Best Hiking Shoes for Long Distance Backpackers
Leather boots are the worst type of footwear for a long hike! They are hot, heavy and stiff… and despite the myth that they protect and “support” your feet, they do more harm that good.
There are many better alternatives to heavy leather boots for comfortable hiking footwear.
Tips for choosing a better hiking shoe:
Find a shoe that fits your foot shape. Everyone’s feet are shaped differently, so finding the right shoes is not as easy as asking your friend what shoes worked well for them, because they may have tall narrow feet with a square toe box when you have flat wide feet with a triangular toe box. Have your feet professionally measured and then find a shoe that fits your specific foot shape.
The lighter weight the better. Remember back in the 80s during the “aerobics craze” when women wore ankle weights to increase resistance while walking or jogging? Wearing heavy trail boots is no different. The heavier your shoes the harder you will have to work to lift your feet with every single step. Leather hiking boots typically weigh more than 3 lbs each. You want trail shoes that weigh less than 1.5lbs each.
Buy one size larger than normal. If you carry a backpack (even a lightweight one) for a long time your feet can swell temporarily and sometimes even grow permanently. (My feet have grown from size 12D to 13EEEE since I started long-distance backpacking). A larger size shoe gives your feet room to grow. Also consider shoes in Wide (2E – 4E) widths to allow for foot flattening and sideways expansion.
Make sure they are breathable. Most lightweight hiking shoes come with strategically placed mesh panels to allow for better airflow and ventilation around your feet. This is good because hot, sweaty feet can cause painful blisters.
Replace the insoles. The “stock” insoles that come with most hiking shoes are junk. They provide little cushioning and usually fall apart after just a couple hundred miles. My favorite replacement insoles are Montrail Enduro Soles. Another popular insole is Superfeet (I hate Superfeet because they are too stiff).
Choose the right socks. A lot of backpackers immediately gravitate toward heavy wool “hiking socks” because they provide a lot of extra padding (but they are also thick, hot, heavy and sweaty). If you’re carrying a light pack and wearing the right shoes and insoles it’s not necessary to have a thick sock. I like to hike in ankle-height, lightweight running socks like those from Smartwool and Wrightsock.
The Best Types of Shoes For Lightweight Hiking
* Pros and cons refer to each category of shoe in general, not the specific models pictured.