Hiking Shoes Buyers Guide for Beginners

Hiking Shoes Buyers Guide for Beginners

Besides finding the best backpack, buying the right footwear may be one of the most important decisions a beginner hiker needs to make. Hiking is extremely challenging, and doing this while wearing the wrong kind of shoe might deter you from pursuing this rewarding endeavor.

What hiking shoes should I buy?

Picking the correct climbing shoes depends on your skill level and feature preferences.  There are three types of shoes to pick from; Neutral, Moderate, and Aggressive.

In this post, we’ll tell you how to pick the correct type of hiking shoe. We’ll also cover sizing, material, and other options. Keep reading, as you’re definitely not going to want to miss this!

What do You Need to Look for When Buying Hiking Shoes?

Generally speaking, you will want to buy footwear that provides adequate protection for your feet. For example, there might be sharp rocks on the trail, and you do not want these slicing easily through your shoes and injuring your foot. You also want to get footwear that will protect you from water and mud. On top of that, you want shoes that will support and cushion your feet from the stress that it will take when you cover mile after mile on the trail.

You also want your shoes to be able to provide sufficient support and traction, so you do not easily slip and hurt yourself. For example, turning your ankle while you are hiking alone can put you in terrible danger, so you would definitely want to avoid that as much as possible.

Finally, you will want to get something that is lightweight. After making a few thousand steps, you will start feeling the drain, and you want your boots to be as light as possible. This can spell the difference between tanking out halfway and getting to the end of the trail.

What is the Difference Between Hiking Shoes and Boots?

Hiking shoes are generally designed for hiking/trekking in dryer conditions where the terrain is not extreme. The reason for this is because they are softer, more flexible, and mostly lighter in weight. Hiking boots, on the other hand, are more rugged because they are designed for rougher hikes. They have thick soles and possess higher cuts meant to provide extra support. Boots are said to be for beginners who have yet to develop their footing on challenging terrains.

Which one do you need, hiking shoes or boots? One important thing you need to factor in is what kind of hiking you plan to do. If you are thinking of going on easy day hikes or speed hikes on well-defined paths, you can go for low-cut hiking shoes made of lightweight material. These will allow you to move faster and not tire easily while giving adequate ankle support. In addition, hiking shoes are more flexible and easier to break-in.

If you plan on going on more challenging hikes, you will be best served by getting mid-cut or high-cut hiking boots. These offer better support and have reinforcements to protect your ankles. This is the reason why boots are better options for those with knee and ankle issues. Hiking boots are also ideal if you think of going over uneven, wet, or rough terrain as they offer better traction and will keep you from sliding down a muddy ravine. The only problem with wearing boots is that they are heavier than hiking shoes, so expect your legs to get tired faster.

What to Look for in Hiking Boots or Shoes?

Whether you choose to buy hiking shoes or opt for heavier hiking boots, you will still need to look at other factors. One of those is protection. While the boots generally offer better protection because they covered more of your leg and feet, the kind of textile and added features could also affect the footwear’s performance. Some hiking shoes have toe bumpers to protect you from sharp hazards. If you plan on going over rough, rocky terrain, inquire about lightweight plates. These are found beneath the forefoot area and can protect you from bruising.

Another factor to consider is waterproofing. Do you really need it? Again, this will depend on where and when you plan to hike next. If you are going to cross a river or if it is going to be rainy, waterproof shoes are a better option. Look for boots or shoes made of leather. Full-grain leather is a highly water-resistant and exceptionally durable material. The downside is it is heavy and not very breathable.

Shoes made of synthetics like polyester and nylon, on the other hand, are more flexible, dries easily, generally more affordable, and are lightweight. However, they are less water-resistant than those made of leather. Finally, try out different shoes with a PU membrane in between the lining and its outer layer.  Most have “GTX” or “WP” in their names.

Yet another factor to look for its durability. Because hiking footwear tends to be on the pricy side, you want your shoes to last a little longer than usual. Again, when it comes to durability, full-grain leather wins. They resist abrasions as well, so they look better longer. Some shoes are made of buffed leather. They tend to be softer and lighter than the full-grained counterpart, but durability goes down a bit. Synthetics and mesh materials are the least durable of the options.

Need Help Preparing for a Hike or Backpacking Trip?

Check out our Hiking Equipment Guide for Beginners.  It’s a complete list of gear that every beginner should have.

Buyers Guide for Hiking Shoes Summary

When you purchase your hiking footwear, be it boots or shoes, you need to make sure that you get one that fits your feet perfectly. Before heading to the store, walk around and allow your feet to swell up a little about what will happen to them when you go on a hike. This will ensure that you get the fit for your “hiking” feet and not for your well-rested ones.

Make sure that you get the right size for your feet. Do these simple checks:

  • Check the toe box. There should be sufficient space in this area. You should not feel any pinching, particularly on the sides of the forefoot.
  • Slide your foot inside the shoe until your toes touch the front. Then, see if you can easily slip a finger between the heel of the shoe and your own.
  • Wear the shoes and walk around to check if your foot slides forward or your heel lifts off the shoes. If they do, the shoes are too big.
  • If you feel parts of your feet getting warmer as you walk around, the shoes are too tight.

Do not be afraid of fitting as many shoes or boots as needed. As mentioned before, finding the perfect footwear, not just any okay option, is extremely important. Take your time. Get some input from the salesperson but do not feel pressured to buy a more expensive pair.

Once you have made the purchase, please don’t wait for your next hiking trip to try them out. Put the shoes on and put them to the test. See if you can feel any chafing or pinching in any area. If they feel uncomfortable walking around the house, they will feel worse when you use them up a mountain. If the fit or feel isn’t perfect, bring them back to the store.

Lee G.

I love the outdoors! Everything from hiking, climbing, rappelling, and caving.

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