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Choosing the right footwear for your outdoor activities

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Walking in the woods is pretty popular this time of year.

Much less popular are the wet, cold or blistered feet that walking through the woods sometimes brings.

One secret to keeping feet warm, dry and comfortable is having boots that fit properly and are well suited to the terrain and the amount of walking to be done.

"Boot technology has come a long way," said Brandon Privett, manager of Charleston's Gander Mountain store. "It's now possible to get boots that are pretty much custom-suited to different types of hiking and hunting."

Trail runners, for example, need light, supportive shoes that flex to fit a runner's gait. Deer hunters, who often hunt from tree stands and in cold weather, require heavier, well-insulated boots. Hikers and backpackers need boots that provide ankle support and traction in the lightest possible package.

Tyler Whitmore, Gander Mountain's footwear supervisor, said different varieties of hunting boots can be custom chosen for specific tasks.

"Someone who hunts in a swamp would want waterproof boots lined with Gore-Tex or some similar breathable membrane," he said. "Hunters who go way up into the mountains will want boots with more grams of insulation so their feet don't get cold. Hunters who sit in tree stands don't need boots with as much ankle and arch support as do coon hunters, who often walk long distances over rough terrain."

Shopping for boots can be tricky. Whitmore said, for example, that people should do their shoe and boot shopping in the evening rather than the morning.

"Your feet swell as you walk around during the day," he explained. "If you're planning to try on boots or shoes, you should do it later in the day after you've been on your feet for a while. If you don't, chances are you'll be buying footwear that's slightly undersized."

Whitmore and Privett said perfectly fitting shoes should "snugly cradle the heel, comfortably wrap the mid-foot and leave enough room for your toes to wiggle."

When trying on boots, it's always a good idea to wear the same sort of socks - and the same number of pairs - as you would in the field.

"For keeping feet comfortable, socks are every bit as important as boots," Privett said. "There are all kinds of technologies available in socks today. Almost all the brands nowadays are moisture-wicking, meaning that they pull sweat away from your feet and distribute the moisture throughout the shoe.

"That, in turn, helps prevent blisters, which occur when the sweat stays on the foot and creates friction with the sock fabric."

Hunters or hikers who plan to venture out in temperatures lower than 50 degrees Fahrenheit should look for boots that are waterproof.

"In cold weather, you can't keep your feet warm unless they're dry, and there's almost always going to be some runoff onto trails or puddles to walk through," Privett said. "So boots with a waterproof and breathable lining definitely are needed."

People sometimes buy new boots when, with a couple of simple tweaks, they could give their old boots new life.

"Boots almost always stretch as they're worn, and if they stretch enough, they lose some of their comfort and support," Privett said. "A lot of times, something like a new insole or heel cup, or even a different lacing method, can help your old boots to fit as well as when you bought them."

One mistake boot buyers often make is to buy the most expensive boots they can afford and hope the higher quality results in comfort. Privett said it's a mistake to think that way.

"More expensive is not always better. It's much more important to find the boot that best suits your needs and fits your foot properly," he said.


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