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outdoor tips and gear reviews

Outdoor footwear overview - boots, shoes, sandals

After the very first hiking trip, probably all people happen to think over the necessity to buy convenient and reliable footwear able to endure all hiking conditions, provide a light crossing of any terrain, and create a comfortable temperature mode for the feet.

Existing types of boots. At the moment, the following types of boots can be highlighted: mountaineering boots, trekking boots, light hiking boots, backpacking boots, hiking shoes, rock climbing shoes, hiking sandals.


Plastic mountaineering boots

First, we will tell in our short story about the boots intended for mountaineering campaigns. These boots consist of two parts. The external part of the boot is made of shock-resistant plastic and it is designed with an aim to protect the leg against external damages and rigid fixing of a foot (it is essential in case of overcoming slippery surfaces or descent on skis). To make walking more convenient, this plastic cover is divided into original jambs fastened to each other by means of metal rivets. Bootstraps of an external cover are formed by means of small rollers standing inside the tabs. But such rollers are present only in the newest models; while older or cheaper models do not include rollers, but the tabs themselves are made of bigger sizes. Such gears facilitate the lacing procedure even in frost and in gloves. On a sole of such boots steps for fastening of additional means of transportation - for climbing irons, skis, snowshoes are specially designed. It is necessary to note that aside from a step, also the design of "jambs" defines the priority of fastening this or the other external gear one types of boots are more convenient for walking, the other boots are more convenient for descending on skis. All boots of this class have VIBRAM soles.

The external boot provides only mechanical conveniences to a foot, while temperature comfort is provided by an internal boot. Aside from providing warmth-preserving properties, the internal boot fulfills also many other duties useful for the tourist during campaigns. For example, in order not to drag the whole construction covered in snow to the tent, an external part of the boot is left at the entrance, and the internal one is used for walking inside the tent. The internal boot, as a rule, has different variants of design. Thus, if at the very beginning of ascent it is necessary to overcome rocky areas, so that not to bear additional rocky shoes, internal boots are made in the shape of high rocky shoes. And for conditions of low temperatures, the warmed variants of inner boots are sewn with an additional coating of warmth-reflecting silvery layers.


Heat-insulated mountaineering boots

The next type of footwear is boots manufactured for complicated mountain campaigns. These heat-insulated boots have much in common with above-described type: they also firmly fix the leg, they contain the sole VIBRAM strengthened by a steel plate in the midsole, bootstrapping is realized due to roller system. These boots also have a step for climbing irons and snowshoes fastening; some models have spikes integrated into the sole that can come forth if necessary.

But, notwithstanding, this type of boots is less expensive than the previous one. The thing is that these boots mainly do not have internal insert and thus are suitable for hiking tours with higher temperatures. One more simplification of this type of boots, as compared to the first type, is the performance of the top not out of plastic, but out of soft materials: reversible leather, nubuck with additional shock absorbing welt on the perimeter of the boot placed on the mid-foot level, which deteriorates protection against external mechanical impacts. But, as there is no rule without exceptions, and among the models of this type there are items with characteristics equal or even exceeding two-layer boots, but this footwear then has a narrow purpose and it will not be described here.


Trekking boots and trekking shoes

Trekking boots

Trekking boots do for long lasting off-trail adventures. Their main distinction from the other types of footwear for tourism is that they all feature high tech, stiff and strong soles with a good cushioning power to ensure great underfoot comfort and protection. It is painless for footsteps to walk in such boots for a long time on scrap stone with a backpack. Good quality trekking boots often made of nubuck leather or combination of nubuck-cordura. The common rule for choosing trekking boots - take one extra size you're wearing.

The other more simplified type of outdoor footwear is trekking boots. Here there is a great variation on the performance of internal boot padding and external boot lining. The selection of the model is again determined by the conditions of the hiking tour, since the companies manufacturing footwear produce a great variety of models for any specific conditions. Thus, for hiking tours with conditions of increased moisture level, the boots with membrane lining are sewn, performed out of single piece of fabric; for summer tours - with linings out of the net; for winter walking or ski valley hiking tours - with linings out of leather or nubuck with additional heat-insulation.


