The variety of hiking shoes available in today’s times has certainly increased to a great extent. The designs have increasingly specialized and the good news here is that you get to choose from infinite options. However, this selection process can be challenging and rather overwhelming. To cope with this, runners just pick a model that they feel looks the best and then stick with it year after year.
Most of the day hikers, thru hikers and backpackers, the best hiking shoes are ones that fall just below the ankle, have been made of superior material and most importantly, is comfortable. But, what are all the aspects that you need to look into?
Listed below is a guide that would narrow down the selection a bit.
The material of the best hiking shoe is perhaps the very first thing that you need to look unto when making a purchase. Understand the fact that the hiking shoes must be durable enough to withstand the trail condition while also offering adequate support and comfort to move ahead with a small backpack. One of the most widely used materials is the nubuck leather which is basically cattle leather that’s sanded on its outer layer so as to make it strong. Suede leather would be another great option and shoes made from this material are more flexible, softer and extremely adoptable.
The best walking shoes are at times also made up of leather and having a textile mesh side panel. The mesh panel makes the shoe breathable and lighter but becomes less durable as compared to leather. Weigh your options appropriately by considering the terrain that you would be mostly hiking.
The removable lining in the shoe or the insole is one of the ways in which the lightweight hiking shoes offer cushioning. The insoles are generally made up of varied thickness of EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) foam and play a major role in affecting how comfortable the shoe is. These are not only highly responsive and breathable but also absorb sweat and are odour proof.
Also, the insoles are generally removable. This is done so that it can be removed from the shoe to make them dry faster, to change them once they are worn out or at times to offer additional cushioning.
The midsole is also made up of the same material as that of the insole and aids in absorbing the shock and offering cushioning with each stride. It plays a major role in providing support as the shanks that run through the midsole help in stiffening the sole and thereby makes them strengthened to offer additional support to the heels and the arches.
TPU (Thermoplastic polyurethane) is also found in performance-oriented hiking shoes and is basically a durable plastic. The shoes that make use of TPU underfoot are generally less cushiony as compared to those with EVA but would last for a much longer time. They would also be able to handle load in a much better way. EVA gets compressed over time with continual use, but the TPU would be able to retain its shape for a longer time. TPU being expensive, manufacturers commonly use it for toughness and stability while EVA is used for enhanced comfort.
Laces are one of the most overlooked aspects when purchasing hiking shoes for women or men. However, they do play a major role in the comfort and fit of the shoe. In case the shoe has a poor lacing system and tends to get loose as you move ahead, you would have to stop repeatedly on the trail to readjust it. If your feet aren’t secured very well, the walking motion would soon create blisters and hot spots. If you feel that it is just the laces that is causing all the trouble, replace it with quality laces.
For instance, the single-pull lacing system is a convenient option that is durable as well. Just remember that you wouldn’t really be able to make any alterations to the fit present between the eyelets. Hence, the fit would be similar across your foot.
When you are trekking, there are a variety of trails that you would be coming across. The best hiking shoes would be able to provide you with enough support and stability in order to keep you comfortable. Of course the hiking shoes today are moving away from the stiff construction for that nimble feel and flexibility but have still been able to retain a certain degree of stiffness because of built-in shanks. Look for shoes that are semi-flexible and are wonderful all-round options for multi-day backpacking as well as conquering summit peaks.
One of the biggest changes that was introduced to the contemporary hiking shoe technology is the bend towards lightweight designs. Hiking those challenging miles was made easier with the thin but tough fabrics and with the shift to low-top shoes. A lot of hikers these days prefer the lightweight shoes over the conventional leather boots and that shouldn’t really come as a surprise.
Most of the hiking shoes these days weight two pounds or even less and that helps in making the hike comfortable. The long-term durability might be compromised here a bit but in most cases, a lightweight shoe is a preferable option for day hikes, minimalist overnighters and peak bagging.
