How to Choose Hiking Shoes and Hiking Boots: Shoe Buying Guide

How to Choose Hiking Shoes

Seasoned hiker or not, having the right hiking footwear for your every climb can dramatically change your experience on the trail.

Unlike running shoes or your usual leather boots, a pair of hiking shoes is expertly designed to tackle rugged, uneven surfaces with ease. Their outsoles are crafted to grip the earth beneath your feet, preventing slips and falls.

If this will be your first pair of hiking boots, it is important to understand the unique qualities that set them apart. Brands like Salomon and Merrell offer options specifically made for off-trail adventures, ensuring durability and comfort.

This guide aims to help you make an informed decision, whether you're scaling a mountain or traversing a forest.

What Should You Look for in a Hiking Shoe?

The last thing you want is to buy the type of hiking boots and shoes that do not fit your needs. Instead of buying the first pair you see, prio ritize the following factors to get the best hiking shoe for your adventures.

Comfort and Fit

Comfort and fit are paramount in hiking shoes to prevent blisters and discomfort on the trail. Look for a pair with ample cushioning around the heel and toe to mitigate pressure points. Ensure the boot fits snugly without being too tight, as feet tend to swell during hikes. A proper fit means fewer blisters and more enjoyment outdoors.

Read related article: How To Break In Hiking Shoes: Hiking Boot and Shoe Guide


When it comes to outdoor adventures, the durability of your hiking boots is non-negotiable. Full-grain leather hiking boots offer unparalleled durability and resistance against wear and tear. However, they require breaking in. The stiffer the sole, the more durable the shoe, but this can also mean a heavier shoe, something to consider based on your hiking preferences.

Traction and Stability

The outsole of your hiking shoe is crucial for maintaining traction and stability on varied terrains. Look for shoes with deep, multidirectional lugs that provide grip on both wet and dry surfaces. A stiffer sole will also aid in stability, especially on uneven grounds, ensuring each step you take is confident and secure.

Water Resistance

Keeping your feet dry is essential for comfort and to prevent blisters. Hiking shoes with a Gore-Tex membrane offer excellent waterproof protection while being less breathable compared to non-waterproof footwear. This trade-off might be worth considering if you frequently hike in wet conditions, ensuring that water stays out and your adventure continues.

Ankle Support

For rugged terrains and longer treks, ankle support becomes crucial. High cut hiking boots provide the best support, safeguarding against twists and sprains. They often feature a cushioned collar and tight lacing to secure the ankle, providing additional stability and protection against the uneven and rough trails you may encounter.


Breathability in hiking footwear is essential for comfort, especially in warm climates. Shoes crafted with a membrane like Gore-Tex are waterproof yet less breathable compared to those without. Opting for lighter weight shoes with breathable mesh panels can help keep your feet dry and comfortable, reducing the likelihood of sweat-induced blisters.

Read related article: How to Clean Hiking Boots - A Step-by-Step Guide

Do Brand and Price Matter?

Buying hiking shoes will require you to make trade-offs based on your budget. Remember, you get the quality of what you pay for. While it's tempting to opt for cheaper options, investing in a quality pair of hiking shoes can save you money in the long run and ensure that your boots last through multiple hikes.

In terms of brands, many reputable names offer expertly crafted hiking footwear. However, don't be afraid to try lesser-known brands if their shoes meet your requirements and budget. Ultimately, the right hiking shoe for you is one that fits well and can withstand the demands of your outdoor adventures.

Here are some known brands that offer high-quality hiking shoes:

  • Salomon
  • Merrell
  • Vasque
  • Keen
  • Lowa
  • Scarpa
  • Hoka

Read related article: How to Waterproof Hiking Boots - 3 Effective Methods

How to Choose the Right Shoe for Your Hiking Style

How to Choose the Right Shoe for Your Hiking Style

Now to help you choose hiking boots that best fit your hiking style, here are some helpful tips:

Day Hikes

For day hikers, trail runners or lightweight hiking boots are ideal. These types of footwear provide the necessary support for shorter, less demanding trails. Trail running shoes, in particular, offer comfort and agility, making them perfect for those who prefer a faster pace.

