With the emergence of new and better technology, hiking shoes have blown up in the last few years. There are tons of designs where there used to be very few.
In the old days, hiking boots were very much the norm, but shoes have become increasingly popular over time due to many factors.
Because of the technology that has been used by other sports, we’ve seen a trend toward diversifying what people would have called hiking shoes.
They’ve been transformed into wildly different items now, and they much better meet the demands of the individual as a result. Today, we are going to take a look just at hiking shoes themselves.
We’ll break down the ins and outs in our buying guide before we move on to reviews of the best hiking shoes currently on the market. With this guide, you’ll be much better equipped to find a great pair of shoes without all of the usual worries!
Why are Shoes So Important?
There are so many items that are for sale today that are called ‘vital’ or the ‘most important’ thing that you could buy for a specific use. These words have become overused, so it leads many to simply look past them when they are used.
But shoes are really the biggest, most important factor for a hiker. Without a good pair of shoes, you can have a number of very serious issues take place while you are out on the trails. Let’s think about it for just a second. What physically touches the trail?
It’s your feet! So you need a great pair of shoes that will keep you protected from a large number of possible happenings out there. This is the “point of contact,” which means you’re constantly touching the trail.
You have to be able to rely on something to keep you protected. And you don’t want to go with something that doesn’t do you justice!
The first thing you should know about a hiking shoe is that comfort is still king. Like all shoes, hiking shoes need to be comfortable first and foremost.
Shoes may not always make you very comfortable, but you should not be hurting all of the time because of a shoe. You do not need to force yourself into a certain type that doesn’t fit well because there are many, many different types of shoes that you can wear.
This means you don’t have to just shoehorn (pun intended) yourself into problems. If you are comfortable, then most of the issues that you can face on the trail will simply take care of themselves.
If you are not comfortable, it is sending you a signal that you need to change something!
This goes hand-in-hand with comfort, and this is what is going to determine your level of ‘feel.’ You need to have something that fits you very well. The fit is very important in hiking shoes, even more so than the regulation hiking boot.
This is due to the fact that a hiking boot allows the wearer to adjust the laces much easier in order to lock the foot in better. Shoes do not have this because they aren’t going to have a ‘high collar.’
At any rate, you still have to decide what feels best for you, and you’re not going to feel 100% unless it fits well. One of the things that you have to accept about buying hiking shoes is that the approach to it is slightly different.
Usually, we’d tell you to make sure to have something snug but not too tight. This is a little different in the world of hiking shoes. You will want something to more closely mirror what hiking boots are able to do for you.
To do this, you need to start by looking at sizes that are a little larger than the shoes that you typically wear. So, your search should begin with shoes that run a half size or maybe even a full size up from what you usually wear.
After you have done this, you can try on the shoes. The first thing you want to ensure is that the toes do not touch the very fronts of the shoes. This can cause some pretty big problems that you definitely will want to avoid at all costs.
Secondly, you want to make sure that there is plenty of room for you in there. A simple test that you can try goes against the first rule, but it is only used for trying hiking shoes on. Simply move your toes up to the very fronts of the shoes.
You want to make sure that there is a half of an inch of room between your heels and the backs of the shoes. If so, then you can feel confident enough to lace them up and give them a real try.
As you go to lace them up for your walk-around (this is highly, highly recommended), you need to slide your heel into the back of the shoe so that it feels snug. Then you need to lace the shoes with tension all across your forefoot.
Once you have gotten to this point, you should be able to walk around and see how they feel. Remember, the test is meant to prove whether or not your heel stays firmly in place in the shoes. If not, then you need to look at something else.
And if they don’t fit well, simply take them off and try on something else that you believe will work for you!
It is highly encouraged that anyone buying a pair of hiking shoes for the first time should make sure to go the store and try some on. There is a big difference in window shopping and actual shopping!
You don’t want to take a chance ordering online when you know you’ve never done anything like it before. By simply going to try shoes on at the store, you can cut out of a lot of the guesswork that you would have had.
You can even go back online to buy the shoes that you ultimately want, but you will have a much better idea of what you’re looking for that way. This is encouraged unless you have decided to buy the same pair of shoes multiple times!
