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How to Buy Hiking Boots

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Once upon a time, I decided it would be a great idea to work at an outdoor retailer.

During the holiday season.

In a mall.

Yep. Not my brightest decision ever, but the short-lived seasonal experience was like packing a decade worth of retail experience into my brain (that was also being riddled with the worst versions ever of Jingle Bells, I'll Be Home for Christmas, and a few other destroyed classics). Most shifts I spent my time between being the "greeter" – the person who welcome customers in the store and makes sure they find what they need – and working in "boots".

Working in boots was fascinating. You would think that hardy New Englanders would know what makes the perfect boot, but given the overwhelming amount of options, opinions, and price ranges we saw it all – good, bad, and ugly. Here's what I learned:

The boot chooses you. Sure, the outdoor gear world has its share of eye candy, but if you're doing it right, you let the gear choose you. Help the gear out by going into it with an open mind and ask lots of questions. Despite what many consumers think, those of us who work with hiking boots rather bring out every single pair for you to try on than find out a bad fit ruined your hike. As hard as it is, ignore colors, brands, and price tags and focus on making your feet happy. It took me awhile to figure this out, but that's how I ended up with my Oboz Sawtooths! I tried on lots of boots, but in the end the quality, fit, and technology behind Oboz Footwear was too good to ignore. Thanks to the BFit Insoles and BFit Lacing, I and many other hikers have had some comfy, blister free hikes in terrific fitting boots.

It's an investment. Unless you're in a retail store that works off commissions (and I can't think of an outdoor gear shop that does), an employee will never intentionally try to sell you the most expensive gear. However, good gear – the stuff that lasts and takes a beating isn't cheap. The good news? Good gear won't need to be replaced over and over. Before I discovered and bought my first pair of Oboz Sawtooth (while working at said retail shop), I had bought three pairs of cheap hiking boots ($60-70) that chewed up my feet and ruined a few hikes. Had I just done it the right way the first time, I would have actually saved myself money. Oops!

Oh big brands… This is one I could write a novel about. Without naming names, the most common asked question during the holiday season in the mall is "Do you have [insert VERY big name brand here]?" Instead of starting on a rant, I'll just say this: trendy brand = most expensive ≠ the best choice. After a while, I started cringing when customers asked what boots we had in specific brands. Granted there were some who found the foot beds or design of certain brands to be perfect for them (for instance, I'm pretty enamored with my four pair of Oboz for their fit and design and cannot imagine buying a different boot). But most of the time, folks were just looking for the trendiest boot. Let me repeat: buying good footwear is not a fashion statement!

Jillian is a lifelong New Englander with a serious love of the outdoors and is plagued by severe wanderlust. She'll try any relatively sane thing at least once and is obsessed with getting more people (and dogs) outside. Find her on Twitter (@JillianLaura) and explore more of her New England adventures at Tails from the Trails.

At the heart of everything we do are the folks who make the magic happen. A group of likeminded footwear-industry vets who left our big-brand jobs back in 2007 intent on doing business a better way. 

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