Look for options with insoles that support your arch and heel, reducing the chance of fatigue. Remember, the right hiking boots or shoes for day hikers should prioritize comfort and lightness, allowing you to enjoy your time on the trail without the burden of heavy footwear.

Backpacking and Multi-Day Hikes

If you will go hiking for several days, carrying a backpack with essentials, your footwear needs to support not just your feet but also the extra weight. For multi-day treks, opt for hiking boots that offer durability, support, and protection.

The shoes should have stiff soles to bear the weight and provide stability, and adequate ankle support to prevent sprains on uneven terrain. Waterproof features are also essential to keep your feet dry during variable weather conditions.

Technical and Off-Trail Hikes

For adventurers tackling technical terrains or venturing off-trail, robust and supportive footwear is crucial. Such hikes demand boots that provide maximum protection, traction, and support. Look for boots with a high cut for optimal ankle support, a tough, grippy outsole for negotiating rough terrain, and durable, waterproof materials to withstand harsh conditions.

The right hiking boots or shoes for these scenarios are built to safeguard your feet from every angle, ensuring safety and comfort no matter where the trail takes you.

Read related article: How To Clean Gore Tex Shoes - Gore-Tex Footwear Cleaning Guide

Tips for Trying on Hiking Shoes

Now that we're through with the essential factors to consider when buying hiking shoes, here are some tips for trying them on:

  • Wear Hiking Socks: To find the right fitting hiking shoes, it's essential to wear the type of socks you'd hike in when trying on new shoes. This ensures that the sizing is accurate and accounts for the extra padding that hiking socks provide, offering a realistic feel of how the shoes will perform on the trails.
  • Try the Shoes On in the Afternoon: Feet tend to swell throughout the day due to walking and standing. Hence, REI expert advice suggests that trying on hiking shoes in the afternoon will give a better indication of how they fit during actual use, ensuring optimal comfort and preventing tightness during long hikes.
  • Walk on Different Surfaces: When testing the fit and comfort of hiking shoes, it's important to walk on various surfaces. Many stores have inclines or textured surfaces to simulate outdoor conditions. This practice will help you assess the shoes' traction, stability, and how well they adapt to different terrains.
  • Check for Proper Fit and Comfort: Ensuring the hiking shoes fit properly is paramount to avoid discomfort and injury. There should be enough room to wiggle your toes while the heel stays put without slipping. The right fit will feel snug but not tight, providing comfort even after hours of walking.
  • Test Ankle Support: For those who prefer hiking in rugged or uneven terrains, ankle support is crucial. When trying on boots, pay attention to how well they support and protect your ankles. Boots with adequate ankle support can prevent sprains and injuries, especially when carrying heavier loads.
  • Bring Your Own Orthotics, If Needed: If you use custom orthotics or insoles for additional support, make sure to bring them along. This ensures the hiking shoes accommodate the orthotics comfortably, providing a true test of fit and ensuring the footwear supports your specific foot needs during hikes.

water and stain repellent spray

Want to add additional layer of protection to your hiking boots? Try out Stone and Clark's Water and Stain Repellent Spray. It's perfect for waterproofing your hiking shoes and ensuring they remain in top condition even after multiple hikes!

Get yours here!

Closing Thoughts

There's no one-size-fits-all when it comes to selecting the best hiking boots. It's important to buy your shoes from trusted retailers who understand the varied demands of outdoor activities. When choosing, consider hiking shoe features like the toe box width, which should offer good space and comfort, especially on long treks.

Whether for backpacking trips or day hikes, the right pair enhances your experience, blending support with durability. Remember, the best hiking boots for you not only fit well but also align with your specific adventures, ensuring every step you take on the trail is a step towards more remarkable explorations.

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