Something that has to be kept in mind is swelling. This can impact how well, or how poorly, your shoes fit you. Swelling is a major factor because hiking is a grueling activity. With any activity, your blood flows at a faster rate.
This is what bodybuilders call ‘pump.’ Your veins get much larger, you can see them, and they start to feel a little squishy even. This isn’t some phenomenon that huge men experience. We all do if we are pushing ourselves hard enough.
And it’s not just in our arms. Our ankles swell quite a bit as there are some key arteries down there. So this is the major reason why it’s suggested that you try to go a size up!
Now, there are some other factors that you have to think about here. The type of socks you wear can be one, or maybe an insert placed into the shoes can be another. These things can make a big difference in sizing!
If it’s cool, you’re going to need a thicker sock, so it would be wise to make sure and try your shoes on with this. You might find that you don’t need to go up a half size, after all. It’s very person-specific, so you just have to find what best works for you.
One quick tip that you can try is to go to the store after you’ve done some type of exercise. This will give you a much better idea about the level of swelling and how the shoes will fit.
A lot of people make the mistake of going to a store ‘cold,’ and then trying on shoes. When this happens, they oftentimes find a great fit. But when they leave and head toward their activity, they quickly learn that the fit isn’t so great anymore and they develop problems!
Without the right kind of shoes, your feet can cause you a number of problems. Or, you can cause your feet a number of problems, is the right way of saying this. No one wants to have their feet hurt, of course.
Especially people that are out on the trail. It can take your fun day on the trails and turn it into drudgery and a very dreary existence. This isn’t what anyone wants to have happened at all.
One of the issues that you can develop without proper fit, feel, and sizing is blistering. Blistering is something that most people have encountered at some point. And no one likes it. Blistering is one of the worst sensations you can feel.
This happens most of the time when the shoe rubs up against your toes. They can sometimes rub your toes raw. Even just one blister, on one toe, can cause you huge issues.
They hurt very badly, and you will have to end your day early or just fight through the pain. If they get bad enough, you might even have to cut back your trail time or seek the help of medication or doctors. So it really is something that you want to avoid.
You can do this by picking the correct shoe, and also by making sure that you replace your old shoes when you start to feel this sensation!
Remember, you also don’t want anything that is too loose, either. This will make your feet slide around in your shoes as if you’re on some type of strange boat. This will cause a number of problems, and you could slip very easily as well.
Please be aware of this!
What is a Hiking Shoe?
Technically, a hiking shoe is anything that you wear to go on a hike with. Every day, there are tons of people that go hiking. These people have all sorts of different backgrounds and levels of experience, and that can determine just what kind of protection they need.
There are people out there that wear running shoes, some wear sandals, and others wear boots. Depending on what kind of person you are and the level of experience that you have, each has its own advantages.
But today, we want to lock in people that are going to need hiking shoes.
Hiking shoes have very specific uses. Not all hikes are great in conjunction with hiking shoes. There are certain factors that you need to look for. One of the very first things is that hiking shoes are going to be better for a shorter hike.
This doesn’t mean that it has to be a five-minute walk to grandmother’s house. It just means that you are going to want to make sure it’s not a really long trek across the galaxy. Remember, there isn’t quite as much support available to you in the shoes as in the boots.
Another thing that hiking shoes are good for is on well-defined trails. This is the best use for hiking shoes. If you are going hiking someplace where there are a lot of rocks and the trail isn’t very well-defined, then you might need to look elsewhere.
For many people, they keep a pair of hiking shoes and boots laying around to adjust to whatever the trail calls for. But you need to make sure that there is a fair amount of definition on the trail if you are going to be wearing shoes.
A third thing to look at and consider is how much weight you’re going to be carrying. Because shoes aren’t as heavy, they aren’t going to give you as much support. This shouldn’t be that big of an issue if you’re going on a shorter hike, though!
But just keep in mind that your feet are going to hurt more when you’re carrying 50 pounds of material that they would feel if you weren’t carrying any weight around. This is something you will definitely want to keep in mind.
The fourth, and final, factor here is that hiking shoes are also, generally, best for more experienced hikers. These people have built up incredible calve, ankle, feet, and leg strength, and they are much better equipped to use hiking shoes.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t hike successfully in shoes if you are new, but it is more likely to take a toll on you.
