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5 Steps to Take in Choose the Best Hiking Shoe

Choosing the best hiking shoe to suit you can be a very long and confusing task. After all, no two feet are the same, both of your feet may be slightly different. We all have that one friend who swears by a specific shoe, or a specific brand, but when you try it on you find that you don’t experience anywhere near the same comfort they do. 

In this quick guide I hope to walk you through all the available options and help give you some guidance on what to look for in order to pick the most optimal show for you and your hiking needs. 

to navigate all the different types of hiking shoes is usually one of the most intimidating parts of buying a shoe. An important part of this process is identifying your needs and hiking requirements. 

What type of hiking and trails will I find myself on?

Maintained paths in the park

If you simply find yourself mostly engaging in maintained paths in the park and generally don’t find yourself venturing out into the middle of a forest, you are likely looking for a trail shoe. These often resemble a bulkier version of a tennis shoe but generally have the same appearance.

These are very comfortable for shorter,easy trails but may lack the stiffness and support that you would need if you plan to embark on longer rugged trails. 

Day Trips

If you are mainly looking for a day trip hiking shoe you will likely require a shoe that has a bit more support than the trail shoe mentioned above. Shoes that are ideal for day trips usually have a bit more support around the ankles which can help prevent injury when out on the trail. 

These shoes are generally much stiffer and feature a thick sole with more grip which is ideal for hiking in mixed terrain (rocks, dirt, mulch).

Here are some of my top picks that me and my wife have and love:

                                                           

Running Trails

If your time on trails is mainly spent at a faster pace than a brisk walk you likely won’t find much benefit from either of the two options above. You would definitely want to opt for trail runners as they are extremely light, supportive and have very good tread so you can grip any surface you come across.

In my experience I find it is incredibly beneficial to make sure you get a shoe that really supports your heel and achilles tendon well. This will help you keep balance when stepping on uneven surfaces (roots) and will help reduce the chance of injury.

Backpacking

If you mainly head out far into the countryside on backpacking expeditions you will want to have a combination of the top three. 

First you will need a very light shoe because you don’t want to waste any excess energy on your trip.

Secondly you will want a shoe that is a bit on the bulkier side and has very good stability and good grip levels. 

Lastly it’s very important that you get a stiffer shoe because you want to ensure it won’t get uncomfortable 3 kilometers into your journey.

Often I find myself in a situation where I can see myself fitting into two or three of the above categories. It is important to try to identify which application you will find yourself in 80% of the time. This will help ensure you make a sound decision and will get the most out of your purchase.

  1. Choosing the Best Material

As with all the options it’s important to make a careful material selection for your needs. In the past I have found that material quality and features ultimately plays a big part in how much you like the shoe over time. 

Breathable Synthetics 

These shoes are often the most cost effective. They are generally really light and are best suited if you don’t plan on hiking when it is wet outside or in the colder months as these shoes usually don’t repel water and don’t have the best insulation. 

Waterproof Synthetics

Waterproof synthetics are by far my go to material for several reasons. They are generally really light, comfortable, flexible and not to mention waterproof. It is important to note that not all waterproof shoes are made equal. Some are simply water resistant meaning they are okay for occasional splashes but not the best to be hiking on a rainy day. 

Also it is very important to make sure you have a high quality shoe. What I mean by this is carefully inspect the shoe seams, how it bends and how well the sole adheres to the shoe. If possible, also do some due diligence and read some reviews on the shoe before buying. Nothing is more frustrating than spending money on a good waterproof shoe only to have it not be waterproof after a short amount of time because the sole is delaminating or the seams are peeling.

Split Grain Leather

These shoes often feature a combination of both natural and synthetic leather. These are a very good choice if you are looking for a good durable hiking shoe that needs to be rugged enough for day trips but don’t necessarily plan on going mountaineering. These shoes are good at keeping your feet warm and are also pretty good at resisting water while having decent breathability.

Full Grain Leather

Full Grain leather boots are known to be the gold standard when you require a very high level of durability. These boots are often suited best for the mountaineering world that requires very good waterproofing, and will retain heat to make sure you don’t get cold at high elevations. The main downsides to this material is it is generally very expensive, not very breathable and very heavy.

I hope this was able to help you better understand some of the more common material offerings and will provide you with appropriate information to streamline your purchase. 

  1. Selecting the Best Support

Hiking shoes and boots come in three main cuts or styles. These styles will directly impact the level of support you can get out of the shoe. It is important to choose the correct style to avoid injury when out on the trail. 

Low Cut 

Low cut shoes resemble a tennis shoe with the shoe stopping below the ankle and not providing any ankle support whatsoever. These shoes are very light weight and would make a good choice if you find yourself on well maintained trails and paths. 

If you find yourself on more rigorous trails, keep reading to discover more suitable options. 

Mid Cut

These are known as the “jack of all trades” shoes and will be comfortable on well maintained paths but will also be supportive enough for day trip hikes. These shoes reach the mid to top of the ankle and provide a good level of balance and stability. They are generally a bit heavier and bulkier  than the low cut option but not as heavy as the high cut option. 

High Cut

These shoes have support that reach well above the ankle and are best suited for those hikers who plan to be on exploring out to more dangerous remote terrain. These shoes provide the most optimal level of balance and stability but are generally much heavier than the low cut option.

  1. Make Sure they Fit Well

Fit is probably the most overlooked when choosing a hiking shoe. I find most people treat it as a tennis shoe and try to make sure that it just fits. Although the shoes look similar, it is important to note that you need to spend a bit of extra time making sure you have found the perfect fit. 

The Toe Box

The Toe Box is the front section of the shoe. In a normal tennis shoe you want to make sure you have enough wiggle room but aren’t too far from the end. Although this is still true for hiking shoes, it is important to note the width as well. 

When you take a step, your foot stretches in length and in width. Making sure you have a good amount of room is important to make sure that you don’t develop pinch spots when hiking. Having enough room in the toe box is crucial because, as you are hiking your feet tend to swell and expand. 

Due to this make sure you have a good amount of space in front of your toes and also the side of your foot to allow it to expand when on a trail. This will prevent you from developing blisters or black toes.

The Heal

With a hiking shoe/boot it is very important to check to make sure that your heel has no movement when walking and moving around. If you find your heal moving, that means your heal is not being properly supported which could lead to a rolled ankle and will definitely cause uncomfortable blisters. Some hiking shoes also have curved soles to prevent rolled ankles and keep your feet planted on the ground.

  1. Test Them Out Before You Hit the Trails

One thing I always do after buying a new pair of hiking shoes is test them out on a treadmill. It is always good to walk around the store with them but that doesn’t always give the best representation of how they will feel after a few kilometers once your feet swell. 

Walking on the treadmill helps me better understand the pinch points of the shoe and since the treadmill is clean, you can always return them after the test if you find it doesnt fit your foot correctly. 

I hope this guide was able to give you a better understanding of what to look for when buying a hiking shoe and will help you select a long lasting comfortable shoe for your specific use. 

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