There are seemingly infinite reasons people love to hike. Some like to commune with nature, while others make it a regular part of their fitness routine. For many, it’s probably a bit of both.
No matter how we hike - day hikers or backpacking fanatics - the wide range of rugged terrain you conquer calls for the best hiking shoe. When you are looking for comfortable, durable footwear that offers breathability and stability, there is a quality option just waiting for you to lace up.
This list will run you through the basics of the hiking shoe, as well as a few variations, so that no matter where your trail takes you, you can rely on a quality build.
The Case for Hiking Shoes
The choice of whether to purchase boots or hiking shoes is one that completely depends upon the wearer's preference. It all comes down to a matter of function.
If you have a mountain biker, a backpacker, and a trail runner, odds are, each one will be outfitted with different gear. The backpacker needs sturdy footwear that is comfortable over extended periods and can hold the additional load of their supplies. Alternatively, the biker and the trail runner would probably benefit from something lightweight, with good traction, that they can feel at ease spending the day in.
What Makes a Great Hiking Shoe?
The majority of hikers looking to buy hiking shoes are going to want something that is mobile, sturdy, and low weight.
Shoe models depend on what the hiker needs. It’s not always convenient to use boots, especially for trail runners. Alternatively, regular running shoes may not be suitable for uneven or rocky terrain. Additionally, lack of grip and traction could potentially lead to an ankle or foot injury.
Having a shoe that you could see yourself wearing in your day-to-day but can also hold its own is an ideal tool for the modern man. A versatile person needs to have equally versatile footwear.
Hiking shoes could be ideal for those looking to enjoy some scenery during the morning jog or maybe embark on a relaxing weekend hike.
Hiking shoes travel well, so you are never forced to give up working out while traveling the globe. Hiking shoes are an important addition to any outdoorsman’s repertoire.
Many models are manufactured by companies that primarily make running shoes, so you can be confident you are getting something that will give you the right blend of excellent traction, mobility, and fit you need.
Adventures can take the modern man anywhere; those who frequent wet climates favor a shoe with water resistance or a waterproof lining. A common material for a waterproof boot is full-grain leather (often made to look like suede).
For hiking sneakers, waterproof membranes can equally be incorporated with synthetics that dry faster than leather. These breathable membranes are also easier to care for.
You might not have been a Boy Scout, but you are prepared for anything. Those that appreciate knowing they can go off the beaten path and do battle with the elements look for hiking sneakers that are known for being durable.
Shoes with rubber outsoles are almost as tough as their owner. This footwear offers superb ankle support and laces that ensure a secure fit to protect against twisted ankles on rocky trails. A wide fit with a roomy toe box is not suggested for unpredictable paths: the tighter, the better.
Keen on Comfort
Sports injuries are always a threat, and this includes hiking. Falling, blisters, and extreme elements are always in the back of hikers' heads.
One of the major benefits of hiking shoes is how different models work with the structure of your feet to ensure both your safety and comfort. When looking for shoes, no matter what type, comfort is a priority. The heel, midsole, and shank need to be closely examined.
"Measure twice; cut once" applies here: double-check length and width of hiking shoes.
Shoes are important, but so is the supporting gear. Moisture-wicking fabrics can help keep hikers safe and comfortable while in any environment. A pair of merino wool socks tucked over pants can keep shoes from rubbing, keep feet dry, and protected from ticks and other wildlife.
Your Number One Priority
Discomfort is…well, uncomfortable. But in the end, it’s generally a manageable issue. The proper footwear can help prevent injury, debilitating or otherwise. Safety is a top priority.
The first things hikers tend to injure are almost always below the knee. Seeing as your legs and feet are your primary, and really, only, means of transportation on a trail, it’s pivotal that you keep them functioning throughout the duration of your activities.
One-fourth of all your bones are in your feet. Feet are highly efficient and intricate machines designed to take you wherever you need to go. They need to be protected at all costs.
Wearing correctly fitted and weighted hiking shoes can help reduce all kinds of potential issues, including the following:
Inflammation of the joints and knees
Sore lower back muscles
Falling/slipping-related injuries (twisted or sprained ankles, bruising, etc..)
Some hikers and trail runners prefer a more natural and organic feel to their footwear. Barefoot shoes are an excellent option for those who want to feel the earth beneath their feet without running the higher risk of potential injury.
Barefoot shoes emulate the feel of the natural feet while providing runners with a sturdy barrier between their feet and the elements. These shoes are designed to form the contours of your feet, allowing you to flex and feel the natural terrain safely and more intimately than with other types of hiking boots or shoes.
Of course, as with most alternative and innovative footwear, there can be a trade-off when first using toe shoes. It is best to get your feet accustomed to the new experience by pacing your hikes accordingly when starting off. Your feet will not yet be adapted to the difference in support and the decreased padding, and over-exerting yourself could lead to soreness and irritation.
Barefoot shoes even have models made especially made for running. After all, half the fun of running is experiencing the wider world around you and being able to discover new and beautiful places.
Standing on Your Own Two Feet
Many hikers prefer a sturdy pair of boots because of their durability and resistance to harsh elements. But for those of us that prefer something slightly more maneuverable, hiking shoes are a must. As the Irish saying goes, "May the road rise to meet you. May the wind always be at your back.”