Winter Hiking Shoes

6:42 p.m. on December 6, 2007 (EST)
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37 forum posts

First off, let me greet everyone here and introduce myself.

I'm live in Sacramento, CA but I love the outdoors and backpacking. I am also very new to backpacking and probably over-due it on the items I bring.

I am looking to put together a winter hiking trips here soon with some friends. We are considering somewhere up hwy88 or Kings Canyon.

The problem I have is choosing a good backpacking boot. I need a boot thats cheap, that works with snow-shoes and yet keep my feet warm enough, when I am walking around without the snow shoes.

I don't think we will be experiencing any sub-zero temps, but you never really know.

I would also like to be able to use the boot, when climbing Mt. Shasta next May.

I've looked at Merrell's Switchback Gor-Tex. They look and feel like excellent shoes, but I also wonder how those compare to the Hi-Tec Altitude IV's, that are half the price.

I am always on a tight budget, but I also understand the importance of bringing the proper gear.

Any help is very much appreciated. Thank you.

7:05 p.m. on December 6, 2007 (EST)
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762 forum posts

I have a pair of Columbia Gore-Tex "Vertical Rise" boots that I paid very little for through Sierra Trading Post. I like the boots very much. They are waterproof and work well with snowshoes as long as I wear gators. I purchased them 1/2 size larger than usual to accomodate an extra layer of socks. This keeps my feet nice and warm without the bulk of an insulated boot.

This reply isn't so-much to sing the praises of the boots themselves, but to suggest to you that there are outlets that sell "last year's" models of some of the best boots out there. If cost is a factor (and when isn't it?) then places like Sierra trading Post are worth a serious look. You can save up to 70% or more. (If you are willing to be seen in last years styles!)

8:10 p.m. on December 6, 2007 (EST)
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Keep in mind that you will need to wear crampons when climbing Shasta, as well as using an ice ax (unless you do it on skis, in which case you should be an advanced backcountry skier). Most of the less expensive boots and boots intended for hiking do not accept crampons, except for the strap-on type, which tend to shift around a bit on regular hiking boots when you use them on slopes of the steepness you find on Shasta.

Make no mistake, Shasta is a very serious mountain, despite the number of inexperienced people who manage to make it up if they are lucky enough to get good conditions. Zippo (John Miksits), a good friend and climbing partner of mine, one of the regular contributers to the early version of rec.backcountry.useful (which became Trailspace) died on Shasta when caught in a severe storm. John was very experienced and had climbed Shasta by a half dozen different routes, a couple of them several times. Incidentally, Zippo was a Sacramento resident, a well-known and respected member of the community. Several hundred people turned out for his memorial service.

Go to the USFS website for Shasta and read the accident reports. http://www.shastaavalanche.org/accident.htm There are many serious injuries every year and most years have one or two deaths, usually in Avalanche Gulch, the so-called "dog route". You would do well to contact one of the 3 professional guide services that serve Shasta and get some training before going up. They will advise you on the appropriate gear, including boots.

A bit of news that not all here may have heard - most of the participants in rbu (rec.backcountry.useful) and rcu (rec.climbing.useful) were aware that Ranger Dan Towner had left the Forest Service and S&R shortly after Zippo's accident. Matt Hill, the other backcountry ranger for Shasta and co-developer of the Shasta Avalanche organization, recently left the Forest Service as well. Many of us miss Dan, and will miss Matt as well.

8:32 p.m. on December 6, 2007 (EST)
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123 forum posts

You could also rent a pair of boots and crampons for the shasta climb. Definitly go with someone experienced or a guide!

10:08 p.m. on December 6, 2007 (EST)
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As jeffrey says, you can rent the gear at The 5th Season in Mount Shasta City. I think that Shasta Mountain Guides either is based there or very close. I would recommend Alpine Skills International (based in Truckee) or Mountain Adventure Seminars (based in Bear Valley) as somewhat better guide services, but all 3 hold Forest Service permits for guiding the mountain and are good.

