Updated: Dec 7, 2021
Choosing a hiking shoe is never easy. There are so many choices! Do you pick a hiking boot, hiking shoe, or maybe a hiking sandal? Having a comfortable hiking shoe is quite literally going to change your entire hiking experience. If you are injured or uncomfortable then you are obviously not going to enjoy your hike.
On my countless hikes I have had trial and error where I have found some great boots and also some not so great ones. Each person is different though, I'm simply providing my knowledge on how I picked a boot that was comfortable and correct for me.
Types of Hiking Shoes
In order to figure out the best type of shoe for you on your hike you will need to ask yourself some questions first:
What's the terrain look like that you usually hike on?
How far will you be hiking?
What kind of weather will you be typically hiking in?
How are your joints? (I know this seems like an old person question but I promise it makes a difference even for someone younger!)
Do your feet get hot easily?
Your average answer to these questions can help you determine which hiking shoe to get. There are three options:
Hiking boot / hiking shoe
Hiking Sandal/Water shoes.
Of course each type will have sub types but these are the main to choose from. Now each person will have their own personal preference; however I will typically choose my shoe based off of the terrain that I will be in. Because of this I do have numerous pairs (much to my husbands chagrin).
Hiking shoes for Backpacking
In general when you are backpacking you have a lot more pressure on your joints due to the weight of your pack. Because of this I would recommend something that has more of a Higher profile. This means that the boot comes slightly above your ankle bone and has laces that allows you to tie the boot snug to your leg. This is going to be the most sturdy of the hiking options.
Hiking shoes for Hot Climates
Although you might think that a waterproof hiking shoes is the best option in this instance I don't usually recommend this because it will sometimes make your feet even hotter. Instead I would recommend one of two options: (1) I personally prefer my chacos/tevas for the hot weather, however if you haven't broken them in or if you are going more than a couple miles then this is not always going to be the most comfortable; (2) best suited is usually going to be a trail runner or some form of lightweight hiking boot.
Hiking shoes for Cold Climates
For any sort of cold climate you want to again, find something with a higher profile; however you also want to find something that has more of an insulation. If there is any sort of snow involved you also want to consider something with more of a waterproof layer.
Hiking shoes for Water/wet Climates
Some hikes are going to have a lot of water traffic (such as switch backs over a river like my hike in St. Mary's Wilderness). If you are confident that your feet are going to be getting wet then you should look at either a quick drying trail runner or a hiking sandal. Take it from me, you don't want a waterproof boot.
Hiking shoes for Any Situation
When you have limited space/limited funds, and you can't have multiple different pairs then your best option is going to be a higher profile boot that is lightweight and waterproof. You might be a little hotter during the hot climate temperatures, but a lighter weight sock can usually fix that.
So this is all fine and dandy, but what shoes should you actually pick?
Best Shoes to choose for Hiking
Here are my top recommendations for each of these categories along with my pros vs. cons with each of them.
High profile Boot
You want a high profile boot that provides support and will typically want them for situations where you will be carrying more weight, rockier terrain, or cold/wet climates. These are going to be best for helping support ankles as well as providing a softer landing for your knees.
The Columbia Newton Ridge Plus Waterproof Amped Hiking Boots have been my all time favorite. They are not to heavy, which is a huge plus because nothing is more frustrating than constantly tripping because of a heavy boot you aren't used to. I've hiked close to 100 miles in these and so far have not shown a whole lot of wear and tear on them. The first day I wore them I had a little bit of blisters however I think this is because I crossed a creek and got water in them. Since then I have not had any blisters.
These are honestly at the top of my list and my go to boot.
Height: above ankle
Weight: 1.71 lbs
Retail Price: $89.95
The Merrell Moab 2 Mid Waterproof is a great shoe with an air cushion heel which helps with absorbing shock and providing stability on rocky terrain. Merrell is a great shoe for offering waterproofing because it lets moisture escape (hello sweat!) but keeps the water out. Merrell does offer a non-waterproof model and this one runs a little bigger than the waterproof one so keep that in mind when trying them out. It has a great arch support and has a very slight tilt that allows extra grip when going down hill. Overall you cannot go wrong with Merrell, but it is a little pricier than the Columbia.
Height: above ankle
Weight: 15.6 oz
Retail Price: $134.80
When hiking in winter, you are going to want a pair of boots that are insulated so that your feet keep warm but also ones that are going to stay dry. I would strongly suggest investing in a good pair of Winter boots if you will be hiking in snow at all. Oboz makes my favorite pair.
