Ready to explore? You need good hiking boots

Standing on a foothold on China Wall in good boots.

The nearly vertical rock face of China Wall affords few footholds, but good boots make the difference. Red Wing Irish Setter boots, a good choice for hiking — especially if conditions are wet since these boots are good at repelling water.

I’ve found good hiking boots are more important than expected.  I’ve had my share of miserable boots that held more water than they repelled. They seemed built to provide top speed slipping and sliding down hills.  I think they were designed to help podiatrists make money from sore feet.

So, finally, I bit the bullet and bought high-quality boots. They made all the difference.  I had no idea the difference they would make!

If you are ready to buy a good boot to explore the Badlands, pick one that will prevent cactus and thorns from penetrating. That’s why cloth shoes and sandals are not good.

Pick one that supports you on uneven terrain. That means:

  1. It has good grip, and
  2. It supports your ankles.  

Vasquevasque hiking boot

I’ll tell ya right up front, I love my Vasque boots. And they’re not paying me to write this.

After trying several brands and styles, I’ve settled on Vasque.  I’m not paid to promote Vasque, but they meet my requirements. If you’re going to put your legs to work on a stroll through the country that does not include concrete or blacktop, then this is for you.  Oh, and in case you missed it,  Vasque is NOT paying me for this recommendation.

I’ve hiked in everything from cowboy boots to tennis shoes, steel-toed work boots to rubber waders.  For the last 17 years, I’ve hiked in only Vasque (with an occasional trek in Red Wing Irish Setter boots). 

Red Wing Irish Setter

I’ve never hiked barefoot, but if I did, I don’t think it would feel any more lightweight than my Red Wing Irish Setters. They surprised me because I thought my Vasque were as light as any hiking boot could get.  Then, I shopped at the Red Wing Outlet Store in Red Wing, MN.  I settled on a pair of tall Irish Setter 3-season boots. They’re good for Fall, Winter and Spring.  They’re insulated and waterproof.

I tried them one long hot hike this summer and eventhough they are comfortable and hold the trail very well, they are too warm for me.  

So now, based on my academic and experiential lessons on hiking footwear, are my guidelines. Here’s what to look for in boot selection. 

Guideline for Selecting a Hiking Boot

red wing Irish setter boots

Red Wing Irish Setter 3-season boots for fall, winter, spring

  1. Solid Construction. The seams won ‘t come apart or wear out. Soles that will not detach. Eyelets and hooks will not break.
  2. Ankle strength. Much of the hiking I do is back-country trailblazing in the Badlands of North Dakota.  The terrain is very uneven and slippery.  I’ve never twisted an ankle because always use above-the-ankle boots that strap me in tight and firm.
  3. I like a pliable tread because it holds me on rock faces, even the south-facing slope of a bluff or butte. I like a boot whose lugs are solid yet soft, and the material of the sole is flexible for uneven ground.
    red wing boot tread

    A “sticky” or pliable soft sole is essential for gripping the trail in the Badlands

  4. Leather, not cloth. Where I hike, cactus, thorns, and sharp underbrush are thick.  Their needles do not penetrate leather boots.  I can’t imagine hiking in sandals or canvas shoes.  Ouch!
  5. I wear my Vasque boots because they provide year-round comfort.  With the right combination of socks, my feet stay warm and dry even in snowy or wet conditions. 
  6. Again, the right combination of socks makes a difference. In the summer, my hiking boots need to breath enough to keep my feet cool. Never a soggy blister wearing them.
  7. When they are brand new, the boots I choose have to be classy enough out here in farm and ranch country, or even in a college town to wear any time – meetings, conferences, sales calls.  (So, as I write this, I have to admit, it’s about time to get a new pair, for those occasions. My #1 pair has lost that clean new look.  But when new, they are perfect for the public outings I attend.)
  8. Customer service. Did you know there are shoe stores that want to make sure the shoes you buy do exactly what you want?

Remember When?

If you’re old enough to remember your parents taking you to an authentic shoe store for new back-to-school shoes, you recall the rig-a-ma-roll of sizing and selecting.  You remember sitting in that Naugahyde chair with the steel armrests, the little slanted platform on the salesman’s stool, the sliding measuring tool to get the right length and width of the shoe. Red Wing shoes stores are like that. I always buy my Vasque boots from a Red Wing dealer. The salesman suggests laces, insoles, and treatments to make the boot last and give me the best service. (By the way, any time they need new laces or cleaning for that first year, Red Wing does it free.)

They last for years

vasque hiking boots

Vasque boots in the last 10 years have changed very little. Left to right is oldest pair I own to newest pair.

I literally have 3 pairs of Vasque boots sitting by the door.  My #1 pair are the ones that I keep treated with silicone, clean and ready for adventure.  My #2 pair used to be my #1 pair of boots, but that was 6 years ago. They’re nearly treadless, so I just wear them when mowing the lawn, or putzing around the house.  Then, there is #3. They’re shot. Completely useless for anything except going out to the mailbox, or the garage for a moment’s errand. They don’t lace up anymore. I just slip them on and off, leave them by the back door.  They’re about 10 years old.

I’ll admit, the Vasque boots I wear take a chunk out of my bank account, but they are comparably priced with other boots their quality. In fact, they can be considered economical because they are tough enough to wear for several years. So, they turn out to be a bargain.

We’re out hiking, walking, strolling, camping in the Badlands nearly every week. If you’re ready for a tough trail with your new boots, try the  Achenbach trail in the North Unit, or head into the back country along the Maah Daah Hey Trail. Your boots will make all the difference.  Whether you choose Vasque or another brand, make sure they fit well, protect your feet and have good tread.  Don’t slip.

Other Tips

Vasque Boots

What to wear in the Badlands

Where to go on your back country hike in the National Park


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