When Do I Need Hiking Shoes And When Can I Skip Them
The kind of shoes you need for hiking really depends on the hike youre planning. If your hike is going to be short and on a paved path, you can get away with wearing your everyday shoes or sandals. If you do choose sandals, however, stay away from anything with a large heel because your feet will definitely get sore and you might trip.
If your hike is going to be longer , you want to wear shoes meant for activity. More often than not, these shoes will be lightweight, breathable, and provide more support than shoes that arent designed for movement. This could one of the following:
- Running Shoes
- Tennis Shoes
- Hiking Shoes
When youre choosing which shoes to wear on your hike, you might want to consider the condition of the trails. Many people invest in hiking shoes to hiking so that they can protect their everyday shoes from the wear and tear of trekking the trails. Plus, if you want to avoid getting your shoes muddy, a pair of hiking shoes may be the way to go.
In short, if youre going to be on rough terrain, no matter the distance, then you may want to get hiking shoes. I have hiked in running shoes many times over the years, but now I own a pair of Keens Voyageur hiking shoes and they make a tremendous difference. The amount of foot protection you get in hiking shoes is huge in comparison to regular running shoes. If Im going up a mountainside with switchbacks and rocky trails, Im wearing my hiking shoes.
What To Consider When Choosing Trekking Shoes
If you decide to get a pair of trekking shoes, there are a few factors to consider before you buy them. Not knowing these factors may give your expedition a negative experience.
Tip: Do not buy your trekking shoes right before your journey. Buy it earlier, and break in the shoes so youre more used to it.
Running Shoes Vs Hiking Boots
If you want to forget all your other troubles, wear too tight shoes. ~The Houghton Line
I get asked about backpacking footwear all the time and the question is almost always the same. Hikers want to know if its really okay to backpack in running shoes and how light their packs need to be before they can make the switch.
For many of us, its been drilled into our heads since day one that backpackers wear boots. Thats just what you do. You need the toughness and the ankle support and the water protection, right?
Thats why it blew my mind a few years back when I learned that thru-hikers cover thousands of trail miles every year in running shoes!
When I get asked this question now, after many years and thousands of my own trail miles , I feel very confident in saying: Ditch the boots and dont look back.
Here are five reasons why:
LOOKING FOR A NEW PAIR OF KICKS?: Check out out footwear guides to learn about critical considerations and our favorite recommendations.
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Waterproof Is A Misleading Term
Most boots claim to be waterproof and most hikers think thats a good thing. But waterproof boots wont keep your feet dry. Its as simple as that.
Your feet will be wet with sweat because they can’t breathe.
Waterproof boots only provide short-term protection from rain. When it rains, water will run down your legs and into your boots.
Even the highest quality waterproof boots will develop tiny holes over time that slowly let water in during prolonged rain.
Waterproof treatments are not permanent and will need to be refreshed after a while.
Gaiters and rain pants can help delay swamping your boots, but if it rains for long enough, its inevitable that your feet will eventually get wet. And when boots get wet, they get heavy. Very heavy. They also take forever to dry out. So dont get sucked into the waterproof hype.
The Hiking Footwear Guide
When it comes to choosing hiking footwear, ideally you want something that is comfortable, relatively lightweight and built to handle the conditions in which you will be doing most of your rambling. However, there is no panacea no one model to rule them all. Factors such as foot type, injury history, pack and body weight, and the dictates of the environment in which you will be hiking, should all be considered when deciding on what footwear is right for you.
In the article below I look at the strengths and weaknesses of the principal options , as well as provide a rundown of recommended brands and a timeline of my own choices over the past three decades. For those interested, in the companion piece to this article Trail Runners Vs Hiking Boots: A 30 Year Perspective I address why I prefer the former option for three-season backpacking trips, examine the commonly held belief that boots provide a greater degree of stability and support than low-cut trail shoes, and finally delve into why your choice of footwear should be considered as a part of an overall lightweight approach to backpacking.
Southwest Tasmania Traverse Footwear: Merrell Moab2 Ventilators
Full-grain Leather Boots
High-cut full-grain leather boots are overkill for all types of backpacking trips, with the possible exception of excursions into snowy, sub-freezing environments. Even in those conditions, I prefer to go with a mid-cut synthetic/leather model .
Ballpark Weight 1.5 kg and up.
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Waterproof Day Hiking Shoes
Similar to the waterproof hiking boots, the waterproof day hiking shoes also have a waterproof membrane to keep water out of the shoe. However, in order to save on weight, compromises have been made in terms of ankle support and the water entry point of the shoe.
While I tend to favor the waterproof hiking boots for our waterfall hikes, my wife actually prefers waterproof day hiking shoes in this category.
She typically finds then to be more breathable and lighter, but she does have to figure out ways to stay dry on creek crossings given the lower point of water inundation inside the shoe.
