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All About Boots!

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Joined: 04 Jan 2003
Articles: 9
Comments: 0
Location: Mesa
 Posted: 12/2/2003, 10:12 pm

Let’s take a look at the anatomy of a hiking boot. A better understanding of the make-up of a boot allows for a more informed consumer. Backpacker, Outside and Trail Runner magazines as well as several boot manufactures websites were consulted for this article.

The outside of the boot is surrounded with what is called the upper. The material the upper is made from varies. The most common would be leather. Leather generally comes in full grain or split grain. Full grain tends to be tougher and more water resistant. Split grains are lighter. Another product used in uppers is called nubuck, which is basically full grain leather that has been treated. A boot with a Gore-tex lining is considered to be waterproof, but also tend to be warmer. Manufactures have many different names for what amounts to their own breathable liner within the upper. Uppers come in three general sizes: low, mid/medium/midheight, and high cut. Although personal preference dictates most decisions on uppers, the general rules regard support. A high cut boot provides maximum ankle support. It is for this reason that backpackers with heavy loads wear high cut boots. Day hikers tend to wear low or mid cut uppers. Again, personal preference dictates the ideal boot upper. Those with weak ankles tend to lean toward a high upper.

The internal layer of the boot is called the foot bed. This is the part you can pull out of the boot, in most cases a molded piece of foam. Any salesperson worth their weight will suggest replacing the manufacturer’s foot bed with a more durable product. Superfeet is the market leader for a reason. These inserts, when properly fitted for your feet, enhance the fit and feel of the boot. While firm, they provide a cushioned layer of much more substance than the foam foot bed.

The next layer is called the midsole. This layer provides the majority of the cushioning within the boot. It is either glued or stitched to the outsole. The “glued vs. stitched” options can be debated, with personal preference usually the deciding factor. Most quality midsoles will be made of polyurethane. By comparison, lightweight hikers and many trail runners have what is called an expanded vinyl acetate or EVA midsole. While this provides the wearer with more cushion when compared to polyurethane, the trade off is in durability. EVA midsoles generally won’t last as long as polyurethane.

The insole forms the next layer of the boot. This generally is made of polyurethane, nylon, or polypropylene (polypro). This is generally referred to as a protection layer. The idea being that this layer keeps the trail shrapnel from touching your socks/feet.

The part of the boot in direct contact with the trail is called the outsole. The thickness of the outsole is in direct correlation to the expected stress put upon it. Meaning, if you are caring a big heavy pack, you should have a thick outsole whereas light loads should have thinner outsoles. The outsole is covered with what are called lugs. Boots purchased for light duty should have shallow lugs, while heavy backpacking boots should have deeper lugs. In most cases, the deeper the lug, the better the traction. That is provided you’ve purchased a boot with a quality outsole, such as Vibram.
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