Hiking Shoes: How to Choose the Best Hiking Footwear

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The world of hiking shoes is big, and it can be overwhelming when it comes to choosing the best hiking footwear.

  • Should you get hiking boots or trail runners?
  • How do you find the perfect hiking shoe size?
  • What’s the difference between a hiking boot and a hiking shoe?

In this post, we’re going to answer all of these questions!

We’ll go over the different types of hiking shoes and the pros and cons of each when it comes to Spring, Summer, and Fall hiking seasons. We won’t be covering hiking footwear for snowy Winter hikes.

My guide to hiking footwear (video):

HIKING SHOES: Hiking Boots vs Trail Runners? My Guide to Hiking Footwear (plus VIVOBAREFOOT review)

Types of Hiking Shoes

To keep things simple, we’re going to break hiking footwear up into two main categories: hiking boots and trail runners.

1) Hiking Boots

If you want classic high-top leather shoes for your hikes, then hiking boots are for you.

Hiking Boot Pros:

  • stable
  • durable
  • foot and ankle protection
  • warmer on cold weather hikes
  • usually waterproof
  • usually great traction
  • they will last a long time

Hiking Boot Cons:

  • longer break-in period
  • heavy and bulky
  • if they get wet inside they will take a really long time to dry out
  • disconnected from the ground

I would say that the biggest con to a traditional hiking boot is that if it gets wet on the inside, they take a really long time to dry.

This can potentially leave your feet wet and cold, especially on longer backpacking trips.

Women’s Hiking Boot Examples

Hiking boots typically have a lot of support. These shoes usually look like heavy-duty boots! A lot of them are made of leather.

Some popular brands with highly-rated hiking boots are Columbia, Danner, Merrell, and Salomon.

Check out some options below:

Tip >> If you’re looking for a discount, check out SteepandCheap for sales too!

tying minimalist boots while backpacking

2) Trail Runners (and Hiking Shoes)

Trail running shoes are quickly becoming a popular option for hikers because they’re not as bulky as traditional hiking boots. But they also have some cons…

Note: When you’re shopping, sometimes you might see a “hiking shoe”. Hiking shoes are another category of footwear similar to trail runners, not to be confused with a “hiking boot” that we talked about above. Hiking shoes are in-between a hiking boot and a trail running shoe, but I’ve included them in this category to keep things simple!

Trail Running Shoe Pros:

  • breathable
  • lightweight
  • cooler on hot hikes
  • quicker drying if they get wet inside
  • less or no break in period

Trail Running Shoe Cons:

  • less supportive
  • won’t last as long (need to be replaced more often)

While they might not last as long as a traditional hiking boot, trail runners are a lightweight and breathable option for the trail.

Trail Running Shoe Examples

Salomon makes great trail running and hiking shoes.

They’re very popular these days, and I used to have a pair myself before I switched to “minimalist” shoes, which we’ll talk about later in this post.

How to Choose Hiking Shoes

Since I hike a lot, I have both hiking boots and trail runners so I can choose which type of shoe would be best for a particular hike.

Below are the 3 questions I ask myself before every hike when I’m trying to decide what hiking shoes to wear.

  • What is the terrain? – desert slick rock, water, muddy, wet slushy Spring conditions, snowy?
  • What is the weather?cold, hot, rainy, full sun?
  • How far am I planning to hike? – day hike, long thru-hike, short backpacking trip?

The answers to these questions help me decide what shoes to wear.

Let’s run through a couple of examples:

Example #1

Let’s say you’re going on a short day hike in the desert of Southern Utah. The trail is going to be mostly sand and slick rock, and it’s expected to be a hot sunny day.

What shoes would you wear?

Personally, I would choose a trail running shoe because they’re lightweight and breathable for the hot dry weather.

Example #2

Let’s say you’re going on a day hike in early Spring in the mountains and you’re expecting the trail to be a little muddy and maybe even still have some snow that hasn’t melted yet. The weather should be sunny in the low 70s.

What shoes would you wear?

Personally, I would wear my hiking boots to keep my feet warm and dry on the slushy spring hike.

Hiking Shoes Sizing

In general, your feet will swell as you hike, so it’s best to try on hiking shoes at the end of the day to get a better idea of how they’ll fit.

You’ll probably want to size up at least 1/2 a size, but maybe even an entire size depending on the brand.

Blisters and discomfort while hiking is usually a result of your hiking shoes being too small or too big, so wear them around the house with your hiking socks so you can get a better idea of how they will feel on the trail.

Minimalist or “barefoot” hiking shoes (what I wear)

I wear “barefoot” or minimalist-style shoes for hiking.

I think through the exact same questions that we talked about above, but I personally prefer barefoot-style shoes.

I have some feet issues as a result of wearing restrictive narrow shoes. When I switched to barefoot shoes a few years ago, those problems went away.

Not only are they very comfortable for me, but I also love that I can feel the ground under my feet!

When I hike with minimalist shoes, I can feel the rocks and I really like that connection to the ground.

A Warning About Minimalist Shoes:

If you want to dive into the world of minimalist shoes, be aware that it will take some time for your feet to build up strength.

Do not get barefoot-style shoes, and immediately go on a super long backpacking trip. You’ll put way too much strain on your feet and you can end up injuring yourself.

Start by wearing them for a little while every day, and then go on short day hikes and work your way up from there.

If you’ve been wearing narrow constrictive shoes your whole life, it takes time for your feet and toes to become strong and stable.

I have minimalist shoes by the brand VIVOBAREFOOT and I love them. Below are the specific hiking shoes that use!

VIVOBAREFOOT Tracker Hiking Boot

These are barefoot hiking boots made of leather with a waterproof lining and thermal protection to keep your feet at a comfortable temperature. These are lightweight and flexible. I’ve been hiking in these for years!

Hiking in Sandals

The last thing that I want to mention is hiking in sandals.

Since I’m already comfortable hiking in minimalist shoes, I do choose to hike in Bedrock Sandals sometimes.

Are there cons to hiking in sandals? Absolutely!

Your feet are exposed to rocks, sticks, toe-stubbing, snakes, and more.

It’s not something that I would recommend for beginner hikers, but I wanted to include it because I do hike in them on certain hikes (mostly in the desert), and so do a lot of other people.

The only sandals I have are the Bedrock sandals below and I absolutely love them.

Bedrock Carin Adventure Sandals

Bedrock sandals are lightweight, long-lasting, and comfortable. I wear them all the time in the Summer and they’re great sandals to have even if you don’t want to hike in them.

Now you’re ready to hit the trail! That’s my complete guide to hiking footwear. I hope it was helpful.

The truth is people hike in all sorts of shoes.

People have done long thru-hikes like the PCT barefoot or in simple sandals that they’ve made with rubber and string.

**The most important thing is to find what works for you and to know the pros and cons of the footwear you choose for a hike.

Thinking ahead to the terrain and conditions that you’re expecting to encounter and choosing your footwear based on that will set you up for a comfortable hike.

Let me know if you have any other questions about hiking shoes in the comments below.

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  1. Would you tell me the trail runners you wear from Vivo Barefoot?
    Also, have you had consistent luck with a fitness watch?
    Thank You

    1. I have the Magna shoes in an older style. The watch I have is the Garmin Instinct. It’s an awesome watch for the basics! My boyfriend Nick recently upgraded from the Instinct to the Garmin Fenix and he loves it. The Fenix has more functionality.