Your next hiking trip is officially on your calendar, and now it’s time to assemble your gear.
Before you go any further, you’ll want to make sure that you have the perfect pair of hiking shoes. Hiking in the wrong shoes is a sure-fire way to ruin your next hiking trip, so you’ll want to know exactly what you’re looking for in your next pair of shoes.
In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about hiking shoes. From the different styles to the individual qualities that make a good pair of boots, this guide has you covered.
Ready? Let’s get started so you can find that perfect pair of hiking shoes today!
Why Should You Invest in Hiking Shoes?
If you’re new to hiking, you may be wondering what the purpose of hiking shoes is. After all, why shell out extra bucks on a pair of shoes when you’ve got perfectly good ones at home (and maybe even on your feet)?
Unfortunately, you won’t get very far if you don’t bring the right pair of hiking boots. Without the right shoes, hiking can be downright tough, and you don’t want to find yourself with blistered feet halfway through your hike.
As such, it’s critical that you find a pair of hiking shoes that fits your needs. In general, there are four major styles of hiking boots you should consider, each with different benefits depending on your hiking route. Let’s go over each of these categories so you can find the pair that’s right for you.
- Mountaineering—If your hiking trail takes you across the rocks, you’ll need some shoes with extra traction. Mountaineering boots come with minimal heel slippage and extra durability for those tougher hikes and climbs. Typically, these boots contain deep outsole lugs that help you stay grounded no matter the terrain.
- Trail—Low-to-mid cut, trail boots are perfect for normal hiking trails. If you are hiking a popular destination with a well-kept, easy-to-navigate trail, it’s likely that you won’t need more than a pair of trail boots. Traditional trail boots come with durable outsoles and flexible midsoles that may not provide adequate support on tougher trails.
- Rough-Trail—Rough trail boots are great in situations with light backpacking and more difficult trails. These boots generally come with greater midsole support and more traction in the outsole. Still, if the going gets too “rocky,” you’ll likely need a tougher pair of boots.
- Off-Trail—If you’re headed off the beaten path, it’s time to get a pair of off-trail hiking boots. Built with stability in mind, these boots provide maximum comfort for those difficult routes, but their rigidity may take some getting used to. These boots generally have increased padding in the midsoles and external lug or tread patterns on the outsole to keep your heel from slipping.
What Makes a Good Pair of Hiking Shoes?
You’ve familiarized yourself with the general types of hiking boots available. Still, what is it that makes a good pair of hiking shoes? Let’s go over a few of the guidelines you’ll want to examine when making your next purchase.
Hiking long distances in boots that don’t fit is like getting dental surgery without an anesthetic. Unless you like foot pain, blisters, sprained arches, and bleeding toenails, it’s absolutely imperative that you find a boot that fits your foot.
This may be easier said than done. As it turns out, your regular shoe size might not be the same as your size in hiking boots. As a general rule, you’ll want to look at a variety of sizes so that you’re not just going based on what you “think” is right.
Boots with good fit are those that leave some wiggle room for your toes but provide rigid and stable support for your heels. Generally speaking, you’ll want to test your boots out before buying, or, if you’re buying online, buy from a brand you’re comfortable with.
It will help if you’ve had the length, width, and arch of your foot measured if you’re buying online. This will enable you to find the size that’s right for you. Remember that a good fit for hiking boots can only be assessed at the end of the day, when your foot has swollen from the day’s activities.
Good fit is also important in the heel region, where constant movement and friction can lead to undue pain. The best hiking boots allow for extra cushion in the back and for a more secure fit so you never have to worry about pain or burning in your heels.
All good hiking boots come with the appropriate padding. For this reason, you’ll want to make sure that your hiking shoes boast dense padding all around for the most appropriate fit. In general, hiking boots come with both tongue and internal padding, and each have different purposes.
Tongue padding serves to counteract sole rigidity. If your hiking trail necessitates boots with thick or solid outsoles, it’s imperative that you find a boot with good tongue padding. This will help your foot stay comfortable and have room to breathe. Without the right tongue padding, your hiking experience could become painful. For this reason, it’s important to find a pair of shoes that doesn’t forgo this important feature.
Internal padding is just as important. Designed to protect the ankle from chaffing or other injury, this padding plays a critical role in establishing a positive hiking experience. Trust us—you don’t want a chaffed or sore ankle when you’re hiking your route.
Depending on your trip, your hiking shoes will also come with a specially-designed midsole to give you the maximum padding and comfort. Generally speaking, shorter or lighter-weight hikes call for boosts with more cushioned, EVA midsoles. For those longer or tougher hikes, however, you may consider boots with polyurethane midsoles that provide ultimate stability and protection for the forefoot.
When finding the right hiking boot for your next outdoor excursion, you should focus on the particular cut of your model. Cut indicates the height of the boot (and thus how much protection the boot provides). In general, the higher the boot cut, the tougher the hike.
Let’s take a look at the three types of cut so you know which shoe is right for your hiking purposes.
Low-cut boots are cut beneath the ankles and are the go-to option for light treks. Wear these only if your hiking trips stays well on the beaten path, however. Wearing low-cut boots on more treacherous terrain could lead to ankle injury and sole pain.
Mid-cut boots are better for those tougher lightweight treks. While you wouldn’t wear these in more dangerous terrain, they provide you with more balance and protection on those standard hikes. In general, these hiking shoes cover your ankles and provide more sole support.
High-cut boots are perfect for those hikes that take you off manmade paths and into the wilderness. These boots offer maximum stability and balance for those treacherous treks and protect your feet from any potential damage.
