I completed the Cross Borneo Trek in 2015. Four Dayak men led us through the muddy jungle, over the Muller Mountains and across the Mahakam River (multiple times); one of them barefoot. When asked how he managed such a thing, he replied, “I just know how to walk”. The majority of us require some footwear when trekking, though. I wore a pair of Lowa hiking boots — not the optimum choice as they slipped in mud (the lugs on the soles were too shallow) and on wet boulders.
📷: Vanessa Nirode
One of the main differences between trail running and hiking shoes is midsole construction, the latter having a stiffer midsole.
Most commonly made of either EVA ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) or polyurethane (PU) foam, a shoe’s midsole absorbs the impact of whatever you’re walking on. A stiffer midsole provides more cushion from sharp, rocky, and uneven surfaces.
According to science, the lighter the shoe, the less fatigued you will feel over time. Some research states that one pound off a hiker’s feet is equal to five pounds off their pack.
The caveat to this is (of course) if your shoe is excessively lightweight it’s likely compromised in the durability or stability departments. Like many things in life, you need to determine your own balance of various properties to achieve the “just right” shoe.
So, about waterproof versus breathability: for most people, when hiking in warm, prolonged wet conditions, footwear with a mesh upper that allows maximum air permeability is preferable to waterproofness.
Waterproof fabrics aren’t breathable enough to keep up with the normal amount of foot perspiration that happens in such conditions.
Shoe tread, or outsole traction works similarly to tire treads. Specific treads are more suitable for specific terrains. Look for something that will accommodate the type of surface you’ll be hiking most often.
Many shoemakers use rubber compounds made by Vibram for their soles. The softer the rubber is the stickier it will be. But, the softer it is the faster it will break down and the less durable it will be. Again, balance.
Most hiking shoes these days are made with synthetic fabrics such as mesh and polyurethane (PU) coated nylon, which adds a water resistant component to the shoe. A properly fitted hiking shoe shouldn’t require a “breaking in” period.
It’s a great idea to try new footwear on at the end of the day when your feet will be their most tired and swollen.
Laces that come loose or untied, or are difficult to cinch in tightly can be annoying and even (eventually) painful while trekking or hiking. I’ve always been a regular double knot, tuck the ends into the tongue person but there are also efficient lace system technology: like lock laces or using cord locks, clips, or dials which allow for a one pull tightening and a quick release.