There are many types of hiking boots and hiking shoes, and the choice can be bewildering. While there are some kinds of hiking footwear that will not fit neatly into any category, I will discuss hiking footwear in terms of four categories, based on the general kind of hiking for which they work best.
As you move up the scale of categories, you also move up in price. That means you have to give more serious thought and do more careful shopping the higher up the scale you look. But before you begin your serious shopping, get a handle on what types of hiking boots are available so you will be sure you are looking for the right kind.
Don't be scared off by the prices, and don't make the mistake of assuming that you don't need special-purpose hiking boots. You probably don't need $200 mountaineering boots, but that doesn't mean you should try a twelve-mile day hike in your tennis shoes, either. In this article, you will learn how to decide which general type of hiking boots are right for what you want to do. Then you'll be prepared to look deeper into exactly what you need.
Hiking shoes can be multi-purpose footwear. If you are new to hiking, and planning only short hikes on well-maintained trails, you might already have suitable footwear. Cross trainers or any reasonably sturdy sneaker may be suitable for light hiking.
Shoes expressly designed for trail running and light hiking typically rise a little higher than conventional sneakers, and they usually have a "scree collar" (a collar of padding around the ankle to keep pebbles out). They are usually not waterproof, though they may be somewhat "water resistant," and the tread is not very aggressive.
Hiking shoes are suitable for short hikes on reasonably dry, reasonably smooth trails where you will not be carrying much weight. If you will be crossing streams, climbing steep slopes, walking on snow and ice, or carrying more than about twenty pounds of gear, you should probably look into day-hiking boots or backpacking boots.
Hiking sandals are a special class of hiking footwear. When you consider the four main purposes of hiking shoes - warmth, protection, traction, and keeping dry - sandals might seem like a joke. But think again.
Obviously, you're not hiking in winter in hiking sandals, so keeping your feet warm is just not a consideration that hiking sandals address. Sandals do protect the soles of your feet from rough surfaces and sharp objects, but they can't protect the sides of your feet from rocks and brush. They also provide good traction.
But what about keeping your feet dry? Don't laugh! No, sandals will not keep the water out as you wade across a stream, but neither will they keep the water in when you step out of the stream. Many hikers carry sandals in their backpacks and switch to them whenever they cross a stream that they know is going to overtop their hiking boots.
If all you are going to do is short hikes on relatively clear, level trails in warm weather, sandals are worth at least a little consideration. More importantly, if you want a pair of hiking shoes to switch out in the middle of a long, serious hike, hiking sandals may well be worth the space they take up in your backpack.
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