First hiking boot, proper jacket

5:30 p.m. on July 21, 2012 (EDT)
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Hello. Those might be boring questions for regulars but despite my best efforts, I am *overwhelmed* by the amount of information regarding hiking shoes. I have always done my hiking with plain running shoes. Never had any serious problem with it, sure my feet may feel tired at the end of the day, and I may have blisters at time, but I always assumed that it comes with walking constantly for 12-18 hours.

Since I have two planned "expedition" coming up, I read up on hiking shoes, and now I am completely lost. Most makers have 20+ models for various use and I'd like to be able to narrow down a little before I head to the shop.

Expedition 1: Mt Fuji:

Going up will involve stepping on big rocks, while going down will involve a lot of scree / gravel. The round trip is only about 12km, although the elevation is about 1500m. I will try to keep my load within 8kg.

Expedition 2: Shikoku Pilgrimage:

I will not undertake this for another 3 months, so to be honest, I do not have all the details. But I know that the distance for this one is about 1200km. It won't be all flat, but I believe it should all be paved road. This expedition will take over a month and though I will never be too far from civilisation, I will still need to carry more clothes, food etc. at any time.

I'd like the lightest shoes I can get away that provide enough support for the two expeditions. In neither case, I should not need to walk in large puddle of water, but I can expect rain. My feet is on the wide side.

Based on the provided information, could I get away with trail shoes, or should I aim for mid-cut hiking boot? Since I am not doing any wild off trail trekking, I am assuming that I will not need anything "heavy duty".

I have come across various brand during my research (Meindl, Asolo, Lowa, La Sportiva, Raichle, Kayland, Vasque, Scarpa and Salomon). I understand they have their characteristic when it comes to foot shape, but I can not find information on all of them. Which ones are favoured for wider feet, and could anyone short list a couple of models for me to try?

I am also not sure whether Gore-Tex is worth it or not. Cost is not the issue, but as I understand, they do have their pros and cons.

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Which brands are reputable for jackets? I am particularly interested in something that is strong against the wind with minimum bulk. I quite lazy when it comes to carrying a jacket (I can usually get away with it due to well above tolerance to low temperature), so it is important that the jacket is both light enough that I have no excuse not taking with me, while providing the best performance within it's limitations.

Thanks in advance :)

5:44 p.m. on July 21, 2012 (EDT)
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I can't find the edit, option so I'll have to add it here:

Is water resistance in shoes a matter of comfort or safety?

I can see why people want to stay dry in general. If you get soaked and the wind blows, I would imagine that one might catch a cold. But I am a little less convinced this would be an issue with wet feet ^^;

2:00 p.m. on July 22, 2012 (EDT)
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Short term trip , comfort

Long Term trip , safety

12:34 p.m. on July 23, 2012 (EDT)
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as anyone here will tell you, focus less on the brand and above all on how the shoes fit your feet.  choose the shoe that fits best.

I have fairly wide feet and have had reasonably good success in the past with Vasque shoes.  because the various models are made on different 'lasts' (foot shapes), you really need to try them on. 

Treksta trail shoes run wide in the front part of the foot as well.  i have had good luck with the 'evolution' trail runners.  though i have not tried the evolution mid, i imagine that the sole is similar, but that the boot provides a little more security for your feet. 

if you expect a fair bit of rain and cooler temperatures, a gore tex or eVent shoe might be useful.  the membranes tend to make the shoe a little warmer, so some people find them uncomfortable if their feet get hot or if they anticipate warmer weather.

there are some extremely lightweight, water-resistant wind shells available that are fine for windy conditions and occasional light rain - and not terribly expensive.  Marmot driclime (weighs 8 oz), patagonia houdini (weighs 4 oz) are examples.   they aren't suitable for very abrasive conditions, but it doesn't sound like you need to worry about that.

if you have to account for consistently rainy weather, you might want one that is waterproof (gore tex, eVent, or something similar).   unfortunately, very lightweight waterproof/breathable jackets tend to get expensive.  you could also combine a lightweight wind jacket and very inexpensive lightweight rainwear (driducks, froggtoggs). 

