What is the single most important piece of equipment for a hiker? One’s map or the compass? Tinderboxes or traveler’s mug?

No. It’s shoes. Proper footwear to protect your feet, support the ankle and make you feel invincible. I won’t be trading mine any time soon because they were a birthday present last Fall and I’ve barely broken them in! The lifespan for a pair of hiking boots is usually a decade or two, at least according to real hikers. They also say that hiking boots grow angry if left unused in the closet for extended periods of time. Their heels fall off as well. From what I’ve learned, this has yet to be confirmed but if the storage air is too warm and dry, the heel material tends to perish. A good way to keep them moist and flexible is to keep them in your vestibule, so you put them on whenever you go out.

What drove us shoe-shopping was the clearance sale of a local shop – everything half-off! But as luck would have it, not a single pair was available when we got there. But because we had already made a shopping decision, we marched on to Partioaitta. Partioaitta had absolutely no ongoing sales but what do you know, we bought two pairs of Hanwag hiking boots. Even though they cost a fortune, I don’t recall being happier about a material purchase! We were almost teary-eyed when we headed home!

That’s when I realized how serious Heikki was about our hiking hobby: no more second-guessing if he was interested in going to the woods or not. He carried home the most expensive pair of footwear either of us had ever bought – that’s love. For the forest, for shoes and for his wife.

How to choose the right shoes?

When I picked out my shoes, I almost chose my usual size but thankfully I tried a bigger one out with a wool sock. I’m a big fan of wool socks and I sometimes wear them in Summertime as well. They had a little testing area in Partioaitta that tells you a lot about the character of your footwear and the professionalism of the salesperson is vital here. For anything else, I recommend online shopping but hiking boots require actual testing. I brought my own ”testing socks” with me but they offer ones too.

What you plan to use the boots for is pivotal – do you run or walk? Are you going for a Lapland hike sporting a full tube backpack or perhaps in a hotel with a lighter burden? Some hiking boots have a more flexible heel but ours felt like downhil skiing shoes at first but these days they feel better, without losing their sturdiness or integrity. In a way, the boots have taken my foot’s shape and they feel light  – they support me like a true friend should.

A properly sized hiking boot feels right immediately, the feeling of invincibility took over right off the bat, in the testing area. I didn’t slip and fall, even though the heel felt rigid. A small up and downhill are enough to form a trust between the shoe and its wearer. ”Born to Be Wild” started playing in my head and I felt like a real hiker. Sometimes you need a little pick-me-up!

Healthy feet

Our work physiotherapist was one of the people encouraging me to buy proper footwear. I have what you might call loose ankles which strains the rest of the foot pretty intensely. It might cause my shins and calves to cramp up in long walks and it’s hell for my knees. I’m not at risk to sprain my ankle but the condition radiates pain to my legs, hip and even to my back. The solutions are sparse: walk barefoot and make smart choices when buying shoes. And with proper shoes I no longer suffer from any of it.

There are other perks in high quality and breathing leatherboots. Even though my feet are tiny, they tend to sweat a lot. The socks I wore used to be soaked and my shoes smelled like something died in them. But my hiking boots have yet to have any sort of foul stench about them. The insoles are easy to take out. Remember to pick merino woolen socks!

If you have issues with your feet, consult your physiotherapist. If you’re experiencing pain after a long walk and it goes on undiagnosed, it will have a negative impact on your life. They will check the position and flexibility of your feet and help you with your walking pace and choice of footwear. Sometimes a trail in the woods is a better surface for the foot, sometimes it’s the wrong type of shoe.

So what kind of shoes do I have?

Just to be clear, this is not an endorsed blog post because this blog didn’t even exist last Fall. I got some treatment substance into the bargain for buying more than one pair! So I sprayed it on them and waxed them up good! My boots of choice are Hanwag Lady Tatra GTX, which are the best option for my narrow feet. Heikki wears the same brand but the model is something different. Hanwag has multiple types of shoetrees, for narrow and wide feet. You can check them all out here. Partioaitta website is a good place to go when picking out hiking boots because their extensive amount of information about all kinds of hiking gear and equipment.

Shoe maintenance

I got a special Hanwag Waterproofing spray and bought a special Hanwag wax with the shoes, both from Partioaitta store. At first I used a spray to make the shoes more water resistant. I let it dry 12 hrs as they told me in instructions and after that I applied the wax for the first time. I use the same wax they sold me at Partioaitta, meant for Hanwag brand footwear. It takes care of the surface of the shoe and improves weather and water resistance without compromising breathability. Before applying, make sure the substance is fit for your these particular shoes. For instance, Hanwag’s Gore-Tex coating is easily clogged when using overly greasy substances. I tend to apply wax on mine whenever they get excessively wet and they’re going just fine. We’ll see how they handle longer hikes!

I got more information on comments: I’m using too thick sock for applying the wax. You should take a piece of pantyhose and apply the wax with that and it lasts forever. I’ve been using the sock to spend the wax and you can hardly see if I used it at all, two pairs of shoes and Heikki has gigantic shoes! Maybe I’ll have to buy me a pair of pantyhose to take care of the shoes.

Like I mentioned before, you shouldn’t store hiking boots in a space that’s too warm and too dry. Floor heating can be too much for them and you definitely shouldn’t leave them near an oven for too long. The best place is near your front door. Don’t spare these shoes, they’re meant to be worn frequently!

-Anne

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