Finding the Right Footwear

Footwear isn’t just vitally important on the fashion runways of New York or Paris, it’s also something to seriously consider when exploring the heights of the Himalayas, the outskirts of the Australian Outback or the well-kept trails of your local park or nature reserve.

Why? The answer should be fairly obvious.

Your feet are the foundation of your body. The core pillars holding up the rest of that fantastic frame. If you don’t take care of your feet, they can’t take care of you when you’re on your next hike.

Don’t think so? Try finishing a 12 kilometer hike on a foot hobbled by blisters, bunions or something far worse like a sprain or fracture.

So before you head out the door and into the great outdoors, consider these fine options for the health of your feet.  

Boots

Hiking boots or heavy-duty boots (hunting boots, construction boots, etc) are the presumed go-to for anyone heading out on a hike, but need only be worn by those going on Intermediate, Advanced or unmarked-backcountry trails.

Boots are great for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is their ability to protect. Unlike flimsier or more porous shoes, boots can resist extreme temperatures, tough terrain, wild weather and just about anything else thrown their way.

Having said that, not all boots are created equal so if you’re dead set on wearing boots for your next hike, invest in a pair that:

  • Fits comfortably
  • Provides adequate ankle support
  • Comes with real waterproofing.

(If you need a brand, Red Wing and Timberland are totally worth a look)

Regardless of the boot brand or type you purchase, just make sure they’re modestly broken-in to well-worn before you hit the dusty trail. Stiff boots mean more work for the tiny muscles fibers of your feet (soreness) and higher-stress for the skin surrounding soles and toes (blisters). 

Athletic Shoes

After boots, athletic shoes are another popular choice among hikers of all skill levels.

Most people already have a pair of athletic shoes sitting in their closet that they can repurpose for hiking. Tennis, running and basketball shoes can extend their life and functionality by serving has hiking shoes.

But what makes athletic shoes truly appealing are there ease; they’re easy to put on, easy to take off, easy to find, easy to buy and easy to wear, etc.

Unfortunately it’s not all sunshine and rainbows with athletic shoes. On unpaved or poorly maintained hiking trails, athletic shoes can quickly succumb to the intensity of the terrain. Stitching can burst, adhesive can lose its grip and light, synthetic fibers can be torn apart by sharp or rough objects.

Moreover, athletic shoes offer little in the way of protection from the elements be it wind, rain or otherwise.

So while you’re less likely to get a blister or have a tired foot if using athletic shoes, do take care to ensure the forecast for your hike is calling for blue skies.

Sandals

Truthfully, sandals generally don’t make much sense for hiking unless they are the sport variety. Sandals offer both minimal support and minimal protection, leaving the foot entirely exposed to the terrain and weather.

Having said that, sandals are a great option for short hikes or hikes that feature a great deal of water. Hiking through a stream or creek is far more enjoyable when it doesn’t require sitting down to untie a heavy pair of leather boots or pull off a thick pair of socks. Try them out on your next summer adventure.

Bare Feet

This one is no joke. In some western countries like New Zealand people are taking to hiking in bare feet.

Why hike in bare feet? We’re not really sure, but some people believe it helps strengthen the muscles of the foot and ankle while simultaneously providing a more “human” connection with the natural landscape.

Though barefoot hiking may actually be a rewarding experience over time, at the beginning it’s going to be mightily uncomfortable, particularly if hiking on trails that are uneven, unsealed and generally stony or unkempt.

If you are really dead-set on going the barefoot route, ease into it. Slowly transition your feet from a basic variety of footwear like an athletic shoe to something less comprehensive like a sandal. Overtime, wean yourself from shoes all together. When you finally start going barefoot, choose hiking tracks that are graded “Easy” or “Beginner.” Give your feet a chance to toughen-up before taking on hikes of a more extreme variety. 

Need More Detail?

The web is awash in footwear data for hikers of all skill levels so play around in your preferred search engine. We'll also be posting some follow up articles on hiking footwear in the future that go into even greater detail about what you may want to consider for your next hike.

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