boots were not made for walkin'
February 9, 2014 6:50 PM   Subscribe

What shoes should I buy for a long-distance (20-mile+ each day) walking trip? I think I would like not to get a hiking boot.

My experience buying shoes is mostly limited to the second-hand store, so I'm kind of at a loss here.

I think I don't want hiking boots for a couple of reasons. I think of them as very heavy and clunky, and in walking long distances even that small weight is sure to add up. I also hate what a production it is to get them off and on. They also tend to feel so sweaty and claustrophobic when you heat up. My trip will go over some slightly rough terrain, but it's not a wilderness trek by any means. Basically unless there's a really compelling reason to go with hiking boots, I'd rather not.

I'm about size 10.5 men's US, with very wide feet. Like wide enough that for most normal shoe brands, the only way to fit is to go a size or two up and deal with the extra toe room.

I tend to eat through shoes fast, fast, fast-- usually they start to eat out along the outer bottom edge, and eventually a hole also tends to spring on the outer top side (!). I know this is partly from my feet being wide but I think my gait also places particular stress on the outside of the foot. In any case, I need these shoes to last at least 500 miles.

I guess I'm looking for a shoe that:

--will be comfortable (minimizing the impact stress and blisters of long-distance walking as much as possible)
--feel light instead of heavy and clunky
--can stand up to some rain/moisture without instantly soaking (though probably doesn't need to be all-out waterproof

...I guess that's about it! Leather-free would be awesome but is not paramount. Price range...$200-ish is probably the most I'd spend unless you can convince me this shoe has supernatural qualities. Something more in the $100 range would be ideal.

Please recommend me something very specific. I am shoe-impaired.

posted by threeants to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (22 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Could you be more specific about what kind of walking trip this is? Pavement or well-groomed trails or something rougher? What about the weather? Some shoes are waterproof, most aren't.

Since you have extra-wide feet, I suggest you take a look at LL Bean's selection, they are one of the few makers of hiking / walking shoes that make them extra wide. I've got a pair of their "snow sneakers" which are a bit heavier than true sneakers but a lot lighter than conventional hiking boots, and are pretty much impervious to water & snow. They probably make some sort of "trail shoe" which may be a better match for what you're looking for.
posted by mr vino at 7:02 PM on February 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would check out hiking shoes, which are basically low-cut boots, or trail running shoes if you're walking on woodsy terrain or if you'll be carrying a lot. If you're not going to be carrying much and it's going to be warm, I would go for Chaco sandals. I've even been backpacking in mine and they just now need new treads after many hundreds of miles.

The general rule of thumb with running shoes is that you need to start looking at new ones around 300 miles and definitely swap out by 500 miles (ymmv on wear, etc). Given that, you could probably get by with some good sneakers. I have had good experiences with Brooks running shoes and they are available in wide widths. I also had a few pairs of Sauconys that held up very well but I am not as familiar with their gear anymore.

Any of those options would run you ~$100 if you catch a sale.

Something else to consider is that if you don't regularly walk 20+ miles a day, starting to do it will make your feet swell. You may find that you need one size at the start but halfway through may need a bigger size.

And SOCKS!! High-quality socks. SmartWool is a good brand to look for.
posted by thewestinggame at 7:05 PM on February 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Depending on the temperature, sandals (like Tevas or Chacos) might be an option for you. I wouldn't wear them in the snow or over terrain that's really rough (I've got a weak ankle and need the support) but for what you've described in temperate weather, I'd wear my Chacos.
posted by jquinby at 7:06 PM on February 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Without knowing more about the actual environment you're hiking in-- 20+ miles a day for 500 miles straight? Training for something? Are there snakes?-- I would nth the recommendations for hiking shoes. I have a pair of women's Merrells and they are light weight enough to run a mile if necessary, they're water-resistant (pretty sure I treated them with something ages ago too), and they absorb shock much better than normal trainers. Also easier on the ankles off-road. I think there might be some leather on the top but the base and sides are all plastic/heavy fabric.

I don't know how many miles straight they could last; depending on what you're doing, rotating shoes might be a better option. Or have some shoe repair standards on hand in your kit. I would be doubtful of trusting any shoe to absolutely last through 500 miles untested though.

Have you been to your local REI or EMS or equivalent trail store? If your gait tends to have that much of an effect that quickly, you may also want to invest in some basic orthotics or other corrective shoe enhancements. How are you dealing with the extra toe room now-- maybe there's a better way? And yes, nth nth nth good socks. They're so worth it.
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:21 PM on February 9, 2014

Response by poster: It's the Camino de Santiago in Spain. It's a complete mix of mountain trails, highway shoulders, cobblestone streets, etc. Thanks!
posted by threeants at 7:23 PM on February 9, 2014

Go to a good shoe store or REI and have them help you. Hiking shoes rather than boots (I have Merrells myself because they work well with my foot shape) are pretty light and many are waterproof, but we can't tell you which ones will fit your feet.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:25 PM on February 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

I would absolutely get some Merrells. My husband has a pair of waterproof trail running shoes and a pair of waterproof snow shoes (um like short hiking boots, more?) . Here is their selection of wide widths. He puts a ton of miles on them and they've held up great. They have Vibram soles, pretty light, I think you'd like them.
posted by stormygrey at 7:25 PM on February 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also, New Balance makes shoes in some very wide widths. If you can't or really don't want to go to a shoe store, at least look for something that fits well online from Zappos (here's mens wide hiking shoes) or
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:29 PM on February 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Neat, I didn't even have the slightest idea that "hiking shoes" were a thing. Y'all rock.
posted by threeants at 7:34 PM on February 9, 2014

Seconding Merrell, I've had the Moabs for years. I have put hundreds (and probably 1000+) of miles on mine in all sorts of terrain, and have never had issues with durability. I wear 12-13 EE or EEE, so I feel you on the wide foot thing.

