How to choose your hiking boots

A pair of waterproof Keen boots for women

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!

2 Responses to “How to choose your hiking boots”

  1. […] 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. […]

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