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Types Of Hiking Shoes That You Should Know

17 Mar 2023

This guide was written to assist in the selection of suitable hiking boots and shoes. Having read this, you should feel much more confident navigating the bewildering variety of hiking shoe styles, brands, and materials available today.

Hiking boots that are both practical and comfortable are essential, regardless of whether you're going on a short stroll or a multi-week backpacking trip. There is no sensation of performance when wearing boots this functional. In order to perform their intended function, technical materials, components, and designs are essential.

When shopping for a pair of hiking boots, what features should you prioritize? A hiking boot's ability to snugly accommodate the wearer's feet is arguably its most crucial quality. A well-fitting boot can make or break your experience, no matter how well-designed the boot itself may be. Comfort, performance, protection, support, and shock absorption are the hallmarks of a good pair of hiking boots or shoes. Good traction, shock absorption, waterproofing, breathability, foot and/or ankle support, stability, light weight, and durability are also essential features in a hiking boot.

Now that we've covered the basics of what to look for in a good pair of hiking boots, let's delve into the wider world of hiking footwear.

Types Of Hiking Shoes

1. Barefoot shoes 

Barefoot shoes

Barefoot shoes, the most basic form of hiking footwear, have been adopted more widely by runners than by hikers, but there are those who swear by them. Although they still technically count as footwear, barefoot shoes lack a heel drop, have thin soles to improve a runner's "trail feel," and offer no arch support. There are some that fit more like socks and have embarrassingly pointed toes, and there are others that look more like traditional hiking boots.

Vibram famously settled a class action lawsuit after claims that their shoes made feet stronger by encouraging the growth of protective calluses and a more natural gait were found to be without merit. The best barefoot running shoes still provide a more authentic trail experience, but the sticker warning states that break-in is required and sharp rocks could cause serious discomfort.

2. Hiking sandals

Hiking sandals

Many people find the phrase "hiking sandals" to be an oxymoron because they believe it to be mutually exclusive. Nonetheless, this latecomer to the hiking shoe scene has won over a sizable fan base in recent years. The best hiking sandals have sturdy construction, unlike the flimsy flip flop, with a thick sole, deep tread, arch support, and nylon straps.

These are great if you plan on doing a lot of stream crossings while hiking in good weather, but we have to admit that they take some getting used to. The pebble may be removed more easily, but the likelihood of getting a pebble in them is higher. Some people experience chafing from the straps, which can be alleviated by donning socks with the shoes, but this leads to the question of whether or not socks are necessary when wearing sandals. We'll defer to your judgment.

3. Hiking shoes

Hiking shoes

The midsoles of hiking shoes are typically stiffer than those of trail runners. The stiffer flex may add some weight, but it provides a more stable base for hiking rough trails and protects the soles of your feet from being bruised by stepping on sharp rocks. For moderately heavy loads or rough terrain, these shoes are a good compromise between the heaviness of backpacking boots and the lightness of running shoes. If you are prone to ankle sprains or don't have a lot of experience on challenging or long-distance trails, a good pair of trekking shoes is an absolute must. The use of trekking shoes is not advised for winter hiking, especially on icy or steep terrain.

Hiking boots that are waterproof are a necessity in the winter. However, they are of no use if you will be spending days trekking through muddy conditions. Your feet will get wet no matter what kind of trekking shoes you wear, so opt for mesh shoes that will dry out quicker.

There are many options for drying out a pair of hiking boots, but only a few that come highly recommended. If you want to keep using your shoes on future trips, just let them air dry. To dry them slowly at home, take out the insoles and spread the tongues wide open, then store them in a cool, dry place. Do not rush the drying process; it takes time to dry properly. Excessive heat causes leather to harden and split, so you shouldn't dry them by a fire, next to a car heater, or next to a house radiator.

The membranes in your waterproof shoes are very thin and delicate, so take care when cleaning them with a soft brush on the outside and a damp cloth on the inside. Learning more about the anatomy of a trekking shoe and the shoes' materials and components can also be very helpful.

