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How to choose your hiking boots

As walking is the core activity of a hike, you would want something which is comfortable and functional for your hike. Having the right hiking boots and footwear can make a difference to the hike especially if you’re planning to hike about 20km a day over 5 days or more. However, footwear can be quite subjective depending on your gait, shape of the feet and your soles. This article is based on my personal experience. Choosing a good pair of walking or hiking shoes have not been easy for me as I’ve moderate bunions for the bulk of my life up to now.

*Update as at 30 October 2021: I've gone for a minimally invasive surgery (MIS) for my bunions earlier this year in February 2021. I'm still regaining full strength and stability on my feet after the surgery as it will take time to regain flexibility in your toes after surgery. However, post-surgery, you'll still need to ensure you pick proper shoes to prevent bunions from forming again. 

Wide toe box
This is probably the most straight-forward and logical ‘step‘ in selecting shoes. We know this from the discomfort with wearing narrow shoes so this is a definite must-have for anyone with bunions. They provide sufficient space and also more support. The space allows for the toes to move more freely and prevent pressure on the bunion from the sides of the shoe.

Flexible and soft surrounding fabric
Some hiking shoes and boots can be stiff and in fact, many do prefer a sturdier shoe which may also be stiffer. Shoes and boots with soft leather is best and of course, do look for sustainable and ethical sources.

Good support
A good arch support is good to have to distribute the weight and will help reduce pressure on the big toe and the bunion. Walking with bunions already tend to throw off proper weight distribution of how the feet land. You can also use custom supports for bunions in your shoes. This is also good for people with higher arches.

Sizing
Getting a pair of hiking boots with the best size, fit and room for custom supports would be ideal. Hiking boots or shoes which are appropriate for your feet size may not be the best fit. It’s best if you are able to head to a store for a fitting. I usually pick half a size up to allow for thicker socks and space for the feet to expand during long hikes.

So which hiking boots then?

For avid hikers, this may not be new to you. Keen is known for their round-shaped and wide toe box designs and this is almost a signature Keen design which is also seen on the Keen sandals and other casual shoes. That said, not all Keen shoes and boots are good for bunions. There are a variety of models for different types of feet.

I’ve tried a couple of Keen boots and this is one of my latest (and third pair) pairs from 2018 and these are NOT recommended for bunions which I should have known better. They look good with the dark and waterproof* exterior, stylish mix of fabric and design to ‘boot‘. However, the toe box here isn’t wide and flexible enough. The fabric where the bunions are can be quite stiff. That’s not even the least of what I to say about these boots. Also, they do run a little more narrow which is fine for the midsole but not for the toes.

Additionally, they do not have the usual support of the signature Keen Targhee models but you could still use a custom support by removing the original inserts. A good thing about these shoes and most of Keen’s shoes, is that you don’t need a long breaking-in period for them compared with other shoes. This pair is also surprisingly light.

There are more shoes which are waterproof these days. One thing about waterproof shoes is that they may not always be the best feature to have. There are a few reasons why I would probably opt for shoes which are not stated as waterproof.

Moisture and heat
Waterproof shoes can get pretty hot inside if you are not using them in colder weather. And even if you were using them in colder weather, you may still get moisture within on a long hike.

Drying and ventilation
They tend to stay wet inside for a longer time it seems due to the breathability or ventilation of the material. The newer generation of waterproof shoes may be different now. This was a purchase in 2018 and it seems they no longer have this model. So there may be new technical improvements since then.

I do have older Keens Targhee but the soles are coming off a little probably due to the humidity in Singapore. I’ve worn these for a few hikes in Norway and Canada and these are my second pair of Keen hiking boots. The Targhee boots are definitely heavier than the ones above. They aren’t perfect but they are the closest to what’s best for bunions. They now have a Targhee III model which you can check out: https://www.rei.com/product/119903/keen-targhee-iii-waterproof-mid-hiking-boots-womens. It seems that they do have an upgraded waterproof membrane material but there are some mixed reviews.

What I like about this pair of Keens:

  • Wide toe box: The Targhee range usually spots the wide toe box. You can check out this model which is non-waterproof but has better ventilation – https://www.rei.com/product/126952/keen-targhee-vent-mid-hiking-boots-womens
  • Good ventilation: They dry more easily as the fabric around the shoe is breathable. This is very useful as you would end up stepping into some puddles, snow, in addition to perspiration. They do get quite muddy on some hikes and if mud isn’t washed off, they just cake around the shoe and stiffens it in addition to reducing the ventilation.
  • Midsole support: This is good for bunions as it provides the support required for weight distribution of your feet and reduces the amount of pressure from your big toe.
  • Soft fabric at the back of the ankle: The soft fabric all around the shoe and the back of ankle is comfortable and hardly requires any breaking-in.

