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Whether you’re going on a big round-the-world adventure or exploring the great outdoors in a neighboring state, it’s important that you have the right hiking footwear. Wearing the wrong shoes can completely ruin your trip so don’t risk it. Find out how to choose hiking boots along with some suggested styles!
How to Choose Hiking Shoes
Written by: Jennifer Forlin and Nina Thomas
Table Of Contents
First, when choosing hiking shoes think about the type of place you are going. Not every destination requires the same type of shoes.
- How much traction do you need? Will you be walking along a paved path, traversing rocks, or exploring a primitive trail?
- Will you need waterproof shoes for mud, rain, or river crossings or are you hiking in a dry climate?
- Do you need leather boots for the winter or light, breathable hiking sneakers for the summer?
- What are your physical needs such as ankle, knee, and arch support?
- Will you be hiking for a few hours or a few days?
- How much use will you need from your shoes? Is this a one time experience or are you looking for a pair of shoes for a range of travels?
What are the most important things to consider when buying hiking footwear?
There are several factors that are non-negotiable for me when buying a hiking shoe:
- Waterproof: for mud, streams, and rain
- Traction: so I can traverse any terrain with confidence
- Breathability: because my feet swell in the heat
- Weight: so I wouldn’t want to throw them off a mountain after wearing them for several hours
How do you know if you need hiking boots or shoes?
Not all trails and hikes require the same type of footwear. Ankle length hiking boots are better for more challenging hikes such as steep inclines or multi-day trips whereas low hiking shoes may be more appropriate for hot weather destinations or for low maintenance feet.
If you’re visiting national parks but not planning to hike, you’ll probably be fine with regular sneakers and if you’re hitting a trail in the summer, outdoor sandals may suffice.
Below you’ll find hiking shoe recommendations for various types of trips along with detailed information on finding the right fit for your feet.
Read this post for the best womens hiking boot recommendations!
If You Need Hiking Boots:
Best Overall All-Terrain, Multi-Season Hiking Boots
For camping, hikes on rocky or mountainous terrain, multiple day treks, and carrying a lot of weight, you want your footwear to go above the ankle to protect rolling your ankles such as the Scarpa Moraine Hiking Boots or Merrell Moab Ventilator.
The more weight you carry, the more stress is on your feet and ankles. Having a pair of boots to support you through any terrain–carrying anything–is important.
Editor’s Top Pick: Scarpa Moraine
Waterproof Durable Boots for Cold Weather and Maximum Protection
You’ll also want waterproof shoes for mud and rain. This feature is more important than you might think. No one wants to trudge around with wet feet dragging them down on a long hike.
If you are hiking for multiple days, you want your feet to have maximum protection; boots are the way to go. Something like the classic Danner Adrika Hiker or Columbia Newton Ridge over-the-ankle hiking boot is what you’re looking for.
If you’ll be experiencing challenging terrain or rigorous trekking, the above styles are definitely the best women’s hiking options.
Read this post for more hiking boot recommendations!
If You Need Hiking Shoes:
Best Overall All-Terrain, Multi-Season Hiking Shoes
Hiking shoes are ideal for when the terrain is not rocky, but you’ll be walking long distances, like day hikes.
If you are hiking on non-paved trails, you’ll want a pair of hiking shoes like the popular Merrell Ventilator. Think hiking through the muddy English countryside or a non-accessible trail at a national park.
Budget Friendly Waterproof Trail Shoes
Hiking shoes vary from tennis/active shoes in that they’re made of thicker, waterproof material, instead of cotton that will soak through quickly if wet. Some active shoes are very thin, and not made for trudging through mud and muck.
You don’t necessarily need a heavy pair of hiking boots for a day adventure–but you also don’t want your thin gym shoes. The Columbia Redmond offers a lightweight option with good traction for regular to wide width feet.
Read this post for more hiking shoe recommendations!
If you need Hiking Sneakers:
Versatile Hiking Sneakers to be Worn on and Off the Trail
Active shoes can work in summer destinations or where hiking in rain isn’t really an issue, like the beach or the desert. You don’t want thick hiking shoes if you’re going to a beach destination.
