With so many options and features to choose from, it’s not always easy to know how to pick the right hiking footwear. That’s where we come in: we’re here to help point you in the right direction—to get off on the right foot, if you will.
The first step: narrowing your selection by determining what type of hiking footwear is best suited to your needs. Here’s the scoop on different types of hiking footwear.
If you’re a casual hiker who prefers mellow, groomed trails on those magical days where conditions are perfect, you might consider a sturdy hiking sandal. These aren’t your average flip flop: hiking sandals are made out of solid materials with a good, thick sole and supportive straps to keep your foot firmly in place.
If your hiking style is a little more intense, you’ll definitely need something closed toed – but hiking sandals might still come in handy for water crossings or for shuffling around camp.
Hiking shoes are a flexible and lightweight footwear option with one major limitation: a lack of support. Sure, hiking shoes will have more support than your average non-hiking shoe, but they won’t be quite as sturdy as hiking boots.
For many people, that’s just fine! Hikers sticking to shorter hikes on groomed trails will often find that hiking shoes provide all the support they need. As a bonus perk, hiking shoes are quite comfortable and are usually easy to break in—though most are not waterproof, something to be aware of if you often hike in damp conditions.
Trail Running Shoes
If you prefer pounding trails over pavement, then you’ll need to invest in a sturdy pair of trail running shoes. Hiking boots are too bulky and heavy for trail runners, but hiking shoes lack the extra support and padding that trail running shoes offer. Luckily, more and more companies are offering trail running shoes, so trail runners have plenty of options to choose from.
A mid-weight hiking boot is a good bet for the average hiker who likes exploring different kinds of trails. Offering more support than hiking shoes, mid-weight boots can take you from groomed trails to more rugged off-trail terrain. They’re usually not sturdy enough to take you into seriously rough terrain, but that means that they’re quite light and comfy. There are a ton of different mid-weight boots to choose from, so if this is the style you’re after, be sure to do some serious research before picking out the right pair for you.
If you’re a serious hiker who likes to push the boundaries, you will probably need a pair of heavy hiking boots. A good pair of boots will serve as armor to your feet, preventing slips, twists, and other injuries. Heavy boots are usually waterproof and offer excellent durability – plus, they get more and more comfortable the more you wear them.
Heavy hiking boots are super sturdy, but they can be tough to break in at first and (as the name implies) heavy, not to mention expensive. If you won’t be tackling rough terrain, you’re probably better off with more comfortable mid-weight boots.
Those planning on scaling mountains in extremely technical off-trail terrain will need a pair of mountaineering boots to keep them safe and uninjured. Built for taking short strides, these boots are extremely rigid and offer excellent traction. Mountaineering is very different from hiking, so don’t fall into the trap of thinking that more expensive, fancier looking shoes are better. If you determine that mountaineering boots are what you need, don’t forget to break them in—or be prepared for some very painful blisters!