Height: above ankle
Weight: 20.5 oz
Retail Price: $185.00
Low Profile Boot
A low Profile shoe is going to be better in hot climates or warm wet climates. I personally do not like them in rockier terrain because my ankle rolls really easily. Additionally these are also really great when you are going on long walking trips (like walking around Europe).
The Merrell woman's Moab 2 Waterproof Hiking shoe is great for a lightweight shoe when the terrain is more flat. They have an air cushioned heel that allows for a softer landing and reducing stress on your feet. It has a great slip resistance sole which makes me a lot more comfortable when walking.
Height: below ankle
Weight: 12 oz.
Retail Price: $119.94
The Salomon Women's outline GTX W Hiking Shoe is more of a slim athletic style that was built to actually be a lightweight shoe with great flexibility but also great stability. This is right at the crossover of a mix between a trail runner and a low profile boot. It still has the waterproofing Gore-tex that you do not typically find in a trail runner though.
Height: below ankle
Weight: 1.3 lbs
Retail Price: $129.95
Many people (particularly thru-hikers) enjoy having a lightweight quick dry shoe when hiking compared to the heavier hiking boots. The main thing to remember is that these offer you less support and are less durable. They are good for hot weather as well as if you enjoy a mix of hiking and trail running.
The La Sportiva Womane's Bushido II Trail Running Shoes are my go to trail running shoes for hot weather. Again, these are also going to be perfect for long traveling. They have a great tread that will save you from a slippery fall. If you know anything about La Sportiva they are a great Rock climbing shoe. This means that their shoes tend to have a more narrow fit, so if you have a wider foot this might not be a great shoe for you.
Height: below ankle
Weight: 1.1 lbs
Retail Price: $130.00
The Salomon Speedcross 5 trail running shoes is probably one of the more popular trail running shoes. They have a quick lace which makes them easy to get on an off and made them loved by many as well as performing well on a more softer trail. They do have a waterproof version but these pair are not waterproof; however they are extremely breathable which makes them nice for those desert type hikes.
Height: below ankle
Weight: 1.2 lbs
Retail Price: $200.98
Hiking Sandals/Waterproof Shoes
Hiking sandals might not be for everyone, but I wanted to include them in case there is anyone out there like me who actually prefers to hike in their sandals. I don't think that I would go any long distances in them, the longest I've ever hiked in them is 8 miles.
My number one pick is always chacos, I have the Chaco Zx2 classic sandal, but some prefer the Chaco Zcloud X sandal because it doesn't have the toe strap like the classic. The toe strap gives your foot a little more stability though so you don't slide out of it and the straps are adjustable throughout the whole shoe so you can have it as tight or as loose as your'd like it. Chacos have a hard sole that make it easier to walk on the rough terrain. But beware, because of this hard sole you really have to break them in before a hike otherwise your liable to get some gnarly blisters.
Weight: 12 oz
Retail Price: $72.99
The Teva Verra Sandal is one that is very similar to the Chaco but I have heard from people that they prefer it because it does not have the same blister effect that the Chaco does. These are supportive and grippy which makes them great for activities like kayaking or waterfall hikes.
Weight: .9 lbs
Retail Price: $69.95
For more of a closed toe option, you cannot go wrong with Keens Whisper sandal. This shoe has great support and is perfect for more rocky hikes because of the bump toe padding that is offered. (My kids love these ones, but be careful of sticks!)
Weight: 8.7 oz
Retail Price: $99.95
Choosing the right shoe for you is so important. It will literally change the whole dynamics of a hike. Some things to keep in mind is that a heavier shoe is more likely to give blisters compared to the lightweight shoes, but they will provide extra durability and support on those long hikes. The last thing you want is to role your ankle 14 miles away from your car. If the hike is a little easier and you don't need that durability then I would recommend something a little lighter/breathable like the sandal or trail runner.
Another major thing you need to consider is the right fit of shoe for you. Do you have flat feet or more of an arch? Wide feet or a more narrow foot? Make sure that when walking down hill your toes are not hitting the ends of the shoes, this is going to cause some major issues for you in the long run and you will start praying for an up hill. Check out the image below to ensure you're getting the proper fit!
I hope that this helped you in picking the best shoe for you! Happy hiking my fellow wanderers.