For something in between a hiking shoe and sneaker, the Adidas Terrex Hiking Shoe is an awesome choice! It’s a particularly good style if you don’t have physical ailments and you’re on a long trip or only plan the occasional hike.
Cross Trainers or Running Shoes are a Good Option for Easy Walks
If you plan on doing any long walks, like in the Everglades where there are paved paths, or you are going to be hiking in an accessible path with flat terrain, sneakers or regular old gym shoes are a good option – no specialty hiking footwear needed.
They are lightweight and pack well, so unless you’re doing any major mountainous hikes, a pair of lightweight Nike running shoes or crossing trainers work well enough for easy terrains and light hikes.
In fact, TFG’s editor did the Machu Picchu trek two different times with a pair of New Balance Cross Trainers like the ones shown above. These are also the shoes she took on her round-the-world trip instead of taking hiking boots.
Read this post for more walking shoe recommendations!
If you need Hiking Sandals:
Hiking Sandals for Hot Weather and Water Adventures
Outdoor or hiking sandals such as the above comfortable and popular Chaco are ZX2 are needed when you’ll be trudging through creeks, streams, or waterfalls in hot and humid weather.
You can also use them for rafting or kayaking and some travelers even use them as their walking sandals in destinations such as Southeast Asia.
Outdoor Sandals with Protective Toe Bumper
For some hikes that go through water, like The Narrows in Zion or some of the trails in the Great Smoky Mountains, you’ll need a pair of shoes that can be immersed in water.
It’s different from getting rain on your shoes, or going through muddy spots–this is complete immersion.
If you plan to hike on rocky terrain, you may want to consider a sandal with a protective toe bumper such as the top-rated Keen Venice H2. It’s not the most stylish athletic sandal, but nothing’s worse than stubbing your toe on a sharp rock and fracturing a bone or losing a toenail. Unfortunately, this advice comes from personal experience.
Read this post for more hiking sandal recommendations!
Product Comparison Chart
|BRAND | MODEL||FEATURES | REVIEWS||RATING | PRICE|
|Best Hiking Boots|
|Scarpa Moraine Mid GTX Hiking Shoe||For camping, hikes on rocky or mountainous terrain, multiple day treks, and carrying a lot of weight, you want your footwear to go above the ankle to protect rolling your ankles such as the Scarpa Moraine Hiking Boots or Merrell Moab Ventilator.||Check Price|
|Danner Adrika Hiker Waterproof Hiking Boot||If you are hiking for multiple days, you want your feet to have maximum protection; boots are the way to go. Something like the classic Danner Adrika Hiker or Columbia Newton Ridge over-the-ankle hiking boot is what you’re looking for.||Check Price|
|Best Hiking Shoes|
|Merrell Moab Ventilator Hiking Shoe||If you are hiking on non-paved trails, you’ll want a pair of hiking shoes like the popular Merrell Ventilator. Think hiking through the muddy English countryside or a non-accessible trail at a national park.||Check Price|
|Columbia Redmond V2 Waterproof Hiking Shoe||You don’t necessarily need a heavy pair of hiking boots for a day adventure–but you also don’t want your thin gym shoes. The Columbia Redmond offers a lightweight option with good traction for regular to wide width feet.||Check Price|
|Best Hiking Sneakers|
|adidas outdoor Terrex Ax3 Hiking Shoe||For something in between a hiking shoe and sneaker, the Adidas Terrex Hiking Shoe is an awesome choice! It’s a particularly good style if you don’t have physical ailments and you’re on a long trip or only plan the occasional hike.||Check Price|
|New Balance 410 V6 Trail Running Shoe||They are lightweight and pack well, so unless you’re doing any major mountainous hikes, a pair of lightweight Nike running shoes or crossing trainers work well enough for easy terrains and light hikes.||Check Price|
|Best Hiking Sandals|
|Chaco ZX2 Classic Athletic Sandal||Outdoor or hiking sandals such as the above comfortable and popular Chaco are ZX2 are needed when you’ll be trudging through creeks, streams, or waterfalls in hot and humid weather.||Check Price|
|Keen Venice H2 Sandal||If you plan to hike on rocky terrain, you may want to consider a sandal with a protective toe bumper such as the top-rated Keen Venice H2. It’s not the most stylish athletic sandal, but nothing’s worse than stubbing your toe on a sharp rock and fracturing a bone or losing a toenail. Unfortunately, this advice comes from personal experience.||Check Price|
Before buying hiking shoes, read these tips:
The biggest piece of advice is to try hiking boots on in the store. You can always purchase them online at a better price but it’s essential that you get a proper fit prior to buying.
