It has been a bit since I promised to start my personal hiking gear reviews. So here is the first one. Presented here in their worn and tattered state are my L.L.Bean Cresta Hiking Boots in all leather with a Gortex lining.
I started with the pair on the left at Amicola Falls, Georgia which is the 8.5 mile approach trail to the top of Springer Mountian, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. This boot will cost you $229.00 at the famous L.L.Bean retailer or a little less if you can be so lucky to find a pair in your size at one of their outlet stores. Another way to purchase it at an even better price is to be gainfully employeed by this awesome outfitter. I chose the latter. My soul purpose in applying at L.L.Bean last summer was so I could earn extra money for my hike and to get an employee discount which I took full advantage of. As a matter of fact I believe that 99% of my paycheck was spent back at the store for my gear. I had fun.
My first pair was sized in my normal proper fit. I spent a couple months breaking them in gently. The leather is very stiff and sturdy requiring proper breakin time to prevent sore feet. This is a good time for my disclaimer. I am not a professional, or paid actor or claim to have special knowledge in hiking gear. The opinions written hear are from my own experience and what worked for me and what didn’t. Always check the manufactures specifications for details and claims. After the boots were worn in, they became very malable and extremely comfy. I used a beeswax, also sold at Beans to pretreat before the first wearing and then to keep them looking new.
I got many strange looks as I ventured out at the start of my hike with such a heavy shoe. I would receive such comments as, “Wow, those must weigh a ton!” And “Aren’t they hot?” Yes, they were heavy and yes, they were warm and my feet did sweat. But I paired them with heavy smartwool socks which wicked away the moisture helping to keep my feet dry. In the beginning it was raining and even snowy making the trail a mess so my feet would have been wet either way. At least this way they were warm and wet instead of cold and wet. The Cresta hiker with its leather and Gortex lining kept the elements out. The other important advantage to the ankle high boot was the stability it provided my ankles. Countless times over the 2189.2 miles I would roll my ankle and this boot I know was the reason serious injury did not occur. Well, that and my methodical and cautious pace. But after 164.7 miles, at Fontana Dam, North Carolina I switched out my boots for a pair of Salomon Gortex Hiking shoes. My change did not come because I did not like my Cresta’a but because I failed to heed the advice of previous hikers that said I should purchase boots larger then what I normally need. My feet were too cramped in this size. My practice hikes of less then 10 miles we’re fine but long days on various terrain day after day had my feet screaming in pain with a few blisters and metatarsal pain. So I said good bye to my once comfy Cresta Hikers.
At Wind Gap, Pennsylvania, mile 1,277.8 my feet were still screaming. I wore out 2 pair of Solomon hikers and was trying a pair of Keen boots. I had the Keens for about 3 weeks. All these were slightly larger then my normal size but none of them were providing the level of comfort and stability my feet needed. The Salomons were too thin and I could feel every pointy rock under my feet as well as rocks I grazed along the sides of my feet. The Keens just plain hurt all over. Bruce rescued me once again and we drove about an hour and a half to the nearest L.L.Bean retail store and I painfully purchased at full price, because I was no longer an employee, a pair of Cresta Hikers. This time in a much larger size. I went from a 7.5wide ladies to an 8wide in men’s. It wasn’t that my foot was swollen or had spread. My feet just needed some wiggle room. I treated them with the beeswax and off I was the next day with my brand new, out of the box, stiff leather boots. Breaking them in gently was not an option. New pains developed and I had to make modifications for the next three weeks but it was still better then the sneaker hiker shoes. When others complained about the rain and mud, I had dry clean feet, even in the hottest weather. I would rest and air them on dry days and would be good to go. On rainy days and muddy and wet sections my feet stayed dried and clean as the boots kept out Mother Nature and her elements.
I wore the second pair of boots through to my summit and back down. Over 920 miles. I wore those out. They will become a plant holder in my house. The first pair are still in great shape and now that my hikes are short they still serve me well. I even wear them for an 8 hour shift at L.L.Bean, yes, I got rehired, and my feet are so happy. I did pair my Crestas with Dr. Scholl athletic inserts when the original inserts wore out which was pretty fast. I highly recommend a stronger and sturdier hiking boot for your next adventure, your knees and feet will thank you.