What is there to know about footwear for hitting the trail?

Before you set off on your first hikes, there are a few things you need to know about hiking footwear. This includes what goes into the making of good hiking footwear, whether to wear shoes, boots, trail runners, or sandals, what to wear in certain conditions, how to lace your footwear, and what options are available for different genders and foot types.

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Why do you need specific footwear for hiking?

While it’s not strictly necessary to hike in hiking-specific footwear, doing so will lessen your risk of injury and enhance comfort. Hiking footwear offers more support and stiffness, better grip and traction, and is better equipped to deal with rough terrain.

How does hiking footwear differ from normal footwear?

Hiking footwear is typically more robust and durable than standard footwear. It also has better grip and traction, provides more support, and may have extra waterproofing. 

What features should you look for in good hiking footwear?

Good hiking footwear should be made with durable materials, fit well, have a grippy rubber outsole with good traction, a cushioned and protective midsole, and be water resistant or waterproof.

What footwear is best suited for certain terrains?

The following is a list of the footwear best suited to different terrain types.

  • Hiking boots. Wet or cold conditions, snow, and off-trail hikes.
  • Hiking shoes. Maintained trails and technical, rocky terrain.
  • Trail Runners. Long-distance hiking on maintained trails.
  • Hiking Sandals. Well-maintained trails and trails that involve stream crossings.

What footwear is best suited for certain weather conditions?

For winter hiking, your best option is a three-season or four-season, high-collar, waterproof hiking boot.

For summer hiking in dry, hot conditions, you can choose between hiking shoes, sandals, or trail runners depending on the terrain. If you’re heading into the alpine, however, and anticipate encountering snow, you might want to opt for a lightweight boot.

In wet conditions, the best choice of footwear depends on the type of terrain you’re tackling and just how wet you expect things to be. On maintained, moderately wet trails, a hiking shoe or trail runner will be perfectly okay. If you’re hiking off-trail or after periods of significant rainfall, however, you’ll be better off with a waterproof mid- or high-cut boot.

What built-in features are there that enhance comfort?

Some features that enhance comfort in hiking footwear are a chunkier midsole (referred to as “cushion”), soft padding in the cuff and tongue, and a quality insole.

What built-in features are there that enhance support?

Some features that enhance support in hiking footwear are a higher collar, stiffer material in the upper, and a longer shank (this provides stiffness to the midsole, making it easier to carry heavier loads).  

Is there footwear designed specifically for long-distance hiking?

There is no footwear specifically designed for long-distance hiking. However, most long-distance hikers opt for lightweight, quick-drying synthetic hiking shoes or boots like the Adidas Terrex Free Hiker 2.0, Altra Lone Peak 6, and the La Sportiva Nucleo High II GTX.

Is there any special care needed for hiking footwear?

Leather hiking boots require regular cleaning and conditioning to keep the leather supple. Wet synthetic hiking shoes or boots are best left to air dry at room temperature, out of direct sunlight as high heat can weaken the chemical bonds connecting the components.

What brands are known for quality hiking footwear?

Below is a list of the best hiking footwear brands.

  • Scarpa
  • La Sportiva
  • Merrell
  • Oboz
  • KEEN
  • Salomon
  • LOWA
  • Altra
  • Arc’teryx
  • Vasque
  • Danner
  • Asolo

What vegan or animal-friendly hiking footwear is available?

Plenty of big-name brands make vegan hiking footwear. Some of our favorites are the La Sportiva Stream GTX, Merrell Moab Speed Mid Gore-Tex, Merrell MQM Flex 2, Hoka One One Sky Toa GTX, Inov-8 Roclite Pro 400, and Arc’teryx Acrux.

Why choose boots for hiking?

Hiking boots are a better choice than lightweight hiking shoes if you want longevity, more ankle support, and stability, will be carrying a heavy load, or will be hiking in cooler conditions or off-trail.

What features are specific to hiking boots?

Some features specific to hiking boots are outsoles with deeper tread, shock-absorbing midsoles, waterproofness, breathability, foot and ankle support, stability, stiffer outsoles and midsoles, durable materials, and protective rands.

What’s the difference between hiking boots and walking boots?

The terms “hiking boots” and “walking boots” are used interchangeably and refer to the same thing. “Walking boots” is still the preferred term in the UK, while “hiking boots” is the norm in the US and other English-speaking countries. 

What different types of boots are used in different terrain?

Hiking boots can be classified in various ways, but most commonly by weight (lightweight, midweight, and heavyweight) and crampon compatibility. 