However, I’ve noticed that the soles for this pair do not have a very good grip on surfaces. I’ve slipped on a couple of rocks wearing this pair in Norway. Then again, it is not easy getting a pair with fantastic traction on wet rocks.

Some people have mentioned that this model runs a little big for their feet, due to the wider shoe width. So this pair is definitely not for people with narrow feet. The Targhee models are usually wider so there’s always a pair of shoes for your size and needs. The best way to make sure you get the right pair is to get them at a physical store. I bought all my shoes online just because it is not easy getting a good price for Keen hiking boots in Singapore. I bought the last pair from REI and was impressed with the level of service. Not only that, but REI ships to many countries. I highly recommend getting your equipment from REI due to their coverage of shipping locations.

Socks
They play a big role in footwear. Do not wear cotton socks for your hikes. They are the worst for hiking as the fabric retains moisture is causes blisters. Wool or acrylic mixture are highly recommended. The Smartwool socks help to wick away moisture and also keep your feet dry(er). The padding is also great for long hikes.

Do you have other recommendations? Do comment below!

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Sleeping in a tent while camping: What to bring

Having a good sleep system is important as I’ve discovered. How do you sleep while camping? I’m a picky sleeper and that’s not ideal for a person who also loves being outdoors. I’ve found a good compromise, but that also means bringing a little more gear than some other hikers.

I had an inflatable sleeping pad with some grooves during my Greenstone and Caples Hike in New Zealand, and that didn’t work for me. Firstly, I felt the cold from the ground. Secondly, it wasn’t as comfortable as I’d thought it would be. Additionally, it moved around a lot when I moved. The key thing which stopped me from using it again was the cold. I guess this would fine for summer camping when it’s hotter and more humid.

Sleep system base

My preferred sleep system now makes up of a base, Z lite Thermarest, which I bring on all camping trips now. You would probably have seen this signature sleeping pad, with the silver and yellow coloured sides. They do have them in other colours too, but it seems that the yellow ones are the most common which I’ve seen everywhere.

They fold up nicely and they are light. You can easily pack them outside of your backpack on the top or on the bottom. The best part about these pads are how much comfort they provide between your back and the ground. They are well-worth the added bulk and weight for a better sleep while camping.

The next layer I add on as a second base, for added comfort, is the self-inflating ultralight Thermarest. You’ll still need to inflate it slightly manually. What I like about this is that it is suitable for almost all-season camping and very lightweight for the added warmth and comfort.

Sleeping bags

We use the Big Agnes hooded sleeping bags and mine provides a higher degree of warmth compared to the Big Agnes sleeping bag which my husband uses. These are so fabulous because of the high quality down and the full side zippers which lets you unzip yourself from the cocoon for some ventilation. And they are heavenly to lie in after a day’s hike.

We use sleeping bag liners in addition to the Big Agnes as we’re usually hiking in colder weathers, during the fall. So we find ourselves having to camp in the snow very often. I bring two different liners with me – one thinner than the other. The thinner liner is used as the layer against my skin and I believe we can use that with the Big Agnes without the middle liner if it wasn’t snowing or too cold. We use the Sea to Summit liner and it is similar to this.

Pillows

Some people do improvise for their pillows by using their clothes while camping. I think that might work and I might try that next time on a shorter multiday hike. I’ve chronic pain in my neck and shoulders which can be problematic without a good pillow.

I do think that I toss around a fair bit at night. I use the Sea to Summit Aeros at the moment after using the MEC inflatable pillow. After using the Sea to Summit Aeros, I’m now rethinking my camping pillow again. My husband uses the Aeros and that was how I bought it in the end for myself. It works for him as I think he’s more of a back sleeper whereas, I sleep both on my back and sides.

The Aeros seem to move around a lot for me while the MEC pillow has some silicon dots behind which help with keeping it in place. However, it can be difficult to find the balance for your head on that pillow. I’d tried deflating that a little but it ended up losing some support. Plus is a little small as I roll on my sides and I find myself falling off the pillow.

You can also check out this website for a review of camping pillows.

Check out a post on choosing your hiking boots.

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Our gear

Going on a multiday hike? The clothes you bring is important

The thing about hiking, besides our own fitness level, is having the right gear. That can make a difference to how good you feel about the hike. For this article, I’ll be talking about hiking clothes.

Packing for multiday backcountry hikes is a balance between comfort and weight. Ie. Not lugging around half your closet. We’ve been through the various stages from being true blue amateurs to a better level now but we’re not experts. Our first multiday hike together at Berg Lake, Mt Robson, saw us bringing cooler bags and eggs in an egg tray. We did eat very well on that hike I must say.

Hiking on Berg Lake Trail, summer 2014.

We didn’t see that as anything wrong at that time and it isn’t. Equipment and hiking style can be subjective and it is based on personal preference. We were oblivious to the looks we were given on the hike. It’s funny to think about that now. Not that we’re such expert hikers now, but we’ve progressed a lot through learning the hard way and research. However, despite our gear we’d brought at that time, I thought it was one of our best camping trips, for so many reasons.

