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Hiking Tip For Glacier Park Hikes, Yellowstone Park Hikes and Grand Teton Hikes: Choosing the Right Socks, Liners, Insoles and Boots
Of all the equipment and clothing you use for your Glacier Park Hikes, Yellowstone Park Hikes and Grand Teton Hikes, some of the most important pieces of equipment are what you are placing your feet in… because after all, your feet are what is pounding against the ground every step of the way!
Wearing the correct socks, liners, insoles and boots not only provides the maximum comfort and shock absorption for your feet, but it also helps reduce the wear-and-tear on your knees, hips and back. And if you are someone who does a lot of hiking, the proper foot gear will help keep your feet, legs, hips and back healthy for many years into the future, so you can continue to enjoy hiking long into your later years.
With over 40 years experience hiking in Glacier Park, hiking in Yellowstone Park and hiking in Grand Teton National Park, and hiking over 1,300 miles each year in these parks, we’ve figured out what works best for us, and below are the details… And by the way, we are not getting paid to promote anyone’s products. We are simply sharing with you what works best for us…
The correct sock is essential. Much of the shock absorption for your feet are performed by your socks. Shock absorption is vitally important because it reduces the pounding that your feet, knees, hips and back have to endure during your Glacier Park hikes, Yellowstone Park hikes and Grand Teton hikes. This reduction in pounding results in not only much more comfortable feet, even during the last mile of your hike, but also keeps your joints more apt to stay healthy and functional for the long term.
After many years of trying many different types and materials of hiking socks and many different thicknesses, we have found what works best for us… for now…. and that is a “heavy trekking sock” by SmartWool. This heavy sock dramatically reduces the “pounding” of our feet, and it’s remarkable how much better our feet feel after a 26 mile day of hiking or climbing. The material used by SmartWool is also the best we have found for our needs. Their blend of 77% Merino wool, 22% nylon and 1% spandex makes our feet stay incredibly comfortable. And the nice thing about Merino wool is our feet stay warm and comfortable even when the socks are wet from either sweat, rain or snow. And if you want to dry them out, the hot sun dries them out quite quickly.
Now some of you are asking “Don’t your feet get hot?” And our answer is this: no matter what we wear, on a hot day our feet are going to be hot…whether it’s a thin sock or thicker sock. So we focus on what we can control, and that is shock absorption.
And after you’ve hiked several hundred miles in these socks, we recommend that you retire them and purchase some new socks because the sock absorptive quality of these socks tend to diminish as the mileage increases.
Sock liners are also a vital part of your foot gear, because it’s what is directly touching your skin. Liners not only help “wick” moisture away from your skin as you sweat, but it also dramatically reduces the chances of developing blisters.
The sock liners we have found that work best for us during our Glacier Park hikes, Yellowstone Park hikes and Grand Teton hikes (and climbs), is the sock liners by SmartWool. Made with the same material as their trekking sock, with their same combination of Merino wool, nylon and spandex, these liners do a good job wicking away the moisture from our skin. They also seem to reduce the occurrence of blisters, even during the first week of the hiking and climbing season when our skin is the most vulnerable.
Your boot insoles are vitally important because this is what your feet are directly standing on during your Glacier Park hikes, Yellowstone Park hikes and Grand Teton hikes. And finding the best insole for your feet can make your hikes so much more pleasurable by reducing the amount of “pounding” your feet, knees, hips and back experiences during a typical hike.
Now here’s the first thing you need to do when you purchase your hiking boots: Remove the liners and THROW THEM AWAY! 99% of all liners found in even the best boots available are usually extremely thin, non-supportive and useless. After you’ve thrown these liners away, you then need to go to a reputable outdoor gear store that is knowledgeable about boots and hiking, and have them help you carefully choose the right insoles for your boots.
Please keep in mind that some of you need arch support and some of you have flat feet. We have found that a lot of boot sales people love to put everyone in an “arch support” insole, which is really not the right thing to do. My feet (Dave) are flat, and I need an insole that is flat, whereas Shannon’s feet have a medium arch, and she therefore needs an insole that supports her particular arch type.
The main thing that we look for in an insole besides the arch support (or flatness), is the heal cushion. A sufficient amount of HEAL CUSHION dramatically increases the shock absorption of your foot gear, and therefore dramatically minimizes the pounding that your feet, knees, hips and back have to endure during your Glacier Park hikes, Yellowstone Park hikes and Grand Teton hikes. We have found that a fairly heavy heal cushion really makes our feet and body feel so much better during a long 26 mile day hike… even during the last few miles. There are so many different types of insoles and so many different contours of feet that you are going to have to literally “experiment” with several different brands and designs until you find “the one”. This might cost a little bit of money, but once you find YOUR insole, you’ll be in heaven along the hiking trail. So it’s worth the time, money and effort. We are currently using the Sof Sole Athlete Performance Insoles for Men and the Sof Sole Arch Performance Insole for Women, but we have used several other brands with equally comparable performance.
And by the way, after a long season of hiking…. over 300 miles or so, we recommend that you replace your insoles with new ones. The shock absorptive quality of any insole diminishes as the mileage placed on these insoles increases.