11:08 p.m. on December 6, 2007 (EST)
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241 forum posts

Consider renting a pair of plastic boots.
http://www.trailspace.com/gear/koflach/degre/

9:43 a.m. on December 7, 2007 (EST)
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37 forum posts

When I do the Shasta climb, my group will be going with 2 experienced local guides.

I guess the main point about winter hiking boots is: I am looking for something that will work well in winter hiking in California, while also is not to much trouble in the Spring and Fall.

I did alot of hiking in the Sierra's wearing only tennis shoes. But those were day trips and not much backpacking.

The question I need answered mainly is, do the $120 Merrell Switchbacks warrant the extra money as opposed to the $60 Hi-Tec Altitude IV's?

1:21 p.m. on December 7, 2007 (EST)
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First step is to look at the Gear Reviews on this website. Look at the top of this page, next to "Home", you will see "Gear Reviews". Click on that, then scroll down to "Footwear", and select "Hiking Boots". On the left you will see brands listed. Click on Hi-Tec, and on Merrell to see the reviews.

After reading the reviews, go to a good shop that has experienced boot-fitters. This is the most important and critical step. To a large extent, you get what you pay for, which would say that the Merrells are better (certainly my personal experience, though I prefer Lowas, which cost even more than Merrells). However, the quality and price are irrelevant if the boots don't fit properly. Different companies use different "lasts" (the "last" is the model foot that a manufacturer uses to design its footgear). If the last happens to match your foot, you will be very happy with your boots. If not, you may suffer enough to have to be carried out of the backcountry with feet so sore and blistered that you can't stand up (I am not kidding or exagerating about this - it happens all too often).

Be sure you take the socks you intend to wear with you to the store (a light wicking liner sock and a heavier wool insulating sock). Do not depend on using the sample socks the store has in the basket in the boot section - they aren't your socks and are extremely unlikely to fit you properly, which means you can't judge the boot fit properly. Wear the boots around the store for at least 15 minutes, and that means walking around, not standing still or sitting. If you can put on a pack with a load of 20-30 pounds and if the store has an incline (preferably made with rocks), so much the better. You want to try them under as near the conditions you will actually use them as possible.

As for the specific boots, it happens I don't care for either one for winter usage, or even for summer usage. I can't get a good fit in Hi-Tecs (by the way, HiTec has an outlet store in Oakdale, which isn't that far from Sac, especially if you are headed for Yosemite). On the other hand, I have friends who have found the HiTecs to be very good (they have 4 and 5 star ratings in the Trailspace gear reviews). I have a pair of Merrels that are now beyond their lifetime, though they are in good enough shape that I am taking them to Africa with me to hand off to some deserving porter. They have done well by me for a couple thousand trail miles.

As for the price difference, $60 is about what a dozen Big Macs cost. If it turns out that the Merrells fit you better, then the added comfort is worth several times the price difference. Your feet are what carry you - don't scrimp on them.

Bottom line - get a proper fit, even if it costs a couple hundred bucks. Your feet will thank you.

2:00 a.m. on December 10, 2007 (EST)
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37 forum posts

Spent the day at REI - Sports Chalet and shopping online. I tried on boots, with wool socks over my regular thin socks. It seems all Merrell size 10.5 fit me perfectly. Almost like the shoe was made for my foot.

Only problem I have no is picking the right pair of merrell's.

Looking at the Thermo 6 Gore-Tex right now. I was looking at the Thermo 6 non-Gore-Tex, but I fear the rubber part of the shoe, while keeping my foot dry will also make it sweat, with no route of escape.

6:01 a.m. on December 10, 2007 (EST)
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You may want to get the boots in a half size or more larger to acomodate your feet swelling.

5:53 p.m. on December 10, 2007 (EST)
9 reviewer rep
37 forum posts

I thought having a fitting hiking shoe was of extreme importance? Now ya telling me to buy one half a size larger?

6:09 p.m. on December 10, 2007 (EST)
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201 forum posts

Yep, the end of your boot where your toes live need extra space. They (toes) should be able to spread and have room at the toe of the boot so as not to get jammed on decent.

Having an extra 1/2 inch to allow room for bulky hiking socks and space for your toes, is a "perfect" fit.

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