Once you buy them you want to try them on first thing in the morning and later on in the evening. There are so many factors at play with our foot size when we go to a shoe store: the time of day, how much walking we’ve already done that day, if you’re pre/post natal, age, sodium intake, injuries, current footwear choices, orthotics…
The best investment for shoes I can recommend overall is visiting a podiatrist, getting familiar with your feet, and getting custom orthotics. I’ve worn orthotics since university when I ran for the varsity cross-country running team. I add a half size to my footwear so my orthotics fit comfortably and that my toes aren’t squishing against the top.
When considering how to choose hiking boots, remember that you should go through every single step to make the best choice. You can spend upwards of $200 on a new pair of hiking shoes, it’s good to be a little prepared for the event to ensure you get the exact fit you want and need.
When you’re looking to buy hiking boots, make sure to bring:
- Two pairs of socks in different weights
- Your current hikers when you’re shopping for new ones.
Speak to the store salesperson, tell them where you’ll be using the shoes and ask them for their best recommendations. They’ll more than likely measure your feet first to determine the styles that would work best.
Once you’ve determined your precise shoe size and chosen your preferred style, it’s time to test out the fit and functionality.
Put on both shoes
Yes, it sounds a little obvious but I’ve seen many people think they can successfully buy footwear by trying on only one foot. One foot is different from the other, so it’s to your benefit to have both the left and the right boots on and to have them fully laced.
In the store, that is. Most shops have a little portable faux-hill incline setup you can walk up and down on. I like to know that my feet aren’t unduly sliding around and that the tread is pretty grippy, wouldn’t you?
Walk around the store; jog, skip, run and stretch.
Now truthfully answer these questions:
- What’s my skill level and hiking experience?
- What kind of ground do I anticipate hiking on?
- Realistically, how many times am I going to be going off road during this season?
How you answer dictates your footwear choices. You might gravitate to lightweight, yet sturdy, trail running shoes that can be worn in an urban setting, or go low for versatility or high top for the ultimate in ankle and foot stability.
So you think you’ve found the right pair of hiking boots? NICE! However, you should try on a different style than what you’ve bought in the past, you might be pleasantly surprised.
Know your body
I always wear low top hiking boots, yet this summer I tried on and bought high tops and then returned them a few days later for a low top model. I have strong ankles, (thank you, swimming!), and the low style fits me fine.
The clincher for me in deciding against the high top boots was that when I wore them around the hotel room my knees became sore. I think it had to do with the overall weight of the boots.
The bottom line: do your research, try on a few different styles well in advance, and make a purchase based on your personal physical needs, specific destination, and unique hiking style. Not all terrains are made equally just make sure to have the most appropriate type of footwear for your type of trek.
What are your tips on how to choose hiking boots? Comment below!
For more travel shoes, please read:
- The Best Hiking Shoes for Women
- 10 Steps to Packing the Best Travel Shoes for Any Trip
- The Best Shoes for Walking, Hiking, or Trekking
- Best Travel Shoes: Womens Leather Boots
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Author Bio: Jennifer Forlin is an avid traveler and has left her heart and a little bit of her soul in Argentina. Born in England and raised primarily in Canada, this former army brat turned Canadian Model of the Year in 1990 is now a North American Certified Life Coach designation. Jennifer lives in Southwestern Ontario with scores of photo albums from her incredible adventures all around the world.