Lightweight boots (B0 or B1 crampon compatibility) are best suited for well-maintained trails and mild conditions.

Midweight boots (B2) are mostly semi-technical. They have a semi-rigid sole and can work with hybrid C2 crampons. These are best for fall, spring, and summer alpine hikes.

Heavyweight boots (B2/B3) are usually designed for either winter hiking or technical mountaineering. These boots are heavy, stiff, and highly insulated.

Why choose mid-cut or high-cut hiking boots?

High-cut hiking boots are the most suitable if you’ll be hiking off-trail or with a heavy pack as they provide more stability, support, and protection. Mid-cut boots are lighter and a good option if you want a happy compromise between the heft, warmth, and support of a boot and the legerity and coolness of a shoe. 

Should you choose leather or synthetic hiking boots?

This is a matter of personal preference. Leather boots are tougher, more durable, and naturally waterproof, while synthetic boots are lighter, often cheaper, often more breathable, and usually have little or no break-in period. 

How are the soles of hiking boots designed?

Hiking boots and shoes have grippy, all-terrain rubber soles that typically have deeper treads (aka “lugs”) to improve traction on loose or wet ground.

What features do waterproof hiking boots have?

Waterproof hiking boots typically have a waterproof membrane (usually Gore-Tex) sandwiched between the knit backer and the liner. These membranes are normally made of ePTFE (expanded polytetrafluoroethylene). Leather hiking boots, however, are inherently waterproof.

What features do cold-weather hiking boots have?

Winter hiking boots typically have beefier insulation and may come with a removable tongue or liner that provides extra warmth. Cold-weather boots are also almost always waterproof, have deeper treads for traction on wet ground or snow, and toe and heel welts for attaching crampons.

What lightweight boot options are available?

Below is a list of our favorite lightweight hiking boots.

  • Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX
  • Altra Lone Peak Merrell Moab 2 Mid WP
  • La Sportiva Nucleo II
  • Hoka Sky Kaha 2
  • Hoka Anacapa

What are some popular hiking boot models?

Some of the most popular hiking boots include the Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX, Salomon Quest 4 GTX, Merrell Moab 2 & 3, Lowa Renegade GTX Mid, Altra Lone Peak, and On Cloudrock 2.

Can you buy good hiking footwear for less?

Yes, cheap hiking boots and hiking shoes are easy to find from retailers like REI Outlet, and you always have the option of buying used footwear from retailers like REI (the used section), an online marketplace, or dedicated used gear sites like Geartrade or Outdoors Geek.

When is the best time of year to get a bargain?

The best time of year to find cheap hiking footwear is in the January/February clearance sales, around Memorial Day (May), Labor Day, and Black Friday. REI Co-Op also has its REI Member Moment in March, when you can expect to find big-name brand footwear at around 20% off.

Are there differences between women’s and men’s hiking boots?

Men’s hiking boots usually have a wider and roomier toe box and weigh a fraction more. Women’s hiking boots also often have a narrower heel and slightly taller arch.

What are some popular women’s hiking boot models?

The top-selling women’s hiking boots include the Salomon Quest 4 GTX, Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX, Merrell Moab 3 Mid, Altra Lone Peak, REI Co-op Flash, Topo Athletic Trailventure 2 WP, Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX, Hoka Anacapa Mid GTX.

Are there differences between kids’ and adults’ boots?

Kids hiking boots usually boast the same design attributes and styling as adult hiking boots, though some models may have a few kid-friendly features like velcro straps instead of laces and extra padding around the collar and tongue.

What are some popular kids’ hiking boot models?

The most popular kids’ hiking boots and shoes are the Columbia Youth Redmond, KEEN Kids’ Chandler CNX, KEEN Newport H2 Closed Toe Water Shoe Sandal, Columbia Newton Ridge Kids Hiking Boots, Merrell Chameleon Kids Hiking Boots (Mid), Columbia Redmond Kids’ Waterproof Hiking Shoes, Salomon XA Pro 3D Trail Runners, and Merrell Altralight Low.

What specific features in a boot cater to wide feet?

Hiking boots made for hikers with wider feet simply have a wider forefoot and toe box, creating a greater angle between the heel and toe area.

What are some popular hiking boot models for wide feet?

Some of the best hiking boots for wide feet are the Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX Wide Width, Lowa Renegade Gore-Tex, Merrell Moab 2, Keen Women’s Targhee 2, Columbia Newton Ridge Plus, Timberland Earthkeepers Mt. Maddsen, and Columbia Women’s Newton Hiking Boot.

