Best Hiking Footwear (May 2018)

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The Ultimate Guide to Discovering the Best Hiking Footwear

Hiking footwear is unquestionably one of the most inevitable hiking gears that one needs to invest in. While out on a hike, you would be coming across a variety of trails and the best hiking footwear would safeguard your feet from a variety of potential injuries. The type of footwear that you choose is a matter of choice. However, with the multitudinous variety available, picking one can be a challenging and demanding task.

Before you make a purchase, there are numerous factors that you need to consider so as to ensure you have the right footwear. In this detailed guide, you would get to know the types of hiking footwear, its various parts and all the other important aspects.

Types of Hiking Footwear

If you were to go hiking let’s say a decade or two earlier, the only option that you had were those big, clunky and bulky leather boots. Hikers back then didn’t have much choice. However, these days, you have the freedom to choose from lightweight hiking boots, shoes, mids or also the trail runners. Mentioned below is a breakdown of some of the most popular footwear opted by hikers when backpacking or hiking.

Hiking Shoes

Ideal For: Hiking trips with lighter loads on an undemanding terrain, moderate backpacking trips

Usual Weight: Typically a pair of hiking shoes weighs less than 900 grams

Standard Characteristics: Has a synthetic upper, is low-cut around the ankle area, has EVA midsole

The hiking shoes are also often referred to as the trekking shoes are the ones that offer an ideal balance between those bulky hiking boots and the lighter trail shoes. They are usually low-cut around the ankle and offer very less support to the ankle. The aggressive tread is present and these are more durable and sturdy than the trail shoes.

A toe cap is also present for additional protection. These require very little or often no break-in period and offers a better value than the trail shoes especially if you find yourself moving across moderately difficult terrains often. Considered as the best hiking footwear, these are lighter and have more flexible soles, deliver better performance and offer optimal comfort on easy trails.

Approach Shoes

Ideal For: fairly easy to moderate kind of climbing, climbing approaches, peak bagging on fourth and fifth class terrain

Standard Characteristics: rubber toe rand, a sticky rubber sole

The design of the approach shoes is similar to that of the trail shoes as well as the hiking shoes with an addition of the rubber toe rand and a rubber sole. These types of shoes have been designed specifically for climbing on rocky surfaces, approaching rock climbing areas and scaling those uneven surfaces and rocky peaks.

These kinds of shoes have specifically been made to handle the terrain that you are most likely to come across when heading out to climb. Also, if you plan on to climb a 5h class terrain, you would need a bit snugger approach shoes for enhances sensitivity.

Lightweight Hiking Boots

Ideal For: Hiking on comparatively undemanding terrain while carrying medium to light load, Hiking off-trail, day hiking wherein ankle support is required,

Usual Weight: Typically a pair of lightweight hiking boots weighs somewhere around 1000 grams  

Standard Characteristics: Has a synthetic upper, is usually high-cut or mid-cut above the ankle area, has EVA midsole

The lightweight mid-cut or high-cut hiking boots offer an enhanced ankle support as compared to the hiking shoes. They are comparatively less durable and lighter than the backpacking and mountaineering boots and have flexible soles. A common misconception that people have that is that all boots are supposed to be heavy but most of the modern models are unbelievably light and offer better support than a shoe. Because of its satisfactory ankle support, being lightweight and its flexible soles, they are ideal for hiking on grassy or muddy trails and dirt tracks. For extremely uneven and rocky terrains, they won’t be the right choice.

Backpacking and Mountaineering Boots

Ideal For: Hiking on challenging terrain while carrying a rather heavy backpack

Usual Weight: Typically a pair of backpacking and mountaineering boots weighs over 1000 grams  

Standard Characteristics: Has a leather upper, is usually high-cut or mid-cut above the ankle area, has PU midsole

Mountaineering and backpacking boots are generally classified by their durable construction that generally utilizes leather or other similar materials, their height and harder soles. The leather hiking boots are more stiff and robust so as to offer better support and stability on uneven and rocky terrain. The rigid soles in such situations offer comfort as the shoes do not flex around the stones on the trail. Their downside is that they are less durable and breathable and hence aren’t the best option for day hikes.

Hiking Shoes vs. Hiking Boot: What Should you Choose?

There has been a long ongoing debate in the community of hiking regarding hiking boots and shoes. With literally so many models available in today’s time, it can be practically impossible for the hiker to choose between shoes and boots. Lightweight hiking shoes have gained popularity but people seem to have been ignorant regarding the hiking boots. They aren’t anymore as bulky and clunky as they used to be. Nonetheless, both of them have their own set of benefits and drawback.

Hiking Boots

- The ankle collar stabilizes the ankle and offer it maximum protection required on strenuous hikes

- Keeps debris from getting inside

- Ideal for steep elevation, long distance hikes and extreme climates

- Easier on the feet if you are clambering around with a heavy pack

Hiking Shoes

- Offers enough support for casual hikers

- Weighs comparatively less as compared to boots

- Lack of ankle collar promotes breathability

- Is ideal for day hikes and short backpacking trips

Ideally what you choose is entirely up to your personal choice. Boots are an ideal choice when you would be encountering steep climbs and your ankle would require all the support. The ankle support makes climbing uphill a more pleasant and comfortable experience. But, for casual hikes, hiking shoes that offer maximum breathability would be an ideal choice.

