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« For happy hiking, choose your footwear well!” That should be the motto of the seasoned hiker! And it’s vital to choose your hiking footwear wisely. If unsuitable, it can make walking unpleasant or even hazardous, hurt your feet, and put you off exercise. But how to make the right choice when there are so many models available? Our experts will help you find the hiking shoe or boot that’s right for you.
To choose your hiking footwear well, you must research the models available on the market, and opt for the one that best matches your needs and activities. Walking sandals, shoes and boots for short and long hikes, fast hiking shoes – it’s up to you to decide the main purpose of your footwear, and to choose your model accordingly.
Short-distance hiking shoes and boots are among the bestselling models because of their versatility and lightness. Often mid or low cut, they give the feet full protection and have thick, lugged outsoles to reduce the risk of injury. Some models are waterproof, and they also offer excellent breathability.
This type of footwear is particularly well suited to hikes of up to 2-3 days in the mid mountains and in non-extreme conditions with a relatively light backpack.
Fairly similar to the previous type, long-distance hiking boots have a stiffer outsole and a fairly thick midsole. Often with a high-cut upper, they are ideal for multi-day hikes and for some treks.
Rugged and dependable, they deliver good hold plus comfort that’s seriously appreciable when worn over long distances.
Initially designed for running and power walking, fast hiking shoes are also ideal for venturing onto highly technical terrain. They offer excellent hold and high protection, and deliver good foot-roll.
However, they are less rugged than traditional hiking footwear, and will therefore wear out faster.
Walking sandals are your best ally on summer walks and hikes through fields: they’re very light and offer maximum breathability.
Especially well suited to heat, they do the job on easy and flat paths, but should be avoided on more challenging terrain as they offer relatively precarious stability and protection.
Having defined your specific requirements, don’t forget to analyse the respective features of hiking shoes and boots. To choose the right pair, you also need to know how they’re built and the role they perform, so that they match your level and activity.
The outsole is your feet-ground interface. To deliver serious performance, it must combine grip, traction and cushioning. Softer rubber means better grip and traction, but it will wear out faster.
Leather or synthetic fabric? You choose! Leather is natural and waterproof, but needs to be well cared for and isn’t very breathable. Synthetic fabrics, however, are highly breathable but sometimes let the wet in. The material you select will therefore depend on your requirements, and on the type of weather and terrain you will experience most often.
The cut of your footwear’s upper plays a key role in your protection. The higher the upper, the greater safety it will provide – protecting your ankles and feet from knocks, cuts, sprains, etc.
Besides the model and its features, fit is also a big criterion when selecting a pair of hiking boots. To avoid any blunders, here’s some advice to consider before you buy :
• If you opt for a pair of boots with high-cut uppers: choose one size above your usual. Your toes must feel totally snug, with no risk of rubbing, especially on downhill sections. But be sure not to pick a pair that are too large, which would entail a loss of feel, poor hold, and painful blisters ;
• If you opt for a pair of low-cut shoes: go for a half size above your usual. This is a flexible type of footwear, which will stretch when your feet swell and loosen slightly after your first outings. In addition, these shoes ventilate better and sessions are often shorter, so the feet swell slightly less.
To be sure of your choice, the ideal approach is to try on shoes at day’s end, ideally after a walk, for an accurate simulation. The test should be carried out with a pair of hiking socks, to get a clearer idea of how they fit in the shoe.