The essential constituents of footwear
Choosing a pair of hiking or mountaineering shoes is difficult. In reality, unfortunately, there is not one shoe for every foot. Also, it will be necessary to find the best compromise of footwear, size and type of shoe for an activity where the feet will always play the main role. Here are some explanations and simple tricks to avoid getting it wrong.
Statistics on mountain accidents show that most of them take place in terrain not classified as "mountaineering". These are losses of balance or falls on slopes of medium altitude where the exposure is sometimes more severe than it appears.
In this field, the shoe plays a primordial role. The quality of grip of the sole and a suitable rigidity make it possible to control the cant, slippery supports such as grass slopes, wet terrain and snow.
- 1. Self-locking hook: Usually located at the top or in the middle of the shoe. it allows to block all or the lower part of the clamping for more precise adjustments and a locking of the hold of the shoe during the effort. In general, we tighten more on the descent than on the ascent to support the foot.
- 2. Amortized or spacer: Very important to absorb shocks and therefore relieve the joints of the hiker and his lumbar. It is generally wider on the heel than at the front on technical models where we seek to promote the precision and the "feeling" of the terrain. For long-distance routes, rough terrain, and with a portage, the quality of the cushioning is paramount.
- 3. Stem: More or less rising. Maybe mesh,synthetic, leather crust, nubuck,leather …
- 4. Stone-bridge: Rigid part on the front of the shoe that avoids shocks with stone blocks. Also limits the abrasion of the front of the shoe.
The safety criteria for the selection of your future shoes are:
- Rigidity: it is essential for the holding of the foot and the grip in mountainous terrain.
- Maintenance: a good support is the result of a shoe adapted to your foot, with a high upper, which supports the ankle joint and the bottom of the tibia.
- The grip of the sole: the grip of the sole depends on the quality of the material used and its notching. In general, soft gums have a better grip on the rock but they wear out quickly, which is penalizing because a remelting is quite expensive and can be more or less well done. Hard gums will be more resistant. We are therefore looking for the right compromise according to the terrain practiced (softer for rock climbing, harder for the high road and classic hiking) but we now find good soles, with longevity and satisfactory rock grip.
- Protection and waterproofing: stone screen, side reinforcements and type of equipment used will ensure a longevity of the shoe and protect you against external elements (stone, rocks).
The 5 types of mountain shoes
Mountaineering shoes that come in several categories:
Winter mountaineering and expeditions; footwear for temperatures below -20°C. Often equipped with overbubs, and more or less technical depending on the model, they consist for the most part of a slipper that fits into the shoe. They accept self-attached spikes thanks to their front and rear overrun (see section on crampons).
Technical mountaineering for difficult races; rigid shoes to hold without much effort on the supports found in vertical atmospheres. Their rigidity allows the use of spikes with automatic fasteners (front and rear overflow).
High road mountaineering and "easy" mountaineering; shoes adapted to altitude, sometimes off-trail paths, with snow or ice passages. Versatile and indicated for snow races F to AD with slopes up to 45 °, are mountaineering shoes with high upper and semi-rigid soles, cramponnable in semi-auto (rear overflow).
Long-distance hiking shoes or hiking shoes with high upper with fairly rigid sole and consequent cushioning for strong elevation differences and large loads. These are hiking/trek shoes, with high uppers, and semi-rigid soles. A priori they are not intended to evolve on steep snow slopes but they can be adapted from crampons to straps (some crampons now have the ability to articulate on fairly flexible soles ex: petzl Vasak)
Small hiking shoes
Shoes of "walk" or upper "mid" for courses in general of medium size with light backpacks.
Pleasant by their lightness, especially in summer.
For about ten years manufacturers have been offering low mountain shoes with sufficient cushioning to carry a load, with a rigidity and a quality of sole quite indicated for difficult terrain.
Initially designed to reach the foot of the mountaineering walls, where they are replaced by climbing slippers, they are now used as hiking or even mountain shoes for some courses. These shoes are therefore interesting but even lower than the "mid" so reserved for savvy hikers and I strongly advise to use them with a pair of sticks.
Running and trail shoes
Light and cushioning, but specific to running in "mountain" terrain. They offer little protection.
Which shoe for which field?