- Waterproof only up to breathable mesh
- Less ankle protection due to low top
- Mesh is only water-resistant and needs treatment to repel water
My wife tends to wear her KEEN Targhee II low top on our waterfall hikes. She really only wears the high top waterproof hiking boots when she knows she has to.
There are also water resistant day hiking shoes for even more breathability. So theres a bit of overlap between waterproof day hiking shoes and other shoes like trail runners or water-resistant day hiking shoes.
Case in point, our daughter hikes in a KEEN Oakridge Waterproof Hiking Boot, but it seemed more water-resistant than waterproof in her experience.
The key difference between a shoe made for kids versus shoes made for adults is that theyre easy to put on. More specifically, there was no need to tie shoe laces as they had pull-strings to tighten the fit.
Chaco Z1 Classic Sport Sandal
If most hiking boots feel like wearing a Monster Truck, Chaco’s Z1 is a more like a dirt bike. Don’t get it twisted: these aren’t just some dinky little sandals. The synthetic footbed and cushioned midsole are as supportive and grippy as just about any other shoe on this list, and the lightweight straps adjust quickly and securely to your foot. Sure, they’re probably not the right choice for your most rugged expeditions, but they’ll do great on a light jaunt through the woods with the occasional shallow body of water along your path. And believe us when we say they look absolutely sick with a great pair of socks.
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Youve Picked Out A Shoe But Hows The Fit
Because youre going to be spending so much time in a hiking shoe or boot, fit is paramount. When you get your shoe or boot, be sure to put it through its paces before you head outdoors on a hike. Try to do this towards the end of the day or after some activity, since your feet tend to swell over the course of a day, just as they do during a hike. Here are some things to look for:
- When you put it on , you should feel plenty of space in the toe box. You should not feel squished on the sides of your forefoot, but shouldnt feel like youre swimming around in it, either.
- A good way to test the length of the shoe is to stand upright in unlaced shoes, and then slide your foot forward until it does touch the front. You should be able to comfortably slip your index finger in between your heel and the heel of the shoe.
- Once you have your shoe laced, the feel should be snug enough that, as you roll up onto your toe, you dont feel your foot sliding forward to touch the front of the boot however, it shouldnt be so snug that it cuts off your circulation or causes hot spots.
- You should also not feel any heel lift or slip as you walk around. A loose fit here not only increases the risk of painful blisters, but could lead to injury on rough terrain if your boot goes one way and your foot the other.
Fleece Jackets And Pants
Fleece jackets and fleece pants are excellent for insulation. They are made of polyester. Fleece that is heavier in weight can even cut out some wind. Sometimes, I wear a fleece jacket as a top layer in cool weather. In the winter months, I wear them as an insulating layer under a hard shell. I prefer them over softshell jackets because they cost less, dry very quickly, and are nice and breathable.
When it comes to fleece jackets, I am not super picky. I own an REI fleece jacket that is very similar to the REI Co-op Groundbreaker 2.0 Fleece Jacket but was purchased a couple of years previous. It is also available for women.
Patagonia fleece jackets are the most popular and well known. I get the appeal. They are a touch more stylish compared to my REI fleece. I have owned Patagonia fleece jackets in the past. For now, I am good with my REI fleece. These are the most popular fleece jackets by Patagonia.
- Patagonia Better Sweater Fleece Jacket
- Patagonia Classic Retro-X Fleece Jacket
Fleece pants are cooler looking than they used to be and look pretty much like track pants these days. They are less boxy than in the past and more of a slim, streamlined, athletic cut. Fleece pants can be worn on their own, or underneath a hard shell pant for insulation in cold weather. This is the top picks for fleece pants.
- REI Co-op Teton Fleece Pants Available in multiple sizes
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Best For Trail Running: Salomon Speedcross 5 Trail Running Shoe
You can expect a truly delightful trail run with the Speedcross 5. Thanks to their new and improved rubber outsole, which now features deeper and wider lugs, the sneakers offer superior traction and stability in muddy and looser trail conditions. They’re incredibly breathable and have a supportive fit that provides ample cushioning as you run over rocks and branches. Combined with their signature flexible forefoot, the shoes allow you to confidently approach uphills and switchbacks without fear of slipping. According to reviewers, they work on any terrain dirt, mud, slush, snow, you name it.
To buy: salomon.com or backcountry.com, $130
Nike Acg Air Revaderchi Mens Hiking Shoes
Features Of These Nike Hiking Shoes:
- Neoprene sock improves fit and comfort and keeps out debris.
- Thick rubber outsole for comfort and protection.
- Sufficient tread for traction.
- TPU heel cage provides a secure fit and support.
- Wide toe box and bumper
- Not waterproof.
Is It A Good Hiking Shoe?
The versatile and comfortable Nike ACG Air Revaderchi meets the needs of mountain bikers, trail runners, and hikers. This retro design was one of the first to cross a hiking boots features with a sneakers comfort.
