Any experienced hiker and even those just starting out will know that there is a plethora of different products out there that claim to be the best hiking boots or walking shoes. However, with so much information around, it is hard to find the perfect fit for you – but do not be discouraged, read on to discover what type of footwear is best for hiking.
Every established hiker will have their own opinions on whether hiking boots are completely necessary, however, this footwear type will guarantee that your feet are protected, regardless of the terrain. They guard your entire foot and ankle from any water, rocks and mud so you can continue marching ahead, whatever the weather. Commonly, this type of boot comes in different weights categorised as lightweight, midweight and heavyweight, depending on the amount of support the boot provides, as well as its actual weight.
Pros of Lightweight Hiking Boots
Lightweight hiking boots provide the most flexibility as they are far less restrictive in their makeup than their heavier cousins. This ease of movement and the suppleness of the soles enable the wearer to grip effortlessly onto any surface type. Along with this, they require the use of much less energy as they are literally lighter than other hiking boots, allowing you to breeze through trails for longer.
Cons of Lightweight Hiking Boots
As the name suggests, lightweight hiking boots consist of materials that are less rigid, therefore, they are not suitable for travelling over highly rocky or rough terrains due to their lack of support, durability and stability. Clearly, these are not a generally great footwear type if your plan is to traverse multiple tricky terrains.
Pros of Midweight Hiking Boots
Midweight hiking boots ensure a large amount of ankle support and stability – essential when you are carrying a heavy backpack over uneven ground for hours a day. Not only this, they also guarantee a comfortable yet sturdy surface for the sole of the feet – again, necessary when hauling a load.
Cons of Midweight Hiking Boots
Although midweight hiking boots provide a greater amount of support compared to their lightweight counterparts, this means they comprise heavier materials. Therefore, the energy needed to walk with the boot is increased and this is definitely a negative aspect for those just starting out or who are merely casually trekking on the weekend.
Pros of Heavyweight Hiking Boots
The positive properties of heavyweight hiking boots are what you would expect – waterproofness and phenomenal durability. These are the best hiking boots for combating rough terrain without damaging your feet beyond repair. Heavyweight hikers are hardy enough to last for years, so they will not break the bank either.
Cons of Heavyweight Hiking Boots
Due to the highly robust materials used for these boots, they are considerably lower in terms of breathability. Along with this is the sheer weight of them and, with that, the more energy that walking with these uses thus, for easy terrain and day-long hikes, these are not necessarily the best choice.
With that aside, the cost of heavyweight hiking boots is remarkably higher than those using more supple components.
Hiking shoes are also known as “trekking shoes” or “walking shoes” and are built for walkers carrying light loads and hiking over easy-going terrains. They are usually low-cut which presents almost no ankle support – hence why the sole purpose of these is for softer ground.
Although anyone can wear any type of shoe, there are a couple of minor differences between men’s shoes and walking shoes for women. The biggest change is the ‘last’ size. A ‘last’ is the mould that the manufacturers use to form the shoe. Women’s shoes are usually made with shorter soles and smaller width overall, as they tend to have less volume of foot than men.
Alongside this, hiking shoes that are designed specifically for men tend to be heavier than those built for women. Coupled with this, men’s shoes (this applies to hiking boots as well) will come up a little further on the ankle as, generically, men tend to have longer legs.
Pros of Hiking Shoes
These shoes tend to be extremely lighter than any hiking boot on the market and, therefore, are delightfully straightforward to wear and not at all cumbersome to walk in. Their flexible soles enable the foot to feel very comfortable when walking with minimal baggage on dirt tracks and grassy trails.
Cons of Hiking Shoes
Softer soles and lightweight materials come with their own set of downfalls; not being able to wear these on demanding surfaces such as rocky terrains is the most prominent one for hiking shoes. Alongside this, those carrying heavier rucksacks will struggle with the non-existent ankle support and how the shoe does not provide enough shock absorbance.
Runners often wear trail runners for their off-road expeditions, however it has been known that, because of the many benefits this footwear provides, people are using trail runners for hiking too. Back in the day, these shoes were too stiff and not at all fit for purpose, however, these days, they are expertly-designed to be more than suitable for the job.
Pros of Trail Runners
These shoes use a variety of different traction methods consisting of lugs with teeth that are expertly placed to increase grip on the terrains and rubber composite materials that allow for the foot to have improved control and balance over different terrains – a huge plus for the seasoned hiker.
The mesh used on most trail runners is very tightly-woven which allows for protection against sand and dirt particles that may kick up from the trail. The toe bumpers (thick, rubber panelling on the front of the shoe) serve to ensure your toes stay safe from being stubbed or kicked on any potential obstacles. Another huge upside where protection is concerned is the midsole insert which absorbs any shock that may arise from roots, sticks or other unforeseen, potentially painful jabs.
