When trekking on uneven terrain, you want to ensure that (1) you’re comfortable and (2) your feet feel supported.
Sure, top-rated sneakers may do the trick (depending on where you’re venturing off to) but a quality pair of hiking shoes may be worth investing in — especially if you’re a serious outdoorsman (or woman)!
Luckily, New York Post Shopping turned to an expert from the American Hiking Society (who has sojourned more than 10,000 miles, may we add) to load up our curated FAQ section with what to look for in a trusty pair of hiking shoes for both men and women, what they should feature and more.
“I always say happy feet are essential to a pleasant hiking experience,” Wesley Trimble told the New York Post. “Hiking footwear is literally the foundation of the hiking experience, and no piece of gear is as important as great-fitting, supportive and adequate-traction footwear.”
Aside from giving you the 411, we also picked 12 must-buy options to give you some shopping inspiration as the weather becomes sunnier, more bearable and apt for any level of hiking.
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Best Women’s Hiking Shoes
1. Columbia Newton Ridge Waterproof Hiking Boot, $60 to $90
As a top budget pick, the Columbia Newton Ridge Waterproof Hiking Boot is worth the buy. Not only is the pair backed by more than 26,000 rave reviews on Amazon but it also hiked its way (ha!) to being an Amazon best-seller.
It boasts a lightweight and durable midsole that has superior cushioning, along with an advanced traction rubber sole for slip-free movement on uneven ground. More, its lace-up detail will help keep your feet secure while walking downward or at an incline.
2. Merrell Moab 2 Vent Hiking Shoe, $59, original price: $110
Notable for being lightweight, the Merrell Moab 2 Vent Hiking Shoe are widely acclaimed with nearly 10,000 positive reviews on Amazon. The pair comes in a wealth of match-all colorways and its 100% pigskin leather design — with a mesh upper — ensures maximum breathability and comfort without being too clunky.
Its bellows tongue helps keep out debris, too, and its protective toe cap ensures that stepping in puddles and uneven terrain won’t stop you from hiking to the max.
If you’re on the market for a top-rated hiking shoe that’s equally breathable as it is equipped for all terrain, then the Columbia Hatana Max Outdry Hiking Shoe is a premier option to snag. Notably, its fully waterproof and breathable, the latter thanks to its exterior open-cell mesh design.
Plus, this pair features the brand’s Adapt Trax, an outsole that provides wonderful traction in wet and dry climates alike. It utilizes a rather aggressive front and rear lug pattern that helps grip onto the ground, especially in looser terrain.
4. adidas Hyperturf Adventure Shoes, $70, original price: $140
Meet the adidas Hyperturf Adventure Shoes, “outdoor-inspired shoes for roaming the city, made in part with recycled content,” per the brand’s site. And yes, aside from urban areas, these shoes are equipped for hiking.
With a durable lace-up design, this attractive pair boasts ripstop mesh, suede and nubuck, along with Adiprene+ technology and FORMOTION to help keep your feet feeling comfortable and supported. Not to mention, its allover sustainable design will make you feel good about your purchase.
5. The North Face VECTIV Taraval Shoes, $125
We would wear these shoes everyday if we could, and not just for hiking. The North Face has a pair thats’ comfortable, well-made and on-trend: the VECTIV Taraval Shoes. Though up there in price, they’re the only pair of shoes you’ll need, for a variety of reasons.
The pair features an upper made of synthetic leather and breathable mesh to keep things light yet supported. Its patented OrthoLite X55 footbed, VECTIV technology and 3D TRU plate underfoot all work together to help maximize energy on the trail and allow for multi-directional stability.
Its 4mm lugs help provide a rugged grip to the ground, too, and you’ll also appreciate its lightweight EVA foam to nearly glide past rocks and other nature-led sightings.
6. On Cloudwander Waterproof Shoes, $180
Name a more chic pair of women’s hiking shoes — we’ll wait. Though a splurge, the On Cloudwander Waterproof Shoes are worth every penny, namely for their all-around waterproof design, eco-friendly durability and breathability and aesthetically pleasing look.
Best Men’s Hiking Shoes
1. Salomon X Ultra Pioneer Waterproof Hiking Shoes, $101, original price: $135
From a much-searched-for brand that’s known for its no-frills, secure lace-up pattern, Salomon has a quality hiking shoe that’s flexible, lightweight and fully waterproof. The X Ultra Pioneer Waterproof Hiking Shoes also have an advanced chassis to help optimize motion control.
With this shoe, you’ll also be snagging the brand’s patented SensiFit construction to hold your foot comfortably in place, especially on tougher downhill trails. In short, they’re a great pair to have on hand.
The Amazon Essentials All-Day Comfort Athletic Shoe fits the bill at less than $75 right now. Practically, its dark color-way doesn’t appear dirtier, in comparison to other hues.
