By Will Rietveld
The biggest wear problem I have with hiking shoes and boots is seam failure.
I like to bushwhack and explore, and things like sliderock and scree are hard on boots, especially any exposed seams in the lateral (outside) footbox region. That region is subjected to heavy abrasion, which wears through the stitching, causing the seam to open. The first photo shows what I mean.
Any exposed seams on the outside of the toebox are especially susceptible to wear and seam failure. The shoe shown is the Montrail AT Plus, which is an excellent trail shoe, but its nemesis is its lengthy exposed outside seam. Note that the stitching is worn through at the metatarsal head region, where the foot and toebox bend.
Unfortunately, shoes and boots with seams in that region are fairly common. My first piece of advice is to avoid purchasing footwear that has exposed seams on the sides of the shoe or boot, or if you do, choose shoes with a minimum of exposed seams. An example is shown in the next photo.
The easiest way to avoid seam failure is to purchase shoes that don’t have exposed side seams. The New Balance 1000, an excellent lightly insulated lightweight hiking boot, is a good example. It has a protective rand around the entire boot.
However, we purchase footwear based on fit, support, and traction (mainly fit), so it’s not always possible to find the ideal shoe or boot without exposed outside seams. In that case you can greatly extend the life of hiking footwear by coating the stitching in the exposed area with McNett SeamGrip, which is available in most outdoor stores.
One thing you will discover is SeamGrip and FreeSole develops a dried plug in the opening after you have used it once, which is very difficult to remove. Rather than futz with that annoyance, I simply puncture the tube with a toothpick, squeeze out the amount I need, then seal the hole with a small piece of Scotch tape. Rather than squeeze out a larger quantity onto a piece of cardboard, I prefer to dispense it in small amounts directly onto the larger end of a flat toothpick.
This is probably the best piece of advice I can give to other hikers. Spending $7 on a tube of SeamGrip and coating the side seams on all of your hiking footwear is well worth the time and money. Your shoes will last a lot longer. Just be sure to do it before the seams come apart!