What hiking boot features help with plantar fasciitis?

Features that help with plantar fasciitis are relatively stiff midsoles, good arch support, and plenty of cushioning.

What are some popular hiking boot models for plantar fasciitis?

The best hiking boots for plantar fasciitis include the Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX, Timberland White Ledge Mid, Vasque Breeze at MID Waterproof, KEEN Targhee II Mid-Hiking Boots, Oboz Sawtooth II Low B-Dry, Merrell Moab 2 Vent Mid, Columbia Newton Ridge, and the Hoka Kaha 2.

What hiking boot features help with ankle support?

The two hiking boot features that contribute most to ankle support are a high cut and stiffer uppers.

What are some popular hiking boot models for ankle support?

The following is a list of the best hiking boots for ankle support.

  • Oboz Bridger
  • Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX
  • Vasque Breeze
  • Lowa Renegade
  • Hoka Kaha 2 GTX
  • La Sportiva Nucleo High II GTX

Which hiking boot styles suit narrow feet?

While there’s no specific styling elements that cater for narrower feet, certain brands run narrower than others. The most notable are La Sportiva, Vasque, Asolo, and Teva. 

What are some popular hiking boot models for narrow feet?

Some of the best hiking boots for narrow feet are the Vasque Breeze LT, Lowa Renegade GTX – Narrow, Asolo Fugitive, La Sportiva Nucleo, La Sportiva Ultra Raptor, and the Lowa Explorer GTX.

What hiking boot features improve breathability in hot weather?

The features that most improve breathability in hiking boots are mesh panels in the upper and thinner padding in the cuff and tongue. Boots with no waterproof membrane are also more breathable.

What are some popular hiking boot models for hot weather?

Some of the most breathable hot-weather hiking boots are the Merrell Moab (non-GTX version), Altra Lone Peak Hiker 2, Asolo Falcon GV, KEEN Targhee Vent, and REI Co-op Flash.

What is the best way to tie hiking boots?

The best way to lace hiking boots is using the standard, crisscrossing lacing style. There are, however, a few other lacing techniques you can use in certain situations. Window lacing relieves pressure on the forefoot, while a surgeon’s knot prevents your heel from slipping and helps stop laces coming untied, and toe-relief lacing mitigates toe pain by increasing room in the toe box.

How do you stop heel lift when wearing hiking boots?

To stop heel lift in your hiking boots, make sure you buy a pair of well-fitting boots, wear thicker hiking socks to fill any empty space in your boots, and use a surgeon’s knot when lacing your boots, making sure the toe area is slightly loose and the ankle area is tight. It’s also a good idea to buy new insoles with more supportive heel cups.

Why is it important to have well-fitting hiking boots?

Ill-fitting hiking boots can cause a number of issues, including blisters, chafing, foot cramps, toe bunching, and general discomfort. So, how should hiking boots fit? Snugly, but not tight.

What are some tips for better fitting hiking footwear?

To ensure your hiking footwear fits perfectly, try before you buy and choose boots or shoes that match the length, width, and arch of your feet. Make sure the boots are snug, not tight, and leave a little wiggle room for your toes.

After buying, add an aftermarket insole, break the boots in properly, and wear suitable socks to fine tune fitting.

How do you break in hiking boots?

The best way to break in hiking boots is gradually. Start by wearing them at home for a few hours at a time, then on gentle walks in the park or around town, and then on shorter hikes.

How long does it take to break in hiking boots?

How long it takes to break in hiking boots depends on their material. In most cases, synthetic boots can be broken in within a few days by wearing them at home or on shorter walks in the park or around town. Leather boots, on the other hand, take longer – anything from two weeks to two months depending on how frequently you’re able to take them out for a spin.

Do you have to waterproof hiking boots?

Hiking boots only need to be reproofed once or twice a year, depending on how frequently you use them. 

With both leather and synthetic boots, waterproofing can degrade over time. A waterproof treatment will restore water repellency to the surface of the material, meaning water will roll off it instead of soaking into the material. 

How do you waterproof hiking boots?

The best way to waterproof hiking boots is with a specialized product like Nikwax Fabric and Leather Proof or Gear Aid Revivex.

What are barefoot boots?

“Barefoot” hiking boots are those that have little or no “drop” (height difference) between the heel and toe.

Why do people like wearing barefoot boots?

Some hikers prefer wearing barefoot hiking boots because they believe they promote a more natural gait, reduce the risk of developing plantar fasciitis, improve posture, and place less stress on knee, hip, and ankle joints.

What differences are there between hiking boots and hiking shoes?