The positives for this footwear type do not stop there – support and stability also play a large part in the quality of trail runners for hiking. The upper section of the shoe utilises a certain material type that holds the foot in place extremely well. Coupled with this is a tight, yet comfortable hold on the heel, and wide, cushioned soles which further increase the stability within these trail runners.
Cons of Trail Runners
The cons come in when deciding whether or not to purchase waterproof or non-waterproof versions.
The actual waterproof aspect of them can be a con as, in the event of water entering the shoe, it does come out as well as if they were not. This means that blistering could occur more easily to the feet, and, because the water stays, the shoes become heavier and, as mentioned previously, use a lot more energy when walking.
People who tend to feel the cold in their feet may not see this next point as a con, however, for a lot of hikers – as well as walkers and off-road runners alike – these shoes can become too hot. With this comes an increased risk of blisters showing up because of the overactive nature of the sweat glands in this environment.
This footwear category was never recommended or even used much a couple of decades ago, however, in recent times, hiking sandals have seen a rush in popularity due to their light and airy nature. As they are so open, they provide excellent ventilation and can offer the hiker an alternate pair of shoes when it is either too hot for their hiking boots or they just want to preserve the life of their more expensive walking footwear.
Pros of Hiking Sandals
Previously mentioned, they are open to the elements which means that, among other things, they also take no time at all to dry. Many people who hike often will experience streams or lakes in their cross-country endeavours, and hiking sandals are perfect to quickly change into before going through these.
Additionally, they provide just enough support to the feet for those wanting to carry only lightweight backpacks. Those who are just starting out on their hiking expeditions may well only be hauling light loads, and so this shoe type could be the best for these people.
Alongside these aspects, sandals built with trekking and hiking in mind are usually designed with a sole that is already partially moulded to the foot which allows for ultimate arch support and cushioning for the bottom of the feet.
Not all hiking sandals come with ethylene vinyl acetate midsoles but, those that do harbour an extra shock absorber layer which adds another brilliant positive aspect to the shoe. In accordance with this, the best soles are made from Vibram, thus providing a superb, sturdy base.
Adjustable straps are most probably the biggest highlight that this shoe type can offer. It allows for most people to be able to find the perfect fit for them and alter them depending on the type of socks they prefer to wear – not to mention being able to loosen them as and when the feet swell on long hikes.
Cons of Hiking Sandals
It goes without saying that hiking sandals are, in fact, still sandals and do not provide the overall protection from the elements, as well as path debris like stones and dirt, that other footwear styles provide.
Also, no serious amount of weight can be placed onto the walker’s back when wearing these sandals as it will inflict too much pressure onto the joints and this shoe style simply cannot support the ankle or foot enough to protect from this.
It maybe goes without saying that adventurous trekkers will not appreciate the fact that rough or demanding – some may say more interesting – terrain is a no go if this is the only hiking footwear they have acquired.
What is The Best Type of Hiking Footwear Overall?
It all boils down to what type of terrain is likely to be faced. There is no set rule for every hiker – like most things, it is not a one-size-fits-all scenario.
Those looking to traverse over tricky, undulated grounds will most likely be needing a heavier, more supportive type of footwear, and so should consider purchasing a full hiking boot. However, the decision making doesn’t stop there as then the weight size needs to be thoroughly considered.
As mentioned earlier, lightweight hiking boots offer more flexibility, midweight boots provide increased ankle support and stability, while the heavyweights allow for the absolute pique of sturdiness and weather resistance. Again, it all depends on what the individual is requiring.
Walkers setting out on a relatively easy path could consider the hiking shoes or trail runners. Depending on the amount of protection they want to offer their feet, the hiking shoes will be the best option for most hobbyists, as they can provide a much lighter step than any hiking boot – bearing in mind that durability, support and protection is limited with this and so is the likelihood of easily travelling over rough terrain.
On the other hand, trail runners will give a suitable amount of protection from debris like mud particles and the like while maintaining the overall lightness that will come with the hiking shoe.
Lastly, expert hikers or those venturing further afield who may come across lakes, streams and other bodies of water could find that having a pair of hiking sandals in their backpack will be perfect to swiftly change into when they do need to walk through streams.
Hiking sandals are also the best choice for those only walking over easy, softer grounds in a warm climate, as this footwear type can keep the feet cool and ventilated while still providing the hold that walking any distance requires.
Overall, once the type of terrain and the necessary support each hiker needs has been established, then it is easy to match up these aspects to the properties of each type of shoe, and purchasing the best option for you will be simple.