If you are going to be carrying quite a bit of weight, or you’re going to be doing it on a long and rugged trail, you’re going to want to make sure that you can handle it. Experienced hikers will be much more able to cope with these demands than someone that is new!
Other Types of Hiking Footwear
Let’s look at two types of possible footwear quickly so that we get a better idea of what makes them different.
Trail Running Shoes
Trail running shoes are mainly used by those that run trails, but they are also used by experienced hikers as well. These kind of shoes are great for people that are using dry, well-maintained trails all of the time.
These types of shoes are also very light, as they are made for running. So you can move very quickly and efficiently through your hike.
hey don’t offer as much support, especially for those with packs, but they aren’t meant for that! They’re meant for speed.
Hiking boots are shoes that help you cover rugged terrain and unplanned trails. You can blaze your own trail with this type of shoe simply because they protect you better with a high ankle ‘collar’ and great foot support.
These are great for people that carry packs because they give you the increased support you need. This type will help you on long hikes, but they will slow you down in comparison to trail running shoes.
The reason that we’ve looked at these quickly is that the hiking shoe that we are looking at and discussing today is essentially a happy medium between the two types we listed above.
Hiking shoes are a great balance between the two that will keep most everyone happy throughout their day. And if they don’t, then you can always turn to the others for what you need!
Characteristics of Hiking Shoes
Hiking shoes, as stated above, offer a middle ground to the trail runners and the hiking boots themselves. Hiking shoes give you a combination of the simple, lightweight feel while also giving you enough support and durability to mimic a hiking boot.
This is why hiking shoes have become so popular over the course of the last few years. In the past, you would have seen people with the heavy boot at all times. Or you would have seen them with very little on, like they were wearing a tennis shoe!
Now, they are able to take the best of both worlds and use them on trails that are fairly well-maintained. Let’s look at a few guidelines to keep in mind for wearing hiking shoes.
- Pack weight should be at around 20-30 pounds, tops, for optimum feel. While it’s not encouraged to use a heavy pack with hiking shoes, you can still carry a decent size pack and be just fine.
- Weather can be an influence on your choice. There are options that will keep your feet from taking on water, but you need to make sure that is what you want.
- If you know you are going to be hiking in the cold and wet, then waterproof is probably the way to go for you. They will keep you much warmer and dryer. But if you know you won’t be hiking in the wet and/or cold, you’ll likely want to go without. In the summer months, these shoes can make your feet very hot! Some hikers just do not like that very much!
- Remember: these hiking shoes are just slightly heavier than trail running shoes. They are shoes! So treat them as such. Don’t expect them to do things that boots will.
- The lighter the shoe’s weight, the less support you generally will be receiving. This is something that many people overlook. But companies have to shave off their support along with the weight of the shoe! So be aware that as you get smaller and smaller, your feet will have the potential of hurting more and more.
- Also, remember that the level of durability will not be as good as the shoe gets lighter. This is why boots are so popular. They may be expensive, but a good pair can last an eternity because they are so heavy and durable!
Best Hiking Shoe Reviews
1. Merrell Men’s Moab 2 Vent Hiking Shoe (not waterproof)
Moab is a major player in this industry, and it’s easy to see why with this pair of hiking shoes. First of all, these come in a number of colors and for a nice moderate price.
They also have a great construction profile with a synthetic sole that is flexible and gives excellent breathability as it is paired with mesh. This is big for warm days, so you can be confident they will keep you cool.
It has a leather upper (suede) and a very good supportive footbed. There’s a reason Moab means Mother Of All Boots! They also have a shock-absorbing heel and odor prevention, which makes it much easier to wear around others!
The protective rubber toe cap and the high-end industry standard Vibram soles round out this impressive package of features!
- Very well built from one of the world’s best outdoor shoe companies
- Up to 12 colors to choose from
- Great ventilation
- Don’t offer much support for arches
- A little pricey for some
- Not waterproof
#2 is yet another trusted pair of shoes from Merrell. Like #1, they are both Moab. This pair is at a slightly higher price and has a few less color options, but the saving grace and the differentiating factor is that they are waterproof.
Unlike #1, the mesh and synthetic makeup of this pair is waterproof, which will allow you to experience a much better day out on the trail. Like the other pair, these have a heel that absorbs shocks and odor control as well.