In short, hiking shoes are lighter, more agile, and often a better choice in hot weather and/or on well-maintained trails. Hiking boots, on the other hand, are heavier and clunkier, but are warmer, offer more support and protection, and are a better choice for hiking off-trail, in thick brush, or with a heavy pack.  

When should you choose hiking shoes over hiking boots?

Hiking shoes are a better choice if you’re hiking on well-trodden or well-maintained trails and in hotter conditions, or if you simply want less weight on your feet.

Why choose hiking shoes for hiking?

Hiking shoes are often a better choice than boots because they’re lighter and help prevent overheating in hot conditions. They’re also nimbler, cheaper, and often more breathable. 

What features should you look for in hiking shoes?

Good hiking shoes should be reasonably light, breathable, supportive, durable, and well cushioned. They should also have deep enough lugs or tread for solid traction and a good rock plate in the midsole to absorb blows to the underside of your foot.

Do hiking shoes provide adequate ankle support?

There isn’t any evidence showing that high-topped hiking boots provide better ankle support than low-cut shoes, but full-height boots do limit ankle movement, meaning you’re less likely to roll an ankle in rocky terrain.

Is fitting for hiking shoes the same as for hiking boots?

Yes, fitting for hiking boots and shoes is the same. The goal should always be to find footwear that is snug, not tight, and leaves a little wiggle room for your toes.

Do hiking shoes come in wide and narrow sizes?

Not all brands make wide or narrow sizes of their hiking shoes. Some exceptions are Danner, KEEN, Lowa, and Merrell. 

What are some lightweight hiking shoe options?

Some of the best lightweight hiking shoes are the Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX, La Sportiva Spire, Vasque Juxt, Altra Lone Peak 6, La Sportiva TX4, The North Face Ultra 109 GTX, Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator, HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat 4 GTX, Adidas Terrex Swift R3 GTX, Keen Targhee III, and Columbia Redmond.

Do hiking shoes need to be broken in?

Unlike hiking boots, modern lightweight hiking shoes usually require little or no breaking in due to their lighter, synthetic, flexible construction.

Are hiking shoes suitable for wet conditions?

Hiking shoes are perfectly suitable if you’re hiking on well-maintained trails that only have a little surface water. If you’ll be hiking through boggy ground or wet vegetation, however, boots are a better choice.

Are hiking shoes suitable for long-distance hikes?

Yes, many – if not most – long-distance hikers prefer hiking shoes over boots because their light weight and more flexible construction mitigates leg and foot fatigue. Most popular long-distance hikes (the AT, CDT, PCT, etc.), moreover, are on well-maintained trails where the ruggedness and protection of a boot is overkill.  

When is it not suitable to wear hiking shoes over boots?

The following is a list of circumstances in which hiking boots are preferable to hiking shoes.

  • If you’re hiking in boggy ground or trails with lots of vegetation or undergrowth.
  • If you need ankle and shin protection from rocks, roots, and undergrowth.
  • If you value durability.
  • If you need more stability (on rocky trails or if you’re carrying a heavy pack) – this actually comes from the stiffness of the sole, not the high collar (boots typically have stiffer soles).
  • If you want to keep debris out.
  • If you have to cross shallow streams and don’t want to take your shoes off.
  • If you’re in an area with poisonous plants or snakes – boots will provide a little more protection and peace of mind.

What hiking shoe models are most popular?

At present, the most popular hiking shoes on the market are the Salomon Quest 4 GTX, Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX, Merrell Moab (all varieties), and Altra Lone Peak.

Are there differences between women’s and men’s hiking shoes?

Yes. Women’s hiking shoes are typically lighter, have a narrower toe area, and are a touch narrower at the heel.

What are some popular women’s hiking shoe models?

At present, the most popular women’s hiking shoes are the Merrell Moab 3, Merrell Moab Speed, Hoka Speedgoat 5, Altra Lone Peak 7, Salomon X Ultra 4 GTX, and Brooks Cascadia 16.

Are there differences between kids’ and adults’ hiking shoes?

Most kids’ versions of hiking shoes boast the same attributes as the adult versions. Some kids’ hiking shoes, however, have a few kid-friendly features like velcro straps instead of laces and extra padding around the collar and tongue.

What are some popular kids hiking shoe models?

Some of the most popular hiking shoes for kids include the Columbia Youth Redmond, KEEN Kids’ Chandler CNX Hiking Shoe, KEEN Newport H2, Merrell Kids Hydro Sandal, Merrell Moab Kids Hiking Shoes, Columbia Redmond Kids’ Waterproof Hiking Shoes, and Salomon XA Pro 3D Trail Runners.