Depending on the type of hiking that you wish to indulge in, you would need to decide if you do need to invest in a waterproof shoe. Waterproofing might add some amount of heat when hiking but you would be rewarded with a great deal of versatility and can use it in all seasons. If you live in a warm area of are only a summer hiker, you can avoid it. However, if you are hiking in the alpine areas or feel that you would be profited from the added protection that waterproofing has to offer, waterproof hiking shoes would be the way to go.
The waterproof lining or membranes in the shoes keep your feet dry and warm even in the wettest of conditions. One of the most favourable waterproofing materials used in shoes is Gore-Tex that repels water and allows vapour to pass through.
Remember that the leather shoes are waterproof naturally but you would need to opt for waterproofing treatment at regular intervals so as to protect it. But, leather is less breathable which is why you would notice the leather hiking shoes incorporating a textile mesh on its sides for breathability.
The next aspect that you need to look into to ensure that you have the best hiking shoes is breathability. The undeniable truth about the waterproof liners is that they don’t really breathe well. The breathable and waterproof membranes impede the ability of the shoe to wick moisture away as compared to a non-waterproof upper. Shoes that are made up of thinner fabric and have a lot of moisture would enhance the airflow and moisture transfer. This in turn would ensure that your foot is less sweaty when you are hiking those challenging terrains on a hot and humid day.
The tread’s depth (lug) on the sole is an important aspect to consider and you would have to again judge the conditions wherein you are planning to hike. Thicker and deeper lugs along with those that have wider spaces between them offer better grip and traction on literally all surfaces. Whether you are hiking on challenging or uneven terrain or slippery and wet trails, the deeper lug would help you keep moving ahead while maintaining your balance. The best way to try out the traction’s efficiency would be to try it on an angled surface.
The tongue of the shoe must also be looked into. Ideally, the best hiking shoes should be using padding, fabric or leather for the tongue construction. The tongue would aid in keeping the debris out so that you can move ahead comfortably. The absence of Bellows and Gusseted tongues would allow the particles to get in the shoe and thereby make hiking an uncomfortable experience.
The hiking trails are generally filled with roots, rocks and other elements that might be potentially hazardous and even the well-maintained ones can cause certain level of harm to your foot. The best lightweight hiking shoes would have some kind of toe cap for additional protection.
If the front of your shoes lacks the front protection, it can cause an impact that can ruin the entire trip and prevent you from enjoying the natural beauty of the place. The trail running minimalist shoe often compromise on the front protection and either have none or a trimmed down version. The approach shoes offer exemplary protection with the wraparound rubber rand present at the front of the shoe which makes them ideal for hiking and trail running.
The heel counter present at the back of the shoe aids in offering protection to the heel in case you step on any rocks or roots.
Once you have looked into all the factors, you need to consider the best hiking shoes’ feel, fit and size and all the other factors.
- This is perhaps one of the first factors that need to be considered. The type of hiking shoe that would be best for you would be dependent on whether you are heading out on a Daytrip, on multi-day backpacking adventure or a weekend hiking trip.
- The heavy load bearing backpacking trips would require shoes that have better and enhanced ankle support.
- Check if the shoe fits in snugly around the arch and the heel while leaving appropriate room at the toe cap.
- The flexibility of the hiking shoe would also have to be considered. Depending on the purpose, the stiffness of the shoe would have to be determined.
- Consider the breaking time or the time required for the shoe to fit in comfortably from the day of the purchase.
- Check the underfoot height. The feel of the rocks and debris would be much less palpable if the underfoot is stiffer and thicker.
- Apart from being comfortable, you would want to look good too. The design, whether minimalist or rugged needs to be looked into.
- Check if the shoe offers insulation from extreme cold conditions.
Whatever you choose, to ensure that you have picked one of the best hiking shoes, remember to walk around in the shoe at the store. If you feel that the shoe feels uncomfortable, it’s better not to purchase it.
What doesn’t feel comfortable at this point, there’s a less chance that it would fit snugly after some time. Consider all the pointers and head out on your next adventure wearing the most comfortable hiking shoes.