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Boots & Shoes

Navigation Training Hike

Every other year, Alpine Rescue Team takes on a new group of prospective members, or PMs and puts them through many months of training on pretty much everything we do.  The goal isn’t to train in the outdoors as much to get used to how we do things so we all do it the same way. Although for navigation, it’s key to learn how to navigate many different ways so you can figure out where you are and how to get where your’ going with a map and compass, GPS using Lat and Long or other datum types, miles, kilometers, meters, feet or iPhone.

Cactus near EvergreenSo, today, we were off to the Colorado Mountain Club’s navigation course near Genesee to practice and work with our PMs to get them a bit more acquainted with navigation.  It was a nice day for a hike around .  It started out cool and breezy and then got a bit warmer. Fortunately, once we got into the trees, the wind was buffered enough so it felt like a really nice, warm spring day – until you left the trees. The sunlight is still a bit harsh for plain old snap and shoot photos, but I got this nice one of a pretty round cactus in the shade.

When I was in Boy Scouts a few years ago (maybe more than a few), the very first merit badge I ever earned was Orienteering.  I like maps and navigating and enjoy watching others learn it and teach it, and of course being outside hiking around while doing it. In Mountain Rescue, it a definite necessity to be able to navigate and find your way around. Avenza PDF MapsWhile you can’t always count on being able to use your iPhone, I for sure had to start looking for navigation apps that I could download.  One of the ones I like is PDF Maps from Avenzaicon.  It has many free 7.5 minute topo maps from around the country.  And while you can enter locations to search for in different formats (Latitude and Longitude, WGS84, UTM and Military Grid Reference System seem to be the ones so far) it’s really good at showing where you are on a topo so you can see where you are and where you might need to go.

I was able to enter a UTM to show where I wanted to go, then turn on the compass, orient it properly and know where I was and where I needed to go.  With the exception of learning how to change my format to UTM and then enter my UTM, it was extremely fast and accurate.  Much more so that the folks plotting our UTM, shooting the bearing and figuring it out on the map.  Of course, I would never trade those skills for a technology solution, but, it’s fun to have. As part of my ongoing gear reviews, I decided to wear my Patagonia Drifter A/C GTX Hiking Shoe which I really like.  Sometimes I tend to not tie my shoes tight enough and I think today was one of those days.  I rushed out of the house so quickly, that they felt a little sloppy and loose. These are my most comfortable shoes that I wear all the time right now and that was probably part of it.  I wear these all the time and they’re breaking in really nicely. 

patagonia-shoes

Because we were on an orientation course and not a trail today, these shoes probably weren’t the best choice.  We were side-hilling a lot and with the shoes being a bit loose, that compounded the sloppy-ness issue.  Tightening them more would certainly have helped, and they’re great for bounding from rock to rock, but on loose hillsides, I’d probably still rather have my favorite boots.

I’m still looking for a great new pair of boots and would love to know what you use!

My Favorite Hiking Boots

I have some married friends that have a deal that they can buy any car they want, but they have to keep that car for 10 years. I always thought that was a good way to balance getting something you really want while making sure it’s practical. I have to say, however, it’s probably not the best rule of thumb for hiking boots.

I have two pairs of boots that I’ve used for many years that have both been quite good. So good in fact that I used them longer than I probably should.

hit-tec-boots-1The first pair is one I’ve had for about 20 years. It’s one of the T 50 Peaks boots. When I started working for Outward Bound, one year I needed a new pair of boots. I wrote a letter to Hi-Tec detailing that I was an instructor with Outward Bound and in need of a new pair of boots for a 3 week Canyonlands course I was about to head out on and instruct. A couple of days later, the mail showed up with a box from Hi-Tec with two pairs of boots. Both, 50 Peaks models!

Obviously, new boots the day before a 3 week backpacking trip in the canyons of Utah is maybe not the smartest thing, nor was it probably the best gamble, but we instructors didn’t get paid too well back then and I was really hoping for free boots. So, the next day, when the students arrived, I practiced the “Rule of Befores” and loaded my feet with moleskin before they had a chance to blister, pulled on my hiking socks, tied on my boots and set off. I’m grateful to say that I never had a blister that entire trip. I also broke those boots in really well and used them the next few seasons with Outward Bound and on personal trips during and after being an instructor. These Hi-Tec hiking boots were the first really good boot I ever owned.

montrail-boots-1The second great pair of boots are ones that I got about 8 years ago when I joined the Alpine Rescue Team and started putting on a lot of miles. I still wear them today. They’re from Montrail and have been incredibly comfortable over the years. I remember many of the searches and rescues I’ve been on over the years that I’ve done while wearing these boots. In the rain, sun, some snow, mud and dust, they’ve been constant, comfortable companions.

But, I think almost 9 years is probably enough for these boots as they’ve become less and less comfortable on long hikes. On our recent trip to Grand Canyon, I wore them down to Skeleton Point, about 3 miles down the South Kaibab Trial and on the way back up, the balls of my feet started hurting. Interestingly, though, when we got back to the top, it was the flat walking through the woods back to the car that I noticed the greatest soreness in my feet.

Unfortunately, I can’t find these same Montrail Boots for sale again. I really wish I could because these were the best boots I’ve owned. These boots were comfortable, easy and quick to break in, never came untied, solid, easy to waterproof and the tread held up incredibly well. Besides the foot bed seeming to wear out, a short bit of stitching also started to come undone, but not enough at all to worry about.

Overall, if I could, I would buy these again. And, I would highly recommend them to anyone looking for a good, solid, 3 season, mid-weight boot. Since it doesn’t look like Montrail does boots much anymore (their website is all running shoes), I am on the lookout for a new pair of boots. Any recommendations?

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