Las Vegas Sun

December 10, 2018

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How to pick the perfect hiking shoes

Kelso Dunes Beagle Scouts

Mikayla Whitmore

Spoon the dog, Erin Ryan, and Kristen Peterson hike on the Kelso Dunes at the Mojave National Preserve on March 25, 2016.

If you’re just beginning to explore the outdoors, you might not realize the importance of a good pair of hiking boots. They’re essential to the comfort and support of your feet and ankles. Too small and they can cause skeletal damage, loss of toenails and more. Too large and it could mean painful blisters or injuries caused by lack of support. While a good pair of shoes might be costly, it’s an investment worth making. Keep reading for a primer on how to find the best boots for all your hiking needs.

Type of shoes

Your hiking terrain will dictate what kind of shoe you need.

• Light hiking: A basic low-top hiking shoe is suitable for light day hikes that aren't too stressful. The extra traction and durability of a hiking shoe will prove to be far better than a standard sneaker.

• Intermediate hiking: For longer hikes spanning multiple hours, consider a mid- or high-cut boot. If you're carrying a light backpack and are traversing trickier, off-trail terrain, the support from this boot should help keep you stable.

• Multi-day hiking: Consider a high-cut boot that will keep ankles stable and prevent rolling while you have a big pack on your back, especially if you'll be off trail.

• Other considerations: Will you be walking through water? Will temperatures be warm or cold? You'll want breathable shoes for hot, dry conditions and insulated, waterproof boots for cold and wet conditions.

Fit

This is one of the trickiest aspects of picking a shoe. If you’re looking at a retailer such as REI, a specialist can measure your foot and provide you with a thick sock so you can get a feel for the boot’s actual fit. Some stores also have a rock area for testing shoes on downhill terrain. There should be at least a thumb’s width between your toenails and the tip of the shoes. You never want your toes touching the inside of the shoe—that can cause problems, such as damaged toenails. Consider increasing a size if you plan to wear thick socks, and be sure to try on shoes late in the day—your feet swell as the day progresses and will also do so on long hikes. Finally, ask customer service to provide a demonstration on the proper way to lace and tie your shoes for maximum comfort.

Shoe materials

• Leather: Natural and durable, leather is one of the more costly materials used in hiking shoes. Leather-synthetic hybrids are also common and provide a mix of durability and affordability.

• Gore-Tex: This synthetic material is commonly used in waterproof shoes. It's perfect for keeping feet dry from external elements but breathability is low.

• Polyester and nylon: These materials are lightweight and vegan but not as durable as leather.

• Polyurethane: Used in the shoe's sole, this oil-based material helps protect your feet from rocks and other debris found on- or off-trail.

Socks

A thick sock that provides warmth and ventilation is ideal. There are many fibers and styles to choose from.

• Wool: Thick and perfect for cold weather. This textile is natural and will help wick moisture.

• Synthetic fibers: If you have sweaty feet, consider a blend of polyester, nylon or spandex. If you're vegan, socks made from these materials are your best option.

• Cotton: Say no to cotton. The fibers absorb and hold moisture, making them a catalyst for cold, damp feet.

Must-try winter hikes

Kelso Dunes: You’ve seen photos of giant sand dunes in the middle of the Mojave plastered all over Instagram. Drive about two hours south of the Vegas Valley and you’ll find these sandy mountains nestled within the Mojave National Preserve. For the best photo-op, arrive an hour before sunset. It’s a three-mile round-trip hike to the top, and by the time you reach the highest point, you’ll have a breathtaking view of the surrounding landscape, made even more beautiful by dusk’s pink and purple hues. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, set up camp at the bottom of the dune, but be warned, temperatures are chilly and windy at night, so come prepared with the right gear. For the most up-to-date information on roadside camping, check nps.gov.

Petroglyph Canyon Trail at Sloan Canyon: While Red Rock may get the most attention, Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area, near Henderson, offers a ton of great hikes right in our backyard. Its 48,000-plus acres provide ample natural beauty, but not a lot of shade, so it’s best avoided during hotter months.

For a nice two-hour hike, try the 3.7-mile round-trip Petroglyph Canyon Trail (aka BLM 100 Trail). It’s a mostly easy stroll with a little bit of periodic scrambling that leads hikers to the site of ancient rock art. Just be sure to treat the area with the respect it deserves. “Petroglyph Canyon is a special place,” local naturalist Jim Boone writes on his website birdandhike.com. “This is a glimpse into the lives of those who lived here before we did. Please respect the spirituality and history here.” For more information, visit the Sloan Canyon Visitor Contact Station at the end of Nawghaw Poa Road near Henderson, open 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily.

Badlands Loop at Death Valley: The name may be intimidating, but California’s Death Valley National Park is only a couple hours’ drive west of Las Vegas. And during cooler months (November through March), it’s actually quite a pleasant place to visit. The park offers a variety of hikes for all skill levels, and rangers are happy to help you find the right one. Starting from the popular Zabriskie Point scenic overlook, the 2.7-mile Badlands Loop is a moderate jaunt that can be completed in about two hours. The sights include “colorful badlands composed of an ancient lake bed,” according to the national park website. Energetic hikers can opt for the 7.8-mile “complete circuit,” which includes hikes through Golden Canyon and Gower Gulch.

The Narrows: Two and a half hours northeast of Las Vegas sits one of Utah’s most beautiful and lush national parks. While thousands of hiking enthusiasts make the drive to Zion each year for a number of trails, the Narrows is undoubtedly one of the most popular for its breathtaking scenery. Traversing the Narrows isn’t for the faint of heart, however. Throughout the trail, hikers are submerged in ankle- to waist-deep water, and temperatures can be downright frigid in winter months. Flash floods, while less frequent in the fall and winter, can be deadly. Rent a drysuit from a reputable retailer such as the Zion Adventure Company (zionadventures.com), and you can have a memorable and comfortable hike no matter the season.

Valley of Fire: Sixteen miles south of Overton and just one hour northeast of Las Vegas sits Nevada’s oldest and largest state park. Known for scorching temps in the summer, the weather is tolerable in cooler months. For 2,000-year-old petrified trees and petroglyphs, check out Valley of Fire’s Atlatl Rock and Petroglyph Canyon. Take a short 1/3-mile hike to Elephant Rock for snaps, or head to Arch Rock to view the park’s fragile wonder. If you’re more of a hiking novice, consider a scenic drive through the park. The red landscape is beautiful at any time of day, and the Rainbow Vista and Silica Dome are gorgeous structures that you can appreciate just as easily from the road.

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.