BOOTS VS. SHOES VS. TRAIL RUNNERS – Hiking footwear is a really personal choice, and people often have differing opinions on what type of shoe works best for hiking. Here’s an article that will help you decide which style will work best for you.
SIZING – Feet can swell during long days on the trail, so it’s good to buy hiking footwear at least a half size larger than your normal shoes. A good way to test sizing on your shoes is to loosen all the laces, situate your foot so that your toes touch the front of the toe box, and then make sure you can put your index finger between your heel and the back of the shoe. This will ensure that your toes don’t slide forward and hit the toe box on downhill sections of trail. You should consider which socks you’ll be wearing and if you’ll be adding aftermarket insoles when choosing a size. It’s much better for footwear to be a little big than too small.
BREAK-IN PERIOD – You’re going to take thousands of steps on any backpacking or hiking trip, so you need to know that your footwear will fit comfortably and won’t cause blisters. We recommend buying your footwear at least a few weeks before any long hiking trips and spending as much time in them as you can. This will allow your new shoes to soften up, and you can make sure they work well for your feet. If you notice any issues, it’s much easier to address them before you head into the backcountry.
TRACTION – Traction is one of the most important aspects of backpacking and hiking footwear. Your shoes will take you over narrow and rocky ridgelines, through slippery water crossings, and across loose scree fields. Knowing that your footwear will keep you from slipping is crucial, especially over washed out or exposed sections of trail. We heavily factored quality traction into all of our footwear recommendations.
MANAGING MOISTURE & BLISTERS – If you’re on an extended trip in wet conditions or you find yourself caught in a downpour during a day hike, your feet will likely get wet no matter what type of footwear you’re wearing. Wet feet can lead to hot spots and blisters, but this can be prevented if you have a healthy foot care routine.
WATERPROOFING TREATMENTS – Waterproof footwear is ideal for soggy day hikes, but it’s important to remember that “waterproof” doesn’t mean that water can never get in. Water always finds a way in during a prolonged downpour, and light rain can drip down your legs and into your shoes. Even the highest quality shoes will develop small holes that allow moisture to creep in over time. Waterproof treatments are not permanent, you’ll eventually need to reapply a treatment to keep your shoes sealed.
SOCKS – We’ve found that wearing quality socks makes a big difference in how long we can keep our feet happy and in good shape on trail. Hiking socks should be comfortable, durable, and made with materials that wick moisture away from your skin. Check out our Best Hiking Socks list to see our top picks.
INSOLES – Aftermarket insoles can help alleviate a variety of shoe discomforts on the trail. If you suffer from plantar fasciitis or you just need more cushioning and support in an otherwise rigid shoe, swapping insoles may be your solution. Insoles can also help take up a little extra space in footwear for a customized fit if you’re between sizes.