We ate well on this hike too. This was probably one of the best meals which wasn’t from an instant packet.

One factor was probably the weather we were hiking in. It was summer in Canada then when we hiked Berg Lake. Plus, we didn’t have to pack for multiple layers.

Hiking clothes: Technical and Comfort

Change of clothes, especially underwear and socks are important for us and since it’s not an extremely long hike, we weren’t planning to wash our clothes on the hike. So we bring a change of underwear and socks for every day we are on the hike and a set of PJs to change into at camp.

What to wear for sleep?

Depending on where you are hiking, it can still get to about 0 Celsius at night. A good sleeping system is made up of what you sleep in and on – sleeping equipment.

On hiking clothes, a set of light thermals for sleep works for me. Again, this is personal as it depends on your preference on how warm you would like to be while sleeping outdoors. I like to be slightly toasty but not too toasty in my sleep. I’ll share a little more about our sleep equipment later as that forms part of the sleeping system.

What do you wear in the day on a hike?

This again depends on the weather we’re hiking in. I’ve made the mistake of dressing for cold at the beginning of the hike and start overheating about half an hour or so into it. One of the signs is often early exhaustion. It’s often amusing for my partner to see that, as I end up complaining about being overly tired just half an hour in, and start stripping off the layers. I even had to hide somewhere to remove my Icebreaker thermal pants I’d worn under my hiking pants once. So dress a little colder at the beginning of the hike and add another mid layer if you need that should the weather change.

Tops

I like my Merino wool long sleeved tops as they provide the right level of warmth and ventilation. Those are more expensive but make great additions to your hiking clothes wardrobe. The alternatives I have are the MEC crew long-sleeved tee which work fine too. One bane I have with these technical fiber materials is how much they stink.

Pants

Prana has a range of hiking pants which are good for hikes as they’re lightweight and slightly water/weather resistant. I do bring a few pairs of hiking pants just to change them once every day or two days. I’ve a couple of North Face and Outdoor Research pairs too, but they aren’t as weather proof as the Prana ones. Although they are somewhat weather proof, they seem to have good ventilation and they don’t smell. Hiking clothes which are resistant to elements and smell are important selection criteria.

Outershells

We bring our outershells which is thicker and heavier than a windbreaker. We made the mistake of not packing something thicker before and only brought our windbreakers as the outershell. They weren’t sufficient for weather changes especially if you intend to hike to higher elevations and if you are hiking later in the summer. We had a freak weather when we were in Norway, in August, one year and did not pack for fall weather. It was cold, windy and rainy for a few days in Norway and we couldn’t go very far up on our hike as we were freezing midway.

Thermals

The need for thermals depends on the season you’re hiking in. We bring our Icebreakers or equivalent for most of our hikes as we tend to hike in fall or at higher elevations even in summer. In Summer, I would still bring a pair of thin thermal pants as it does still get cold at night – again, this depends on the elevation and where you are. In colder weather, I don’t go without my thermal Rab pants. I recall that they came highly recommended by a retail assistant who has a few pairs herself. I love my Rab pants now and wear them as my camp pants. They are light, warm and so comfortable after a hike. It’s made of Polartec┬« fabric with light fleece inside.

Underwears

For women, sports bras/bras are sometimes optional. Some basic bralettes do provide that balance and yet lightweight to carry. I’ve worn sports bras before and didn’t like it for long hikes as they are made to be tight for medium to high impact sports. There is a variety of other sports bras but I recommend one which doesn’t have straps that can press into your skin when you are carrying the backpack. For women do not bring or wear bras with wires. If you prefer wearing bras to sports bras, opt for the wireless types. There are some good ones from Victoria’s Secret.

The basic lycra seamless underwear work well for comfort and wicking away moisture, and they dry fast. Full briefs provide good comfort on the hike. Marks and Spencers offer comfortable lycra seamless basic full briefs or their seamless full briefs which is made up about 85% polyester.

You can also check out this resource for what to wear on a hike. For men, there’s a review of underwears here.

Socks

Good hiking socks which wick away moisture and dry fast are important as blisters can spoil the entire trip. I had at least 4 blisters (and a stubbed, sore toe nail) on that Berg Lake hike. It was not pleasant.

Light wool socks work well. There are many socks which you use for usual daily sports which are made of a mixture of materials. Cotton may sound like it will keep you cool, but it’s not recommended. It doesn’t dry well and it has the potential of causing blisters on longer hikes.

After trying a few types of socks, I’ve found that I like the Smartwool ones as they’re light but still provide some comfort. There are some resources which mention wearing liner socks, but I think it doesn’t do very much especially with wool socks which are good enough to wick away moisture. The liner socks can end up causing more friction. Shoes do play a part too. Read about hiking boots here.