Impressively, the brand has this pair equipped with a FuelFoam midsole and slip-resistant rubber outside, a blessing in disguise for those with flatter feet. For the price, they’re the ultimate Amazon-sold option to grab.
3. Allbirds Trail Runners SWT, $140
We love Allbirds, especially for its sustainably conscious designs in the footwear space. You’ll adore the brand’s Trail Runners SWT for an eco-friendly, snug-like fit that’s one of the best to keep your feet secure.
Made with rugged outsole grips and tear-resistant ripstop mudguard, you’ll have excellent traction on terrain, along with unbeatable protection. More, its water-repellent finish will help prevent unwanted sogginess.
4. Lems Shoes Trailhead Sneaker, $140
OK, let’s be real — the Lems Shoes Trailhead Sneaker almost looks like a fine, outdoorsy pair of dress shoes, don’t you think? With a sought-after design, this Huckberry-sold pair is quite practical as well, as they’re engineered with a low-profile rubber tread that’s both durable and provides excellent traction.
Its natural-shaped toe box — along with its slim heel – is another reason to buy ’em. Oh, and it’s retro-inspired upper is just the icing on top of the cake.
5. On Cloudventure Waterproof Shoes, $150
For a sought-after brand that’s designed for running and on-the-go travels — like hiking — On has it going on, especially with its top-rated Cloudventure Waterproof Shoes. Its patented Missiongrip technology features a traction akin to a springboard, offering a bit of pep in your step as you’re trekking through terrain.
Uniquely, the brand is Swiss-engineered to provide maximum comfort, breathability and durability, so this $150 pair is well-worth the price. It’s a hiking home run, of sorts.
6. L.L.Bean Trailfinder Hiking Shoes, $139
With a traditional and timeless look, the L.L.Bean Trailfinder Hiking Shoes boast great quality for their less-than-$150 price point. Namely, its rugged durability, complete comfort and gold-rated leather uppers fit the bill of what we look for in a newly minted pair of hiking shoes.
An FAQ on Hiking Shoes
Ahead Trimble, communications and creative director at the American Hiking Society, gave us the 411 on hiking shoes.
He has traversed more than 10,000 miles of trails including thru-hiking the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail and the nearly 500-mile Colorado Trail, as well as submitted the 54 14,000-foot peaks on the Colorado Mountain Club list of fourteeners.
Beyond thirty years of hiking and using everything from technical mountaineering boots to traditional hiking boots to trail runners, he’s also a volunteer trail runner tester for a gear review company and has personally used more than 35 trail shoes in the last decade.
How do women’s and men’s hiking shoes differ?
Sizing, shoe shape, and volume vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but women’s shoes generally tend to run a little narrower than men’s shoes.
“Some hiking shoe manufacturers provide multiple shoe widths, but women with wider feet may want to try on a comparable men’s size to see if the width or volume is a better fit,” Trimble notes.
What to look for in a pair of hiking shoes, according to an expert
It’s important to note that everyone’s feet and body are different, so it’s not possible to provide a one-size-fits-all response or guideline. Below, Trimble provides some general guidelines as a starting point:
- Intended use of the shoe/boot: People should factor in how much weight they will be packing and the type of terrain they will be hiking. For most on-trail day hikes, most people should consider a trail shoe or a mid-top hiking boot. A lightweight and flexible boot minimizes fatigue (1 lb. of boot is equivalent to 5 lbs. in a pack) and allows a more natural gait. For people hiking with forty-plus pounds of gear or hiking in very rugged or steep off-trail terrain, a more supportive and stiffer boot might be a good idea.
- Waterproof/breathability: One of the most common misconceptions is that waterproof boots are better. They are great to have for specific situations but not as great as many people think. There are several different waterproofing types, but one of the most common waterproofing technologies is a waterproof/breathable membrane. Without getting into specific details, once feet get wet from sweat, or if water comes in the top of the shoe/boot from rain or a water crossing, your feet will stay wet longer than if you use breathable non-waterproof footwear. Once water gets inside a boot with a waterproof membrane, evaporation becomes dramatically reduced compared to a non-waterproof, well-ventilated boot.
How do hiking shoes differ from regular shoes?
“Footwear designed for hiking tends to be more supportive, durable and protective and provide better traction than standard sneakers,” Trimble explains. “That being said, for people just getting started, a good-fitting sneaker can be suitable for shorter hikes on easier trails and terrain.”
What’s more, hiking shoes and boots will also protect the foot better than trail runners — especially for longer hikes. For most lightweight on-trail adventures, Trimble prefers trail runners for their breathability, weight, and flexibility.
Should I purchase hiking shoes or hiking boots?
