There was a time when you knew where you stood with hiking shoes. You had light off-road runners, beefier low-cut hikers, and sticky-soled approach shoes, but these days, shopping for hiking shoes is likely to offer a dizzying variety of specialized hiking shoes for everything from quick trail trots to the adventure of cross country racing, along with running, hiking shoe hybrids that boast being able to it all.
When choosing the best hiking shoes, the first thing to do is to think carefully about your planned activity, the terrain, and climate, then choose the hiking shoe whose features are best suited to what you plan to do. The upside to the hiking shoe revolution is the availability of so many hiking shoes from which to choose. The downside to the plethora is confusion—when you wander into a store and see this huge array of hiking shoes, it’s hard to know where to start.
To stay stable on shale or loose, rocky terrain, you need precision-fitted footwear. The best way to get such a fit is to purchase hiking shoes with climbing-shoe-style lacing. Two partly intertwined sets of laces on various hiking shoes allow you to fine-tune your fit. On slick terrain, staying on your feet is half the battle. Certain hiking shoes have runner’s carbon-steel studs, built into the outsole.
This allows them to bite into wet roots and mud, while they retract into the shoe’s soft rubber soles when you hit hard rock. Another great choice is stabilization straps. If you are traveling over rough terrain, a hiking shoe with straps sewn into the shoes sides, will cinch tight across the entire foot when you give a tug on the shoe laces, giving your entire foot stability and control.
Some newer styles of hiking shoes not only absorb shock but also adapt handily to tilted terrain. How? The heel piece contains four rubber springs, separated from the front half of the sole. On sloping rock faces, this one will help straighten your stride, and make hiking less stressful on ankles. Mountains running used to mean bruised soles, but hiking shoes are now available with a plastic shield is tucked into the midsole to protect your feet from painfully sharp rocks.
Just one tiny stone in your shoe can stop you cold. Thankfully, several new runner-hiker hybrids come equipped with an ankle collar. These neoprene gaskets prevent pebbles from getting into the hiking shoe. In serious grit, a mini-gaiter protects like a high-cut boot, without bulk. The trail runner is gaiter-ready, thanks to three nylon attachment loops.
Clip on the optional cuff and head for the talus. If you live in a warmer region and like long workouts over light terrain, your main concern is probably breathing ability. Hiking shoes with polyester netting ushers in the air, and ejects moisture, with enough backbone to continue to offer the support you need.