How To Choose Hiking Shoes
Fortunately, getting started hiking isn’t too difficult. For going on a day hike, you don’t need to buy a lot of expensive new equipment or have a significant learning curve. You do, however, need a pair of good and comfortable hiking shoes. Try hiking in a pair that is either too flimsy or too sturdy for the task at hand, and you risk ending up with blisters, inflamed tendons, sore feet, or worse. This article will help you determine the factors that are most significant to you when choosing Hiking Shoes and will aid you in finding the model that best meets your requirements.
Types of Hiking Footwear
Let’s start by looking at the various types of hiking footwear that are available on the market. Depending on your experience and goals, each is a good option for hiking and light backpacking.
The best hiking boots have evolved significantly over time, and today they can be found with uppers made of anything from traditional full-grain leather to more contemporary versions with synthetic materials. Regardless of the material used, these boots are generally heavier and have a higher cut, providing better support and ankle protection than lower-cut models. Weights of 3–4 pounds are typical.
In essence, trail running shoes are a more robust version of running shoes. These trail runners, which look like they belong on a treadmill rather than a thru-hike, make use of contemporary advancements in rubber and foam technologies to provide the support and stability needed for on-trail use while still remaining light and nimble. Since trail runners are designed for running rather than hiking, there isn’t much room to comfortably carry a backpack while wearing them.
Due to the limitations of trail runners, hiking shoes have grown to become one of the most popular types of on-trail footwear for people who value the flexibility and lightness of a shoe but want the additional support and structure of a hiking boot. Given that hiking boots are typically low-cut and expose the ankle, there are restrictions on how much weight they can support. Most have a waterproof/breathable membrane even though they are not designed for river crossings.
Shoe vs. Boot
Beginners frequently wonder whether they should wear mid-height boots or low-cut shoes when hiking. Even though hiking boots frequently weigh up to a pound more than regular shoes, weight is only one factor to take into account. Conditions, distances to be traveled, and individual ankle and foot strength are all crucial considerations. Boots are essential for rough terrain and when carrying heavy loads because they offer more ankle support, protection from mud, snow, and water.
For hikers who have trouble with their ankles, ankle stability is the main factor in deciding between a boot and a shoe. In ways that no low-cut shoe can, mid-cut boots help to support and stabilize the ankle when walking on uneven terrain or while carrying a backpack.
Best Uses for Hiking Shoes
The term “hiking” refers to a wide variety of enjoyable foot-based activities, including day hikes that only require the bare minimum. These could involve leisurely hikes along well-maintained trails, lengthy runs over difficult terrain at high speed, or anything in between.
These low-cut shoes are for you if you only carry a small pack or none at all, or if you have miles of hiking under your belt and have developed strong ankles and good agility.
A Note on Pack Weight: To describe loads for hiking and backpacking, we frequently use the terms light, medium, and heavy. Anything up to 20 lbs is considered to be light. This includes day hikers as well as some thru-hikers and ultralight backpackers. 20–35 lbs. are considered to be medium loads. It’s a noticeable amount of weight to carry, so supportive footwear is essential. Over 35 pounds is considered to be heavy. For these loads, most people want boots.
Day hikes are easy. You set out on a hike with nothing more than the necessities you’ll need for the trail you’ve chosen. You’ve just completed a day hike, provided you get back before dusk. You can get away with much lighter footwear because you only need to bring a small daypack with food, water, sunscreen, and a map. All of the shoes we’ve included in this review are suitable for day hikes, but some of them may not be as good in the Pacific Northwest or other wet areas if they don’t have a waterproof lining.
The objective of fast hiking is to log as many miles as you can. Therefore, having a nimble and light shoe (like trail runners or hiking shoes) is necessary.
Backpacking with Light Loads
On well-maintained trails, hiking shoes are ideal for carrying medium and lighter packs. A low-cut model’s support and durability are ideal for hikers who occasionally go backpacking for several nights. Strong ankles and years of experience allow experienced backpackers to navigate challenging terrain in shoes, finding medium pack weights to be manageable thanks to the support offered.
A long-distance point-to-point trail, like the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail, or the Continental Divide, to name a few, is referred to as a “thru-hike.” These are enormous tasks, and those who set out to complete them prioritize comfort and lightness above all else. The majority of the time, you’ll see these hikers wearing trail running shoes. Other hikers opt to start off more slowly and align themselves more with backpackers than fastpackers. These people can benefit from the added support that a midweight hiking shoe can offer since they are probably carrying a little more weight and are not hiking as many miles per day.
Where Do Your Preferences Lie?
So you’ve decided a low-cut hiking shoe is the best option for you. Which one should you buy? These goods can be divided into two groups that resemble one another because they fall somewhere between hiking boots and trail running shoes. The mid-cut versions of several of the models we looked at are more like hiking boots, whereas the low-cut versions are frequently more like trail runners.
