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How to Buy Multi-Sport Outdoor Footwear

Say you're just 'going for a walk.' But that walk involves bringing some water, maybe lunch, and you slap on some sunscreen and grab your trekking poles. But you're going to be done in a day, and don't plan on exerting yourself too much. Do you need a hiking boot? probably not, but a running shoe isn't really substantial enough for what you're doing. So, you lace up your light hikers, low hikers, or multisport shoes. They all mean the same thing - shoes you can hike in comfortably.

What makes it a Multisport Shoe?

A boot comes up over the ankle, a shoe doesn't. But what if the shoe has a very similar, durable nylon/suede or leather upper, aggressive outsole and stiff midsole? It has been designed to be lighter and have better range of motion but still protect and support your foot, and be comfortable all day. Many are waterproof and can take the place of hiking boots for light loads for healthy people on known terrain, but aren't well suited for running. If your 'multi' sports are all versions of walking, these shoes are ready.

The Fit

How do you know they fit? It doesn't take long for the wrong shoes to cause problems, so it's worth taking some time to get the right ones.

Note: An appropriate light to medium weight hiking sock is absolutely necessary for your shoes to really work.

Start at a shop with a good selection and the ability to measure your feet and assess any width or volume issues. If you know you have wide or narrow feet or a high instep or arch, let the staff know as they are measuring your feet. The Brannock Device is the industry standard for defining foot and arch length and foot width. It's where the staff should start, because while you might know what size shoes you wear, that might not be the same as your foot size. Keep in mind that a shoe size is just the length and width of the bottom of the inside of the shoe, with some interpretation by the designer.

Once your feet have been assessed, your options might be limited by sizes or styles that are not available or appropriate. With the scope of current hiking shoe options, with few exceptions there is a shoe out there to fit you perfectly. Knowing when the fit is as close as possible can be tricky and might require kissing a lot of frogs, but when you walk around in the right pair, you'll know it. A very few situations might require modifications to the shoe, but that is a subject for trained staff one-on-one.

Multisport shoes will fit very much like a boot, meaning the overall last or foot shape the shoe is built on is medium volume, so the sock will need to take up some space if you have narrow or low-volume feet. Toe box volume will be greater in some styles, especially those with stiffer midsole construction.

Footwear brands will have different definitions of what a size means. For example, brand A makes all their shoes To Brannock, meaning that if your foot measures exactly as a 9, it will touch the heel and toe inside a brand A size 9, so you should try the 9.5 to get the toe room we've discussed. Brand B, on the other hand, makes their shoes To Fit, meaning the same foot has suitable toe room in a brand B size 9. This should be fairly consistent across a brand, and the shop staff should help, but trying on more shoes is the only way to find the best fit for you.

Once you've found the right size, you need to lace them up and walk around. You should get the laces pretty tight the first time to see how much effort it will take, and compare the volume match of your foot and the shoe.

The basic fit of a shoe should be that your toes do not touch the front or top of the toebox as you walk, and the width of the footbed and volume of the upper are such that the shape of the shoe is holding your foot firmly in place without painful tension on the laces.
- If the lacing placket is bunched up or spread very far apart, you have mismatched the volume of the last to the shape of your foot.
- If you feel heel movement, several things could be happening:
A stiffer upper and midsole won't flex with your foot when new, so your heel will lever up out of the heel cup. This will settle down with wearing as you establish a 'toe crease.'
Your sock may be a bit thin to take up the right amount of space in the shoe, which can be remedied with a liner sock or different weight of main sock.
It could just be that the heel cup is just larger than your heel and the upper materials and eyelets of the shoe won't be able to compensate.

There will be other things you note with different shoes such as where the tongue meets the front of your ankle, how much side-to-side movement you have in the toe, and differences in stitching and design. The larger your 'sample set,' the more familiar you will be with how the shoes fit versus what you want.


Last: Foot form that a shoe is built around. For most outdoor footwear companies, a different Last will be designed based on the intended activity for a shoe or boot. Usually, running shoes will have a narrower, lower-volume Last, while backpacking boots will have more width and volume, especially in the toebox. Unless specified, you should assume that different models from the same company will have slightly differing Lasts.

Outsole: The part of the shoe in contact with the ground. In most outdoor shoes, the speed and purpose of the activity the shoe is designed for is very evident here. Lighter colors will be softer, stickier, and less durable, darker the opposite. More corners and edges on the tread design anticipates loose natural materials like trail, smoother for rock or pavement.

Midsole: Material between the Outsole and Upper. Can vary greatly in materials and construction based on the intended use of the shoe. Lighter, more flexible and cushioning EVA foam for faster movement with less load and need for durability to heavy, dense, stiff, leather for slower movement for big loads over long hauls and many years. As a rule of thumb, lighter colors denote less dense/stiff/durable properties, increasing as the color darkens

Upper: All the parts that work to hold your foot on the midsole. Synthetics will be used to save weight and create specific shapes while leather is still favored for durability, maintenance, and long-term comfort as it shapes to the foot.

Shank: Stiffening element in the Midsole usually placed under the Arch. Can be metal or synthetic, simple or more technical based on the designed use of the shoe or boot.

Lacing placket: The material, eyelets or lugs, and lace of the Upper.

Toe box: The front of the shoe, ending at the lower end of the Lacing Placket. The dimensions (shape, height, width) on hiking shoes will usually be more generous, allowing the toes to spread out, improving balance and stability on rough terrain.

Sock liner: Removable material inside the shoe between the foot and the midsole. Not to be confused with an Insole, the Sock liner is frequently the cheapest part of the shoe and is intended to give a good first impression of a shoe in the store. Most can be removed and crumpled in one hand. An actual insole will provide true arch support and more durable materials.

Insole: Supportive device between the foot and midsole. Should be selected based on specific fit and features for the wearer/footwear.

Heel Cup: Back of the shoe. Should be shaped such that your heel matches up pretty closely. Poorly fitted/worn shoes are obvious when the lining has been worn away by too much heel movement.

Instep: Highest part of the top of the foot. What you see when you look down. A 'taller' instep generally denotes a higher 'volume' foot.

Arch: The part of the bottom of your foot that is (usually) not in contact with the ground when standing. Can also describe the bone structure of the foot where the calcaneus, talus, and navicular bones meet. When the bones are properly supported, the joints, tendons, ligaments, and muscles have less work to do, and fewer problems are likely.