Summary: waterproof vs non waterproof, hiking boots vs trail runners, are hiking sandals worth the money? How to avoid blisters. Shoe accessories. How to choose the right hiking shoes. *I use affiliate links and may receive a small commission on purchases.
I knew very little about hiking footwear a few years ago. The task of finding the right hiking shoes was extremely daunting. Trial and error and experiencing a range of different terrains and environments has allowed me to better judge what shoes I need. I currently own hiking boots, trail runners, and hiking sandals.
1 Hiking Boots
Day hiking boots, Backpacking boots
Did you know hiking boots can fall into multiple categories? Does that make you as overwhelmed as I felt a few years ago? Scroll through pros/cons to find the right hiking shoes for you.
Day Hiking Boots
Used for day hikes and short backpacking trips. This is the category my hiking/backpacking boots fall into. My boots required minimal break in time and have good ankle support, but are more flexible than “backpacking boots”. These can have mid or high cut uppers.
- Little break in time
- Ankle support, but without the rigidity
- Lack support for intense, long backpacking trips (although I have definitely taken mine on some rather absurd hikes/long mileage trips and they did fine with some decently sore feet though)
Backpacking boots are generally more supportive, durable and therefore “stiffer”. They are designed for heavy loads and high mileage on trips.
- Increased support
- Increased durability for long trips
- Increased shock absorption
- Heavier than day hiking boots
- requires more break in time
- Often a higher price tag
2 Trail Runners VS Hiking Boots
I feel like I ask this question to myself before every hike or backpacking trip. Trail runners or hiking boots? Let me break down the factors that help me decide. Read these pros/cons to see if trail runners are the right hiking shoe for you.
I decided to buy trail runners after much debate (The pair shown below!). I typically need a considerable amount of ankle support while hiking. I noticed I was able to build up ankle strength while using trail runners – which was great, but the time it takes to build up strength could come with the cost of an injury. My general rule now (for myself) is trail runners with any hike/backpacking trip under 1,500 elevation gain and under 10 miles round trip.
- Ultra lightweight hiking option
- Increased breathability
- Great tread and grip on all surfaces
- Can double as a great option for river crossings (non waterproof runners -more on this below)
- Often have quick laces allowing for easy on and off
- Limited support
- Not designed for heavy loads
- Not waterproof (see waterproof vs non waterproof section)
- I recommend trail runners that have a rock plate. This protects your foot from sharp rocks and stones. Most trail runners have these, but it’s good to double check!
- Tread – the type of tread you want depends on the intended use of the trail runners! If you plan to actually use them for running on hard-packed trail, you will want shorter, closely spaced tread. If you plan to use them on rock trails and possible mud, longer widely spaced tread is recommended (such as the on the shoes shown above)
3 Waterproof VS Non-Waterproof
I know for myself, I always thought having a waterproof option was a no-brainer, but as I’ve learned more about hiking shoe options, I’ve learned it’s actually not always the best option. Read these pros/cons to see if waterproofing is the right hiking shoe for you.
Waterproofing can vary. The shoes could have a Gore-Tex (or material similar) lining making it basically impermeable to water. Another variable is the outer layer could be water resistant material. The water resistant material will eventually wear down, but can be mostly restored with a wash-in treatment or spray on treatment (HERE).
- Good for damp terrain, stream crossings, snowy hikes
- Good for cool climates
- Limited breathability – not great for hot/dry climates
- Increased likelihood of sweating leading to blisters
- If you get water/moisture in your shoe from the top, the water will stay in the shoe and not seep out
- Heavier and More $$
- Wearing socks (HERE) with cooling technology can cut down on sweat and reduce blister likelihood with waterproof boots.
- Wearing Gaiters (HERE) in rain/snow will drastically decrease water from getting in from the top of the shoe
Having a non-waterproof shoe option can be very beneficial. I choose to have waterproof hiking boots, but non-waterproof trail runners to give me options without having to own 5 pairs of expensive hiking footwear, but this definitely depends on the climate you live in!
- Shoes typically dry quickly and easily
- Can wear shoes in the water without fear of them staying wet (I wore my trail runners on the Confluence trail from Havasupai with over 20 river crossings and it was great that I didn’t have to worry about taking shoes off and strapping them to my pack every 20 minutes for a crossing)
- Increased breathability
- Lighter weight/usually less $$
- Not good for cool weather where your feet could stay cold and wet
- Not well insulated for colder temps
- typically best for dry climates, not damp/heavy rainfall climates
4 Hiking Sandals – Yea or Nay?
Continuing on our quest for the right hiking shoes…I have a love-hate relationship with my Chacos. I bought chacos with a toe strap because it keeps your foot in place while hiking uphill and downhill, but this is where I get every single blister. If I could do it all over again I would buy the single strap sandals without the toe strap (shown on the right hand side of the pic above. Mine are on the left). I feel it’s important to note that there seems to be a lot of competition between Teva lovers and Chaco lovers. Different shoes work for different people. I would try on both if I were you!
- The most breathability. If you often get blisters from too must sweat/moisture in your shoes, this could be a good option for you
- less weight than hiking boots/shoes
- River crossings are no problem
- cool tan lines lol.
- Rubbing of the straps and pebbles/sand under straps cause blisters
- Feet are exposed to rocks and other potential dangers on the trail (cold weather, snakes…?)
- Usually require break in time before they really fit comfortably
- Use athletic tape on hot spots while you break in your sandals
- socks with sandals can actually be really nice
- start with a shorter hike to test out your sandals before committing to long mileage or intense elevation.
5 Tips for Avoiding Blisters
Even if you get fitted for a great shoe, it unfortunately does not mean you will not get blisters on the trail. I often take on the role of trail mom on backpacking trips and make sure to bring some blister essentials.
- Notice hotspots and check at the 5 mile mark or the halfway point of your trail. If there’s a spot that is red and painful address it then.
- Wear socks that wick/prevent moisture. Moisture on your feet make them more susceptible to blisters and tears
- Bring athletic tape or New Skin liquid bandage or moleskin to put over hotspots or blisters to prevent further damage
- Keep your feet dry! If you cross a river, stop and dry your feet before continuing on your journey.
- Always pack extra socks in case yours get sweaty or damp
There’s endless information on shoes and unfortunately it can be trial and error at times, but use this as a guideline to help you make informed purchases and find the right hiking shoes! And as always feel free to comment/message me if you have any questions.
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