Whether you are a day hiker looking to tackle a few miles on a local trail or a more serious multiple-day backcountry type of hiker, taking care of your feet is key.
Hikers tend to carry quite a bit of weight on their back regardless if it’s a day pack full of water, snacks, and extra layers or a larger backpack that’s 20% your body weight. In addition, hiking trails vary across multiple terrains, elevations, and difficulty levels, so having solid foot support is necessary.
To help you think through this a little more, here are five things you should want from your hiking shoes:
Support & Stability
Having a hiking shoe that fits correctly is extremely important. You want a shoe to be snug and support your foot and/or ankle from twists, but you also want to pay attention to hot spot areas.
Hiking involves a lot of ups and downs, uneven ground, slippery sections, and things like roots, rocks, streams, etc. that all cause a hiker to make more athletic movements. This is not a walk around the neighborhood track.
Your feet should feel comfortable but protected.
Pay attention to the arch, and the width of the toe box, and take into consideration the natural swelling that will occur after a few hours on a trail (this is a natural body reaction to exertion, but it can cause issues if your hiking shoes are too tight).
In our opinion, hiking shoes are definitely one area where we do NOT recommend going the cheap route. There is a lot of technology, research, and seriously intentional design that goes into creating a high-quality hiking shoe, so you get what you pay for.
Something worth researching when it comes to quality is the technology used to create lighter hiking shoes without compromising support and stability.
Hiking shoes, even the lighter-weight ones, are different from gym shoes or tennis shoes in terms of traction. When you’re hiking, you are in the elements and not in a controlled gym environment. There is weather to deal with, mud, water crossings, rock faces, and just uneven terrain to trek through, so not slipping is a big deal.
According to CamoTrek “[t]he two most frequent reasons for injuries on the trail (even in cold environments) are slipping and falling.”
Hiking is a strenuous workout and exercise activity, and your feet get hot.
Hot feet get sweaty, and that is a ripe environment for blisters to thrive if you’re not careful. Hiking also exposes people to rain, snow, mud, and water, so the more a hiking shoe can repel liquid and moisture and actually dry out quickly, the better.
Due to the varying terrain that is the natural outdoors, a hiker’s foot needs to be able to move around a little when it lands on the ground. Our feet and ankles are designed to help us balance as humans, so your hiking shoe should not take that away.
It’s also worth noting that many outdoor stores that sell hiking shoes, like REI, have hiking experts on their staff that can talk to you and give you options. You can try on the shoes, see how they feel, and, ultimately, you can always return them and get a new pair if they are just not comfortable or right for your needs.
You can also view a wide range of hiking shoes online, taking note of reviews, pros and cons, highlighted features, etc. This list is enough to get you on the right track, but you’re going to have to spend time looking at and trying specific shoes.