How To Pick The Best Hiking Shoes For You
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Regardless of whether you’re into steamy summer treks, views of beautiful fall foliage or the challenge of reaching snowy summits in the peak of winter, you need the proper footwear to hike safely and successfully. And that holds especially true when you’re tackling the more strenuous treks out there in the great wilderness. So if you’re in the market for new hiking kicks, we’re here to walk you through all of your options, the best of the best in each category. That way, you can set out feeling supported, confident and ready for whatever Mother Nature decides to throw your way.
But first, let’s address the difference between hiking shoes and hiking boots, the two prominent categories of hiking footwear that definitely have their loyalists.
Hiking shoes — the more low-profile options that resemble trailrunners — have grown in popularity over the years due to their lightweight feel and versatility. You can wear them from the trail to town without so much as a second thought. And most would say their more stylish than their clunky, rubber-clad cousins.
If you tend to stick to nature paths and tamer hiking trails with fewer boulders and roots jumping out at you, hiking shoes are a more-than-adequate pick. They also work best for day hikes when you aren’t carrying a ton of extra weight in a pack on your back (which tends to throw off your center of gravity and require a little bit more stability). And if you’re typically a quick mover along those trails, the lighter, minimalist feel of hiking shoes will probably feel best for you as well.
Another major perk of lightweight hiking shoes is that they require virtually no break-in period. So they can go from the box to your feet without risking painful blisters. We recommend this style for warm weather hiking where breathability is a plus. Just be mindful that you are compromising some stability here, so pay extra close attention when it comes time to scramble over a rock or navigate a surprisingly rough chunk of trail.
The classic hiking boot is a great choice for beginning hikers who can benefit from the additional foot and ankle support and traction on any kind of trail. And depending on your body type, you might find that the wider and sturdier soles feel more appropriate on your feet, no matter your trail-trekking expertise. Women tend to have narrower feet and different striking patterns than men, so the additional support of a hiking boot with a snug fit is often the most comfortable way to go.
If a hiking boot isn’t totally waterproof, it’s highly likely that it is at least water-resistant, thanks to the leather/suede uppers and rubber outsoles. These design elements make them ideal for braving any kind of terrain in any kind of weather — your feet are more likely to stay warm and dry from the trailhead to the summit and back. They also make them much easier to keep clean, since dirt and mud rinse right off rather than getting stuck in any breathable mesh fabrics that are commonly used in hiking shoes, trailrunning shoes and standard running shoes.
The two main downsides to hiking boots are that they are on the heavier side and definitely need some break-in time before you hit the trail. So as long as you’re okay with a little extra weight strapped onto your feet and you have some time to wear your new boots while you run some errands or something before your big day hike, you’ll be good to go.
Now that that’s out of the way, here are the best hiking footwear options, depending on your favorite hiking terrain, the time of year you usually hit the trails and your personal stability needs.
For All-Around Support
This hiking boot does it all. Keen’s multi-directional soles create what the brand calls “four-wheel drive for your feet,” while remaining nice and flexible. The boot is also cut higher on the ankle for additional support. The uppers are made of nubuck leather, so they’re both waterproof and wear-resistant, allowing you to get more out of your investment. Basically, this boot will keep you upright no matter where the trails take you and last you a very long time.
For The Most Comfortable Wear
Hoka One One Tor Summit WP — $160
If you want to feel like you’re walking on clouds as you explore the wilderness, these are the kicks for you. They’re plush from top to bottom and have all the arch support you could possibly need. Plus, the super-thick, waterproof soles will help keep your feet nice and dry if your preferred trails happen to come with a fair amount of creeks and streams. Oh, and the toe box is especially roomy, which is an added perk.
For Nimble Feet
Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX — $150
If you like to take to the trails at full speed, Salomon is your go-to hiking shoe brand. This model is especially lightweight while also being durable and top of the charts when it comes to trail performance. It’s waterproof, so you don’t have to feel limited by weather conditions, and the interior cushioning is surprisingly comfortable. Regardless of whether you want to run to the summit or hike your heart out all day long, this baby will get the job done.
For Standard Day Hikes
Ahnu Sugarpine Air Mesh — $110
Looking for a comfy but high-performing shoe to support your feet through virtually any day hike? Go with the Ahnu Sugarpine Air Mesh. They have all of the breathable, water-resistant and shock-absorbing technology you’d expect from a hiking boot while looking more like a super-stable running sneaker. The Vibram rubber outsoles will prevent any slipping along the trails, and the upper color options will make it easy to rock these in town after your hiking is all said and done. We love these for every season (unless your area experiences super snowy winters).
For Rockier, Muddier, Messier Treks
Regardless of whether you’re facing a bunch of slippery waterfall rocks, a ton of mud after a massive deluge or even a surprise snow drift, these Merrell hiking shoes will take care of you. They have suede and mesh uppers, which make them just the right amount of breathable, but they’re lined with Gore-Tex so your feet will stay dry all day long. Not to mention, the OrthoLite footbed makes them extremely comfortable no matter the surface your trekking on. If your usual hikes get down and dirty, go for Merrell.
For Seriously Long Miles
The steal on this list surprisingly comes in the long miles category, but don’t be fooled by the price tag — this shoe from Vasque has everything you need from day hike excursions to overnight hiking trips. It has padding in both the forefoot and the heel, making the inclines just as comfortable to hike as the declines. Plus, it’s equipped with a waterproof liner and the traction in the soles works for pretty much any terrain you encounter. If you gotta pick one pair of shoes for all hiking occasions while on a budget, go with these guys.
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