Models that resemble hiking boots come first.
Some of the shoes we tested have a construction and design resembling hiking boots. Boots have a substantial midsole and a full-length shank, as we mentioned above, which support the foot under loads and offer torsional stability. These boots are designed for hiking, not for picking up the pace and running on flat or downhill terrain. The midsole and outsole of many of these models are connected by a thick shank.
The second category includes designs that resemble trail running shoes. The fitting, height of the heel lift over the forefoot, and sole are most comparable to conventional trail runners. These shoes fit and feel comfortable for those with a history of running. In general, these shoes are light.
Depending on how many miles you hike, how smooth or difficult the terrain is, and how much weight you are carrying, will determine how much support you need. Your need for a shoe with greater support and torsional stability over challenging trails or off-trail terrain will increase the further your adventures take you. As you carry more, your feet need more support, so wearing shoes that are stiffer and more supportive will help you avoid foot fatigue.
When making long hikes, light is best. Today’s best hiking shoes provide support, comfort, and performance at lower weights than those from a few years ago. That’s mainly due to the modern materials and construction techniques. Our recommendation is to pick the lightest pair of shoes that still meets your requirements for support and durability.
Dry feet will keep you cooler in the heat and warmer in the cold. Blisters are also frequently brought on by wet skin. Shoes with waterproof membranes prevent your feet from getting damp while hiking in wet conditions however, they are considerably less breathable that shoes without a waterproof membrane. Choose a shoe without a membrane if you prefer to hike on dry trails or in hot weather and benefit from better breathability. When hiking in cold weather, waterproof membranes do make shoes warmer and more functional.
Fitting and Finding Your Size
The fit of the shoes on your feet has a big impact on how comfortable and functional they will be. Once you’ve focused your search, it’s ideal to try on numerous pairs of footwear to find the style and size that suits your foot the best. Products from certain manufacturers are known to fit narrow feet the best. Other manufacturers have a tendency to fit wide feet well. And lastly, there are some manufacturers that provide width options for their shoes.
Consider going to a nearby store and trying on shoes in person if you have the chance. Many people have ended up with the incorrect size shoes because they arrived with a pair of socks that were thinner than the ones they intended to bring on their hike. Another piece of advice is to go to a fitting in the evening when your feet are at their most swollen. When you try on shoes in the morning, you might also get a pair that is too small.
If the majority of your hiking takes place in chilly conditions, begin your fitting with a pair of moderately thick wool socks. On the other hand, if you hike in an area where warm or hot weather is more common, start with a thin pair of synthetic socks.
To prevent the heel of the shoe from sliding up and down, make sure the shoe and size you select fit your foot comfortably. In order to prevent blisters, your toes should never touch the front of your shoe. Slide your foot all the way to the front while loosening the shoelaces. Your pinky finger’s width, (or roughly a half inch), should be left behind your heel. Slide your heel into the back of the shoe as you lace it up, then tighten the laces evenly across your forefoot. Walk around store, try to climb some stairs, and observe how the shoe feels and how securely your heel is held in place.
Many people find themselves conflicted between two sizes as the final decision approaches. When we’re out hiking, especially on long days, our feet swell a little bit. A slightly too big shoe can be made to fit by using a thicker sock or thicker insole. But a small shoe is still a small shoe. If there are two sizes available, choose the larger one. A leather boot might soften and give the toe box a little room over time, but most contemporary footwear won’t because synthetic materials don’t stretch as much as natural ones do.
Tips for Buying Hiking Footwear
- Don’t rush; give yourself enough time to browse the store in a pair of boots for at least 10 to 20 minutes.
- As your feet swell throughout the day, shop in the late afternoon. Even better if you’ve been on your feet all day. Especially in warm weather, your feet may be 1/2 to 1 size larger after a long day of hiking.
- Put on the socks you’ll be taking on your trip or are most likely to use for hiking. In particular if you wear thick socks in the winter. Additionally, make sure you try them on while wearing any orthotics, cushions, or insoles you typically wear.
- One foot may be bigger than the other, always pick shoes based on your bigger foot.
- Are your feet wide? Select a company that is best at this (like Lowa)
- Make sure you can wiggle your toes and that your feet don’t feel pressed in from the sides. Your foot should feel stable and not move around. When your toes are pushed to the front of the boot, your heel shouldn’t lift and you should be able to slide two fingers down either side of your Achilles tendon.
- Don’t base your decision to buy shoes for a lengthy, multi-day hike solely on price. Fit and comfort must come first; otherwise, painful blisters, foot pain from ill-fitting shoes, or even having them fall apart mid-trail could ruin your trip.
- Think about weight; for every kilogram on your feet, there are five on your back.