As the country marks the 4th of July weekend, summer travel is also kicking off. While many have put their foreign vacation plans on hold due to the pandemic, the country’s parks are open and ready to welcome visitors.
More than two-thirds of the 419 units of the National Park System are available to guests, according to the National Park Service. While visitors need to be mindful of the guidance set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with local authorities in order to stay safe, it’s also important people come equipped with the proper personal equipment when getting ready to explore the great outdoors and that starts with a pair of light hiking boots, sports sandals, or trail shoes.
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“For the first-time camper, apparel and footgear is important, but often ends up lower on the checklist of gear such as headlamps,” warns Thomas Dixon, national sales and product manager for the outdoor division of Ecco USA. “National parks have so much to do and offer different activities. I bring my mountain bike and do some trail running, so I want a multi-functional outdoor shoe such as a light hiker.”
Here, industry experts offer some tips on buying your first pair of performance boots and sport sandals.
Hiking is defined in many ways, from climbing Mt. Everest to a walk in New York’s Central Park, so a boot’s outsole is critical. “A big difference between a regular sneaker or athletic footwear versus outdoor, is the traction and lugs that outdoor performance boots offer to give you confidence on trails and rugged terrain,” said Erika Derylo, Merrell marketing manager for performance. “Look for things like a high-quality rubber outsole that can handle wet or dry trails, which typically come on hiking and trail running shoes.” For those really harsh surfaces, consider outsoles with rock plates, material embedded between the outsole and midsole for underfoot safety from sharp stones.
Outdoor footwear runs the gamut from low-cut to over-the-ankle boots. For light hikes and trail running, look for low-cut silhouettes. “If you’re carrying a lot of weight in your backpack, a higher boot offers more stability,” said Dixon. Here, he explained, is the time to consider any padding around the ankle since a little can go a long way in creating a buffer between the foot and shoe to prevent friction. To keep feet from shifting while walking, make sure lacing systems are easily adjustable for a customized fit. Varying levels of activities and park climates can affect feet, said Dixon, advising, “Your foot size is never going to be the same if you get wet or feet sweat from walking all day.”
When planning your outdoor vacation, do your homework. The country’s vast network of parks can feature a wide range of terrains and climates. According to Gregg Duffy, director outdoor performance for Timberland, any seasoned outdoor participant will tell you there’s nothing worse than soaking wet feet with miles to go to your destination. “While waterproof shoes will keep you dry, they are less breathable than non-waterproof shoes,” he noted, “There are many products available with water-repellent finishes or other waterproofing materials that balance water protection with increased breathability.”
You won’t get very far on a park trail in a pair of uncomfortable boots, warns Rich Horne, director of brand + consumer experience for Oboz, a former fishing guide at Yellowstone National Park. Keep things light is his first advice, about trail shoes, since it allows you to be nimble while exploring. Next, check the boot’s insole for cushioning and support. If the insoles that come with a boot aren’t supportive enough, there are lots of after-market insoles that can ramp up the comfort level. Since feet come in different shapes and sizes, make sure you’re buying boots in the right width, he suggests. And, always go boot shopping with the appropriate pair of socks since they can affect the fit of the boot. If exploring in a warm climate, don’t overdo the weight of the sock since it can cause feet to sweat and create an unhealthy environment inside the shoe.
Just about every park adventure includes navigating through a stream or river, and sport sandals are the best means of transportation. Like hiking boots or trail shoes, underfoot traction is essential, according to Suzanne Moore, product director for Teva, that allows a transition to a range of terrains such as rocks, dirt, and water. Adjustability is essential, a sign of a supportive fit, while midsole cushioning offers another layer of comfort.
After a day in the park, dinner at a local eatery is likely on your agenda. For Dixon, who lives in Idaho, park communities often have lots of restaurants and breweries. “We call it peak to pike,” he said, about boots that work from the trail to town. When the vacation is over, these boots continue to perform on a walk in your neighborhood or run to the market.
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