If the Shoe Fits…

backpacking footwearBy Ethan Moorhead

Whether you are planning your first Alaskan backcountry expedition or a half-day hike on the glacier, the proper choice of footwear can make or break your experience in the wilderness. There’s not much worse than cold toes or blisters, so consider your options carefully before committing to your new boots. Here’s a short summary of your footwear options:

Tennis Shoes - Definitely not the best tools for rugged Alaska hiking, however some people like them as a camp shoe (especially if they’re small and light). They can work fine for VERY light hiking if the conditions are dry. Bring them along for the car (or for walking through town), but do not expect to use them on any out-of-town adventures.

Trail Runners - These can be adequate on more challenging hikes only if you have a light pack and strong ankles. The terrain in Alaska is often uneven, so if you’re not accustomed to low shoes, I’d recommend a boot with more support. However, if you have a pair you are used to hiking in, many folks favor their light weight.

Backpacking boots (over ankle) – They are good at almost everything! Although they can be overkill for hikers without a pack, but they will keep your feet dry (“waterproof” is a relative term) and reduce the chances of a rolled ankle. As long as they are broken in, these boots are suitable for most of our activities.

Mountaineering Boots (full and 3/4 shank) - These boots fit crampons better than any other option, and therefore can be great for trips with lots of glacier travel. Their rigidity is a plus on many of the types of terrain we encounter in the backcountry but is an uncomfortable nuisance on smoother trails. If you have a glacier trip and want to splurge, go for it! Otherwise a regular hiking boot works just fine.

Sandals, Crocs, etc. – These make great creek crossing and camp shoes. On longer trips you will want to get out of your boots ASAP once you’re in camp, so these are great to bring along. But don’t forget to be weight conscious – a lugged Vibram sole is overkill for a camp shoe.

Xtra Tuf’s - These ubiquitous Alaskan rain boots are not great for hiking, but they sure are waterproof and darn good lookin’. Plus, when you get back home you can play the “oh these? I got them in Alaska” card and look Xtra rugged to all of your hiking buddies.

So with these options in mind, it’s time for some shopping! After you do buy a new pair of boots, don’t forget to allow plenty of time to break them in before any big trips.

Keep on adventuring!