For the last couple of years, I have been hiking almost exclusively in my Vibram Five Fingers. They worked for almost every hike, except the very cold and wet, and for trail maintenance - people in charge of safety like it if your toes are nicely covered. I wore them for 20-mile-plus day hikes as well as backpacking trips. In fact, in my move to New York, I threw out my old boots. I wasn't so fond of them, they were heavier than I liked, and they took up space.
Here's the problem: There's more cold and wet in New York than Tennessee. I'm going hiking today, with a high of 43, and the Vibrams wouldn't be warm enough. (I own snow boots, but it's not cold and wet enough for that, either.) So, what does a girl do but go to REI and buy a new pair of boots?
The Soho REI is similar in size to the Seattle flagship, although I was surprised at how small their footwear section was. For lightweight hikers, my choice was pretty much Keens or Merrells. I took a pair of Merrells home. The next day I walked around the apartment in them, and decided almost immediately to take them back.
I inherited my dad's feet; they're actually slightly narrow, but the widest part is rather wide. In the past, that had not been a big deal. Then I started wearing the Vibrams a lot. My feet have not only gotten stronger, they've shifted a bit; the widest part of my foot is now even wider. I had noticed while attempting to purchase ordinary shoes, but it didn't become painfully evident until trying on hiking shoes.
In a couple of cases, the instep was too far forward for me. But in every pair of shoes or lightweight boots I tried, the shoe was tight across the wide part. Lacing didn't help, as it was the molding of the footbed. Finally, I tried on the last shoes EMS had, a new brand named Salewas. These were OK, so I bought them.
They're too wide in the heel, alas, which could mean blisters. I'll see how they work after my first hike with them today. Five Fingers will be in the pack for backup.