Advantages of hiking shoes

  • Having a sturdy pair of trekking shoes on hand is helpful when traversing rocky terrain or venturing off the beaten path.
  • The scree slopes, fresh snow, and rocky, uneven trails of the area are just the place for these.
  • Excellent for bouldering, scree slopes, and other forms of bushwhacking.
  • An excellent pick for sluggish, chilly hikes in the mud.
  • In wet weather, you can rely on waterproof models to protect your feet. Keep in mind that in persistent rain they won't be able to perform as well.

Disadvantages of hiking shoes

  • Winter conditions, snow, and ice are not conducive to wearing trekking shoes.
  • Waterproof hiking boots don't allow for much air circulation.
  • Drying out a pair of wet hiking boots takes longer than trail runners, sandals, or going barefoot. It will take even longer for waterproof versions to dry.

4. Approach shoes 

Approach shoes

While the best approach shoes are designed for rock climbers making the approach to the crag, they can also be used as acceptable hiking shoes in the right circumstances. The soles of approach shoes are made of sticky rubber rather than deep tread, and they are so snug and stretchy that some climbers even wear them while they are on the rock. These shoes are similar to hiking shoes but are lighter and less rigid, making them ideal for climbing. Although approach shoes won't last as long as your typical hiking boots, they can be useful in rocky desert environments like slickrock.

5. Hiking boots 

Hiking boots

The traditional hiking boot has earned a place of respect among outdoor enthusiasts. These provide excellent defense against rocks, rain, and snow, and are now produced with nylon uppers in addition to the traditional sturdy leather versions and rubber soles. There is some debate as to whether or not you actually need ankle support for hiking, and if boots provide it, but they are certainly stiffer than a shoe and you can't feel the trail under your feet at all, which is a plus for many.

If you take good care of them, even if you need to have the soles resoled once or twice, a good pair of hiking boots can last a lifetime. The disadvantages include a longer breaking-in period, a heavier overall weight, less adaptability, and the loss of the "trail feel" underfoot that is prized by some hikers.

6. Mountaineering boots

Mountaineering boots

When tackling steep terrain in adverse conditions, nothing beats a good pair of mountaineering boots. The mountaineering shoes' rigid soles are compatible with the technical climbing crampons. If you're going to be doing any glacial travel or spending a lot of time at higher altitudes, they should be your first choice. Nowadays, plastic shells are much more common than leather ones when it comes to mountaineering boots. To provide superior protection from the elements, mountaineering boots are typically highly water-repellent or waterproof. The thick uppers and superior insulation prevent frostbite during the winter months.

Extremely heavy and unwieldy mountaineering boots aren't always the best choice for a day of hiking. Designed for use on steep terrain, they may feel unbalanced on level ground. While there are some options that work great right out of the box, most styles need significant break-in time. The price tag is yet another consideration when looking for a new pair of mountaineering shoes. The most reliable makes provide pleasant seating for a long time with regular care and cleaning. But there's a catch (literally in this case).

Most recently released designs include a wide range of advanced technological components.

Advantages of hiking shoes

+Glacial terrain and high altitudes call for the specialization of mountaineering boots.

+ Superior balance, stability, and ankle support thanks to the high cut.

+ Mountaineering boots are sturdy, long-lasting creations designed for rugged terrain and rigorous hiking.

+ The thick uppers (up to 3mm) and thermal insulation keep your feet toasty even when the temperature drops.

+ Acceptable for use with crampons.

Disadvantages of hiking shoes

+ Do not expect plastic boots to bend like hiking boots; they are bulky and may restrict ankle movement.

+ May be unsuitable for extended use on account of weight or poor comfort (understandably as most models are designed for climbing mountains and traversing across snow or mud).

+ Some makes and models need a long period of regular use to reach their optimum performance level.

+ The cost can easily exceed $500 for a high-quality model.

Selecting the Right Hiking Boots

Consideration of cut, fit, material, is essential when shopping for hiking boots.

1) Cut

"Hiking boots" is a catchall term, but there are actually countless subcategories that cater to specific needs and preferences. Which hiking boot style is best for you depends on how often and what kind of hiking you do. Hiking boots can be broken down into three distinct categories: low-cut, mid-cut, and high-cut.