Trekking shoes

It is rather easy to narrate about trekking shoes after the story about trekking boots. The thing is that this type of footwear is merely a lightened alternative to summer boots and is purposed for summer walking cross-country tours or hiking on small mountain hills.

In the model range of leading outdoor footwear companies, trekking shoes regularly occupy the place between trail running shoes and trekking boots, since they are less purposed for jogging, but more - for backpacking (of course, not big one) hiking tours, not cross-country, but mountain ones. Also, trail running shoes often do not contain Vibram soles, since they are less demanding to clutching with wet stones.


Midsole Hiking boots and shoes

Aside from the main sole, each modern boot includes also a midsole serving for smoothening the shocks on foot during jumps, and for better fastening of additional transportation means (climbing irons, snowshoes, skis) on rock-climbing boots. For shock absorption, a great variety of materials are used: polyurethane foam, nylon, etc. For additional firmness, when additional means are fastened, steel plates with 1-2 mm width are used covered with any material.


Cordura inserts in hiking footwear

Inserts (mainly cordura) serve for the purpose of additional ventilation (read: to make feet as dry as possible (sweat!). As a whole, the general rule can be as follows: if you travel in places where humidity (deposits) are minimal or small, and also temperatures are high, then you will feel better with inserts. In the conditions of rains and abundant dew, "full leather" boots (without inserts) will be optimal.


Hiking boots and shoe membranes GORE-TEX

Good, foot protecting foot-wear is necessary not only for the hikes with lower temperature, therefore, while manufacturing lining for boots, but materials are also used eliminating moisture from feet, thus allowing feet to breathe. These materials were transferred to the sphere of tourist gearing from the space science. The first material with the membrane was GORE-TEX used in American astronauts' space suits. Nowadays, there are other materials available (ComfortTex, SimpaTex) having membrane or special breathing saturation material. What is a membrane and which functions it performs? The membrane is thin porous fabric out of hydrophobic polymer polytetrafluorethylene placed between external and internal trimming of the boots. It contains about 2 milliards of microscopic pores per square centimeter.

The size of one pore in many times is less than the size of a water drop, which makes a membrane impenetrable for rain, on the other side, the size of a pore exceeds the size of water molecules, which allows evaporating moisture outwards. This has its pros and cons: membrane permeability is limited, and despite all efforts, one will definitely sweat in clothes out of membrane material. Moreover, on frost evaporations may fail to evaporate and can freeze, thus covering the membrane with ice and restricting its breathing ability. That is exactly the reason why all companies also produce models without membrane lining - specially for hiking purposes, when the warmth-preserving function is deemed as a paramount task.

Use of membrane materials in boots production does not help to solve one more problem often emerging not only during hiking tour, namely, the problem of the bad smell of footwear and feet. The issue is that bacteria are forming that smell and "aromatic" molecules themselves do not evaporate through membrane pores being too big for these pores. One more question interesting for nearly everyone: "What breathes better: leather or membrane material?" In fact, their breathing ability is practically similar, the only advantage of membrane materials is less weight compared to leather. That's why the pair of boots performed out of synthetic materials with membrane lining will be lighter than the analog leather one.


Lining in Hiking boots

Aside from trimming, hiking boots should also have a lining that would provide a comfortable temperature. The main material used for this purpose is a Thinsulate invention of the company. Perfect heat-insulating properties of this light material are ensured due to its components with combined thin (2-5 mcm) polyether and polyolefin fibers, which makes its structure close to natural underfur structure. This company manufactures a wide range of various alternatives to perform this material for various purposes. Thus, Thinsulate B is a compressive material having ultimately high stability against strong compression, which is actually used in models of winter and sports footwear; Thinsulate Flex is material stretching in all directions used for sewing clothes, gloves, etc.; Thinsulate Lite Loft is the lightest and the most well-compressed material used for sewing sleeping-bags.

The alternative for the light warming of the boot can be the net located between external and internal trimming, creating heat-insulating interlayer. But such an option is suitable solely for the cases of light frost, not strong frost.