The Different Parts of Hiking Shoes and Boots

The different parts of the hiking shoes and boots have been discussed below for a better understanding of such footwear.

Upper

The upper, as the name suggests is the upper part of hiking footwear and offers protection to the foot. It has to be durable, breathable as well as water-resistant to deliver better performance and maximum comfort.

The uppers are made up of either:

- Leather (full-grain leather, nubuck leather or split-grain leather)

- Synthetic materials (nylon mesh, cordura, polyester and more)

- A combination of both synthetic materials and leather (good quality leather is paired with a nylon mesh)

In some of the best hiking shoes or rather boots, you would also be able to find an all-around rand in the lower part. This is generally made up of polyurethane and offer enhanced resistance to abrasion. Each of the material has its own set of benefits and drawbacks. For instance, the full-grain leather upper is durable, water-resistant and offers fantastic leather support while uppers designed from synthetic materials offer superb breathability, is inexpensive, is lightweight and dries quickly.

Lacing and Tongue

The lacing and tongue present in boots and hiking shoes for men and women allows you to adjust the footwear to achieve that ideal fit. The tongue is generally made up of excellent breathable materials like nylon mesh and at times is even padded for additional comfort. Also, the tongue has to be breathable so that the inner moisture can be transported to the outside.

The bellows or gusseted tongue stitched onto the boot prevents dirt particles, tiny rock pieces, snow or just any other element from getting under the laces and causing discomfort.

The quality of lacing is also of major importance as this is what keeps the shoe secured on your foot and prevents severe potential injuries. The best hiking footwear therefore would have to be equipped with durable loops or eyelets that can withstand continuous impacts. The shoelaces must also offer exemplary durability. Some of the most robust hiking boots are equipped with Kevlar fibers for enhanced strength and durability.

Lining

The lining is the inner material of a hiking shoe or boot and remains in direct and constant contact with your foot. Therefore, it is imperative that the lining is moisture-wicking and of course, breathable. The lining needs to be able to transport the moisture from the inside to outside where evaporation can take place. If not, your feet would remain wet and that has chances of getting cold and can also to blisters. The lining also has to be made of pilling-resistant material as it remains exposed constantly to friction and abrasion. The lining also offers water-resistance and insulation. Nylon is seen to have such qualities and hence is often used as lining.

The waterproof boots generally utilize Gore-Tex or at time eVent that are waterproof for the construction of the lining. However, it must be remembered that a waterproof lining does reduce the breathability to some extent.

Insole

The insole is that part of the shoe or the boot that remains under your foot directly. Just as most other parts, the insole too has to be moisture-wicking and breathable so that it is easy to transport the moisture away from your feet or rather the socks. Insoles generally provide a bit of stretch which alleviates the chances of blisters on foot.

These days’ antimicrobial insoles are also being used to prevent a bad odour and ensure prolonged freshness. They can be removed to make them dry quickly or to replace it after continual use. When hiking in extremely cold conditions, you can get insulated insoles for an enhanced thermal efficiency.

Midsoles

The midsole are one of the most important parts of any footwear and are responsible for offering support, cushioning, stability and rigidity. Stiff boots isn’t something that you would generally prefer but it is one of the most favourable options when it comes to hiking on uneven and rocky terrains. The best hiking footwear or a boot that is rather stiff would prevent your foot from wearing out by wrapping around the rocks or the roots that you step on. Midsoles are usually made up of either EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) which is most commonly used or PU (polyurethane). Both of the materials are foam and offer cushioning.

EVA:

They are generally lighter, CIUSHIER and flexible as compared to the PU midsoles. Midsoles use varied densities of EVA so as to offer firmer support wherever required. They are considerably inexpensive but one of the biggest downsides is that it tends to lose its properties over a period of time. EVA midsoles are generally used for lightweight hiking boots and hiking shoes. Being very flexible, they are usually avoided for mountaineering shoes.

PU:

PU or Polyurethane is usually more durable and firmer and are a better option as they tend to lose cushioning a lot slower as compared to the EVA midsoles. Apart from being relatively rigid and heavy, they are expensive as well. PU midsoles are usually found in backpacking and mountaineering boots as well as superior quality lightweight hiking boots and premium trekking shoes.

Outsole

The outsole is the outer part of the trekking shoe which remains in contact touch with the ground and is responsible for offering traction. The best hiking footwear has outsoles which are generally made up of soft rubber. This is because such kinds of outsoles offer excellent durability as well as traction on a wide variety of terrains. This traction is enhanced further with lugs. The thicker and deeper the lugs, the enhanced and more preferable the traction would be.

For hiking in wet conditions, lugs that are widely spaced would be best as they avert the mud from assembling between them. It must be remembered that the lugs would only enhance the traction on soft surfaces while when you are hiking on rocky terrains; it is the rubber (widely used material for outsoles) that provides the traction.

Also, the outsole consists of the heel brake that is the clearly defined heel zone which remains distinct from the arch and the forefoot. It alleviates your chance of slipping at times of steep descents.

