The right shoes can make a huge difference to your outdoor experiences.
In this buying guide, we hope to explain the difference between the major categories you might find at Rays, as well as some of the technical jargon and innovations you might find.
Ultimately, footwear lies at the crossover between comfort and necessity – if you’re shoes aren’t comfortable and suitable, your adventure may be compromised
What’s the correct type of shoe for me?
For the uninitiated, the key things to worry about are all F-words: function, fit and feel. After that, it’s all in the detail.
Like most products, footwear is designed for an intended use. There’s a reason why hiking boots and water booties are described so – these descriptors attempt to indicate their purpose. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean a hiking boot is going to be perfect for anyone who wants to go hiking, but it’s a good place to start. Think about how you plan to use your new shoes and that should help you get started (just take it with a grain of salt – we’ll explain why).
DO THEY FIT WELL?
Fit is paramount when it comes to comfort and productivity. Think about it – rubbing, blisters, aches and pains – it all comes down to the perfect fit.
At Rays we offer the Perfect Fit promise - a customer service that ensures we first understand your purpose, and then we measure and recommend the perfect shoe for you.
“Our PROMISE guarantees you for 30 days from your original purchase, a once off refit and replacement of your adventure footwear (new or worn) if they are not the perfect fit for you”
How do they feel?
More than just about any other type of apparel or gear, the subjective component of footwear is integral to their use. That is, if you don’t enjoy wearing them, then you probably won’t use them.
This shouldn’t be a matter of aesthetics; it should be a case of choosing the product that feels the most natural.
Hiking: Designed for long walks, this category of footwear can be largely split into ‘boots’ and ‘shoes’ – the difference usually being the height of the cut. Boot-cut footwear is designed to protect and support the ankle, but not everyone finds this more comfortable and it has a marked impact on the weight of the shoe.
Water: Water-based activities come with their own risks, so this category aims to provide protection and ease-of-use when your feet are likely to be submerged for long periods of time. If you’re into boating or perhaps just beach combing, this category is worth a look.
Sandals: Open-toed or open elsewhere, sandals are an age-old classic that allow maximum breathability and therefore the greatest exposure to the elements. This is the type of shoe for people who prefer as little restriction as possible, but that doesn’t mean they’re not rugged, serious products!
Casual: Goes without saying. Some of these items might be suitable for walking, camping or having a meal at the pub, but be warned: casual footwear tends to focus on fashion first, as opposed to function.
Workwear: Spend all day standing? Need something that screams function, comfort and durability? These shoes may not be the lightest or the trendiest, but they’re build for work and that’s just fine.
Find Your Shoes
THE ANATOMY OF A SHOE
Forget all the trademarks and buzzwords; shoes can be easily broken down into their major components, and this is how you should think about them when making a purchasing decision.
Let’s simplify it into three basic areas: the sole, the midsole and the upper. Yes, there are all kinds of minor considerations, but these are the three broad regions that we need to worry about the most. And the most important one of these is – unsurprisingly – where the rubber meets the road: the sole.
The sole of your shoe is critical because it’s the major interface between your feet and the hard, unforgiving ground. No matter how you intend to use your shoes, this is the one area that you want to get right.
The sole also has a big impact on the durability of the shoe. For example, purchasing footwear that’s designed for casual use and wearing it regularly in an outdoor environment will likely result in you needing a new pair more regularly. On the other hand, a very rugged pair of boots may feel very rugged and structures under foot if all you’re doing is walking down a suburban street.
There are a few major features of any good sole that you should look out for:
Material: It’s unlikely you’ll find a pair of shoes that don’t have a rubber sole, but what has that rubber been formulated for? Is it soft, hard or does the shoe employ a mixture of the two? A soft rubber is likely to provide better grip, while a hard rubber will last longer.
Last: The last of a shoe describes the sole’s shape. Generally speaking, there are three types of lasts: curved, medium and straight. This is a key component in the fit of a shoe, and the last should generally match the curve of your foot. Each model in footwear tends to have a different last, and it’s unlikely you’ll see the same model produced in different last shapes. This means, if you’re foot is straight but the last is obviously curved, you’re going to be uncomfortable.
