How I Fell In Love With A Pair of Boots on the AT
Still deciding what kind of footwear to rely on to help carry you along on your Appalachian Trail thru-hike?
With so many options and so many more opinions it can be hard to choose. What’s best for you may not be best for everyone and ultimately the decision is yours, but just in case you want one more opinion, here is mine. I wore all leather Asolo TPS 520 GV hiking boots the whole time and I had happy feet.
I suppose I should begin with a story about the first pair of boots I wore on a backpacking trip…
When I set out on a two week trip on the AT in PA, I was not prepared for what the Pennsylvania rocks had in store for my feet.. I wore inexpensive (cheap!) boots and cotton socks. It was only two weeks, how bad could it be?
Turns out, pretty bad! After about 27 miles, hiking from Delaware Water Gap southbound to Palmerton, my boots began to fail. The sole had split across the front and the interior linings were shredding. I bought a roll of duct tape and wrapped the entire front end, hoping in vain, to stall any further tearing. Then there was a rain storm and the tape kept on coming loose. To my dismay, the second boot began to come apart as well. My feet were soaked and I could feel every single rock against them. By the time I reached Port Clinton I knew I had to do something. I didn’t have money to buy a new pair and I wasn’t ready to end my trip. That’s when it came to me, my camp shoes, a pair of dollar store flip flops! I removed the straps and slid them into the boots. This “fix” got me to Swatara Gap – at the expense of five toenails and a few painful blisters. I knew when I thru-hiked I would need a durable, water resistant pair.
After spending way too much time in sporting goods stores that had just about zero ladies hiking options, I took a long drive to an REI. An outfitter was the place to go, they had over a dozen varieties and helpful employees that actually hike. I tried on several pairs but none of them really felt right until I tried on the Asolos. They were sturdy, they cradled my ankles, and had Gore-Tex lining; everything I thought I would need. The price was more than I had ever spent on any article of clothing. Quite honestly, I cringed at the register as I handed over a whole weeks worth of pay thinking about my very limited budget. But this was a big decision, an investment.
They did need some time to break in. I took them out on a few hour long hikes and my feet and legs were tired from not being used to the weight. After a few longer hikes they began to feel just fine. I decided to wear them on a week long trip on the Northville Placid Trail in the Adirodacks. My feet stayed happy and dry while my partner’s were wet and soggy (I may have bragged a little) but I was happy for my decision.
I began my thru-hike with hopes that my boots would at least make it through Pennsylvania. On rainy days, my feet stayed dry when coupled with a pair of gaiters. Eventually my feet did get wet, as is inevitable, during downpours and walking through massive puddles but drying them out didn’t take nearly as long as all the warnings I had heard. On particularly cold days, I would slip a pair of “Hot Hands” ( which I constantly found in hiker boxes) inside overnight and by morning they would be almost completely dry. In the summer months, I wore lightweight wool socks and aired my feet out on breaks so sweaty feet was never an issue. I made it over the PA rocks and all the rocks that followed without sore, bruised feet. I understood the misery of fellow thru-hikers staggering around in duct taped shoes, telling me they were on their fourth pair but I resisted preaching the gospel of Good Old Leather Boots.
Although my decision to wear traditional hiking boots raised many eyebrows and received quite a bit of oppositional debate, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Plus, at about 13 cents per trail mile, I’d say they were well worth the cost. Especially since they’re still kicking!
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