I think I owe it to my shoes to write a post about them.

When I hit the road a couple months ago, it was without hiking shoes. My then-current ones were ill-fitting and left my toes blistered and nails black, so I decided to replace them on my way to the mountains as I go through nails remarkably fast, anyway, and want to keep whatever ones I have hanging on at the moment.

I stopped at REI in Boston and spent two hours trying on shoes. I am so not into shoes, so that is not an ideal way for me to spend two hours. But despite that, it was a good time and the kind soul helping me was extremely patient, however there was only one pair in the entire store that hugged my heels snugly enough that when I walked downhill my feet didn’t slide forward and jam my toes against the end.

Unfortunately, they happened to be the strangest looking pair of shoes I’d ever seen.

“Just tell people they’re European,” the salesman told me, as if that would explain everything.

I tried every other pair on one more time, just to be sure, cinched them up so tight that the tops of my feet felt like they were in a straight jacket.

But it was blatantly clear: I had only one choice.

So I walked out of REI with the strangest pair of shoes I’d ever seen under my arm, happy that, at least, they were vegan. And comforted by the fact that if I ever got lost on a mountain, people could know to look for the girl with strange shoes.

In the past month, I’ve hiked over 100 miles in six states in my La Sportiva Trango’s, and I have to say, they have completely won me over. I still feel as though their odd-feeling exterior is begging to be plastered with bumper stickers, but I love these shoes and I also love having toenails. They’re sturdy, water-resistant but breathable, and have impeccable traction that makes my mountain-goat-identifying side happy.

Once I got them out into the light of day and laced them up at a trailhead — Mt. Washington — for the first time, they looked remarkably better. And now, 100+ miles later, I’ve decided they’re actually epic looking and the coolest shoes, by far, on any mountain I happen to be on.

How to Choose Hiking Shoes

  1. Decide whether you want over-the-ankle boots, or lower-rise shoes. This is just a matter of personal preference. In the past I’ve always bought below-the-ankle shoes because the boots I tried on felt stiff and uncomfortable, however this time around I wanted to try a boot — and I tried on numerous pairs that were incredibly comfortable, right out of the box (the Vasque Breeze was my first choice, but didn’t end up fitting my heel snugly enough.) The La Sportiva TRK GTX Trango’s are my first pair of boots, and I absolutely love the ankle support.
  2. Decide how heavy of a shoe you want/need (this depends on the weather and conditions you’ll be hiking in, and whether you’ll be doing serious backpacking or lighter, daypack-type trips. If you’re going to be backpacking long distances with a heavy pack, you’ll want a heavier shoe.)
  3. Walk Downhill. This is one of the most important steps. REI’s have a rock in their shoe department that you can climb up/down to get an idea of how a shoe will perform, which is helpful. Your toes should never touch the end of the shoes. Never. If your toes touch the end of your shoes when you’re walking downhill or when you jam your toes into a rock, you need to try a different pair. It doesn’t matter how comfortable or perfect a pair of shoes seem — if there’s any possible way to make your toes touch the end, it’s not the right fit for your feet. You can try to fix this by lacing them tighter or trying a larger size (you typically want your hiking shoes to be 1/2-1 size larger than what you normally wear, anyway, to allow for swelling and thick socks,) but if the toes still touch, move on to a new pair. Certain brands are better for wider or narrower feet, so do some research beforehand to get an idea of what might be a good fit for your feet. Keen’s are a great option for wide feet. Vasques and Merrells are typically more narrow, although certain models have wide options. Merrells also tend to have wider toe boxes, which can be helpful for folks with bunions. European shoes, like my La Sportivas, are built for more narrow feet.
  4. Once you find that perfect shoe, stick with it. It can be tempting to want to try something new, but if you’ve got a tried and true pair that has given you no problems, think twice before switching to something new when it comes time to replace them. A perfectly-fitting pair of hiking shoes can be hard to find, and if you spend a lot of trail miles on your feet, your shoes are pretty important.