The neoprene inner sock helps with the fit and to keep irritating grit out of the shoe which is vital for foot comfort. The air cushioning and the heel cage give a combination of comfort and support. Plus, its a good looking sneaker. If you like to mix up your outdoor activities, this is the Nike hiking shoe for you.
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Whats The Best Shoe For Hiking Through Rivers And Streams
You can only carry so much gear on a backpacking trip. When I first started backpacking, I carried a pair of Merrell Water Shoes that were specifically designed for hiking.
They were really nice and dried fast, but they just seemed unnecessary. My feet/socks still got wet and they still take a while to dry. So I decided to trade in my water shoes for a pair of trail runners and never looked back.
Since then Ive switched back and forth between Salomon and Merrell Trail Runners. Theyre way more comfortable than the water shoes and dry just as fast. Just check out Amazon for Trail Runners and Im sure youll find something in your price range.
Just make sure you pair them with Merino Wool hiking socks. Merino wool dries fast, fights against blisters, and stays comfortable when wet. The only downside is the price.
Smartwool socks are by far the most comfortable, but Darn Tough Hiking Socks are slightly more durable. You cant go wrong with either option.
Wear Trail Shoes That Drain and Dry Fast
Getting your shoes wet in a river crossing is sometimes unavoidable. Look for shoes that are lightweight with lots of drainage. I prefer trail runners, but running shoes, hiking sandals, and water shoes will also work.
You can save a lot of time and aggravation by purchasing trail runners or hiking shoes without waterproof liners. Waterproof boots will take forever to dry when water inevitably swamps your shoes.
What to Look For: Best Shoes For Hiking Through Rivers
Northside Mens Peyton Hiking Shoe
If you want a comfortable, lightweight and reliable pair of hiking shoes, we highly recommend picking up something from Northside. The American brand specializes in boots, sandals, hiking shoes and more for the great outdoors, and we recently tested out a pair of low-profile hikers on a trip to Zion National Park.
These Peyton hiking shoes are made with a super comfy sock-style upper, with a built-in moisture-wicking lining to keep your feet dry. A padded insole and compression-molded EVA midsole ensure protection and cushioning, while the rubber outsole gives you traction on all landscapes and in all conditions. The grippy shoes kept us stable and sure-footed while hiking muddy trails, darting through sand dunes, and climbing steep rocks. Everything wipes down easily for easy maintenance, and the sneaker-style design makes these easy to wear to a bar or restaurant after your hike too.
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Danner Trail 2650 Gtx Mens Waterproof Hiking Shoes
These waterproof mens hiking shoes feature Gore-Tex material and breathable mesh lining to keep your feet dry and cool. You can expect plenty of support, great tread and traction, and stability on even the rockiest terrain, thanks to this footwears Trailguard platform, reinforced heel counter, and Vibram sole.
The OrthoLite footbed and flexible EVA midsole offer all-day comfort and shock absorption, while the suede and textile upper make this pair lightweight and durable. Each shoe weighs 12 ounces, so theyre great lightweight options for hiking and backpacking.
Hiking Shorts Skirts And Skorts
Shorts, skirts, and skorts have their pros and cons. Regardless, if you hit the trail with exposed legs, make sure to have checked the weather. Even if it says clear skies and sun, be sure to bring along a thin base layer/pant just in case.
Wearing shorts means there are some added variables such as sun exposure, bugs, and trail conditions. With your legs exposed, your skin is more at risk.
Walking through the woods, you can always encounter something that will scratch or irritate the skin, and some people are more susceptible than others. So wearing shorts is a personal choice. If youre hiking through an unfamiliar area, wearing shorts may not be the best option.
On short hikes in fair weather, shorts are a great option. Shorts, skirts, and skorts made for hiking or outdoor sports usually come in quick-drying or wicking materials that keep the legs freely ventilated. This also makes them great for a spontaneous swim or if a hike takes you to an unexpected river crossing.
Ideal brands for finding high-quality hiking shorts, skirts, and skorts are Columbia, Outdoor Research, and Patagonia.
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Weight On Your Feet Is Costly
The more weight you carry, the more energy you expend carrying it. That part is simple. But weight carried on your feet is actually much more significant.
Weight on your feet will zap 4-6 times more energy than weight on your back. So, swapping that 3-pound pair of boots for a 1-pound pair of running shoes will be the energy saving equivalent of removing 8-12 pounds from your pack. Seriously? Seriously. Its science.
Wear With Military Jacket And Black Skinny Jeans
Here is another suggestion on what jacket to wear with hiking boots. You can easily wear them with a military jacket and skinny jeans for as casual and practical hiking outfit.
So, here are some of the best ways to style hiking boots. I hope you enjoy it and hopefully you will find some of the ideas suitable to you.
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