 

3:42 p.m. on July 23, 2012 (EDT)
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Thanks a lot for your input. After spending the whole week-end reading and making a short-list based on the spec and reviews on this site, I finally went to a specialist store. I haven't pulled the trigger yet as I still want to try a couple more shoes (the store did not have many of what I had written down) but it seems like I might've "over-researched". I have not had the chance to try the Vasque yet, but of the two pairs of shoe that seem to fit, one is from a company that is probably never heard of in the West: Sirio (the other one being the Keen Targhee II). It was the shop keeper's suggestion (he was not pushy about it, he just asked if I was interested in a suggestion and I thought why not).

It's a Japanese brand, designed for Japanese feet (apparently wider), possibly manufactured in Italy (I read it on a Japanese site, though I am not sure of the credibility of the source). Anyway, it's got GoreTex and Vibram soles, so it gets the paper credential is there at least. It's no cheaper than other shoes in it's class, so I hope that it can match the reliability of internationally known brands.

However, comfortable as both pairs are in store, I am not sure which one is the better fit. I am happy with the length and width, it seems to pass the finger at behind the heel test, there is enough space in the toebox to move the toes, and it doesn't seem like I will be bashing my toes against the front of the shoe when walking downhill in both cases. The one area where I notice a difference between the Sirio and the Keen though, is that the upper part of the Sirio seems a bit taller. Whereas the the Keen is snug, there is a gap in the Sirio. I am not sure if it is a good thing or a bad thing: on one hand, it might allow some additional space if my feet expend during a hike, and it feels more "airy" but I am not sure if it might rub against my foot under certain circumstances.

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I won't go as far as say that money is no object, but if I was to go for one, can I expect them to last a long time (e.g. a decade)? Also, do such jackets need any maintenance/treatments?

Do you have any example of very lightweight waterproof / breathable jackets? This way I can check the local price and decide whether I can justify the premium over the Marmot and Patagonia that you mentioned.

6:08 p.m. on July 23, 2012 (EDT)
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I prefer a higher boot for hiking for a number of reasons. One is the increased ankle support (important if you're on an uncertain surface such as scree slopes or gravel) and because it helps to control the amount that your foot can slide down into the boot.

While some people here might have had different experiences, I've seen a number of people lose toenails because their boots are too small - IMHO a bit more toe room is better than not enough. My foot, for example is a US size 10.5, but my most comfortable boots are size 11. Lots of room to wiggle my toes, and with the lacelocks and higher ankle, I am never at risk of toe-bashing. Bear in mind that it is also appropriate to change the lacing en route, perhaps a looser foot for more comfort going up, tighter for more control on scree or a traverse, and a combination of tighter ankle/looser foot for a descent.

Re: Lightweight waterproof/breathable jackets. OR makes some nice ones, like the Revel (Pertex) and the Foray (GoreTex), and their new Axiom is getting rave reviews with a GoreTex Active Shell. (Disclosure: Sponsor)

7:22 p.m. on July 23, 2012 (EDT)
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I would suggest getting at least a mid. You need some stability on the scree and you need support for what you are carrying on your back on the pilgrimage. I wear keens and am quite happy with their fit and performance. Also, when you try them again, consider getting some SUPERFEET insoles. The insole in the boots when you buy them are not really very good. I especially think the long walk of the pilgrimage will be made far more comfortable with SUPERFEET inside your shoe, whatever you decide to get. Click HERE for the website. 

 

9:05 p.m. on July 23, 2012 (EDT)
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Thanks again. I'll make a note on the insole based on what's available, though I am worried that the SUPERFEET might be a touch fiddly (I do not have an oven and it seems necessary?).

I was going shooting for a mid/high cut, which I think the Keen qualifies and the Sirio is the same height. Is there anything I should watch out for if my feet qualifies as "low volume"?

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Re: Jackets: Are the aforementioned technology synonymous with each other, or do they have their own advantages/disadvantages, or are some plain better?

11:28 p.m. on July 23, 2012 (EDT)
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I have done a bit more research, and I am having a bit of a second thought about whether the shells are for me.

