I wanted a good pair of leather boots for my thru-hike. Living in Maine, I knew LL Bean products were of high quality and came with a lifetime warranty, so I visited the store and looked hard at reviews before picking the boots for my trip.
I've always been careful about boots and knew that I needed to break in my boots before hiking. When I finally selected the Cressida Hiker from LL Bean, the leather was soft and supple and break in was very easy. These also had a GoreTex liner, which I knew would get quite the workout both from the way that I sweat, and the mixed conditions over two thousand miles of the Appalachian Trail. Oh, and I wanted leather, as well as something that provided ample ankle support.
After reading many dozens of articles on hiking the AT, I understood that I would probably need to change my boots mid-hike, so I actually bought two pair of boots and broke them both in beforehand. My plan was to have my replacement boots sent to me "just before" my first pair wore out. I liked to plan in detail, and this seemed to be the best approach.
As usual, reality did not match the plan.
As I pounded my feet flat for over a thousand miles, I finally blew out the small toe side of my right boot and the outside heel of my left boot. As I pondered my feet through the remaining miles - water running into and out of the holes in my boots - I realized that my second pair of boots would be too small. I needed a replacement set of boots that was half a size larger and half a width wider to make up for my new, larger feet.
I called LL Bean at my next town stop, and explained where I was and what I was doing. The manager of the boot department asked me what size boots I wanted and where to send them. He shipped them out overnight to my next mail drop location at no charge to me, with a pre-paid return shipping label! A note in the box said to come see him when I finished my hike, and wished me luck on my journey.
The new boots were of course, not broken in. I was a little worried about this, but I really had no need to be concerned. The new boots worked great, out of the box, no rubbing issues, no blisters. I was all set for the next thousand miles!
As I neared the finish line in Maine, my second pair of boots developed slits in the heels. I'm pretty sure these were caused by rubbing my heels on the granite rocks as I descended the rough trails in New Hampshire and Maine. These slits did nothing to damage the integrity of the boots, though they did let the water in. With all the rain we had to finish the trail, and the number of wet stream and bog crossings, this really didn't matter anyway. My boots were wet half the day nearly all the way through Maine.
When I finished my hike, I now had a broken in pair of boots that was 1/2 a size too small, and a worn out pair of boots from the second half of my hike. What to do?
I drove up to LL Bean with both pair of boots in tow, looking for the boot department manager.
The whole boot department staff gathered around me and wanted to hear about my hike. They wanted to know all the details, the ups and downs, the physical and emotional challenges, and of course they wanted my old boots - BOTH PAIRS.
They gave me a store credit on the second pair of boots that I broke in but never used. I tried to NOT accept this, but they insisted. I of course immediately spent it in the store. They also replaced the replacement boots that I had worn out on my hike, assuring me that my lifetime, unconditional LL Bean warranty covered this, no problem. All of this at no charge to me, with smiles and slaps on the back for my success.
I cannot say enough good things about the staff and the service from LL Bean. I never expected them to replace the boots that I had worn out by hiking a thousand miles, and certainly never expected them to take back the boots that I bought by mistake, broke in, and then could not wear simply because I had pounded my feet a little larger hiking over two thousand miles from Georgia to Maine.
LL Bean is a great company. They offer unmatched service and I cannot recommend them highly enough to anyone looking for high quality outdoor gear.
Thank you again, LL Bean!
I've had lots of comments from people asking me about Trail Runners, and why I don't recommend them for hiking. Though you might read many comments online about how great these are for hiking, in my personal experience they are ankle-busters. If you are carrying a 30-40 pound backpack, walking on uneven trails, trying to hike 2000 miles in 6 months, you need support. If your ankles are not supported, your knees are not supported. If your knees are not supported, your hips are not supported. All of this leads to fatigue and if you are not careful, injury.
Sure, some people hike in Trail Runners just fine and never experience an issue. I needed the additional support and would never have trusted myself in a glorified tennis shoe.
As always, your mileage may vary, and I recommend that you try a pair if you really think they are the right thing for you. Wear them with a full pack and walk around your neighborhood - along side hills, through the gullies and ditches along side the roads, over every bit of uneven terrain that you can find. If you like them, great. Enjoy your hike! Remember that the granite in the northeast will shred them as well, so be prepared for replacements along the way.
Have a great hike! Life IS good!