Cash in on Hiking Boot Sales

Hiking is booming in popularity, and all those hikers will need sturdy hiking boots or hiking shoes. You should be prepared to sell them the right model.

Cash in on Hiking Boot Sales

Hiking is one of the most popular outdoor activities in the United States — and the word is getting out.

A recent report by the Adventure Travel Trade Association listed hiking as the most popular activity among adventure travelers. In fact, hiking jumped ahead of several adventure activities that had been more popular just 10 years earlier, including rock and mountain climbing, rafting, trekking, sea and whitewater kayaking, and canoeing.

Equally impressive, The Outdoor Foundation’s 2018 Outdoor Participation Report found that hiking is now the fourth most-popular outdoor activity in the United States — right behind running, fishing and biking.

The increase in popularity is astounding, but understanding the trend and how to properly outfit those who are following it provides opportunities for significant profits.

One of hikers’ most frequently purchased products can be stocked in great numbers and in a wide variety of styles — all in a relatively small area. We’re talking about hiking footwear, of course.

Obviously a hiker’s most critical piece of gear, hiking footwear basically encompasses three categories — hiking shoes, hiking boots and backpacking boots. All have different applications and all have soaring sales.

Hiking Shoes

Hiking shoes are designed for hikers who won’t be carrying a lot of weight and will be sticking to shorter hikes on well-defined trails. They are lighter and more flexible than boots, but also don’t provide as much structural support as boots do.

Footwear in this category is generally made of textile with leather, suede or synthetic reinforcements that provide a support structure and add abrasion resistance. Some look like low-cut hiking boots, while others closely resemble trail running shoes.

Most hiking shoes aren’t great for cold, wet weather. But some models are waterproof and will typically have “GTX” in their names to indicate they have a Gore-Tex lining.

Some popular options in this category include:


Men’s 

 The North Face Hedgehog Fastpack GTX – These hiking shoes are light and waterproof with a best-in-class Vibram sole for stable footing. With polyurethane-coated leather uppers and abrasion-resistant, breathable textile mesh lining, the pair weighs in at under 2 pounds. About $120 at most retailers.

Mammut Ayako Low GTX Approach Shoe – Another low-profile option, these are light and waterproof with a weight of less than 1.5 pounds. They have a rubber toe cap and triple-density cushioning made from three materials with different levels of softness. About $159.


Women’s

KEEN Women's Targhee II Hiking Shoe – These waterproof hiking shoes feature nubuck leather uppers and dual-density compression molded EVA midsoles. They also have lugged outsoles for good traction on slick, treacherous trails. The pair weighs in at about 1.5 pounds. About $130.

Merrell Women's Siren Edge Hiker – With an appearance more like a trail-running shoe, these hiking shoes feature mesh and synthetic uppers, tear-resistant durable outsoles and angled lugs to cut through the toughest terrain. They also have a removable contoured insole to provide light support to all three arches of the feet. The pair weighs less than a pound. About $110.

Hiking Boots

Hiking boots are the leaders in the hiking footwear category. They provide more protection and support than hiking shoes, making them more appropriate for hikers carrying heavier loads. They also are designed for those who intend to hike for longer distances over rougher terrain.

Some good-selling hiking boot options include:


Men’s

Vasque Talus Trek Mid UltraDry – With nubuck leather and mesh uppers, this boot also has a breathable, waterproof liner for keeping feet dry in wet conditions. It also features Vibram Nuasi outsoles and a dual-density EVA footbed. The pair has a total weight of about 2.5 pounds. About $115.

Keen Targhee III Mid – This model features leather uppers lined with breathable, waterproof membranes to keep feet dry and allow perspiration to dissipate. It also has all-terrain rubber outsoles with 4mm multidirectional lugs for a high-traction grip on rugged trails. With removable, dual-density EVA footbeds, the pair weighs just over 2 pounds. About $150.

 

Women

Columbia Newton Ridge Plus Waterproof Amped – With uppers constructed of a combination of full-grain leather and suede, these boots feature a scratch rubber heel, mesh tongue and outdoor hardware. The sole is made of Omni-Grip non-marking traction rubber, and the boot has a lightweight midsole for comfort, cushioning and high energy return. Weight for the pair is 1.7 pounds. About $70.

Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid Aero – These boots are designed for tackling tough trails in warm weather. The mesh and leather uppers are lined with a soft textile material to wick moisture away from the feet. Two different types of rubber are strategically placed on the sole for durability and more grip, and aggressive lugs in the heel area grab the terrain, giving hikers more control. They weigh 1.8 pounds. About $130.

Backpacking Boots

Backpacking boots are designed for those adventurous individuals who load themselves down with extra weight and head out on multi-day hikes, often over very rough terrain. They are taller than hiking boots, and provide more support than both hiking boots and hiking shoes.

