How to Choose the Right Footwear for Hiking

by Alison McIrvin
How to Choose the Right Footwear for Hiking

Let’s face it, getting out on the trail and enjoying the back country, fresh air, and challenging yourself is so much more enjoyable when your feet are happy and comfortable. While it is not necessary to spend top dollar on the most expensive name brand footwear out there, it is equally important not to scrimp and go for the cheapest. You’ll want to choose the right footwear for hiking – whatever the kind you are planning to do.

One of your first considerations is what kind of hiking that you intend to do. Trail running, short, local day hikes, or longer (8 + miles) multi-day backpacking trips over rocky and mountainous terrain? The variety and features to choose from allow you to find just the right shoe or boot for your style of hiking, yet it also can be a bit baffling wading through the information and not getting overwhelmed by all the options. Let us help you narrow things down and if you keep some of these tips in mind and you will get yourself in just the right pair of footwear for you.

Trail runners can be all you need for local day hikes and carrying light loads. They are low cut, usually light weight, and have a flexible midsole. A very experienced backpacker friend of mine is all about ultra-light and even uses his light weight trail runners for long backpacking trips.

Hiking shoes will offer more support than trail runners, will have a bit less flexibility, but

Offer a bit more rugged sole for short to medium hikes than do trail runners. If you are not carrying a huge, heavy pack, a well made hiking shoe can be all you need to get you where you need to go.

Hiking boots can be mid to high cut and comfortable enough for day hikes, yet offer support and protection over longer trips with sturdiness to take you over the most rugged of trails. Hiking boots tend to weigh more than hiking shoes and also a down side to hiking boots can be the need to break them in, depending on the pair.

Backpacking boots are for long, multi-day trips carrying a heavy load. The outsole will be more rugged, able to handle rocky terrain and they will have a higher cut and less flexibility than hiking boots. Of course, insulation and water proofing are some of their features as well as the ability to accommodate crampons for ice and snow.

In addition to the above styles and purposes, you need to consider if you plan to hike in damp or cold weather and may need waterproof shoes. I love my low cut, light weight hiking shoes, but wanted the option to also snowshoe with them, so gaiters and waterproofing were a part of the consideration.

Footwear durability and protection for your feet are determined by the materials. Look for full-grain leather for the greatest support and durability as well as weather resistance. Full grain leather also is less breathable and can be a plus or minus, depending on your needs.

Nylon and split rain leather or suede will provide more light weight features and breathability, especially with mesh panels. This is wonderful in the summer and dry months, but not so great if you plan to hike in wet or cold conditions, so consider this.

When you try on your shoes or boots, make sure to also be wearing a thick sock as you would also wear for hiking so that the fit is accurate. The shoe should not allow your foot to slide forward, yet there does need to be a bit of movement so that you have plenty of circulation. Pay attention that your heel doesn’t slip as you walk.

Most well reputed outdoor gear stores have well educated staff in the footwear section, so take advantage of their knowledge. Try on multiple pairs and styles, taking time to squat, lunge, jump to see if there are areas where the shoe may rub or chafe. Also ask about the return policy in the event that once you are out on the trail it becomes quite clear the fit or model is not for you.

You are investing in your feet and comfort, make the decision wisely and enjoy those trails!

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