Factors for selection of Hiking Footwear

When you are out on hiking trips, an improper selection of hiking footwear can soon take a toll on your legs and feet. Therefore, choosing the right pair of footwear is quintessential and you would need shoes that would not only safeguard your feet but would also enhance your overall performance.

But, choosing the perfect footwear from the vast array of boots and shoes available can be quite an overwhelming task. At times, you might not be sure as to where you should even begin from. Fret not as we have got you covered. Mentioned below are a few factors that can be considered to get the best hiking footwear.

1. Hiking Location/Terrain

Knowing your terrain is the very first thing that would have to be considered. If you are someone who mostly hikes on muddy and soft trails, your needs would of course be very different as compared to someone whose aim is to conquer some of the highest peaks in the world. Purchasing the hiking boots or shoes according to the terrain where you would be hiking would help you to steer in the right direction.

In case your usual trails are relatively flat, traction wouldn’t be a problem here but when you are constantly climbing steep rocks, you need something that would offer unfathomable grip. The more aggressive the tread would be, the better your feet would tend to hold onto loose and steep terrain. Soft rubber soles grips excellently on rocks while the hard rubber ones provide unbelievable grip on trails.

2. Hiking Objective and Duration

Unless you own multiple pairs for hiking on varied terrains, you would require one of the best hiking footwear that is versatile for most of your hiking. Determine if you would be day hiking, backpacking or would be doing both. Also, determine the duration of your hiking.

For instance, when hiking for an entire day, you would need footwear that offers optimal cushioning. When day hiking on easy terrain, lightweight hiking shoes for women’s or men with considerable support would work fine. When backpacking or when hiking a moderately difficult terrain, a durable shoe with excellent traction and waterproofing qualities would be ideal.  For an arduous day hiking, shoes or boots with maximum durability and support would be required.

3. Water Resistance

Determine if you would be encountering any rain or would be crossing any streams during your hike. When you are hiking for an entire day, there are high chances that you would be encountering wet weather as compared to when you are hiking just for a few hours. When you are purchasing waterproof hiking footwear, remember that the shoes achieve water resistance ability through a chemical waterproofing treatment applied to the upper or through a waterproof inner membrane.

Gore-Tex (GTX) is one of the most common waterproofing materials found in footwear. Its function is to avert the moisture from outside from entering the footwear while venting your sweat. Of course, the mesh lining does add breathability but they also tend to keep your feet warmer. In some cases, you may not require waterproof hiking boots or shoes. However, if you are out on a longer hike when there are high chances of weather changing drastically, a waterproof liner would be a safe choice.

4. Accurate Foot Size and Foot Volume

Okay, of course you know your foot size as that is how you have been purchasing shoes and sandals for yourself all this while. But, there are a few additional parameters that are just as significant as the size of your foot. The width of your feet is one of them. There are various specialized devices for measurement that assist in finding the best hiking footwear. You would find them usually at the advanced shoe stores. Before you make a purchase, get the precise length and width of your feet.

5. Additional Features

In case you are wondering what to look for in hiking boots or shoes, there are a few other features as well that need to be considered. Self-cleaning lugs present on the boots’ sole can be one such example. These lugs are designed so as to push the mud away so that you can enjoy optimal grip in all conditions.

Another example could be the ball bearing laces that ensure that your shoe or boot is secured around your foot.  There are boots that have leather outer and being leather, these would be durable and long-lasting. Also, leather has natural properties which enhance the waterproofing ability of the footwear.

6. Checks to Consider Before You Purchase It

When purchasing hiking boots or shoes, don’t make a hefty decision and buy it just by trying them once. That is probably the worst decision you could make. Of course they might feel absolutely perfect when you are standing or sitting but, an intelligent option would be walk around in them.

Wear the shoes and walk in them for a few minutes and if possible, jump and run in them as well. A few stores in fact have treadmills so that you can run and determine if it’s the ideal pair for you. This is the smartest and perhaps the only way to ascertain if you would be feeling any discomfort while you are on a hike.

7. Fitting Problems

Talking to a specialist or the store employee would be the right thing to do if you feel that something just isn’t right. They would understand your problem and give you the best possible solution. Usually, most of the fitting problems with hiking shoes for women or men are the ones related to the toes hitting the shoe’s end when you are running or climbing up. If you feel there’s an empty space at the back or in the front, you might require a different model and size.

So, is weight an important consideration?

Well, heavy footwear does lead to an increase in the aerobic demand from the body and that results in slowing you down. The level of cushioning also has an impact on the aerobic demand. If the cushioning is comparatively less, there would be a noticeable increase in aerobic demand as the muscles would have to absorb an enhanced landing strike. If we go as per this, weight does matter and the best hiking footwear would never compromise on the cushioning to make the shoe or boot lightweight.

Finding a pair of best hiking footwear might take some but, the effort is worth it. Today, there are uncountable number of manufacturers to choose from and each one of them have a variety if designs to offer. It might all seem rather overwhelming but act smartly and try a few pairs before you finalise one.

Once, you have found the ideal pair, head out and have fun on your next hiking trip.

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