One thing about waterproof models- they will be hotter/sweatier on your foot so take that into account.
posted by stinkfoot at 7:34 PM on February 9, 2014

Last time I was in REI looking for hiking shoes, the sales associate warned me away from Keens because my feet are narrow and Keens are built on a wide last. So maybe check out Keen?
posted by charmcityblues at 7:45 PM on February 9, 2014

Response by poster: Sorry to hijack my own thread, but as a side-question: any ideas on what store is most likely to have a staffmember who really knows this stuff inside and out (as opposed to a customer service generalist who can make the same guesses I can)? I can visit at least REI, EMS, and City Sports, off the top of my head.
posted by threeants at 7:56 PM on February 9, 2014

You sound like me, and I love my Lowa hiking shoes. Certain brands will fit better then others; for me, Lows always fits perfectly.
posted by JMOZ at 8:18 PM on February 9, 2014

Where do you live?
The REI shoe department folks have seemed pretty knowledgeable to me but people might be able to suggest non-chain stores in your area. REI also has the advantage of having a very liberal return policy; you can return worn shoes for full price if they don't work well for you.
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:20 PM on February 9, 2014

I did the Camino and had to buy new shoes en route. I bought Salomon (sp) sneaker type shoes, any type of hiking shoes okay, I needed mine a size or two bigger...because your feet swell. And hurt. And really be careful with your socks, I had some issues there, not thick enough and got blisters. Don't forget to buy hiking poles too. Or a stick, seems crazy, you will like it later. I actually met someone in REI whose girlfriend had done Camino multiple times so that was helpful...and there are so many forums with of course so many opinions. Really any kind of hiking shoe will do, it just depends on your personal issues. Blisters? Arches? Knee problems? Whatever your tiny issue/susceptibility area is, it will flare up, so focus on that. Buy what you want but you may end up replacing them en route or having a completely different issue. (And one of the best experiences of your life, but that's a different story).
posted by bquarters at 8:29 PM on February 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Highly recommend Blundstones. Good for hikes and general walk around
posted by redwaterman at 10:38 PM on February 9, 2014

Best answer: Just coming on to second (or however many we're up to now) the hiking shoes. I have some not because I am hiking but because I have really bad feet and, like you, I always thought hiking boots would be way too heavy to offset their support. I'm about the same size as you too. Anyway, I wound up getting these ones which probably won't help you much since Kathmandu is an Aussie store, but may give you some ideas on what to look for. They look big and chunky in the picture but they are insanely light, very breathable and the sole is more like that of a running shoe than a hiking boot. I like them so much that I think I may get another pair - especially as I see they are on sale...
posted by Athanassiel at 11:08 PM on February 9, 2014

In addition to the Merrells, consider the various offerings of Keen's. I currently have both sandals and hiking boots, and have had hiking/cross training shoes in the past. My foot is like yours.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 11:41 PM on February 9, 2014

In my experience, the folks at REI are the most knowledgeable, followed by EMS.
posted by jshort at 2:41 AM on February 10, 2014

I've done el Camino. Unless you are a seasoned hiker, I would strongly recommend to get boots. You will find sections of it where ankle support comes very handy (downhill paths covered with loose pebbles, for instance). Yes, there are people who do it in sandals, shoes and/or sneakers. Many of those people are still in pain months afterwards. No doctor along the way will be sympathetic to injuries caused by improper shoes, and most of those doctors will regard anything other than 100 euro+ boots as inadequate.

Incidentally, I used Merrells. They are ok, but mine leaked after about a year of moderate use.
posted by magullo at 4:44 AM on February 10, 2014

> any ideas on what store is most likely to have a staffmember who really knows this stuff inside and out (as opposed to a customer service generalist who can make the same guesses I can)

I've had pretty good experiences with REI and LL Bean, as far as explaining what I want and being pointed towards suitable options.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:16 PM on February 10, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks all. I went into Eastern Mountain Sports ready to invest mad bux compared to my usual scroogitude. Got some advice from two very knowledgeable salespeople. I tried on a whole bunch of hiking shoes...and then ended up finding a perfect-fit pair on clearance for something like $60. The heavens opened and baby angels started to sing.

Even though my choice of specific shoe ended up kind of arbitrary (it's a Teva brand waterproof hiking shoe if anyone is dying to know), without this thread I definitely wouldn't have even known hiking shoes were a thing even though it's exactly what I was looking for.
posted by threeants at 7:09 PM on March 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

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