First of all, I sweat easily, usually before most people. My body seems to be warmer than average, hence I often find myself wearing less than most people. So I am worried that I will end up stuffy in even the best shells.

How important is it in practice to stay dry when hiking/backpacking? I am usually not worried about getting wet in daily life, I usually tell people that I am "waterproof" and the truth is that once I enter a building, I dry up in no time anyway. Still, I am not sure if it is dangerous when a bit further from civilisation.

The main reason I am looking for a jacket, is that I may end up sitting in the wind for a number of hours (waiting for the sunrise). Camping is not allowed, so what I wear is going to have to suffice.

If I am willing to trade "waterproof" for "water resistant", would I be able to find something that is light and still highly wind resistant with excellent breathability? Or am I asking for the unreasonable?

8:21 a.m. on July 24, 2012 (EDT)
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I simply cut my berry cores siperfeet to fit. I like north face wind stopper, myself.

6:06 p.m. on July 24, 2012 (EDT)
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TooNice said:

First of all, I sweat easily, usually before most people. ...

How important is it in practice to stay dry when hiking/backpacking? ...

I may end up sitting in the wind for a number of hours ...so what I wear is going to have to suffice....

If I am willing to trade "waterproof" for "water resistant", would I be able to find something that is light and still highly wind resistant with excellent breathability?

People who are in good shape seem to sweat more readily as soon as they start exercising. (As do people who are badly overweight, but that's just because their bodies are better insulated and they're working way too hard.)

The danger of getting wet is that it can lead to hypothermia. When you hear about someone dying of 'exposure' that's usually what the coroner means.Water reduces or eliminates the insulating value of some fabrics (notably cotton) and you will lose body heat faster.

However, I have been soaked through in a shell that wasn't quite waterproof, but I was still warm because the synthetic fleece I was wearing underneath, while damp, was protected from the cooling effects of evaporation by a loose-fitting external shell.

So you're hiking up the mountain in the early morning. It's cool but the weather is nice, so you start off in a shell and fleece but soon strip down to just the fleece. Your sweat will evaporate through the fabric and you'll be fairly dry. When you stop for a break, you will immediately start to cool down, so you put your shell on when the break begins. When you start off again you'll still be warm and dry.

Let's assume the weather remains nice and the day begins to warm up. First your shell comes off, then your fleece. You reach the summit and stop. You add the layers back on as needed when you start cooling down again.

On the other hand, let's assume it starts to rain after your break! The shell stays on, although you can open up the pit zips, loosen the drawstrings on the bottom, or open the collar to stop from overheating. The rain will cool you down, so you should be able to keep the fleece on, but if it gets too warm, you can strip down to the shell. When you stop, you'll have to put the shell on right away over the fleece; even if it soaks through, you'll still be warm. One trick here is to have a waterproof/breathable shell that has a looser fit. That dead air all around will both improve air circulation to encourage evaporation (without refrigeration) and help keep you warm.

There is a difference between 'waterproof' and 'waterproof/breathable'. In practical terms, a jacket that is guaranteed as '100% waterproof' will not be able to breath. Imagine wearing a plastic bag.

The various fabrics that are sold as 'waterproof/breathable', like eVent and GoreTex, all seem to have differing combinations of the two, exchanging a better degree of one for a lesser degree of the other. The more waterproof it is, the less breathable it is, and vice versa. How well those work also depends on other factors, like the humidity level at your location, how dirty the fabric is, how hard you're working, and how much you sweat.

You mention wind-proofing though - all those fabrics will completely block out all but the strongest winds and all have some degree of breathablility.

This might sound complicated, but it really isn't. You'll hear everyone talking about dressing in layers - what that comes down to is having enough of the right kind of layers to be able to combine them to handle any kind of weather. I've been fine with a fleece and shell on a rainy summer day, added a lightweight rain suit for steady downpours, and used the same combination along with a down sweater to keep me warm down to -15°!

9:08 p.m. on July 24, 2012 (EDT)
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Thank you very much for the in-depth reply, it helped a lot :)

I have just a couple more questions. I note that you have both a shell and a lightweight rain suit.

1. Is it because the shell lacks one of those waterproof fabrics, or because those will get overwhelmed by a steady downpour?

