Gear Guy

Will any boots fit my “problematic” feet?

Oh, Gauis Gear Guy (bet you haven't heard THAT one before), I have a multitudinous problem. I wrote to you years ago about detached toenails, and you delivered the goods shiningly. My problem is still with my feet. The last two trips I've taken in my Zberlans boots have left me hobbled, with huge Susan B. Anthony pus-bubbles on either heel. I went to a clinic and was informed that my feet were "problematic" and that I was wearing the wrong boot. My right foot while standing is about a quarter inch longer than the left. My feet are wide and low profile, with anemic arches and narrow heels. Oh yeah, I also have weak ankles. Now I have June trips planned in the Grand Canyon and the Sierra. I've bought the Superfeet shrink-to-your-dogs prosthetic insoles, but I need a new boot. What do you recommend, outside of foot-transplant surgery? Thanks, Thomas Perkins Alexandria, Virginia

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Well, the meaning of your lofty praise will be our little secret, Thomas. The groundlings will have to scurry for their dictionaries. But truly, I thank you, and beseech the gods of gear to look upon you favorably, and grant you a one-hour shopping spree at an REI near you, with a Ford F250 pickup as your shopping cart.

As for your feet, they do sound a little “problematic.” But just about everyone has a foot pathology of one sort or another, so I don’t believe your problems are insuperable. Still, a little more information would be useful: Is the problem with the Zamberlans new, or has it existed since you got them? And, have any other boots done this to you?

Without knowing that, it certainly still sounds to me like A) a case of new, stiff boots, or B) boots that are too short, or C) a combination of A) and B). I think it’s B), because the Zamberlans are a mid-weight hiking boot that shouldn’t be so stiff and unyielding that you can’t break them in. As far as diagnosis, you’ve simply got heel pressure, and the friction is causing blisters. Wearing thinner socks may help a bit. In the past, I’ve had boots that fit well but tended to give me blisters, and solved the problem with prophylactic applications of adhesive tape or Moleskin.

But to really solve the problem you likely need new boots. From the sounds of your upcoming hike, you need a boot that is a competent off-trail boot but not one that’s extremely heavy. And there are lots of choices here, such as Asolo’s AFX 535 ($165), Montrail’s Vercors ($190), Garmont’s Dakota ($209), or L.L. Bean’s Leather Cresta Hiker ($169). Basically, you’re after a mid-weight backpacking boot with all-leather construction. The Bean boot has a Gore-Tex liner, which may be overkill, but it also has a very foot-friendly fit. For them, just order a pair a half-size larger than your everyday sneakers and see how you like them.

Otherwise, the next thing you need is a good boot-fitter. Go to the store with the socks you intend to wear -— don’t rely on socks taken from a box in the store’s shoe department. Go in the afternoon or evening, as your feet swell during the day. Ask the question: “Who’s your boot guru?” Explain what you know about your feet, what your problem has been, and what you intend to hike. Then try on four or five pairs of boots. I really have to believe you’ll find one that fits, and that won’t kill your heels.