The Perfect Hiking Boot II – Tent & Trails

I said in Part 1 that I’d start my search for the PHB in Backpacker’s Gear Guide. But circumstances led elsewhere. For 3½ years I worked Downtown, near the site of the World Trade Center. A couple of weeks ago I met up with a colleague from that time (Peter Marney – see his great photography here). Pete asked if I’d been to Tent & Trails near our old office. I had not. He described it as a rambling, jam-packed store, and one where the assistants had all done something big like hike the Appalachian Trail.

Tent & Trails, Park Place, New YorkI had to go into the City again last week, and took time out for Tent & Trails. It’s at 21 Park Place, and I can’t believe I never ran into it in years of lunchtime mooching. There was indeed a lot of gear crammed into its three narrow floors. Boots were downstairs, where I met Craig, an assistant. I explained how my Garmonts treated me well on my rain-soaked walk across Scotland, but that my feet did get wet. Should I even expect them to stay dry in all conditions? Craig said – well, more implied – that I should, as long as the water was not coming in over the tongue. I felt sure that in Scotland my feet got wet without that happening.

This conversation also established that I need a backpacking boot, a different animal altogether than for day-hiking on good trails. Craig was patient and knowledgeable. He understood I would not make a purchase today but steered me generally towards fabric and Gore-Tex boots, mentioning brands like Millet, Scarpa and Mammut. This would be a departure from my leather Garmonts. Leather – as I understand it – is water-resistant and durable. It may also offer a better fit after break-in. The trade-off is that it is heavy and not as breathable. I have never been bothered by weight or overheated feet (unless the lack of breathability contributes to the blisters I sometimes suffer). So could leather still be for me?

My Old Garmont BootsAt the entrance to Tents & Trails there was a rack of fact sheets. The pocket for “Basics About Hiking Boots” was empty. I went back in and asked at the desk, where they printed one out. (I think it must have been a draft as the text is a bit disjointed.) But something at the end caught my eye – “Most cemented boots are resoleable…”. Hmmm, I wonder if my Garmonts are cemented. Next stop, back to where I bought them.

The Perfect Hiking Boot – Part 1

It may end up as Part 1 of 50.

My Garmont hiking bootsSometime this spring I need new hiking boots. The pair I own now – Garmonts – are intact, but the tread is worn down. I started wearing them in September 2010. I know that because I took the previous pair on their final trip that month, and was glad I did because we ended up walking through Otter Brook in the Adirondacks with our boots on. It would have been no way to treat a new pair. That is another story, but it tells me I got 2½ years from the Garmonts.

That may not sound much for pricey boots, but I have no complaints. On top of lots of day hiking, some short backpacking trips and yard work, these boots did me the inestimable favor of staying in one piece throughout a 400-mile trek across Scotland. For much of the journey the ground was sodden and puddled, and they kept my feet in OK shape.

This is not to say the Garmonts were perfect. My feet did get wet. I did get blisters. But the thing is I just don’t know if I could have done better. And that ignorance is what I am planning to change. I am going to become an educated consumer, at least of hiking boots. Up to now, whenever I needed a new pair, I have visited my local outdoors store, taken a bit of cursory advice, and walked out with boots that looked about right and cost enough to indicate they were good quality.

Day Ten - A path not a burn, looking back towards KinlocheweSo where do I start a search for the Perfect Hiking Boot, the one that will always keep my feet dry and warm, even in the sodden Highlands and on Isle Royale when summer thunderstorms turn trails into streams? (The wet line in the picture to the right is a Highland trail not a wee burn.) Likely such boots don’t exist, but I’ll start with Backpacker magazine’s 2013 Gear Guide which arrived in the mail recently, and tell you how I got on in Part 2.