Most hikers of any seriousness will acknowledge the importance of happy feet. When one has problematic feet (me) with bunions, hammer toe, and overlapping toes, happy feet are more than important – essential. At the root, happy feet require shoes that fit right, hold up over many miles and protect my feet; socks that prevent blisters, hold up, and don’t fail when wet; and gaiters need to keep my shoe uppers clean and dry, preventing everything from getting inside my shoes.
Shoes are hardest
I am convinced that hiking shoes are like wands and guitars – they choose you, not the inverse. Due to weather, conditions and hiking type, I have 3 different shoes: 1) Waterproof boots for wet shoulder seasons, and areas where sand / ash infiltrates trail runners; 2) Low, ultralight weight trail runners for peak season / conditions; and 3) Highly cushioned pavement walkers for urban hikes. All three must be lightweight, sturdy, wide-toe box and comfortable for days of walking.
For a couple years, Topo Athletic shoes my default – see this post. Last year, after Topo shoes consistently fell apart around 250 miles, I switched from Topo trail runners to Saucony Peregrine 13, then to the same shoe in wide. Even the Peregrine Wide is too narrow for my feet at the end of summer – creating tension / friction where it cannot be. I switched to Altra WP boots and Altra Lone Peak All Weather, and will after spring switch urban hiking shoes to Altra Paradigm.
The Altra WP boots have more miles than the other Altra shoes, and I love ’em. Like wearing moccasins.
Here’s the 2023 miles by shoe. The Topo Boots 3 held up better than Topo trail runners but the mileage is for 2 pairs.
Socks are easy
Darn Tough socks. They just last, and last, and last … I buy 3 pair every year. The newest on the longest trips, last years on day hikes and older socks to ramble around in. After 20+ pairs of socks, only 1 pair has a hole – I have not sent back for return, yet. I also, for early season, wear silk or technical liners as my feet are not as big (like late summer when liners are not needed). Socks then are how I size for my ever changing feet – some hikes one foot has 2 socks (wool and liner) and the other foot only 1 wool sock.
For Darn Tough, I have 2 wool weights depending on season – typically mid-weight for everything but perfect weather trail runner hikes – lightweight then.
Gaiters change for season
For a couple of years in better weather, I used REI gaiters with the elastic strap under the shoe – terrible design. The elastic wears out, it gets hooked on branches, etc … While they hold up (I went thru 3 elastic straps on my last pair), they are just not worth it imho. I switched to Ultra Gam from Garage Grown Gear. I love em! These gaiters are so light, easy to use and no strap! I also get compliments and questions about where to buy them.
For wetter spring weather, I wore out an Outdoor Research set of gaiters. This spring will look to replace them with same or similar – the Ultra Gam will not work sufficiently in the wet, muddy Oregon springs.
Featured image from Garage Grown Gear