Choosing your first pair of hiking shoes or boots can seem like a daunting task. With all of the different brands, styles, and features it can get a bit confusing really quickly. Do you need a trail shoe? A boot? Mountaineering boots? Low cut or high cut? These are just a couple of questions you might be asking yourself while standing at the shoe store or browsing your favorite online commerce site. Let’s dive right in and take a look at the 5 tips for choosing the right kind of hiking shoes or boots.
Light hiker or trail running shoes – These are what most people would refer to as running shoes, except they are a bit more rugged and take a little more abuse than your normal pair of running shoes. They are lightweight, breathe well to keep foot moisture to a minimum, and dry quickly as they are typically made of synthetic materials. These are a common choice for the casual day hiker and even some long-distance backpackers.
Backpacking shoes/boots – Backpacking shoes and boots are a bit heavier and sturdier than the lightweight trail shoes. They usually have a much stiffer sole and ankle section. They come in low, mid, and high cut models. Backpacking shoes and boots are generally made of leather or a mix of leather and synthetics. Those that will be hiking or backpacking on more rocky or technical terrain will probably want to choose this style when first starting out as they tend to offer a bit more foot and ankle support.
Mountaineering boots – These are the “big boys” of the hiking boot world. Unless you’re planning on starting your hiking career traversing the Swiss Alps or climbing icy glaciers these won’t be an option for you. Mountaineering boots are very sturdy and sometimes quite heavy. They are designed to offer support to those carrying large loads and traveling long distances on very technical terrain.
Synthetics – Nylon and polyester are the usual materials used in synthetic based shoes or boots. The material is lightweight and breathes well to help maintain dry feet and socks. The downside to synthetics though is that they are far less water resistant than shoes made from either split-grain or full-grain leather.
Split-grain leather – Shoes or boots made from split-grain leather usually contain both leather and synthetic materials. This enables them to remain relatively lightweight and somewhat water resistant. However, split-grain shoes are a bit less durable than those made of full-grain leather.
Full-grain leather – Full-grain shoes and boots are constructed entirely of leather (except for the soles of course). Mountaineering boots and some backpacking boots are made this way. They are extremely sturdy and durable, as well as more water resistant. The downside to these shoes and boots though is that they are very heavy.
3. The Right Cut
Low cut – Trail running and trail shoes are usually low cut. This means that they come up to just under your ankle like most tennis shoes. Low cut shoes leave your ankles more prone to twisting and turning so keep that in mind when shopping. They are however usually the lightest and most comfortable.
Mid-cut – Mid-cut shoes/boots come up just past the ankle and offer a little bit more support. The added ankle coverage not only offers more stability but also helps keep trail debris from getting into your shoes.
High-cut – Mountaineering boots and boots designed for long treks over multiple terrain types usually come high-cut. These offer the most rigid support for the ankle.
4. Try Them On
Before buying any type of shoe or boot it is best to try them on. Also, when trying them on be sure to wear a thick pair of hiking socks. This will help ensure you are getting the proper fit as your feet will swell somewhat while hiking. Making sure you have ample room in the shoe or boot for this swelling is vital. If you purchase a pair that is too tight or short you will pay for it with pain on the trail!
Make sure that your toes have ample space to spread out when your foot lands while walking. Cramped toes can be very uncomfortable while hiking and can even lead to foot deformities. Also, make sure that your heel does not slip up and down while walking in them. Blisters form when your heel moves too much and rubs the inside of the shoe or boot.
If you live near an outdoor outfitter or another shoe store that sells hiking shoes and boots you should try them on and have a store employee that is knowledgeable about them help you. If you must purchase them online, I recommend reading the reviews of the shoe or boot you choose and see what others have said about the sizing, fit, and comfort of your chosen model. It is a good idea to make sure you can return the boots if they are not the right size as well.
5. Take Them For A Test Run
Once you have purchased your shoes or boots you need to break them in for a few days before hitting the trails. Only wear them around your house or when out running errands in good dry weather. This way if you find that they are not comfortable or have any issues you can return or exchange them. Just be sure to keep them very clean during this trial period or some stores will not take them back.
I hope that the five tips I have given you here will help you decide which kind of hiking shoe or boot is right for you. If you have any questions or comments I’d love to hear from you. See ya on the trail!