Recently, I bought new Keen hiking shoes.

The shoes felt good in the store. My feet slipped in easy and I moved my toes up and down in the foot version of the wave.

I stood up, assumed the hiking stance, which included getting a determined look on my face, and took off from the shoe department and headed toward the circular clearance rack featuring outdoorsy shirts in colors odder than even an outdoorsman would tolerate.

The walk wasn’t long, probably 20 feet back and forth, but it was a trek nonetheless and thorough enough, I thought, to reveal both the strengths and weaknesses of the Keens.

Shoe shopping has always been dicey. There is store feel and home feel, which may not be the same. Shoes are not unlike wine. A wine can taste great at the winery and then disappoint at home, absent the oak barrels, the coolness of the tasting room and the gleam in the winemaker’s eyes.

Something changes when you leave the store and it might not be the shoes. The moment you walk through your front door the composition of your feet change. They grow, shrink, widen or narrow. It’s as if people have two different sets of feet: store feet and home feet.

The difference becomes permanent when you wear the shoes outside for the first time and can no longer return them. It’s as if your shoes are saying, “Gotcha. Again.”

It’s not about sizes. However, rather than only listing U.S. and European sizes, manufacturers might consider including the shoe store size and the “now you own these shoes and your feet have rejected them like a patient might a donor kidney and you can’t return them” size.

My first outdoor walk was two miles to the pool. The shoes felt good. Springy, comfortable but veteran shoe shoppers know that sometimes springy and comfortable can be a head fake because the shoes want you to be sufficiently invested in them before they break your heart.

The third or fourth time I wore them, the left shoe felt tight around the toe. Evidently, at age 63, my left foot is still growing. In spurts. Shortly after buying a new pair of Keens.

When you realize a shoe is tight, tight is all you can think about. "My left toe is dying. I can’t breathe. I might have a panic attack."

I don’t understand. Shouldn’t feet be the same size? When was the last time you heard someone describe their shoe size like this: “My right foot is a 10 and my left foot is a 10½”?

Feet should be the same size. Feet are not that far apart. They came out at the same time.

Once it becomes clear that shoes don’t fit, the shoe shopper has a decision to make: Abandon the shoes or tough it out and try to recoup part of the paycheck spent buying them.

There is another option. Keen is known for their sandals and their hiking shoes have a sandal like feel and sole. I could take an Exacto knife and cut out the top of the left shoe in an effort to liberate the pinky toe. However, if the right shoe fits well, do you leave that shoe alone and go with the sandal and shoe mix-and-match look?

I’m wearing the shoes. I can’t give up. My foot grew, but maybe feet grow better in hot weather.

Fall is coming. My feet could shrink. I’m betting $100 they just might.

Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at hbenham@bakersfield.com or (661) 395-7279.

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