A little over a year ago, I found myself faced with the inevitable task of parting ways with my beloved Timberland all-leather hiking shoes. They had faithfully accompanied me on countless adventures, but time had taken its toll, and they had begun to show signs of wear and tear, resembling a pair of well-loved, but scruffy, old friends. What made these shoes truly special was their unmatched comfort, having molded themselves perfectly to the contours of my feet over the years. I had gone to great lengths to keep them going, having them repaired and resoled multiple times, each instance providing a temporary reprieve from the heart-wrenching decision of letting them go and embarking on the quest for a new pair. However, there comes a moment when even the most resilient of companions run out of miles to travel.
To be fair, while my old hiking shoes offered exceptional comfort, they didn't quite meet the technical standards of real hiking footwear. They lacked interior lining and had a relatively thin sole. Moreover, they didn't provide the essential support needed for the ligaments in one's feet, a shortcoming that became especially problematic when hiking on rocky terrain, and particularly so when fatigue set in.
Several key features were essential to me when searching for the perfect pair of hiking shoes:
First and foremost, I was determined to find shoes crafted entirely from leather, both on the exterior and the inner lining. My experience had taught me that synthetic fabrics often fell short in providing the comfort I personally need, especially when faced with warmer conditions. I understand that leather would demand a bit more care, but this was a trade-off I'm more than willing to embrace.
Personally, I have a strong preference for a lacing system using hooks at least from the instep up rather than traditional holes. I find it to be a more practical choice, making it easier to adjust the fit to the desired tension.1
Lastly, I had my thoughts set on a shoe model that reached ankle height, and a classic brown color reminiscent of traditional hiking boots was my top choice.
After an extensive search on the internet, combing through forums, and excluding options without an EU dealer, I stumbled upon Hanwag and their Tatra II series. To my delight, this series was available in both an all-leather version and a Gore-Tex variant, ticking all the boxes on my checklist.
Getting some advice
At first, I was tempted to take a chance and order these online, but then I stumbled upon a professional outdoors shop close to where I live, that had them in stock. I decided against the online gamble because I wanted to have them in my hands before the weekend, plus it gave me the perfect opportunity to examine them up close.
As I stepped into the shop, a friendly saleswoman greeted me and suggested that I should get my feet properly measured before simply grabbing a pair off the shelf and heading home. Following her advice, she recommended the "wide" version and a half-size larger than my usual shoe size based on the measurements. Somewhat surprised, I didn't realize I had wide feet, but I trusted her guidance and decided to give them a try.
As I slipped my feet into the shoes and fastened them, it felt like stepping into a world of unparalleled comfort. I had mentally prepared myself for the typical "breaking in" period that often accompanies new shoes, but this experience was more akin to sinking into a cozy sofa.
The shop owner chimed in and explained that while there is some truth to breaking in shoes, the ideal scenario is for a hiking boot, or any shoe for that matter, to feel comfortable right from the start. I had to admit that there was wisdom in that statement given the exceptional comfort I experienced. Encouraged by the advice, I bought the shoes, and took them on a 20 km. circular trek in the beautiful Ardennes, and they performed flawlessly, passing their maiden flight with flying colors.
In the past year, I've embarked on numerous hiking adventures in diverse conditions, and I must admit, I've found myself some wonderful new hiking partners. While I certainly have high praise for Hanwag hiking boots, my most valuable recommendation is to go pay a visit to a specialized hiking store and seek expert advice. Without doing so, I would have have missed out on the wide version and certainly ended up with a less comfortable hiking experience. Trust me, it's a step well worth taking for an upgraded outdoor journey.
Apparently the latest models seem to have a slightly altered lacing system. ↩