For backpacking courses, footwear is the number one item to get right. It’s not just about buying the right boots for the activities you’ll be doing on course, but also breaking them in and truly making them your own before you embark on your expedition. For all Outward Bound backpacking courses, it is required that you have boots that come above your ankle. Boots will provide more stability and ankle support than a shoe. They provide a stable base for each step as you and your body adapt to walking upright over uneven terrain wearing a pack. Shoes such as trail runners or hiking shoes will not be permitted footwear for participants. See the image below for some visual guidance.
**Note: The 2021 season is not anticipated to be a high snow year in the High Sierras.
BOOT FITTING & SOCKS
First, find a reputable outdoor store in your area that has staff trained for boot fitting. REI is one of many national retailers, and there are likely local options in your area as well. In the Bay Area, Sports Basement (multiple locations) and Decathlon (Emeryville) are two great stores to check out. You can check out Outdoor Gear Lab to read reviews of specific models, including those listed below.
**Pro Tip 1: It’s best to do your boot shopping in the afternoon because feet typically swell as the day progresses and this will affect the fit.
Try on at least two or three possible boot options when you’re at the store. Lace the boots up fully with the socks that you plan to wear — one pair of lightweight liner socks under mid-weight wool hiking socks. Start by standing on a downward slanting incline and try to jam your toes to the front of the boot. Next, take a walk around the store.
So how should they feel? Okay, great, you've got them on, how here are some basic guidelines for the fit.
Your toes shouldn't bump up against the front of your boot.
Your boots should be comfortable with plenty of room to wiggle your toes at the front of the boot.
Your heel may slip a little in the back of the boot usually 1/8” to 1/4”.
There should be no obvious pressure points.
If they are comfortable, but stiffer than other shoes you are used to, that's ok. If you are worried about your boots fitting correctly, ask the salesperson if you can wear them around your house (not outside!) for a few hours and return them if there is a problem.
**Pro Tip 2: Don't buy boots without trying them on. If you aren’t able to get to a store and need to order online, be sure to check return policies. You’ll want to order at least 2-3 pairs of different boots to ensure a good fit, and then return the ones that aren’t.
BOOT BREAK-IN & CARE
**Pro Tip 3: Break in your boots well before the course begins!
Wear them as much as possible! You should start wearing your boots several weeks before your course. Wear them around the house at first to test the fit, and then put them on to go to school or walk around town. Hopefully you can even do some practice hikes in your boots! This is going to help you a ton because it’s one of the easiest ways to prevent blisters in the backcountry.
The following list of boots contains some recommended options that will work for the majority of our courses. In general, Hiking Boots will offer the best balance of comfort, support and protection for your course. You may find a boot not listed here that fulfills all requirements. Please know that boot manufacturers change model names quite often, so a model listed below may no longer be available.
Your local store may recommend a Backpacking Boot when they hear about your course. We have found this style of boot to be best only for students with past ankle injuries or those prone to twisting ankles, and for all students during years of high snow conditions.
We DO NOT recommend Mountaineering Boots for any OBCA courses.
Terrex Swift R Mid GTX
Lone Peak 4 Mid RSM
Voyager Mid, Targhee III
Moab 2 Mid Ventilator
Capra Sport Mid, Phaser Peak
Sawtooth II Mid
Bridger Mid BDry
X Ultra 3 Mid GTX
Quest Prime GTX
Moraine Mid, Mistral GTX
St Elias GTX
DO I NEED GORE-TEX BOOTS?
Short answer is no. Most hiking and backpacking boots have a waterproof yet breathable membrane like Gore-Tex in them (often noted by GTX in the style name). These fabrics are designed to keep the boot dry. Unfortunately waterproof boots take much longer to dry out than non-waterproof models and do not breathe nearly as well. Since it can be very difficult to find non-waterproof boots, boots with mesh panels built into the leather and treated with Gore-Tex are the best option for most of our courses.
Since there is typically very little precipitation in our California course areas, it is strongly recommended not to purchase full grain leather boots that also have a waterproof membrane, especially if you are prone to athlete’s foot or other foot ailments. The exceptions to this are winter courses, and June courses during high snow years. Having a Gore-Tex membrane with full grain leather will help keep your feet warmer in those environments. For summer courses, check in with your Course Advisor in late spring to ask about current snow levels.
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