Can trail running shoes be used for hiking?

Yes, trail running shoes are perfectly suitable for hiking on maintained trails in warmer conditions. They’re far lighter than hiking boots and most hiking shoes and provide ample traction, stability, and protection for most hikers.

Why choose trail running shoes for hiking?

Trail running shoes are a good alternative to hiking shoes or hiking boots if you prefer lighter footwear and don’t anticipate hiking in boggy terrain or through thick undergrowth. Trail running shoes are also reasonably durable, have great traction, and are more breathable than both hiking boots and hiking shoes.

What features should you look for in trail runners for hiking?

Trail runners for hiking should have an aggressive outsole for traction, a substantial rock plate to absorb blows to the underside of your foot, toe protection, ample cushioning, and a waterproof membrane.

What are some popular trail running shoe models?

Some of the best trail running shoes for hiking are the Altra Lone Peak 7,

Altra Olympus 5, Brooks Cascadia 16, Saucony Peregrine 12, Hoka One One Speedgoat 5, Salomon Speedcross 6, Salomon Sense Ride 5, Salomon Men’s X Ultra 4, and La Sportiva Bushido II.

What features do hiking shoes for flat feet have?

Hiking shoes for flat feet should have plenty of arch support from a firm and supportive midsole, ample cushioning, and good traction (overpronation makes footing more insecure in loose or wet terrain).

What hiking shoe models for flat feet are most popular?

The most popular hiking shoes and boots for flat feet include the following Merrell Moab 2 Vent Hiking Shoe, Skechers Men’s Pelmo Boots, Timberland Mt Maddsen, KEEN Targhee II Mid Hiking Boots, Xeroshoes Xcursion, Salomon Quest 4 GTX, and Salomon X Ultra Mid GTX.

What features do hiking shoes with wide toe boxes have?

Hiking boots with wider toe boxes have more room across the forefoot. For some, this provides more comfort, more stability and balance, and better toe alignment.

What wide toe box hiking shoe models are most popular?

Some hiking boots with wide toe boxes are the Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX Wide Width, Lowa Renegade Gore-Tex, Merrell Moab 2, Keen Women’s Targhee 2, Columbia Newton Ridge Plus, Timberland Earthkeepers Mt. Maddsen, and Columbia Women’s Newton Hiking Boot.

How do barefoot shoes compare to barefoot boots?

Barefoot hiking shoes are lighter than barefoot hiking boots and better for well-maintained trails in warm, dry conditions. Barefoot boots are a better choice if you’re hiking off trail or in wet or cold weather, or if you need extra protection and stability.

When is it not appropriate to wear barefoot shoes?

Barefoot shoes are not a good choice if you’re carrying a heavy backpack or if you have severe hypermobility, peripheral neuropathy, or any pre-existing foot conditions. Barefoot shoes can also cause stress fractures so are not recommended for long-distance hiking.

What other types of footwear can you wear hiking?

When it comes to footwear for hiking, the main options are hiking boots, hiking shoes, trail running shoes, approach shoes, and sandals.

When is it most appropriate to wear hiking sandals?

Hiking sandals work best on well-maintained trails and/or on hikes when you anticipate having to ford rivers or streams.

What are some popular hiking sandal models?

Some of the best hiking sandals available today are the Chaco Z/1 Classic, Bedrock Cairn 3D Pro II Adventure, Teva Katavi 2, KEEN Newport H2, Teva Hurricane XLT2, ECCO Yucatan, Teva Terra Fi 5 Universal, KEEN Clearwater CNX, Xero Shoes Z Trail, and Chaco Odyssey.

What features do snowshoeing boots have?

In general, most snowshoes have a stiff upper, stiffer soles, beefy insulation, and a waterproof membrane.

What are some popular snowshoe boot models?

The best boots for snowshoeing include the Columbia Bugaboot III OmniHeat, Columbia Ice Maiden II, Merrell Thermo Chill Mid, KEEN Revel IV Polar, Baffin Impact, Vasque Breeze WT, and The North Face Chilkat 400.

What are crampons?

Crampons are traction devices that are attached to the sole of a hiking boot to provide better grip in ice and snow.

What are some popular hiking crampon models?

Some of the best hiking crampons on the market include the Kahtoola K-10, Hillsound Trail Crampon, Grivel G10 New Classic, Camp Stalker, Black Diamond Contact, Black Diamond Serac, and Petzl Leopard FL.