Shoes are made up of an upper, midsole and outsole. Each type of shoe provides varying degrees of support and comfort for either urban or wilderness exploration.
Most shoes have a midsole made from ethyl vinyl acetate, polyurethane or a combination of both. EVA is lighter and softer than polyurethane, but also compresses faster and becomes less effective for cushioning. Polyurethane is heavier, firmer and more durable.
Hiking boots and other rugged shoes are often constructed with a shank for rigid support on rough terrain. This is typically a narrow piece of steel or hard plastic embedded in the midsole.
For nearly every trip, you'll have to bring at least two pairs of shoes—sturdy shoes for walking and everyday use, and a pair of sandals for warm weather or yucky showers in budget hotels. To find what's best for you, think about how you usually travel (by foot, public transportation or by car?) and your anticipated activities (low-key/sedentary events or active urban and wilderness exploration?).
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Whatever type of shoe you choose, added insoles will provide better cushioning and support. Cushioning insoles from Sof Sole and Spenco absorb shock. For extra stability, Superfeet insoles feature a contoured profile with deep heel beds and raised arch support.
Waterproof conditioners protect leather, suede and nylon shoes. Nikwax brushes on shoes and protects leather without oversoftening or changing the fit. REI Ultra Seal comes in either a spray or paste and leaves no sticky residue, allowing leather to breathe.
If you purchase online, test the fit of your shoes once you receive them. Shopping at an REI store? Compare several shoes to find the best fit. Read more about getting the right fit.
By T.D. Wood
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Last updated: 03/05/2013
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