If you are planning to jet off to Peru to tackle the Inca Trail in 2013, one of the most essential items you’ll take with you will be your walking boots. Don’t underestimate the importance of having comfortable, well-made footwear on a hike like this.The Inca Trail involves steep up and downhill sections, as well as uneven paths, so you need to take shoes that are suitable for walking in these kinds of conditions. Companies like Explore Worldwide provide guidance as to the most appropriate equipment to bring with you, but here are some tips to help you choose the best hiking boots for the job.Choose the right season
Hiking boots are often graded in seasons (a bit like sleeping bags), with season one boots being the least durable and season four boots being the most robust. For the Inca Trail, you won’t want anything lower than season two, although season three is probably the most appropriate choice, as they are waterproofed, have thick soles that provide good grip on rough terrain and also support the ankle.
Looking for footwear that is graded to a particular season is the ideal way to narrow down your options when you start shopping around.
Pick a suitable material
Traditionally, hiking boots are made from leather, although this material can sometimes be inflexible and mean the shoes in question need wearing in before they are truly comfy. Remember there are different kinds of leather, with nubuck and split-grain leather typically lighter and more flexible than a full-leather shoe.
Of these, nubuck is probably the best option for the Inca Trail hike, as it is more waterproof than split-grain, but lighter than full leather.
Modern synthetic fabrics – like GORE-TEX and eVent – are another option and tend to be lighter and less rigid than leather, as well as having the added advantage that they are breathable. These materials can also be highly durable and in some cases (depending on the rest of the boot’s construction) can rival leather for their longevity.
If you are tackling steep ascents and descents on a walk, you need to look after your ankles. Choosing a pair of hiking boots with the correct level of support is important. You shouldn’t attempt the Inca Trail in boots with anything less than mid-height cuffs, although full-height cuffs are advisable if you know you have weak ankles. Which you go for will come down to personal choice.
Trying on the boots
It goes without saying that you will need to try on a pair of hiking boots before making a purchase (make sure you do it wearing thick walking socks!) – and there are a few things you should be aware of when you test them out in the shop (or at home if you’ve ordered online).
Firstly, make sure your heel fits snugly to the back of the boot – you don’t want your foot to be constantly slipping forwards as you walk. Secondly, be confident that the boot doesn’t feel tight over the toe or bridge of your foot. Although this footwear can loosen up with time, you shouldn’t rely on this being the case. Choose a pair of boots that’s comfortable from the beginning.
Thirdly, check your toes aren’t jammed right forward – you should be able to wiggle your toes comfortably when the boots are tightly laced.
A top tip is to try your walking boots on in the afternoon – or following a day of walking – as your feet will swell and this is typically when they are at their largest. If you pick boots that fit you at this time, you can be confident you won’t find them getting squeezed after a hard day of walking in Peru.
Let us know if you’ve got any advice about choosing the best pair of walking boots.