Lugs/tread: Each shoe will have a different tread pattern, and hiking shoes tend to have obvious lugs. This is a design factor aimed at improving the grip of the shoe for its intended purpose, but some people will notice they have a significant effect on the feel of the shoes. A shoe with heavy lugs may be beneficial out on a wet and muddy trail, but over flat ground you might feel like you’re walking on marble.
The midsole can be roughly described as the material between the sole and your foot, which is largely composed of softer rubbers (and in traditional shoes, some wood or cork). The midsole is designed to offer comfort to the user and may influence the overall weight of the shoe; a minimalist construction will forego comfort for a lighter weight.
Material: Again, this is generally a case of comparing the qualities of different rubber formulations, but some companies have made a name for themselves by inserting other components into the midsole of a shoe. Is the midsole perforated to decrease weight and improve breathability? Are there specialist materials incorporated to improve the feel under foot?
Construction: The midsole may also be combined with the sole of the shoe to create artificial support for the user. Do you have issues with flat feet? Do you pronate or supinate? Many shoe models will be designed for one type of foot anatomy or another, and it’s generally recommended you consult a podiatrist before making a decision on specialist support.The other part of the midsole’s construction you should consider is the way it’s bonded to the sole and the upper. Is it glued and stitched on or just glued? This may impact the durability (longevity) of the product.
The upper part of a shoe tends to include technology designed to allow the ease of heat and moisture transfer or, conversely, restrict it. Pay close attention to whether or not the upper is designed one way or another beyond the simple aesthetic, as this will have a huge impact on your comfort.
Materials: The materials used in an upper are predominantly synthetic, however you may find organic options in the ‘casual’ or ‘workwear’ categories. Leather shoes are traditional, and they do offer benefits in terms of being able to mould to the foot, to be maintained and to be generally hard-wearing. However, leather has mostly been overtaken by synthetics as a result of its weight.
Synthetic materials can allow your foot to breathe and regulate temperature magnificently, unless they’re designed not to. The point here is to beware of the waterproofing argument. Footwear that claims to be waterproof may well keep your feet dry when you step in a shallow puddle, but they will also be highly effective in trapping moisture and heat inside your shoe. Net result? You end up with wet feet regardless. Be very careful in considering how much time you intend to spend in the wet (including snowy environments) before opting for a fully-waterproof shoe.
Design: The design and shape of the upper is important when it comes to fit and function. A low-profile toebox may look sleek, but will your toe catch and annoy you as a result? Some shoes are designed with roomy, well-protected toes to prevent against stubbing and scuffing.
Most importantly, consider the fit when looking at the upper. Not only do you need at least half-thumbnail’s space in front of your toes to allow for swelling, you want to ensure you have enough width to be comfortable. On the other hand, is the rear of the shoe the right width to firmly grip your heel, or is it lifting in and out?
Footwear, when taken by itself, is barely useful. Sure, sandals and water booties can be worn as is, but if you’re spending extended periods of time in your shoes, you’re likely going to need to consider some other products to go along with them, whether it’s for comfort, function or maintenance.
The obvious accessory to consider here are socks, and these are incredibly important when relying on your feet to get you from A to B. Socks come in a variety of styles and materials, with each kind suited to a different customer or activity.
At Rays, we recommend having enough socks to last you one pair per day that will keep your feet warm and dry. Most importantly, purchase socks to fit your shoes – anklet socks do not work well with high-cut boots!
Beyond that, there are a number of products to consider alongside your shoes and they can all have an impact on your next adventure. Discuss your plans with your Rays staff member and ask their opinion one what purchase may go well with your new pair of shoes.
There aren’t many adventures that don’t begin with setting your foot out the door, and there’s absolutely no point setting foot out the door if you don’t have the right footwear. Put aside questions of look or style and focus on the three ‘Fs’: fit, form and function. If you get a good match on each of those elements then there’s every chance you’ll away without ever have to think about your feet – and that’s the best way to start your next adventure.