Some popular options in this category include:


Men’s 

Salomon Quest 4D GTX – This boot’s split suede leather and nylon mesh upper offers flexibility, breathability and lightweight comfort. It features seam-sealed Gore-Tex membranes for water protection and to allow vapor to escape, keeping feet dry. It also has a dual density EVA midsole and improved outsole with a new lug design. Weight for the pair is 2.8 pounds. About $230.

Asolo Fugitive GTX – This rugged backpacking boot has a water-resistant suede and nylon upper combined with a Gore-Tex lining to keep feet dry. It also features a highly technical sole, on which the balance of the outsole has self-cleaning lugs designed for optimum performance on varying types of terrain. The pair weighs in right at 3 pounds. About $240.

Women’s

Columbia Women's Newton Ridge Plus – With leather and nylon uppers, this backpacking boot features waterproof, seam-sealed construction and a lightweight, durable midsole for long-lasting comfort and high energy return. The advanced traction rubber sole helps alleviate slipping even on rough ground. The pair weighs 2 pounds. About $65.

Merrell Women’s Moab 2 Mid Waterproof – With a suede and mesh upper, this boot has a waterproof liner to seal out water and let moisture escape, keeping feet dry and ready to head down the trail. Merrell’s air cushion in the heel absorbs shock and adds stability, and 5mm Vibram lugs ensure good traction. The pair weighs 2 pounds. About $130.

Size up Those Socks

Hiking boot buyers need socks to go with those boots, and more companies than ever are making specialized hiking socks to cater to this market.

While some hiking socks feature merino wool, polyester blend hiking socks are also very popular because of how quickly they dry when wet. Hiking socks are available in a wide range of heights, from no-show to knee-high, and with various amounts of cushioning to meet varying preferences of individual hikers.

Since hiking socks must fit well due to the nature of their use, they are not a one-size-fits all proposition. Retailers should stock various sizes, since hiking is often a family activity.

Insoles and Inserts

Aftermarket insoles/inserts can be a profit center since quality insoles help hiking boots feel better, and thereby perform better.

Simple cushioning insoles can make a hiker’s feet feel better at the end of the day, and that’s important. But support insoles made specifically to provide proper stability to hikers can help them avoid injury while hiking, and soreness afterward.

Whether hikers under- or over-pronate, have plantar fasciitis or even some kind of misalignment of the hips, knees or ankles, there’s an insert made to correct the malady. Structural inserts are typically fairly expensive, though, and can cost nearly as much as the hiking boot, depending on the model chosen.

As mentioned before, having a staffer who knows his or her stuff when it comes to hiking boots will go a long way toward helping shoppers meet their insole/insert needs.

Other Considerations

There are a number of other things to consider when jumping into the hiking boot market.

Several parts of a hiking boot, when combined, make it the outstanding specialized tool it is. Understanding them can make you more successful in your hiking boot endeavor.

Looking at hiking boots from the bottom to the top, the outsole is nearly always made of rubber. The main feature of the outsole is the lugs — the protrusions built into the rubber to give the wearer traction in less than optimum walking conditions. Most hiking boots also feature a heel break, which means there’s a distinct divide between the heel and the rest of the shoe, yielding more gripping ability.

The internal support of a hiking boot is critical for both effectiveness and longevity. Shanks are placed between the outsole and insole for load-bearing stiffness and support. Some cover the insole’s entire length, while others extend only part of the way.

The midsole is what provides cushioning and makes a boot comfortable to wear on the trails. Many midsoles are made of EVA of varying densities, depending on the cushioning desired. Some high-end hiking boots and backpacking boots use harder polyurethane for this purpose since it is firmer and more durable.

The boot’s upper is where you’ll see the most difference. They range from synthetics like polyester and nylon, to nubuck leather, to split- and full-grain leather, along with combinations of any of those materials. The materials used in building an upper make a difference on weight, durability and other factors. Synthetic boots are nearly always lighter than leather ones. Liners built into the upper will determine how warm and waterproof a boot is.

Another important consideration is fit. Hiking boots should fit snugly where the feet don’t move around when walking. But they should not fit too tightly anywhere or the friction will cause problems. A customer who gets a blister or two during their first time on the trails will likely look for a different place to buy hiking gear next time.

Customers should be sure and try on their hiking boots with the same or similar socks as they’ll be wearing on the trail, since socks come in a wide range of thicknesses. If they plan to use aftermarket insoles (see sidebar), they should insert them into boots before trying them on for fit.

Having a specialized salesperson with extensive knowledge of hiking boots can go a long way toward helping your customers find the perfect boot or accessory for them. For new hikers, a knowledgeable salesperson can provide peace of mind that they are choosing the right boots for their needs. And for experienced hikers, knowing they are dealing with a salesperson who knows as much about hiking as they do might give them confidence that they’re shopping in the right place.



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