2. How lightweight is the rain suit (and for a matter of fact, what is considered "lightweight"*), and is it more or less the equivalent of wearing a plastic bag?

*I am just about to pull the trigger on a Neoshell jacket (Westcomb Switch LT). I was hoping that it would allow me to do without a rain suit. At under 15oz, it is about as light as some of my lightest jackets, so I am thinking that it should be "light enough" to fit any bag. I understand that there -are- lighter shells yet and I am wondering if it is possible to get a shell plus rainsuit for around that weight combined.

9:25 p.m. on July 24, 2012 (EDT)
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if you are going to get a polartec neoshell jacket like the westcomb switch, that's waterproof and breathable - you won't need a separate wind shell.  for a waterproof/breathable shell, it's fairly lightweight. 

also, neoshell is decidedly NOT like wearing a plastic bag.  i have a neoshell softshell (marmot zion) that i was finally able to wear it during a cool/rainy hike.  completely waterproof yet vents moisture well. 

8:44 a.m. on July 25, 2012 (EDT)
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Ended up having to cancel my order for the Switch LT as it would not have arrived on time (Westcomb does not offer express shipping outside America it seems). So I will be opting for the even lighter Shift LT from another store.

While I like the fact that it is lighter, I think that I would've preferred having extra pockets and, more importantly the pit zips. From what I have read, the Neoshell is amongst the best as far as this type of fabrics is concerned, but I am still worried that I would want a little more. Well, I guess that I can just settle with opening the jacket a little if it comes to it. Strictly speaking I could've ordered the the Switch from this store too, but the Shift LT was too handsomely discounted for me to ignore ^^;

Are shells any good in environments that are cold-ish and humid (not raining, just in the air), or is that better tackled with a sweater?

9:37 a.m. on July 25, 2012 (EDT)
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Here are a couple of reviews we did that might be helpful.  Obe is a neoshell jacket from Rab that is top notch.  Another is a new backpacking/hiking boot from Lowa:

http://www.backpackersreview.com/gear-reviews/clothing-footwear/57-gear-review-rab-neo-shell-jacket

http://www.backpackersreview.com/gear-reviews/clothing-footwear/83-gear-review-lowa-ticam-gtx-backpacking-boot

This is also a good one from Lowa:

http://www.backpackersreview.com/gear-reviews/clothing-footwear/61-gear-review-lowa-tibet-pro-boot

8:43 a.m. on July 30, 2012 (EDT)
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After trying a dozen pairs of boots, I've finally settled with.. my second choice (another Japanese brand called Caravan). The fit is perfect, the only reason it became my second choice is because the Meindl Meran I tried was not only a perfect fit, but also incredibly comfortable. Sadly, the import tariff for leather boots is insane in Japan, and the Meindl ends up over $125 more than in the UK.. and I bet the UK isn't even the cheapest place to get it. In fact, the cost of the Meindl in Japn almost the *combined* cost of a Meindl bought elsewhere *and* the Caravan I bought (which is pretty cheap, but fit for purpose). 

I have two more questions:

1. What material is ideal for a base layer (and any fancy technology to look out for)? As I understand, I should avoid cotton. Wool might be fine for socks, but I think that I don't think it's the most comfortable base layer.

2. This might sound crazy, but I have only ever hiked in jeans (sometime shorts - but usually jeans). Rain and sweat will make it stick to me, though oddly enough it has never bothered me sufficiently to get something more appropriate. But *what is* more appropriate?

Thanks :)

10:09 a.m. on July 31, 2012 (EDT)
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re: Base layers

Some people swear by merino wool as being warm even when wet and comfortable at warmer temperatures. Others like synthetic wicking layers to help keep your skin dry. Cotton has no insulating value when wet, and it gets really clammy and uncomfortable when it's warm.

re: Waterproof/breathable

neoshell is decidedly NOT like wearing a plastic bag.

Sounds like you've found the Holy Grail of fabrics, leadbelly. I was only describing my experience with other fabrics over the years, of course, but I'll have to try out the Neoshell. I've also heard that the newest GoreTex breathes so well that pit zips aren't even needed anymore.

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