to have a sturdy sole!
Try on your shoes (with appropriate socks) at the end of the day. That’s when your feet will have swollen to their largest size. Then buy your shoes. That will be the size of your feet throughout most of a long hiking day. Sizing your shoes right will reduce the likelihood of getting “hot spots” on your feet, or worse, a blister.
There is much talk about whether to go low rise or with a higher boot that offers some ankle support. Ultimately, it’s a matter of personal preference. If you have weak ankles or will be tackling especially tough terrain, you may want the support around your ankles. On most alpine trails you’ll see a variety of shoes types walking toward you. Most hikers are opting for the lighter low-cut trail runner which is designed to cushion and protect at the lowest weight per shoe. That cuts down on hiking fatigue.
Breaking in your shoes.
Although many of the newer trail shoes don’t really require being “broken in,” your feet deserve a healthy adjustment period before you arrive in the Alps. Don’t slip into new shoes that haven’t been trail tested. Your feet may be screaming at the end of the day. Walking a few miles on trails with uneven surface will let you know if you have a good match.
You want to love your trail shoes—every morning when you slip them on and every evening when you slip them off. Spend the time and some hard-earned cash for the shoes that will make your hiking vacation a time when you can focus on the wonders around you instead of your feet.
Which are your favourite boots? Let us know in the comments section below!
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