Which shoe is the best shoe? That question is one up for many debates across the outdoors arena. There are discussions on shoe verses boot. Do you switch it up depending on the terrain or weather? What if you are a thru hiker? Can trail runners really compete with hiking boots on Rocky Mountains?
I hope to cover all of these topics and more to help you determine what type of footwear is the right wear for your adventures in the wild!
How to Choose a Hiking Shoe
At the end of it you really must approach your shoe like Cinderella and her glass slipper. A shoe or boot that is wonderful for one explorer may make your feet hurt. Here are baseline aspects to consider when you go shopping for your adventure footwear.
- Fit: The most common advice to give is to try on your hiking footwear at the end of the day. Why? Because that is when your feet will be the most swollen. The fit should be snug all around with room to wiggle your toes. Swollen feet will represent how swollen your feet will get on a sweaty adventure.
- Support: When looking for a boot versus a shoe try and find one with a rigid upper tongue. This brace-like ankle support design will help prevent ankle sprains.
- Sole: The bottom of your shoe is just as important as the inside. Look for footwear that has a thick, rigid, heavily lugged sole to protect the foot from trail rocks, sticks, and other debris.
- Socks: What type of socks you use are pretty important as well. Hike in wool socks regardless of the temperature outside. Wool prevents blisters and eases itchy feet. When trying on new shoes bring your wool socks with you. Since they are a thicker material they could affect that snug fit.
Most people are day hikers. These hikes range from easy to difficult in ratings and can span anywhere from a couple miles to perhaps ten or more miles. The ultimate goal in day hiking is to simply get out exploring but be back home by dinner time.
Often when looking for a day hike shoe many prefer a boot over a shoe or trail runner. The goal is a low-cut model that protects the ankle yet has a flexible, wide sole to help beginning hikers muster balance on the rocky and uneven terrain. Plus with a day hike shoe, try and look for a boot that is flexible with little to no break-in time in order to get out on the trails quicker. Here are a few of my favorite:
- Salomon Women’s Outline Mid GTX: This sleek boot is a mid height one that will not weigh you down. It is very stylish in its technical design and created for long lasting wear. Be aware however – it tends to be a bit narrow so opt for at least a half a size larger for better comfort.
- Danner Women’s Mountain 600 Hiking Boot: Danner boots are carefully crafted for wet terrain such as the lovely PNW. The outsole has a special Fuga grip that is also super comfy for a nice fit. Another plus? These boots are waterproof to keep your toes dry!
- Merrell Women’s Moab 2 Mid Waterproof: A major win for these boots are the straight out of the box fit. They are a wider toe which means virtually no breaking-in time is needed. The soles are well padded which means short day hikes will be quite comfortable. Warning: they are more water resistant, rather than waterproof.
Long Distance / Thru Hikes
Long distance backpackers are often looking for breathable and more lightweight shoe options then the standard day hiking boot. Although boots are more durable, they can add more pounds and when you are trying to go long distance, weight can really, well, weigh you down. Pun totally intended. Here are a few excellent options:
- Altra Lone Peak 4.5: This is my personal go-to shoe of choice. I truly enjoy the toe design which is wider yet supported. I hiked the entire 800-mile Arizona Trail without needing to replace these well loved shoes.
- Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX: Salomon is an amazing outdoors company whose mission is to create a space for everyone in the wild. Plus they make some of the best hiking shoes. The Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX is a favorite since it fits lightweight like a trail runner but the Descent Control technology makes it durable for technical, tougher terrain.
- Hoka One Clifton 7: Hoka One shoes are known for their ultra comfy fit. They are very lightweight with a flexible soft footbed. Anyone who has pain in their arches or heels will enjoy these cloud walking shoes.
Although I live in my trail runners I understand that when it comes to winter they will make any outdoor adventure miserable. A hiking boot’s most important feature is the lug – or bottom of the boot. Ice is prevalent on winter trails so you want an outer sole that has extra traction. Water resistant and warm are obvious needs for below freezing environments. One thing you may also want to consider is a boot that fits in your microspikes, crampons and gaiters. These extra winter gear items keep you exploring in winter wonderland environments. Here are a few that are worth the wear:
- Merrell Women’s Thermo Rogue 6IN Gore-Tex Boot: The name is long on this boot, that is for sure. This unique GORE-TEX waterproof membrane helps keep the boot breathable, waterproof, and helps with stench! Combine that with Merrell’s Exclusive Vibram Arctic Grip Dura for added durability and grip on wet ice and the rubber toe – you will have some happy winter feet.
- TIVOLI IV Boot: This winter boot has a chic design for that stylish look. The molded rubber platform with a height of 1 ¾ inches is made specifically for insulation and traction. These trendy kicks are known for being super comfy. Make sure you try a size larger since they tend to run snug.
- Patagonia Ultralight Wading Boots – Sticky: These boots are uniquely designed for female anglers. They are comfortable with their sticky rubber soles to keep you from slipping in wet conditions. Another pro is unlike other boots these are lightweight and flexible to keep your feet stable in all environments.
The options can be overwhelming when it comes to outdoor footwear. Outdoor specialty stores offer great associates who will take the time to help fit you with your ideal shoe. Although important to find the right shoe – at the end of the day simply getting outdoors is way more important. So don’t sweat the small stuff and get yourself on those trails!
Kaitlin is a former ballerina who now travels around the country in an 18-foot converted school bus. Her and her tall one husband have welcomed 34 sweet children into their home the past eleven years. Although they would be a forever home for all of them they were able to adopt their daughter buckets and are legal guardians of their son monkey. Follow their crazy adventures on Instagram @runawaymusbus.