What to Look for in a Hiking Shoe

What to Look for in a Hiking Shoe

Choose your dress shoes for style and your hiking shoes for stability. That’s not to say you can’t wear a good-looking pair of hiking boots, but appearance shouldn’t be at the forefront of your mind when choosing these durable shoes. Whether you hike to bond with family or discover new terrain on your own, it’s important to wear the right shoes so that you can glide when necessary and get traction when needed. Seek out shoes that feature comfort, stability, weight and warmth to keep the quests coming and the blisters at bay.

What to Look for in a Hiking Shoe

Know Where You’re Going

Before selecting a shoe, identify where the majority of your hiking adventures will occur. If your adventures consist of mild family hikes, choose a shoe that is cut below the ankle in a light fabric such as nylon or suede. When your hiking takes you into off-trail terrain, you’ll need a heavier cross-hiker, above-the-ankle boot that’s made of a sturdy material such as leather or a tough synthetic fabric. When heading out for an extended hike with a heavy backpack, choose a rough-terrain boot featuring above-the-ankle support, toe caps, shock-absorbing soles and water-resistant linings.

Choose Fit Over Fashion

Search for a shoe in your size, but then ignore the number when trying it on. Hiking shoe sizes can vary from your normal size; a slipped finger between your heel and the shoe, however, signifies a good fit. Make sure you have room in the toe cap so that your feet are free to wriggle without feeling crammed. Next, concentrate on how your feet feel when walking. A quarter-inch or less of movement is acceptable; if your feet slip around more than that, try another size or a different footbed. You can purchase over-the-counter footbeds for additional arch support.

Get the Details Straight

For any kind of hiking, a lightweight, waterproof shoe is best. You’ll also want some cushion in the tongue, with just enough stiffness so that the laces don’t cut into your feet. Find a shoe with a breathable, mesh liner to help control sweaty feet, and make sure there’s ample padding around your heels and ankles to eliminate excess movement and cut down on chaffing. Also, check out the soles and lugs on the bottom to see what kind of grip you’ll get in mud, rain or on rugged terrain. Look for lugs that are spaced far apart to kick out mud and dirt.

Keep in Mind Before You Buy

Head to the store (check out our Famous Footwear store locator) in the early evening when your feet are already a little swollen from the day’s walking. Also keep in mind that your feet will definitely swell during the hikes, so if you’re between shoe sizes, bigger is better in this situation. Try on shoes with the socks you’ll wear while hiking — things like toe stitching and weight can have an impact on comfort and fit, and you’ll want to be sure you’re getting the right hiking shoes during your first shopping jaunt.