Wearing the right hiking shoes is essential if you want to get good traction on the trail and avoid blisters during your adventures.
But what kind of shoes should you wear hiking, you might be wondering?
The best shoes to wear while hiking are the ones that feel the most comfortable on your feet. Most people find that purpose-built hiking boots or hiking shoes are ideal because they offer a good blend of durability, traction, ankle support, and foot protection. But some hikers prefer to wear trail running shoes while trekking because they are lighter and more sensitive underfoot.
The question of what type of shoes you should wear while hiking is a deeply personal one and there’s no single answer that will work for everyone. Up next, we’re going to take a closer look at the different types of hiking footwear so you can find the perfect shoes for your adventure needs.
What to Wear on Your Feet While Hiking
There’s no universally right or wrong answer when it comes to what you should wear on your feet while hiking because everyone and every foot is different.
In general, proper hiking boots or hiking shoes are almost always your best bet for trekking footwear. But it’s better to focus more on the features that make a shoe good for hiking and less so on the nuances between different types of footwear.
So what makes a good hiking shoe? Most quality hiking boots and shoes have the following key characteristics:
- Durability – Trails can be very rugged, so you need shoes that aren’t going to fall apart if they scrape against rocks and debris as you hike.
- Traction – A quality pair of shoes for hiking should provide good traction on muddy and rocky terrain. This normally means that shoes should have sticky rubber and deep lug soles for added grip on variable surfaces.
- Foot Protection – Hiking shoes should provide some semblance of protection for your feet as you walk. This includes tough rands and toe caps that stop you from mashing your toes into boulders as well as some waterproofing to keep your feet dry.
- Ankle Support – Most people prefer to have some ankle support in their hiking boots. This normally requires that you get high- to mid-top boots, though you can opt for low-cut shoes if you don’t want or need as much ankle support.
If you want to find shoes that meet all the above criteria, you’re almost always going to end up with a pair of purpose-built outdoor adventure shoes. These shoes go by many different names, but you’ll often hear them referred to as “hiking boots” or “hiking shoes.” Some low-cut shoes that are designed for running on trails (called “trail running shoes”) are also popular among hikers.
Can I Wear Running Shoes for Hiking?
You can wear running shoes for hiking, but doing so isn’t recommended. Most running shoes that are designed for use on pavement and city streets aren’t durable or protective enough for use in the mountains. They also tend to lack both waterproofing and high-traction outsoles, so you might find that you slip around a lot and get wet feet when you hike with running shoes.
If you want the comfort and weight savings of running shoes as well as the performance of hiking boots, you might want to consider trail running shoes instead.
Trail running shoes tend to be very lightweight and sensitive underfoot but they offer better traction and durability than your standard road running sneaker. They’re particularly popular among ultralight hikers (especially Altra brand trail running shoes) because they’re so much more compact and breathable than hiking boots. But keep in mind that trail running shoes lack a lot of the ankle support that you get with actual trekking boots.
Can I Hike in Converse?
Hiking in Converse usually isn’t a good idea. Converse were originally designed for basketball players who needed non-skid shoes for use on slick courts. While they’re now more commonly used as fashion items and less so as basketball sneakers, Converse simply don’t provide the traction, durability, and comfort you need for a long day on the trail.
It might be tempting to use your Converse for a short hike in relatively flat terrain as they’re not a bad choice for strolling along paved park paths. But, we can almost always guarantee you that wearing Converse while hiking on rugged trails won’t be as comfortable as walking around in proper hiking boots.
Are Sneakers OK for Hiking?
Your average pair of sneakers will be okay for hiking on short, mostly flat trails, but they’re not ideal.
There are a few issues that most people encounter when they try to hike in sneakers. First, sneakers aren’t all that durable or have enough arch support. Most pairs of sneakers will get a bit ripped up if you try to hike with them on rugged terrain. If you don’t care too much about your shoes, this might not be a problem, but we wouldn’t recommend hiking with an all-white pair of Air Force Ones on a muddy trail.
The other issue with sneakers is that they’re simply not designed for hiking over wet, muddy, and varied terrain. Most sneakers are engineered for walking on the streets or for use in a gym—not for the wilderness. As a result, the majority of sneakers out there won’t provide you with good traction on the trail and they won’t protect your feet from debris.
Our advice? If the comfort of sneakers is what you’re looking for, consider a low-top hiking shoe or trail running shoe instead. It might be annoying to have to get another pair of shoes for trekking, but your feet will thank you later.
Treat Your Feet Right: Wear Hiking Boots on the Trail
Investing in yet another pair of shoes just for hiking can seem like a bit of a drag, but it’s critical that your feet stay happy and comfortable as you walk through the woods.
Wearing the wrong pair of shoes is a quick and easy way to turn a day of fun into a miserable slog through the mountains. A proper pair of hiking boots or shoes can go a long way toward ensuring that you have the right equipment on hand to tackle whatever comes your way on the trail.
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David is an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.