It is first necessary to choose a shoe that fits the desired activity, and at the same time that corresponds to his foot. Finding the right footwear is the first thing to do. In general the marks are typed (Scarpa chausse wide, just like Meindl, Lowa. The Sportiva tries to put on "medium" but originally was typed "fine feet", ditto Asolo. Kayland chausse quite thin with enough room on the front, Merrell chausse quite narrow at the heel and wider in front… etc…). Then, take a shoe that you like, that corresponds to your mountain nature: any leather or lighter materials with GTX membrane, very rising or light …
Some models are very versatile and can do everything from hiking trails to Mont Blanc and 45° slopes. For most mountain enthusiasts, it can be interesting and sufficient to have two pairs: one for the light hiking medium mountain style (possibly mid),and a pair of high road / mountaineering "easy" with semi-auto cramponing (see paragraph on crampons). Then there are the more "technical" shoes that interest those who want to go in the hard and cold.
Also choose according to the massifs frequented and your level of training. The less trained you are, the more protective the shoe will have to be. The lightness, always double-edged, goes more with a good level of shape and "dry" mountain conditions.
The choice of the right rigidity on your mountain shoes
The rigidity is essentially due to the sole and is tested by trying to bend the shoe. If it twists like a sponge, it is considered very flexible. At the other extreme, if you can not "bend" it, it is considered very rigid. The rigidity can be almost total on technical mountaineering shoes, i.e. they can hardly be flexed, and low for minimalist hiking shoes.
At first glance, in the store, the rigidity of a shoe may seem unpleasant. But on a long course it will support the lower leg and relieve the efforts of the foot in steep terrain,provided that the foot is also adapted to the footwear of the model used. The rigidity is essentially due to the sole and is tested by trying to bend the shoe.
In the mountains, a lack of rigidity on the part of the shoe will in the long run be synonymous with a lack of stability for the foot which will instinctively seek to compensate by a muscular effort. So do not hesitate to choose shoes that are quite rigid if you want to feel the ground.With a shoe suitable for your foot, you will not suffer from a rigid shoe and you can check, for hours, that rigidity will bring you comfort and safety.
Many falls are unfortunately so-called "fatigue" falls that occur when the hiker is at the end of his muscular resources of the shin / ankle area. This area, hyper-stressed, when it is not supported enough by a rigid and rising shoe, will suffer from the efforts required by the terrain,a bit like a car in a corner with outdated suspensions. In the case of a poorly trained hiker, this fatigue can occur quickly and have significant effects.
The continuous solicitation of the foot/ankle/calf area can become a point of suffering that demands the mind and its own resources. The mind becomes in turn vulnerable, the hiker will be less lucid and more sensitive to the difficulties of the terrain. The risk factor will therefore increase considerably.
The choice of the right size and the right shoe of your mountain shoes
Errors of assessment on sizes or footwear are frequent. A good salesman should ask you to see your foot, before directing you to models to try. If he doesn't ask, do it for him. Before flashing on a model, so check if its footwear is compatible with the shape of your foot.
The shops still have a bright future ahead of them. Buying a shoe online without trying it is roulette or baccarat. The sizes are not equivalent on a brand between models. And for the same model, we can have mind-blowing lags by letting a few months pass.
To choose your size, we classify shoes into two categories:
- rigid shoes (heavy hiking and mountaineering); it usually takes one size larger than that of your strongest foot.
Proceed as follows: stand up, shoe OPEN and with a pair of medium socks. Push until you touch the tip of the shoe with your toes. In this position there must be the space of a finger (rather small, say about 1cm) behind the heel. Lace the shoe and check that the heel does not rise completely during walking.
- thinner, less rigid, "mid" or low shoes can have 1/2 less size in general than "big", or even more. For this type of shoes, the foot should have a little space but not too much. We will not look for a real space at the heel, but a notion of comfort and non-compression of the toes.
Few shoes really relax, but the inner mattresses will constrain themselves a little and slightly tamp down in the long run, which is equivalent to about 1/4 of size) let's say that's the margin for a big pair of socks.
The footwear (thin foot, wide foot, sensitivity of the tibia …) :
The right shoemaker should, ideally, accommodate your foot and keep it in walking movements. The marks were quite typical in time. They are now trying to design shoes with more "everywhere" footwear that are suitable for as many foot shapes as possible. In general, Italian brands offer a narrower shoe than German brands by offering metatarsal widths from 96 to 102 for the former and from 100 to 106 for the latter (some models are offered in two widths at Meindl and Lowa for very wide feet).
