The Different Kinds of Hiking Shoes

Avery Dufilho

Let me let you in on a little secret, I love shoes. I mean, I really love shoes, but it’s not what you’re thinking (or it is because this is an outdoor site and you read the title). I’m not waiting in long lines to get the newest pair of Jordans or dropping hundreds of dollars on the new Yeezys. My taste revolves around the outdoors, so I’m constantly looking at the newest pair shoes to get me from the campsite to the crag the most comfortably. There are countless styles of shoes but for the most part they break up into three categories; hiking boots, approach shoes, and trail running shoes. But how do you choose which is the right for you? For that question, it’s important to know what it is your doing and what terrain you will be facing before making your decision.

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A product image of the Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX via Scarpa.

Hiking Boots

Hiking boots are what most people, especially beginners, think they need when they are gearing up for a camping trip. Which is for good reason, hiking boots and the outdoors are like peanut butter and jelly. Hiking boots can handle pretty much anything you throw at them. They are made of super durable materials like leather or synthetics that can handle all sorts of weather. Because of that durability they make hiking the nastiest trails, whether it’s real muddy or covered in snow, a walk in the park. They also offer great support through the footbed and, due to the high-top cut on most boots, they help stabilize the ankle so you don’t roll it if you misstep. However, with all the pros, there also comes some cons. For starters, hiking boots are generally heavy, so if you plan on long hikes with lots of mileage keep in mind that the heavier the boot the more energy you will use. Also, because of that super durable material used to make the boot they won’t be as breathable and will require a break in period before they become comfortable. So, if you’re headed out on a trip soon, it's in a warmer area and you want to avoid sweaty feet and blisters then I would suggest a different choice. Lastly, hiking boots are going to be on the more expensive side costing somewhere between $100 - $250.

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A product image of the Inov-8 Roclite 290 via Inov-8.

Trail Running Shoes

Although they're classified as running shoes, it doesn’t mean they can’t help you out on your adventures. Trail runners are still a great option for people looking for an outdoor shoe. Think of trail runners as a beefier version of running shoes. The main difference is the aggressive tread that trail runners have in order to handle objects like rocks, sticks, and anything else on the trail. They are also designed so the sole of the shoe is wider and closer to the ground in order to give a more stable support despite being on uneven terrain. Trail runners are also extremely lightweight, when compared to regular hiking shoes, and breathable, so you spend less energy on hikes. However, the support that trail runners offer will probably not be enough when going on longer hikes like thru-hikes. Trail runners are also going to be the least expensive type of outdoor shoes generally running between $75 - $90.  One drawback from trail runners is they don’t handle the weather as well because they are so lightweight and breathable, and lack waterproofing fabrics. So, if the trial is muddy, wet, or if your facing freezing temperatures these are not going to do you much good and you’ll need a different shoe.

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A product image of the Five Ten Access Mesh via Adidas Outdoors.

Approach Shoes

Approach shoes are a mix of climbing shoes and hiking boots. So naturally they are the go too shoe for almost every single climber when headed out to the crag. This is because the shoe is made with a supper stick outsole that helps when you need to scramble up rocky terrain. These shoes also have a technical fit, so they are going to run a little bit smaller than hiking boots or trail running shoes. This is because they are built like climbing shoes, they hug your feet a little bit more, that way your foot doesn’t move around in the shoe will on a steep surface, making it easier to keep your traction. Approach shoes are also like trail runners in the way that they are also super lightweight, breathable, and offer great support. However, in my personal experience, I’ve noticed that the support comes in different areas in approach shoes. I own a pair of the 5.10 Access Mesh approach shoes and I’ve found that the heel of the shoe offers a lot of that support. This is because when scrambling down faces you tend to land hard on your heel when you come off the rock. This added support in the heel helps so your knees don’t have to absorb as much of the shock which at the end of the day helps your knees not hurt as much. Also, like trail runners, the drawbacks when it comes to approach shoes is the fact that they cannot handle freezing temps, long distance hikes or when trials are less than ideal due to their lightweight design. Another drawback is, like the hiking boot, most approach shoes are on the pricey side and are going to run between $100 -$130.

Conclusion

Picking the right footwear for the outdoors can seem like a monumental, hell maybe even an impossible task because there are so many options. When deciding on what’s right for you it’s important to know what you’re going to need from your shoes. Then take your time to make sure you find the right pair, visit your local REI or outdoor outfitter, ask questions, try on multiple styles, make sure you know you’re getting exactly what you need. Then you’ll be ready to hit the trail and your feet will thank you.