No matter what type of footwear I am looking for, I always have a very difficult time getting a shoe or boot that fits. My feet are long (thanks Mom!) and narrow (thanks Dad!) and I often need to spend hours trying on different brands, different models, and different styles before finding something that fits, and is also comfortable. Depending on the brand of the footwear, I can be anything between a size 11 1/2 and 13. Usually 13. But this is not always the case, and even a brand that fit me a few years ago in size 13, a 12 works better now.
This past month, it was time for me to go and look for a new pair of hiking boots. I’ve been wearing hiking boots since about age 15, when my father started me on backpacking which I enjoyed. We’d head out for several days at a time with a backpack carrying our tent, sleeping bags, cooking gear and the food we’d need. I’ve got found memories with my dad, climbing Mount Marcy in the Adirondacks, or waking up to snow in our tent in some wilderness area of Haliburton, Ontario in the month of May. Often, we’d backpack off trails, making our own way, with map and compass.
Full Grain Leather Has Been My Choice
Ever since those days, hiking boots made of full grain leather have been my choice. I’ve looked at other styles, and know many like them, but to me, I just did not trust the hardiness and durability of anything that was not fully made of leather. I can’t remember all the different brands of boots I’ve owned since I was 15 years old, and to be honest, I’ve never really had a bad pair. I’ve never really bought the cheapest, but have never splurged on what are considered “high end,” either.
In fact, the last pair I owned retailed for around $150.00 (CAD) at Mark’s Work Warehouse, but I did get them on sale, and probably of all the boots I’ve ever owned to date, they were the longest lasting, most durable, and most comfortable I’ve experienced.
Hi-Tec Altitude Boots
While I’m not writing this to review the Hi-Tec boots, as mentioned, they have been the most comfortable I’ve ever had. But it was time to replace them. I can’t remember which “Altitude” they were (they’ve since come out with a new design and are now “Altitude VI”). Those boots have traveled almost everywhere with me, and I’ve literally walked thousands of kilometers in them! They’ve been to Northern Ireland, they’ve been out west in Alberta, they’ve been on my feet while I hitch hiked for hours, often walking and waiting for a willing driver to pick me up. They’ve kept me steady while hiking down steep inclines.
I’ve walked through puddles, slush, and dry rocky trails in the summer. The Hi-Tecs always looked after my feet, kept them dry, and were comfortable no matter the season. The pair I had were size 13.
So, when I needed to replace those boots, I naturally returned to Mark’s Work Warehouse to try another pair.
But alas, I could not find a pair that fit properly at all! There were no size 13’s in stock, but it did not matter as I doubt they would have fit. I tried on a pair of 12’s, and while my left foot felt great, my right heel simply would not stay put while trying to walk with the new Altitude VI’s on. Heel slippage is not something I want, and there was nothing I could do to tighten up the area.
Out of curiosity, I tried on a pair – size 11 1/2, and the right heel slippage was experienced with those as well. They were also far too snug through the toe on both feet.
I was rather disappointed to say the least, and wasn’t sure what to try next, when the sales person at Mark’s suggested I try some Wind River boots. Forget that – even the size 13’s were far too tight on my feet! I’ll never be able to figure out, I am sure, why there can be so much variance in sizes between different brands (and even models of the same brand) in sizing!
Small Town Woes – Not A Lot Of Hiking Specialists
After my disappointing experience at Mark’s, I was not sure what to do and started googling and looking at various reviews of hiking boots. Being in a small town, there’s not a lot of selection available with shops that specialize in outdoor apparel, especially hiking and backpacking in my town. I had thought about heading towards Guelph or even Newmarket, but after checking availability in shop of a couple of stores, I realized that few places seemed to even stock decent quality footwear in my size. I gave some consideration to heading south to Bass Pro Shop’s in Vaughan, but it wasn’t really the direction I had wanted to go, as I had other business both in Guelph and out towards Newmarket. I also did not want to spend a lot of time traveling either.
Then, a thought hit me. I recalled that there was a Shoeper store in Orangeville, and while I doubted it, wondered if they happened to carry anything in a hiking boot. I called, and to my surprise, advised me that indeed, they did carry hiking boots, including the Merrell brand. While I’ve heard of Merrell, I’ve never tried them before, although I do know that they get some really good reviews.
What was even better was that Shoeper is less than five minutes from my house by car (I could have even walked). When I arrived, I was quite surprised by the selection of hiking boots, but none were full leather uppers that fit me. They did have a pair of Size 13 (Size 48 in Europe) Merrell Moab 2 boots… and reluctantly tried them on. Reluctantly, because they are not 100% leather uppers.
But…. when I put them on, they fit! They were comfortable as well. I spent a good 15 minutes walking around the store with those boots on, and my feet were very happy. However, I did have questions because something inside me just does not trust hiking boots with lots of stitching and non-leather material in the uppers. To me it seems there is more area to break down and get worn out; more points of weakness.
But, the sales person assured me that they had many people come in to buy Merrell boots specifically, and as far as she knew, none had ever been returned or complained about.
So, I took a chance and bought them. I’ve worn them a bit, and so far so good. My feet feel comfortable after the several stints of wearing them for multiple hours at a time, but the real test will come when I hit the mountain trails that are rock and gravel covered in places – and whether they can be as durable with many many miles or kilometers of steps that my old Hi-Tecs were.
I’ll try to remember to update this post, after they’ve left their boot prints on all kinds of ground, whether through puddles, snow, or dry rough trail.