First check that you have the right size, otherwise it is useless. Medium tighten the shoe with a pair of medium socks.
- The toe box must allow the toes to move and "breathe". The front of the foot must not move to the right or left in the cant steps. Be careful not to compress the front of the foot to try to gain precision. This kind of compression is paid for over time and the bill comes in the past forties with a Morton syndrome that women with thin and compressing shoes unfortunately know well and that can become very disabling.
- The heel must barely lift in the foot unrolled. The new shoe will soften slightly over time, but the heel should not come off the entire sole under penalty of heating, blisters and rapid suffering.
- The impression of general foot comfort should be good, but it is during the first hike that you will be sureof it, after one or two hours of walking, and if possible with a backpack and in slopes taken across.
Waterproofing and waterproof membrane of your mountain shoes
This is a fundamental point for committed mountain activities. But do not believe that because manufacturers talk about waterproofing your shoe is totally waterproof.
Low shoes, called approach shoes, are very sensitive to water because of their opening. As a result, manufacturers do not seek to equip them with a membrane. So let's forget about this type of shoe when we talk about waterproofing and focus on rising shoes.
In the classification of merchants, we will read: good impermeability, very good waterproofing, waterproofing. This means that some models are more or less sensitive to water, and, above all, to "hot snow". There are few mountain shoes whose waterproofing really resists to 10 hours in the "hot snow" or so the shells, the experimental shoes with overcoateds.
The essential point remains in the complex sealing / breathability. Indeed, some plastic shells are the most waterproof, but quite bad in breathability. As a result, we witness frostbite, in these shoes on the north face, by excess condensation. The foot sweats during the effort and it needs a shoe that is both protective of the aqueous but breathable element to evacuate its own moisture. The membrane is a very positive element for the fight against wet feet. It is both waterproof and breathable.
The membrane does not however do all the work, it can be put in default depending on its quality and certain conditions. Because not all membranes are equal, we will find details on their waterproof performance in Schmerber, the unit of measurement of waterproofing … and especially on their breathability. These include Novadry, Gore-tex, Mp+… Gore-tex remains the inventor and the reference in the waterproofness of shoes, and has just released a new generation of membrane – Gore-Tex Pro – which may equip the new models soon. MP+ is probably the best in terms of breathability but only equips clothes, not shoes.
Thermicity of your mountain shoes
Almost all traditional mountaineering and high-road shoes, even light ones, can withstand temperatures of the order of -10 °C IN MOTION,and provided you do not tighten them too much.
Then we find a lot of models with enough thickness of leather or light materials and thinsulate type insulating layers, which allow to resist at -20 ° C. Below, be careful, you need the specific shoe studied for winter. The sole plays a big role in therricity. Frostbite of the first degree quite often intervene on the toes and sole of the foot, when the sole is insufficient. It can therefore be increased thermicity by replacing the cleanliness sole with a more insulating sole.
Shoes and choice of crampons
Crampons are "steel crabs" that are fixed on shoes to progress on snow or ice. Some are lighter alloy for the easiest terrain and to limit the carrying weight (in ski touring in particular).
We must not avoid this question even if we do not feel the soul of a mountaineer. Snow in the mountains is a big safety issue and some valleys crossing "easy" spaces can be snowy all summer. You will certainly have the opportunity to regret not being able to put crampons on your brodequins, the day when you are offered a tempting itinerary with snow passages.
So choose your shoe model according to the type of cramponing. The different types of attachment of the crampons correspond to degrees of rigidity of the shoe. Rigidity conditions the use of quick fasteners because they require the shoe to constantly keep the same size, even in bending. If the distance between the front and back of the shoe decreases, the auto and semi-auto fasteners no longer hold.
A priori, the crampons "lanyper" (polyamide and neoprene) will go on all types of shoe. But they can only be used effectively if the shoe has a minimum of hold,although as said before some crampons now fit to fairly flexible soles, for reasonable durations. But beware, adapting crampons to soft and light shoes is a game that can sometimes be dangerous. In addition to the weak maintenance of the crampon, the ankle will be twisted more easily, and the straps may tend to shear the foot and cut off blood circulation.
Semi-auto crampons have a quick attachment to the heel. They are easier to lay, especially in difficult terrain, and also more stable and therefore suitable for mountaineering. They are usable with shoes that have a heel overflow and sufficient rigidity.
Auto crampons are reserved for really rigid mountaineering shoes that have an overflow in the front and heel.