We’ve heard it for years: Don’t scrimp on your hiking boots. We’ll start with the facts. Each human foot has a whopping 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments, and 19 muscles and tendons. Knowing this, it’s no surprise that a quality shoe is a vital piece of gear in any hiker’s closet. After all, our footwear protects 25 percent of the total bones in our body! But how does a well-crafted hiking shoe anatomically help our performance on the trail? It all boils down to the support of the shoe. As a board-certified Orthopedic Physical Therapy Specialist, Joe Bryant deals with a highly active sports-based population through his work at Next Level Sports Performance in Golden, Colorado. According to Bryant, the benefits of hiking shoes stem back to our everyday footwear—or lack thereof. “Simplistically, pronation means increased mobility in our joints and includes a flattening of the inner arch,” Bryant explains. Some pronation is natural and is inherent in the act of walking. However, excessive pronation leads to excessive mobility, and this is when injuries can occur. “People at home often walk and function without shoes or with unsupportive shoes like flip-flops or worn-out sneakers,” Bryant says. This lack of support enables the excessive mobility referenced above. When these same individuals decide to hit the trails, their joints are more mobile than they should be on the uneven terrain. Should they choose to tackle the rocky singletrack without a supportive shoe, they are much more susceptible to injury than they would be while wearing the proper footwear. For long-distance hikers or backpackers, the effects of pronation do not end there. If you’ve heard the children’s song “Dem Bones,” then you already understand: The leg bone’s connected to the knee bone, The knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone, The thigh bone’s connected to the hip bone, Now shake dem skeleton bones! As we hike further on the trail, the simple stress caused by pronation continues to travel upwards. First, the excessive mobility can increase the rotation of the tibia (shinbone) which then affects the inside of the knee. The strain on the knee alters the alignment of our hips and pelvis, leading to back pain and other overuse injuries. In essence, our entire body is a chain of connectivity and one tweak can throw the whole system out of whack. Of course, preventing injuries is not the only benefit of supportive hiking shoes; they can also improve your body’s balance. “Our body has two main strategies for dealing with balance: ankle and hip strategies,” Bryant says. These strategies are the two main locations for where and how our joints adjust to balance challenges. According to Bryant, a less stable shoe increases the range of motion at the ankle, which then teaches individuals to be reliant on that joint for stability. In doing so, we decrease our core activation and hip strength. “When hikers wear a more stable shoe, the ankle still moves a bit, but not to the same extent,” Bryant says. “This allows for better alignment up the chain, more hip and core activation, and less proximal injury.” Maintaining ankle alignment also increases the advantage of the gluteus medius, one of the three main muscles found in our butt. Wearing a stable shoe allows our body to work efficiently and capitalize on this muscle rather than relying on our ankle or hip joints for balance. This keeps the chain running smoothly without overcompensation in any one area. Body mechanics aside, wearing quality protective footwear will always be a good idea while on the trail. Not only do hiking shoes offer the necessary traction to keep you on your feet, but they also protect you from the elements. Hiking shoes keep trail debris out and a waterproof shoe prevents moisture from soaking your feet. Maintaining dry feet is paramount on long hauls since damp skin can lead to wicked blisters and major discomfort. Until recently, the single complaint with waterproof shoes was that they did not “breathe” well in warmer climates. Hikers still ended up with clammy feet thanks to the excessive sweat that gathered in socks. After all, what is the point of keeping moisture out of your shoe if you’re just going to slosh around in pools of your own sweat? In 2014, the GORE-TEX brand launched GORE-TEX SURROUND® product technology to solve this very challenge. Their answer: the first durably waterproof and highly breathable shoes that kept water from penetrating in, while still allowing perspiration out in warm climates. This innovation combined GORE-TEX laminate and side ventilation outlets for a brand new sole construction. Bottom line: less moisture. And less moisture means a much happier hiker! The GORE-TEX SURROUND® product technology can be found in hiking footwear by brands such as La Sportiva, Mammut, Salewa, Scarpa, Treksta, and Zamberlan. To see GORE-TEX SURROUND® footwear styles and find a retailer go to http://www.gore-tex.com/surround. images by Will Rochfort
The human foot contains 25 percent of the total bones in our body. Hiking boots protect this majority by limiting pronation and minimizing anatomical strain.