Nothing is as important to outdoor comfort as a good pair of boots. For FOP purposes, make sure the boots you bring fully support your ankles. For this reason, low-cut and some mid-cut boots may not be acceptable. Boots come in many shapes and sizes but are generally distinguished by five things: usage, upper material, sole, height, and waterproofness.
Usage is a general term describing the boot's intended field of use. From low-cut trail running shoes to high-cut mountaineering shoes, boots come in progressively more rugged forms. While you won't need mountaineering shoes on FOP, you will need something good on rough trail or off-trail hiking and something that supports your ankles. Check your boots by tying them tight and then trying to roll your ankle. You shouldn't be able to achieve much lateral motion; your ankle should only significantly move forwards and a little backwards
Boots come in three sizes: low-cut, mid-cut, and high-cut. Low-cut boots are for lighter loads on maintained trails, and may be good for a day-hike with a light backpack. Mid-cut boots wrap around your ankle, but do not give full support. While good for trails and smooth off-trail terrain, they don't provide the support necessary for steep trails or heavy loads. High-cut boots support the ankle and lower leg to prevent ankle twisting and provide edging power. For FOP, you will need boots that support your foot, so low-cut boots and some mid-cut boots will not be sufficient.
The "upper" is the part of the boot above the sole. Most boot uppers are made of full leather or a combination of synthetic materials and leather. Full-grain leather uppers will in general last the longest out of the leather category. Synthetic fabrics are usually more lightweight and shorten the break-in time, often at a lower cost.
Make sure the boots you use for FOP have deep "lugs" (which describe how rugged a boot's sole is). When looking at your boot's sole, you should see deep channels made out of more rugged rubber. The deeper the channels, the better traction you'll have. You should also look for thicker, stiffer soles, which will help you carry the weight in your pack.
Most boots made of full-grain leather are waterproof to begin with. Good care of the boots and occasional re-treatment will maintain their waterproofness. Many synthetic blend boots will have a Gore-tex or other waterproof lining. Make sure your boots are waterproof. For good measure, apply a coating of external waterproofing such as Nikwax or Sno-Seal to any pair of new boots.
Buying your first pair of boots can be confusing. Remember these tips to make it a successful and pleasant experience. Fitting boots is very important. With the proper fit, you will have a much more enjoyable trip.
- Go to an outdoor store and ask for the most experienced boot-fitter. Although these stores may be more expensive, you can always search for a cheaper price (especially online) once you've found a pair that is heaven on your feet.
- Measure your shoe size in the store. Don't take it for granted that your shoe size is the same. Most stores have a Brannock device with standardized size markings, but they are underused.
- Don't get hung up on sizes. One company's size 10 may be another company's size 9. Try on a range of sizes to ensure the best fit.
- Try on boots late in the day. By the end of the day, your feet swell to be bigger than first thing in the morning. Especially after a day of hiking, you will want boots that aren't too tight when your feet expand.
- Don't feel hurried. Hurrying to purchase boots is a common mistake. Try on as many different makes, models, and sizes of boots as you want.
- Bring a pair of socks and liner socks to the store. You will want to make sure your boots fit over a pair of heavy hiking socks and liners, just like you will be wearing on the trail.
- Stress comfort over all other qualities. The most important aspect of a boot is comfort. You will be walking on these boots all day with a heavy pack, so if they are uncomfortable in the store, they will be more so after a week of hiking.
- Cherish thy toes. Once you have the boots on and laced up, make sure you can't kick your toes into the front of the boot. Boots may gain width or volume after breaking-in, but they will never get longer. Knock the toe of your shoes against the floor behind you and if your toes hit, look for a larger size. Too-short boots will bruise your toes and hammer your toenails on long downhills.
- Spend time walking around the store. The uppers of the boots may need time to warm up and stiff fabrics may need to mold up to your foot. Pressure points may not be obvious immediately. If the store has an artificial incline set up, walk up and down a few times to get a feel for uphill and downhill travel.
Breaking In Boots
Take the time to break in your boots. There is no such thing as breaking boots in too much before your FOP trip, but boots that are not broken in may create bad blisters on the trail and can ruin a trip.
Start small by going on small day hikes or even just walking down the street or to the mailbox and back. As your boots become more comfortable, go on a few longer hikes. If you can go on a long day-hike without developing blisters or rubbing points on your foot, you are probably set.