As mentioned, everyone’s feet and bodies are different, so everyone’s needs are unique. According to Trimble, boots are great for people who need extra ankle stability and support, but boots are often heavier, and they take a lot more time to break in and get used to.
It’s also important to distinguish between hiking shoes and trail runners. “Hiking shoes tend to be made of more durable materials similar to hiking boots with a stiffer sole, whereas trail runners are more breathable and flexible and take almost no time to break in,” Trimble adds. “Hiking boots and hiking shoes tend to be more durable and will likely last longer, which is something to consider when pricing boots and shoes.”
Key characteristics to look for in hiking shoes, explained by an expert
Ahead, Trimble explains each characteristic — from waterproof hiking shoes to a pair equipped for all terrain:
- Waterproof: There are several ways to make a shoe waterproof or water-resistance, so it’s a great idea to read reviews on how durable the waterproofing is. Abrasion from trail debris and even long toenails can puncture and compromise waterproof membranes. Since all it takes is a small opening to compromise the waterproofing, it is best to read reviews and see if the brand has a good quality control reputation.
- Lightweight: Generally, the lighter weight the shoe, the less protective and durable it will be. When it comes to lighter more minimal shoes, it’s helpful to see if the shoe has a rock plate to protect against sharp rocks. The thinner the sole the longer it will take the feet to adjust and build strength, so people with lightweight footwear will need to allow more time for their feet to acclimate to the shoe.
- Comfort: Generally, hiking shoes with a thicker yet flexible sole will likely be more comfortable for most people.
- All-Terrain: A good outsole with aggressive lugs will help provide traction in mixed terrain. Manufacturers either use a proprietary outsole or develop an outsole with a third party such as Vibram. Some are softer and “stickier” which provide better traction but don’t last as long as the harder soles.
Your expert guide to fitting hiking footwear
- Try boots on in the afternoon, ideally after being on your feet for a few hours. Feet naturally swell throughout the day, so it’s important to try shoes on when your feet are at their largest state.
- If you can’t decide between two sizes, always opt for the slightly larger size. It’s better to have slightly larger than too-small shoes. A good place to start is a half size larger than you wear in daily life.
- Have a thumbs width between your longest toe and the front of the boot.
- Most quality retailers will have an incline board to test fit. This is the best method to see if the boot is too small. Stand on the incline board (or any incline that’s 30+ degrees) with your toes pointing down and push your foot towards the toes. If your toes touch the end of the boot, they are too small. Downhill hiking is the true determination of well-fitting shoes, and an incline board is about the best way to get a sense of downhill hiking indoors.
- Pay attention to your heel when walking around. If your heel slips when walking, it’s a sign the shoes might be too large or the heel shape isn’t right for your feet.
- Also, notice if you feel any rubbing or tight-fitting sections in the boot. They should feel supportive but not restrictive in any way.
- Remember, error on the side of too large and wide over too narrow and small.
What material do hiking shoes typically feature?
Traditionally, hiking boot uppers were made of leather, but more and more boots use synthetic materials. “Shoes with more mesh will generally be more breathable but less durable,” Trimble explains.
What to look for in a pair of hiking shoes if hiking in a location with lots of water:
There are two approaches to locations with lots of water.
“Some people may choose to use shoes with a waterproof/breathable membrane and try to keep as much water out as possible,” Trimble says. “Alternatively, some amphibious hikers are designed with lots of mesh and drain ports to quickly expel the moisture once it’s in the shoe.”
According to Trimble, the latter is the best option for situations when the shoe will be fully submerged in moderate temperatures.
What to look for in a pair of hiking shoes if traveling:
“For travel, if people don’t need the extra ankle support and for easier hikes, trail runners or shoes are easier to pack because they don’t take up as much space,” Trimble notes.
When packing hiking shoes, it’s best to pack socks or other items in the shoe to prevent them from disfiguring in luggage.
How to properly clean hiking shoes, according to an expert:
Inevitably, even your best pair of hiking shoes will eventually get dirty. Not to mention, cleaning hiking shoes and boots can help extend the life of the shoes and help prevent the spread of invasive weeds.
“It’s best to clean shoes every time you hike in a new location to prevent seeds from invasive weeds from spreading to a new location,” Trimble advises. “As far as cleaning and storage, it’s most important to make sure shoes are completely dry before storing.”
Most shoes have removable insoles, so pulling them out after hiking will help the drying process. If shoes have a lot of mud and dirt, it’s a good idea to rinse them with a hose, in a dish bin or in a utility sink. Additionally, a soft plastic brush is helpful for removing dry mud.
“For shoes with a DWR (durable water repellent) finish, it’s best to retreat the upper with a waterproofing treatment at least once a season,” Trimble adds.
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