Obviously, choosing the right hiking boot is a vital component of your foot gear, and there are many good companies and many great boot designs available. Below are some things that we have found that may help you find the right boot for your feet during your Glacier Park hikes, Yellowstone Park hikes and Grand Teton Park hikes…
What helps determine the right boot is what kind of hiking you will be doing. Are you hiking on a smooth trail or walking over rocks? Are you hiking with a 10 pound day pack or a 45 pound overnight pack? Are you taking short day hikes or “marathon” day hikes or overnight backpacking trips? All of these factors determine what boot you need. As far as what we will talk about in this article is for what we need our boots for: Day hikes from 12 to 26 miles in length (round trip) with about a 10 to 15 pound pack, and 5 to 6 day overnight backpacking trips (50+ miles) with a 35 to 40 pound pack…
Don’t Go Too Light
We have noticed a trend in hiking boots lately, and it can get you into trouble. Several well-known boot companies are converting their cross-training running shoes into hiking boots by simply making them taller, therefore covering the ankle as a regular hiking boot would, and they are calling them hiking boots. The trap is this: THEY FEEL EXTREMELY COMFORTABLE in the store. Of course they do… they are basically a tennis shoe!!! We’ve heard so many people say “These are the most comfortable boots I’ve ever worn!”… but that was in the store. When they begin hiking in them and begin to hike over a rocky surface or start climbing up hill, they change their tune. These “boots” have an extremely soft sole with absolutely no sole support, so when they step on the edge of a large rock, the sole flexes to conform to the rock, and that is not a good thing.
You want the sole of your boot to be fairly stiff (but not too stiff) so it keeps it’s shape no matter what surface you’re hiking on. Also, if you’re hiking on a steep incline, a soft, flexible sole really makes your calf muscles tire out very quickly as opposed to a boot that keeps its shape. A stiffer sole helps take the work load off your feet, ankles and calves. So the bottom line is that if you purchase a boot that is too “light” and too “flexible”, you will regret it if you are doing any serious hiking with a day pack on your back.
Choose the Correct Size
There’s only one thing worse than boots that are too big, and that is buying boots that are too small. Boots that are too small cram your toes and by the end of the day your feet will be miserably uncomfortable. But if you buy them too big, your feet will “swim” in the boot, causing you to have inadequate support and also will increase the chances of blisters. Make sure you have a sales expert help you in determining the proper size of boot. And make sure you wear the EXACT HIKING SOCKS AND LINERS that you will be using in the field while trying on your boots! This will dictate the size of boot you will need. And before you make the final purchase, try to choose your insole and have the sales person place them in your boot to see how everything works together. If you can’t do this last step, at least where the exact socks and liners while trying on boots.
Walk On An Incline In The Store
Make sure you walk on an incline… both up and down… which some weight on your back similar to your daypack weight, and make sure the boots are still fitting properly. If you feel a sharpness on your heel (or a “cutting” feeling as you are walking up hill, try a different boot because that boot will more than likely give you horrible heel blisters in the field. And as you are walking down hill, make sure your toes do not touch the end of your boot.
What We Are Wearing
Presently, we are wearing hiking boots by Vasque. Shannon has worn the Breeze design for several years, and this year she is wearing the Vasque Gore Tex Breeze 2 with great results. I (Dave) have been wearing the Vasque Gore Tex Wasatch boot for several years with great success. Now since we put on over 1,300 hiking and climbing miles each year, our boots only last one season (if that), but for the average hiker, he/she should get several years out of them. Most of the internet reviews are positive, some are not… but as I said earlier, we are simply telling you what we are successfully wearing. There are a lot of good companies out there for you to choose from.
Yes, Gore Tex!
We highly recommend that if you are going to be embarking on any Glacier Park hikes, Yellowstone hikes or Grand Teton hikes, that you consider a water-proof boot. We prefer Gore Tex, but there are several excellent materials that are equal in performance to Gore Tex that will also work just fine. Now of course there is no such thing as a truly “water proof” boot, and if you stand in a creek for any length of time, you’re going to get wet. But what a Gore Tex lined boot does is it keeps alot of the brief, incidental water encounters away from your socks and feet, such as a brief shallow creek crossing, mud puddles, wet snow, a brief rain shower, and morning dew. 90% of these encounters will leave your feet dry IF you are wearing Gore Tex (or equivalent) lined boots. Without it, you will absolutely have wet socks and feet guaranteed for the rest of the day!
And yes we hear on occasion, “But my feet get too hot in Gore Tex boots!” Well, we’ve worn both, and we really don’t notice much difference, other than we usually have dry boots, socks and feet at the end of the hike when we wear Gore Tex lined boots. Maybe we’re being wimps, but we HATE wet feet, socks and boots when we are hiking.
Work Your Hiking Boots In
This doesn’t need to be mentioned, but I’ll do it anyway… NEVER wear brand new boots on a big hiking trip, whether it be a long day hike or an overnight backpacking trip. Take some short hikes with your typical day pack weight on your back, and make sure you go up hills and down hills to see if any “hot spots” develop. “Hot spots” will inevitably turn into blisters, and the most common place for a blister to form is on the heal while hiking up hill. If your boots are in anyway “cutting” into your heal as you hike uphill, you may have to try a different boot brand and/or design, which is really unfortunate since most retail stores do not allow you to return your boots after you’ve worn them.
Hopefully the above information will shed some light as to what you may need for proper foot gear for your Glacier Park hikes, Yellowstone Park hikes and Grand Teton hikes. Your foot wear is a vital component to not only an enjoyable hiking experience, but also keeping your feet, ankles, knees, hips and back healthy and strong for many, many years to come.
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