Unlike regular boots, hiking shoes are designed to give you more traction and increased strength in the outsole. Whether you’re looking for low-cut trail boots or high-cut mountaineering shoes, you can expect durable, rubber outsoles that give you necessary traction to cover a variety of terrains. The amount of traction a pair of boots has is directly related to outsole stiffness and any grip-enhancing mechanisms located on the outsole.
Depending on your route, you may choose boots with extra lugs. For those not familiar, lugs are those thick bumps that line a boot’s outsole and provide additional grip strength and slip support. While these lugs can help you stay upright, particularly on more difficult terrain, they will add extra weight to your outsoles and to your shoes overall. Remember that the bigger the lugs, the heavier your shoe will be.
In general, you want to find a boot that has wide-spaced lugs to give you the best traction. For off-trail hikers and mountaineers especially, these lugs can help you stay on your feet and prevent heel slippage and injury. What’s more, they can prevent the build up of mud and other ground substances that may cause you to lose traction as you hike.
Remember that the harder the outsole, the less traction a boot will have. If you’re hiking multiple routes on well-maintained trails, harder outsoles may provide the durability you need. If your trip takes you off well-traveled paths or requires extensive climbing, however, softer outsoles with extra lugs provide the grip you need to stay safe.
Having extra traction allows for better grips, even in wet climates. For this reason, you should invest in a pair of hiking boots with good tractions if you are hiking in wetter regions.
Qualities of Good Hiking Shoes
Knowing this, it’s time to take a look at some of the most important features that you should look for in hiking boots.
- They Let Your Feet Breathe
If you’ve ever worn a pair of hiking boots that’s tight in the toebox, you know just how bad the wrong pair of shoes can be. The best hiking boots are those that provide your feet with a secure fit but don’t crowd them in the toebox or at the heels.
Conversely, if you’re having trouble getting your foot to stay put inside your new hiking boot, it’s likely you need a boot with a better footbed. Without a footbed that is able to stabilize your sole, you may find that your heel is prone to slippage. Even worse, you may experience pain the balls and soles of your feet.
Keep in mind that the higher a boot’s rigidity, the less breathable it will be. This means that, by nature, mountaineering or off-trail boots will provide your feet with less breathing room than a standard trail boot will. Despite this, there’s a ton of variability between brands, so you’ll ultimately have to find the shoe that’s right for you.
- They Fit Your Purpose
When you’re hiking treacherous terrain, you want to make sure that you have a boot that will hold up under pressure. This is why you should always consider the material makeup of your hiking boots.
In general, hiking boots are made of synthetic materials and leather, though true categorization of hiking boots isn’t so simple. Specifically, boots can be made from split- or full-grain leather, with different benefits from each.
Typically, boots made from synthetic materials are perfect for those standard hikes and provide the wearer with an option that’s light, faster-drying, and easier to break in. For the less adventurous climbers, synthetic boots may be the way to go—just keep in mind that they are more prone to the effects of water and moisture.
If you’re looking to up the durability of your boots, you can go with split-grain leather. These boots provide more protection for those tougher treks and are generally made from leather and synthetic materials. These boots are typically harder to break in than boots made from fully synthetic materials.
For the more daring hikers, full-grain leather boots are the only way to go. Though they are generally more rigid and heavier than what you might expect, they provide maximum protection against difficult terrain.
Wherever you plan on taking your next trip, it’s important that you find the shoe that’s right for you. Keeping in mind boot composition can help you find a boot with features that match your trip’s purpose.
- They Provide Strong Internal Support
The best hiking boots provide you with strong internal support. This is accomplished in multiple ways. First, quality brands will insert shank pieces between the midsole and the outsole to give the boots greater durability. Depending on the shoe, these inserts cover all or only part of the midsole.
Some hiking shoes go the extra mile by inserting thin plates below the plank. These plates are designed to protect the foot from any rough terrain. By choosing a pair of hiking shoes or boots with this added protection, you are setting yourself up for a more rewarding hiking experience.
- They Fit Your Skill Level
If you’re a new hiker, it’s likely that you’ll need a pair of boots that offer more ankle and foot support. Though these shoes tend to be heavier, they offer protection your feet will love—especially on those longer climbs.
Still, those who are more experienced may go with lighter shoes. This is because, over time, hiking builds leg muscle that provides natural resistance to ankle or knee injuries. If you’ve been hiking for a while, you may be safer going with a lighter option.
Lighter hiking boots will allow you to hike more comfortably and without the same level of wear and tear. Still, you want to make sure you are truly ready before jumping into a route where you ultimately need more protection. Generally, these boots offer less traction, so they shouldn’t be the go-to option for trickier routes—even for experienced climbers.
This means you should always err on the side of safety. Though it may be tempting to shed some weight and taking your hiking to the next level, you should only do so if you feel comfortable and if your path allows it.
And don’t worry. There are plenty of beginning hiker shoes that offer great breathability and comfort—despite their extra weight.
Nothing is more important to your hiking trip than finding the right hiking shoes.
If you’ve got the wrong pair of boots, you might as well be going barefoot. Without the proper protection, stability, support, and traction, your feet are prone to severe injury and pain. For this reason, you should familiarize yourself with the qualities of a good hiking boot so that you can make the most out of your next trip.
By using this guide, you can find the right pair of hiking boots for you. In general, you want to find a pair of hiking boots that fits to your feet and allows for maximum protection—no matter your route.
Whether you’re hiking on or off trail, the right pair of hiking boots is essential to your next trip. Therefore, use this guide as the ultimate reference next time you buy hiking boots!