Finding the best shoes for hiking will depend on a number of questions that will need to be answered and determined. The place you plan to hike, the terrain, the time of year (spring, summer etc.), a short hike (casual stroll) and/or multi-day hike with a backpack.
Be aware and prepare for what you will subject your feet to. The better overall structure of the choice of footwear will significantly improve the comfort and stability to make any hike the most enjoyable. The back heel cup needs to be firm. This is checked by squeezing the rim with your thumb and middle finger of the same hand. The structure is determined by twisting the bottom of the outsole. The stiffer it is and resists twisting, the better.
To hike on any uneven ground with a flexible running shoe would likely lead to avoidable injuries like Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, and ankle sprains. That is why it is important to have a stiff layer under the foot to best support it. Higher quality hiking footwear usually features a smooth inner lining inside the toe box. The smoother it is helps prevent toenail pressure, skin irritation (blisters) and possible lifting of the toenail. Use your index or middle finger to feel inside the toe box. Check for any bumps or uneven ridges inside and determine how smooth it is.
If your hike is on relatively even terrain like gravel or a wood-chipped trail, then a low cut (below the ankle) to mid-cut (just above the ankle) would suffice. Above the ankle, boot height would be recommended for mountainous rocky and wooded trails. The higher the cuff, the greater the stability and better injury prevention.
For a longer hike and more backwoods, a leather upper that is well stitched will help hold your foot in place better than a mesh fabric. It also will be more abrasion resistant to sharp rocks, branches etc., that your footwear would come into contact with. A reinforced bumper guard outer layer from the baby toe around to the big toe could be found on higher price hiking boots. This additional buffer of protection helps in especially more rugged unpredictable terrain and deep-water streams.
A carbon fibre-like plate sandwiched between the outsole and midsole may be featured on select low-cut and higher-height footwear. This plate increases the stiffness under the ball of the foot and protects it from sharp rocks, roots etc., from piercing through the outsole. The increased stiffness could help reduce fatigue and discomfort on the ball of the bottom of the foot. Lace eyelets that the laces go through will usually be of higher quality on leather (or equivalent) than mesh.
An above the ankle boot would be recommended to help prevent ankle sprains associated with hiking. For increased support, look for an extra lace eyelet in front of or near the ankle on either side of the boot. When footwear with this feature is laced up tight, it anchors the heel into the back of the boot. This means a long descent prevents the toes from hitting the front inside toe cap, and on uneven ground improves stability. This extra eyelet is important if you plan on carrying a backpack and/or extra gear for a multi-day adventure.
Check the quality of the laces the footwear comes with. If the lace diameter is too big and or the material is too slippery (smooth), then it may not hold a tightened knot, i.e., you need to keep redoing your laces because the knots don’t stay done up. You need to count on and rely on your footwear wherever you go and for any length of time. It’s worth the investment to purchase better quality footwear.
For the best advice, talk to your Canadian Certified Pedorthist. Their valuable expertise can help you make the best-informed decision when it comes time to purchase.
Written by Richard May, C. Ped (C)