Footwear for the trail
One of the most important pieces of gear on a hike is what you put on your feet. If your feet are sore your hike will be miserable. But what are the best hiking shoes, hiking boots or trail runners? Footwear for the trail has come a long way in both technology and options. Hopefully, this blog will help to clear up any questions that you may have in deciding which is best for you.
Now as a caveat, there are hundreds of options out there. Different styles, brands, and types. I could not examine and test every possible pair out there and by the time I got this published I am sure three more styles would pop up. I am writing a bit in generalities and would recommend to check out the shoes or boots you pick to see if they have the qualities that you are looking for.
Shoes, Hiking Boots, or Trail Runners
Historically when most people took to the woods and wilderness they strapped on a good pair of boots and bushwhacked their way through all sorts of underbrush. As trails evolved so did the footwear. Shoes, boots, trail runners and even flip flops are used now depending on the trail and the user. (I recommend against the flip flops!) For this review I decided to test out some hiking boots, hiking shoes, outdoor minded cross trainers, and finally a pair of trail runners. Here are my thoughts.
The granddad of the hiking footwear are the hiking boots. Boots have been through it all and just keep going. Built for protection from the elements and conditions of the harshest terrains yet always evolving with better materials, the hiking boot isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Hiking Boots Sample
For my testing of the hiking boots i tested with the Kodiak Selkrik. I have a thorough review of the Selkirk available at this link. I really enjoy the Selkirk. They are the third pair of Kodiak Boots that I have hiked in and have had good experiences with all of them.
Pro’s of Boots
Boots offer the most protection when hiking especially in the rocky terrain of the mountains. More often than not they are going to be waterproof for walking across streams and puddles. The higher collar gives extra support to the ankles which is important on rocky and unstable trails. They also have a thick sole to offer protection to the bottom of the feet from rocks and jagged edges.
Con’s of Boots
All of the protection comes at a cost and that cost is weight. While hiking boots evolve and get lighter with new materials, they still are typically a lot heavier than other options. While the weight of a shoe may not seem like it is that big of a deal, after several miles the extra ounces can add up. Boots are also usually a bit warmer because of their waterproofing materials than some of the other options of footwear.
Some people enjoy the protection of hiking boots but don’t want the extra materials running up their legs. Enter the hiking shoes. Essentially low top boots with a thicker and heavier construction to hold up to anything the woods and trails can think of.
Hiking Shoes Sample
I used the Keen Targhee III for the testing of hiking shoes. I have a thorough review of the shoes that you can read here. The Targhee III was the first real pair of hiking shoes that I got when I started my journey and were a great introduction to hiking footwear.
Pro’s of Hiking Shoes
If you liked hiking boots you will probably like a hiking shoe. Hiking shoes are essentially low cut boots without the extra support up the ankle. They have thick soles that protect the bottoms of the feet. They typically come in waterproof options and have kick guards in the toe to protect from stubbing. They also usually have some tread specifically designed for traction on trails.
Con’s of Hiking Shoes
Just like the boots, these shoes can have a lot of weight to them in comparison to a trail runner or cross trainer. While they aren’t as big as boots they still usually use thick materials that help with the protection and waterproofing and that material isn’t light. Another concern is that while the shoes are usually waterproof, they don’t go very high which means a water breach is possible on shallower streams and puddles. If water comes in the top of your shoe it doesn’t really matter how waterproof the outsides are.
More people are going on the trails over the last couple of years and not everyone is a hardcore hiker. They aren’t ready to buy an entirely new kit while starting a new hobby. They wear what they have and that is usually a form of cross trainers.
Cross Trainers Sample
The outdoor minded Cross Trainers that I used for testing were the Keen NXIS Speed. I haven’t written a review of the NXIS yet but will update the post when that is available. The Keen NXIS Speed have become my go to everyday shoe and I love their versatility on both the trail and the sidewalk!
Pro’s of Cross Trainers
The cross trainers are very common especially with new hikers. If you can find a pair that is outdoor focused, like the Keen NXIS Speed, they will have a good amount of traction to help you handle different terrains. Check with the brand for particulars on the traction though. As cross trainers are popular they also have many different specs. Cross trainers will also be lighter weight than most hiking boots or shoes and be a little cooler than waterproof styles. Cross trainers typically have a thinner and more flexible sole. The flexible sole makes them better on flat surfaces like sidewalks and paved paths than the other options.
Con’s of Cross Trainers
The soft and flexible soles can be both a pro and a con as they will not add as much protection to the bottom of the feet on rocky surfaces. Also, if you are hiking in areas with boulders or big inclines the flexibility becomes more of a lack of support for your feet. Thicker soles on the other options prevent over extensions in those conditions. Cross trainers also typically won’t be waterproof which could become a problem depending on the type of trail.
As more and more people recreate outdoors the rise in popularity of the trail runners has sped onto the trail. Many people use them to run on the trail but more and more are using these lightweight options for hiking and thru-hiking.
Trail Runners Sample
For my trail runner testing I used a pair of Saucony Xodus. I have not written a review of these yet for my website but will update this blog as soon as I do. The Fatman doesn’t do much running so the Xodus are my first pair of trail runners, or running shoes, in a long time. They instantly hugged my feet and were comfortable from the first step and handled all trail conditions well.
Pro’s of Trail Runners
Trail runners are very lightweight and that is a fact that makes them beloved by people who hike in them. Even with the light weight, they typically provide a very solid amount of cushion on protection on the bottom of the foot. They also tend to have really nice traction to navigate different conditions on the trails.
Con’s of Trail Runners
The biggest con of the trail runners is that they typically will not be waterproof. A lot of trail runners have a mesh like material on the top that in theory will get wet but dry quickly. Now you have to factor in how quickly your socks will dry as well.
The thin material on the top and side also do not provide much protection from twigs and branches on the trail. Depending on where you hike, and how clean the trails are, this could become a bigger issue.
So What to Wear? Hiking Boots or Trail Runners, Footwear on the Trail
In conclusion I only have this to say. Bears and mountain lions have paws. Elk, deer, and moose have hooves. Each of the animals live in the same terrain and use their feet in different ways. I for one prefer boots. As a bigger guy who plods around the trail stubbing and kicking everything in my path I love having the extra protection of a boot. I have dear friends who I hike with who only use trail runners. They seem to float above the debris of the trail with each step. Yet we walk the same trails and cover the same amount of ground.
Each person will have a different comfort level with what footwear works best for them. Trail conditions can also play a part as well. I hike in predominantly rocky conditions, so the extra protection that comes from boots is necessary but if I hiked on softer trails I might look to a lighter and softer shoe. If you run a lot you may be more comfortable in trail runners or cross trainers no matter the terrain.
I wish there was a golden rule but I just don’t think there is. Everyone is different and will find the footwear that is closest to their comfort level. I tried all the different types and still came back to boots in the end. Just like my friends will never go back from runners to boots. The key is to find your style and find a shoe or boot that fits that style to make for the most enjoyable hike!
Getting the Footwear
If you are interested in getting any of these boots I would love it if you would use my affiliate links below. I earn a small commission on each purchase at no extra charge to you. That way I can continue to bring you more great outdoor content.
Kodiak Selkirk (affiliate link)
Keen Targhee III (affiliate link)
Keen NXIS Speed (affiliate link)
Saucony Xodus (non-affiliate link)
I have put together a video version of this review for those of you who practice the TLDR principles. If you enjoy the videos make sure to subscribe to my YouTube Channel. It is free and you will get all of my latest content.
More product reviews from the Fatman
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