Choosing the correct footwear is important for a fun and successful trek in Nepal. Making the right choice warrants adequate research and consideration. You need sturdy, water-resistant and comfortable boots. However, there is no “one-size-fits-all” when it comes to choosing the best hiking boot for trekking in Nepal: what works for someone may not be ideal for others. Below are points to consider when purchasing a hiking boot:
Should I get a hiking boot or will hiking shoes work?
For treks in Nepal, we recommend HIKING BOOTS – either mid cut or high cut. On a trek in Nepal, you may be trekking up or down as much as 3,000 feet each day. So proper ankle support is necessary. High cut boots wrap around the ankles and provide additional support. Also, hiking boots are more durable and supportive with stiffer midsoles. However, recently, some trekkers have begun wearing running shoes or lightweight footwear. (Generally, we recommend against this). These are usually experienced hikers who haven’t had any previous issues with strength and stability of their legs and joints. Also, they are only carrying a light back-pack of around 10lbs and are walking at a brisk pace which would be difficult to do with a hiking boot.
Should I get leather hiking boots or will synthetic ones work just fine?
For any trek going over 15,000 feet (4,500 meters), we recommend leather hiking boots. They are sturdier, provide more insulation and are more durable. There are different kinds of leather boots viz. full-grain leather boots, split-grain leather, nubuck-leather. Full-grain leather boots offer good water resistance and are great for cold conditions especially when walking through snow and ice. But if breathability is important to you, a full-grain leather boot may not be ideal. A split-grain leather boot where nylon or nylon mesh is added in the boot to make it more breathable and lightweight may be better suited. The one big downside for leather boots is that it requires a considerable amount of break-in time. Before coming on a trek in Nepal, it is important to log at least 50 miles on your new hiking boot.
Synthetic hiking boots are made from polyester, nylon and fake leather. They offer good breathability and do not have a long break-in period. But they are not as sturdy or durable and do not offer the insulation that a leather boot does. They are better suited for day hikes around Kathmandu and Pokhara rather than for multi-day high-altitude treks.
Do I have to buy branded boots?
The terrain in Nepal is quite varied. On any one trek, you may have to walk through scree and rocks, on a moraine, over roots, mud, ice, snow, and even wade on small streams. Thus a quality pair of hiking boots is a must. If your boots self-destruct while you’re trekking, you’re in trouble. We recommend that you skip bargains and purchase a reputable brand from a store that specializes in hiking gear.
Do my boots have to be crampon compatible:
Crampon compatible boots are required only if you plan to do a trek in Nepal in the Winter (January and February) when there is a higher possibility of snow and ice on the trail. Some treks such as the Manaslu Circuit Trek, the Ultimate Everest Trek, the Three passes Trek etc will have ice and snow even in the non-winter months. On these treks, you can use micro-spikes such as Yak Trax which do not require that the boots to be crampon compatible.
How do I decide on fit?:
Your hiking boot should not be tight; it should have some wiggle room for your toes. When choosing a size, consider the VOLUME of your feet and not just the size. Some of us have wider feet than others. Those with wider feet should try the WIDE version of the model.
It’s best to try boots at the end of the day (when feet swell) and with the socks you plan to wear on the trek. Double-check the length after pulling the insoles out. There should be a thumb’s width of space between your longest toe and the end of the insole. If you are a first timer, it’s best to buy at a specialized store in person where you can walk around for a while to test it out. Talk to the store specialist if you feel a pinch or a bump or just notice anything weird. You should not feel space above the top of your foot when the boots are laced tight.
Finally, shop online only if you have used that brand before and are confident of the sizing. Some of you may have to consider insoles for better fit.
My feet are not the same as the average person:
Many people have a foot deformity e.g., a bunion, splay foot etc, In this case, a high cut leather hiking boot can be out of the question. My god-mother has a bunion and she uses a W (WIDE), mid-cut, Lowa split grain leather hiking boot. Hence it is best to consult a footwear specialist at a specialized hiking store to decide on the best option for you. This could be a trial-and-error process and may require several tries to get the right boot.
How do I break in my boot:
It is no secret that comfort on a trek depends on how well your boots are synched with your feet. While heavy-duty leather boots take weeks to soften, some synthetic shoes may work perfectly even when they are brand new.
Start by wearing the boot around your home for the initial break-in. The boots may feel a bit stiff at the beginning and this is normal. Then walk around a bit further increasing distance gradually before donning a daypack and going on a longer hike. If problems such as a pinch or hot spots persist during moderate hikes, you should consider changing the boot.
Some brands to consider:
Several years ago, we bought a batch of Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Hiking Boots for our porters and they have worked great. Despite the rough usage by our porters in harsh conditions, they have lasted several years. They have worked well in snowy conditions too. Most of our porters grew up without wearing a shoe and hence have wider-than-average feet. The Wide version of these boots are great for people with wider feet.
Note: One should be aware that wearing all leather, full cut, hiking boots in warmer regions – the starting point of some treks in Nepal have a tropical/sub-tropical climate – can be bad for the boot. I own a Lowa Renegade too. On a recent trek to the Makalu region, the sole of the boot came off when we were hiking in hot and humid conditions at the beginning of the Makalu trek (elevation 4,000 feet/1,200 meters; temperature 28 – 30 degrees C/85 – 90 F). This could be because the adhesive holding the sole heated up to the point it couldn’t hold the lug. So if you are wearing an all leather boot, you could consider wearing your runners (camp shoes) for the lower elevations.
Other good brands:
Other good boots include the La Sportiva Nucleo High II GTX and the Kailash Trek GTX. These three boots (and some others too) will work great on most treks in Nepal including the high altitude treks going up to 18,000 feet (5,500 meters). The Keen Targhee III boot is also a good boot for those on a budget.
Choosing the right socks to go with your boots is also very important. A good sock will wick moisture and also provide warmth. When choosing socks, one must take into account the height of the sock. For trekking in Nepal, choose crew socks that go up a little above your ankle bone. This will prevent abrasion from high cut boots. Ankle length socks and knee length socks are for running and mountaineering respectively.
Depending on the trek, choose several sock types. Carry a couple pairs of sock with light cushioning which wick moisture for the hot days at the beginning of a trek that goes through sub-tropical climate eg., the first few days on the Manaslu Circuit Trek. Also carry a few pairs of thick socks with medium and heavy cushioning for warmth at the high altitudes. Wool socks work best and nowadays most wool socks are a mix of wool and synthetic materials for durability and wicking.