For casual walks along well-trodden paths, a pair of low-cut boots is a good option. They're typically more breathable and less difficult to break in (similar to a running shoe). The lack of ankle support in lower cut boots is a major drawback. Selecting a mid or high-cut boot is a good idea when hiking on uneven ground or if you have a tendency toward ankle sprains and strains.

Mid-cut boots, which extend to or slightly above the ankle, are comfortable and versatile options for outdoor activities. They're great for short strolls in the park or longer, more strenuous hikes on rocky trails. They prevent rocks and debris from entering your shoes while also offering your ankles support.

Some high-cut boots go up to the midcalf area, sitting comfortably above the ankle. On longer, more strenuous hikes or backpacking trips where you'll be carrying a heavier pack, high-cut hiking boots are the way to go. High-cut boots, being bulkier and heavier, are useful for carrying heavy loads over rough terrain, as they provide more stability.

2) Fit

One of the trickiest things about buying boots is determining how they should feel on your feet.

Different manufacturers and countries use different sizing systems, so it's not guaranteed that buying your regular shoe size will get you a pair of hiking boots that fits. (I recently tried on six different sizes of the same brand and style of boot just to figure out what size fit me, and it was one and a half sizes up from what I usually wear!)

But how can you tell if a pair of boots actually "fits" you? Some things to remember are as follows.

The toes, heel, ankle, and Achilles tendon are particularly sensitive areas that should never feel constricted while wearing boots. Boots tend to loosen up and break in over time (some more than others), but discomfort and blisters are inevitable if they are too tight in the wrong places at first.

Feel the boots around the back of your heel. It's a good indication that the boot is too small if you can feel the inside of your heel bone through the sole. Your index finger ought to be able to slide easily between your heel and the boot's interior at the back. Make sure there isn't too much wiggle room in the back of the shoe where the heel sits. Check that your heel doesn't slip off the back of the shoe as you walk around. Friction causes blisters, and heel slip is friction.

Toes shouldn't be able to feel the front of the boot. The salesperson at the store where I was recently looking for new boots insisted that your toes should never be able to feel the end of the boot. The boot won't fit if your heel is higher than your ankle.

Tap the front of the boot on the ground to see if you feel any impact on your toe when trying on hiking boots. Walking down a ramp or other sloping section of the store can tell you if your feet will slide forward into the toe box of your boots when you walk downhill. Any time your toe touches the boot's sole, it's either too big or too small.

Hiking boots that are just right for you will fit snugly without being uncomfortablely tight, will keep your heel in place, and will give your toes some breathing room.

3) Material

Synthetics and leather are the two most common materials for hiking boots. I don't wear leather boots; I only wear synthetic ones because I refuse to support the leather boot industry.

Synthetic boots have many advantages over their leather counterparts, including breathability, a range of waterproofing options, low maintenance requirements, and an easier break-in period. Choose your boots' material with the climate and temperature in mind.

How often do you go hiking in wet weather? If that's the case, finding a good pair of waterproof boots is crucial to your ease and contentment.

In what kind of weather can we expect you to be out and about? If so, you should get a pair of boots that can keep your feet warm and dry no matter the weather.

Getting a good pair of mountaineering boots is essential if you consider yourself more of a mountaineer than a hiker. The soles of these boots are typically thicker, and they are typically of a higher heel. For icy ascents, you may want to invest in over-boots and crampons.

Conversely, if you do most of your hiking in warmer, drier climates, you should prioritize finding a pair of boots that are made with breathable mesh fabrics to keep your feet dry and prevent the sweating that can lead to chafing and blisters.


My number one piece of advice is to try on a pair of boots before buying them, or to make sure you can return or exchange them if you buy them online. Finding the right pair of hiking boots is one of those things that is much easier to do in a brick-and-mortar store than online.

Take a pair of hiking socks and, if you use them, insoles with you to the store when you try on boots. A pair of boots that feels great with a thin pair of socks may be too tight for comfortable hiking when paired with thicker socks.

If you've been on your feet all day, you might find that shopping for boots in the late afternoon or evening is the most comfortable time. After a long day on your feet, your boots may feel a little snugger than they did when you first put them on. Consequently, it's important to wear footwear that provides adequate toe and heel room even when your feet are tired and achy.

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