By Jill J Easton
Boots are the enemy. Each year I give away, throw away or prematurely wear out three or four pairs of boots, because they crush my instep, the heel material wears through after a few dozen miles, they rub blisters or they just don’t fit right.
Admittedly some of my woods wear purchases have been on the cheaper end of the boot spectrum, but a number of the failures have been on the high side of $100. In my world that is meaningful money. It was nice to find out that I am not alone, women can’t find boots that fit.
Most boot makers don’t take ladies seriously as hunters, climbers and hikers. They either produce shapely boots that won’t stand up to rough situations, or they make knock-off versions of men’s boots that are too wide and rub the top of ladies higher-arched feet.
Finally, I have found a boot that doesn’t wear me down or hurt after a few hours of trapping, hiking or chasing turkeys. It is made by a German company that manufactures in Europe called LOWA. Before I bought my first pair of their boots, I got help from their boot expert.
“Women should look for fit, comfort and stability in a boot,” said Peter Sachs, General Manager of LOWA Boots. “The other important job of a lady’s boot is to protect the bones in the instep, heel and ankle.”
Making women’s boots comfortable and safe all depends on the last, a form that shapes the construction of the footwear.
“Our women’s boots are overall lighter than men’s and are made out of softer materials,” Sachs continued. “The last is designed with the instep height, heel and ball shaped to the lower volume of women’s feet. There is also a specially padded tongue that adapts to the structure of the instep and shin and prevents the tongue from going sideways.”
Other areas that make for a more comfortable boot include the midsole and insole on women’s boots and the areas near the Achilles tendon and ankle. Here are some helpful hints for buying ladies boots from this boot expert.
Buying comfortable footwear
1. Buy boots in the afternoon. Feet swell during the day. A boot that is comfortable at 5 am may pinch by 5 pm.
2. Go to a store that has a variety of boots and try several on. Your feet will tell you what allows for comfortable toe movement and if your heel slides. Step down in the boot like you are climbing a hill. The arch and heel should fit snugly. Your toes should touch the front but not rub.
3. Try on the boots with socks you plan to wear when you use the boot. A good sock is essential to boot comfort and should be made out of one of the wicking fabrics or wool and should have enough elasticity to keep the sock in place. The sock should be thicker than one you would wear with athletic footwear, be snug on your foot and have some padding. You may need to buy your footgear a half-size larger to accommodate a quality cushioning sock.
4. Don’t wear cotton socks. Cotton holds wetness, this can cause blisters and cold feet. Wool and synthetic materials don’t hold in moisture.
5. Don’t buy boots from a website unless you are already familiar with the company and its products. The same brand may be made in several parts of the world. I can attest that a size 10 Chinese boot that is supposed to be built on the same last as one from Vietnam doesn’t fit the same, even though they were the same size and all the pieces were cut out by the same laser-guided machine. Asians evidently can’t believe that American women have such big feet.
6. Trim toenails. Women generally have longer toenails than men, when climbing the nails can rub the front of the boot and make for sore feet. Also, sharp long toenails can damage the boot lining and make it leak.
7. Make sure the boot has a removable footbed. The footbed can be taken out to dry or it can be replaced by special orthotics.
8. Don’t buy your boots one morning and plan a five-mile hike that afternoon. Shop to trail head is a real no no. Wear the boots several times and let the boot and your foot shape to each other.
The last suggestion is good advice for anybody planning on walking or running distances, but few modern boot buyers follow these guidelines according to Sachs.
“My wife has known for six months we were going on a hiking vacation tomorrow,” Sachs said. “Yesterday, she came in and needed a new pair of boots for the trip. Knowledge SHOULD start close to home.”
Remember and prepare. The most important piece of gear you have in the woods isn’t a gun, camouflage or clothing suited to the weather, it’s your boots. Like me, you may find that comfort and endurance may cost a few dollars more, but better materials and a true lady-customized fit are worth it. Without a comfortable, well fitted, broken in pair of boots your outdoor experience can quickly go from excellent to ouch. Five miles from your vehicle, ouch isn’t much fun.