There are many things to consider when making the decision to tread the trail. When and where are you going to hike? How long are you going to hike for? What do you have to bring? What safety precautions do you have to consider? Quite a bit of planning goes into taking a trip into nature depending on the answer to all of these questions. However variable the details of the hike, one thing is sure; you must have the right shoes. Puma’s may be cute and Converse might be hip, but they are not going to cut it for the great outdoors.

In solidarity with the hiking shoe newbies out there, Park Visitor provides a How-To-Guide on choosing the perfect hiking shoe for any nature occasion. We will show you how to choose a shoe that will carry you through thick brush and thin air, support you whether you’re going up or down, and lift your sole until the foot of the trail.

Congratulations! You are already on the right track to buying the right hiking shoe for your hike by reading this article. Another good preemptive action to prepare for your purchase is to walk into an outdoor outfitters store and get firsthand information. REI is an ideal place to get experienced advice from a professional. For example, the well-informed, tall, and red-bearded James Roullard of the REI in El Segundo, CA provided us with great expert knowledge in this article that you will hopefully use in your hiking shoe selection!

 The first and most important advice when embarking on a hiking shoe venture is to know exactly the kind of hike that you are looking to outfit yourself for. More specifically, the type of terrain you’ll be encountering, the duration of the outing, and the approximate weight of the load you will be carrying. Knowledge is power and these three bits of information will take you far. The weight on your back is so important to your hiking shoe selection that we used this to categorize the shoes appropriate for your outdoor adventure.

Heavy Load

This type of hike will probably be weeklong or longer and require the adventurer to carry ample supplies. Because of this extra weight, the smartest choice in shoe is a sturdy hiking boot with a stiff midsole. You want to carry as little as you can so you can choose the lightest boot possible in this category. The idea is to make lifting up your foot, step-after-step, as easy as possible. However, with a more substantial burden in the backpack, it is necessary to choose a heavy shoe that has enough support to cushion a step with extra weight. A less sturdy shoe could compress under the extra poundage and let your body suffer the consequences. Another important detail to a shoe for this caliber of weight is a fairly high rising ankle that can protect the joint and account for any unbalanced steps along the trail.

 Petey’s Picks:

Men’s Zamberlan Nuvolao NW Hiking Boot

Photo from Zamberlan.com

Women’s Zamberlan 996 Vioz GT Hiking Boot

Photo from Zamberlan.com

Average Load

A hike in this category is most likely to be either a few-day hike or a longer trip in which the explorer will be getting most resources along the way. The ideal shoe for this situation is a light hiking boot with a fairly flexible midsole and mid-level ankle support. The goal of this shoe is to give the hiker enough support to shield the foot between the weight of the step and the ground below while not adding too much weight to the foot. This shoe should weigh less than two and a half pounds so as not to convert your foot into a burden of extra baggage.

 Petey’s Picks:

Men’s Lowa Renegade LL Mid Hiking Boots

Photo from Lowaboots.com

Women’s Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Hiking Boot

Photo from Lowaboots.com

Light Load

This category generally consists of single-day hikes and includes a plethora of different low-rise athletic shoes.

Traditional Support: What you are probably most familiar with, is a shoe with traditional support that has a decline in height from back to front. This shoe offers the heel and arch more padding than the toe. This causes the pressure from the step to land on the heel, which is contrary to the natural running step which lands on the mound of the foot just before the toes. These shoes are best for people who need a lot of arch support or have problems with overpronation or underpronation, an excessively inward or outward off balance step.

 Petey’s Picks:

Men’s Keen Gypsum Hiking Shoe

 Photo from Keen.com

Women’s Vasque Mantra 2.0 GTX Hiking Shoe

Photo from Vasque.com

 Barefoot/Minimal Support: A new fad hit the shoe world recently because foot health experts began to speculate that the extreme amount of padding in the popular athletic shoe was actually causing damage to the body. The thought process was that the running foot is naturally meant to land on the toe mound rather than the heel, but the incline and support of the average athletic shoe was preventing this step from happening. A new design of shoe began to surface and become popular called barefoot, or minimal, which provided a very thin layer of material under the foot that did not deliver any kind of incline or decline from heel to toe. These shoes allow for the pressure of the step to land as nature designed it to do centuries ago.  These shoes are best utilized after a period of wearing the type of shoe described in the next category.

 Petey’s Picks:

Men’s Vibram 5 Fingers Spyridon Trail-Running Shoes

 Photo from vibramfivefingers.com

Women’s Vibram 5 Fingers Spyridon Trail-Running Shoes

Photo from vibramfivefingers.com

 

Hybrid Zero-Drop Support: Famous philosopher Aristotle believed that perfection could be found in a balance between excess and deficiency. He may not have had athletic shoes in mind, but this principle sure does apply. Contributors to footwear research have come to a happy medium on the maximal and minimal support dilemma. This fairly recent creation provides a decent layer of support, without creating a drop from heel to toe. This allows for some support and cushioning from the force of the step while still facilitating the pressure landing on the toe mound rather than the heel. For those who would like to wear barefoot style shoes, this hybrid design is suggested for a period of transition time from traditional support. This is necessary for your body to safely adjust to minimal support, which will help avoid shock damage to the body. This type of shoe has our official support for best in the light load category; Zero-Drop leads to zero regrets!

Petey’s Picks:

Men’s Merrel Bare Access 2

Photo from Merrel.com

Women’s Merrel Bare Access 2

Photo from Merrel.com

We hope this tutorial helps in your search for the perfect hiking shoe companion for all of your outdoor adventures!