Even though, that won’t be needed as much as the first one would because you won’t be as wet!
- Waterproof great for wet days
- Still a good price
- Very breathable
- Very hot, so they are not great for summer
- Might need to be paired with insoles
In the moderate to higher price range comes this offering from KEEN. This shoe looks a little different, so you may or may not appreciate that. But it does come in a few different colors that will help you stand out (even further) from the crowd.
It has two easy pull-on tabs for quick use and they appear to be completely rubber. The front of this pair of shoes is different because it is rubber, like the bottoms of the shoe.
These are waterproof and they also provide good traction, so they can have multiple uses in addition to hiking as well!
- Waterproof and good for snow
- Easy to put on and take off
- Good traction
- Now made in China
- Not much breathability
our first ladies’ shoe on the list comes from KEEN. This pair of shoes is on the higher end of the price scale, but they come with a few colors to choose from.
Unlike the men’s offerings, there are some colors involved (thankfully) to keep you from being so depressed. These are made from leather and mesh, and you can clearly see the mesh in this pair.
This is the Targhee for warmer days, essentially! This pair will help you on the warmest of days because of the ventilation that it offers. It’s also got the strange rubber at the front like the Targhee, for whatever reason.
- Breathability is good
- Has some actual colors in the design
- Great for warm days
- A little expensive
- A little heavy
if you’re willing to pay a bit of a premium price, you can get a great boot-like hiking shoe from Columbia here. The Newton Ridge only comes in two colors, but this is about as close as you can get to a boot without leaving the ‘shoe’ category.
Essentially, this is a boot that is lighter in weight than most boots, so it’s basically constructed as if it were a shoe. It has leather and synthetics, with very little mesh, and it’s also waterproof as well.
This will keep you warm and dry on cool, rainy days, but won’t help you much when the weather is warmer! The tongue is mesh, but it’s debatable as to how much it will help!
- Boot and shoe combination
- Great for cool days
- A little expensive
- Not going to air out very well
OK, finally someone comes in with a pair that doesn’t make me want to scream. These shoes have a number of actual colors, which is nice to see for a change. We know they will get dirtier, but it’s nice to see some actual color choices.
These look a lot like trail running shoes, but they are far from it. They are a little bit heavier and they don’t lace up in the same manner as most of those. These are definitely meant for the trail that is decently taken care of.
This pair has a lot of mesh and is also made from synthetics to give you a better fit and feel. And it’s at a very good, moderate price as well. The bottoms have great traction with grippers down there, too!
- GREAT color choices
- Good price
- Has good breathability
- Adidas can run narrow
- Harder to keep clean
once again, it looks like these companies only (except for Adidas) care about colors with the ladies! These colors are very nice, and they come in the moderate to slightly high price range.
These are made from fabric and synthetics, and they also have quite a bit of mesh at the top of the feet. This will help you breathe much better on warm days. In addition to this, though, is the fact that they are almost waterproof.
It’s hard to find a good pair of shoes that is both waterproof and has good ventilation. So this may just be your pair if that’s what you are after!
- Awesome colors
- Lots of mesh
- Almost waterproof, though!
- A tad expensive
- They won’t completely keep you dry, so be aware
coming in with a bit of a high price and a lot of cool, funky color is the Sugarpine from Ahnu. This pair looks completely different, but they are very functional. They almost look like dress shoes even, but they are accented by flashy colors.
They have the waterproof membrane that will keep your feet dry and warm as well. The have nice ‘lugs’ on the bottoms that will provide good traction and are made from leather and other textiles.
They don’t appear to have much mesh, so be aware they may not be great for warmer days!
- Interesting looks
- Waterproof membrane
- Good traction
- Somewhat pricey
- Don’t air out well for warm days
Final Thoughts & Recommendations
Hiking shoes are a great way to help you enjoy any short-ish hike, with or without, a light backpack on a well-defined trail. These shoes help you navigate the trail quickly while also providing you great support.
There is a myriad of options for these types of shoes, but there is something great out there for everyone! If you are looking to get into hiking, this is a good medium ground to get yourself in.
You can wear these comfortably and learn the ropes on a nice, easy trail, before moving along to bigger and better things. No matter what, though, you can rest easier knowing that you know what you are looking for now!