One of the first, and most important, purchases that I made when I started hiking was hiking shoes. It took me 3 tries at different brands of hiking shoes but I finally found a pair of KEEN’s that I really enjoy and make me feel comfortable on my hikes.
There are a couple of things that brought me to the idea of needing hiking shoes. First the pain. I was feeling. Every single rock and twig that I stepped on while on trail in my old pair of cross trainers might as well have been rusty nails.
The second reason was because I see so many people go on hikes in regular gym shoes and watch them slip and fall. Without good grip to your shoes the trails might as well be ice rinks.
Shoes are a tough purchase as there are so many options out there and they all seem to be have a different purpose. So to help shed some light on this for you, I am joined by Thomas Sweeney from KEEN. Thomas is the Sr. Strategic Programs Specialist at KEEN and loves to hike around Oregon.
Fatman: Thomas, thank you so much for joining me. The first question that threw me off was that every shoe mentioned something different about water. Are there different ratings of waterproof? I have seen waterproof, and water resistance but what is the difference? Would one be better for a rainy day and one better for walking through streams?
Thomas Sweeney, SR. Strategic Program Specialist at KEEN: Hey Greg, water resistance is going to help you with things like wet or dewy grass, a light drizzle or mist and will usually keep you from immediately getting wet. Waterproof on the other hand is designed to be impervious to water. The membrane (Keen Dry) in our waterproof boots is a liner that keeps water out while still maintaining some level of breathability by having microscopic pores in the material.
FM: If I have a pair of hiking shoes or boots that is completely waterproof does that mean they are going to get really hot?
TS: Waterproof styles are going to be a little warmer for sure since that membrane in the boots is extra material around your foot keeping the water out. While they are quite breathable still I stick with some merino socks and am usually ok. Living in Oregon we get a good amount of rain in the winter so I keep a pair of waterproof boots for rainy/muddy hikes but most of the state is a desert so I’ve got my vented pairs as well. Different tools for different jobs.
FM: I have seen several different style of shoes and boots. Most commonly low cut for shoes and mid and high for boots, Is this just a style or are there functional difference and what might those be?
TS: There is a function to the higher collar on boots, mainly in the ankle support of the boots as there is more area to support and protect your ankles. The taller collar also keeps debris out (one of my big pet peeves) so I am a mid/boot guy for sure. The heel capture features in our hiking shoes is designed to keep your heel locked in and reduce heel slip though so if you are more comfortable in shoes they are quite functional for most people.
FM: What about socks? I have seen wool hiking socks advertised. What are the benefits to a hiking sock and will my feet get really hot if they are wool?
TS: Wool, and specifically merino wool which we use in our socks is great for hiking for a few reasons. It’s a soft wool against your skin so it doesn’t have that classic scratchy sweater feel so comfort is a great starter.
Merino also has impressive characteristics to help regulate body heat. It can trap heat when it’s cold out but it also helps transport moisture away from your skin when it’s hot to help cool you down and not leave you with a swampy boot. Another huge advantage is it is odor resistant which makes it essential in socks and other outdoor gear.
A lightweight merino sock won’t make you any warmer than other materials and has all of the previously mentioned benefits as well.
FM: Thank you so much for all the great information, Thomas. I know hiking in Colorado there are hikes that can can get really wet and muddy and others that are completely dry. Plus it can change from season to season so having good information is key to a comfortable hike.
If you like this guide make sure to check out some of the other “Getting Started” guides in my thoughts section. There is information on weather, staying healthy, some exercises and some tips on fad diets and hiking among others.
If you have any questions you would like me to try to find some more information on or any other comments feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow me on any of the below social media platforms. Happy Hiking!