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All You Need to Know About Outdoor Shoes

Updated: Mar 8, 2023

Would you like to get into hiking or trail running and you just aren’t sure what shoes to wear? Here are some quick tips to picking a shoe for the trail and how to know when you need to replace it!

I own a heavy duty hiking boot, a lightweight hiking boot and a pair of trail running shoes. With these 3 options I always have something that will work depending on what trail I am on, how far I am going and how heavy my pack is. The majority of the time I lean towards using my trail running shoes because they are just so comfortable! If I have a really heavy pack and I’m going pretty far I will use my light weight hiking boots. If I will be going in streams and over lots of rocks or mud and I have a heavy pack and I am planning to go very far, then I will use my heavy duty hiking boots!

When picking your shoes out you’ll want to consider 3 things: support, material and fit.

Support: The under soul of the boot and the cuff around your ankle are what give you support from your shoe. The stiffer the soul the more protection from rocks and roots. The higher the cuff the more protection for your ankle.

Material: If you will be in any water you would want to choose a lined boot with waterproofing. If you will be hiking in drier climates a breathable material is better to keep your foot cool. A lighter and softer boot is more comfortable right out of the box, but if you need a stiff heavy duty boot you will want to break it in before any hikes. You can break it in by wearing it around your house for a few days. That is also a good time to see if it is rubbing anywhere and causing blisters. If it is rubbing you can put duct tape, moleskin or several other barriers on your skin to protect your foot from getting blisters.

Fit: This is the most important part of a good shoe choice! Make sure the shoe holds your foot in place and does not let the heel go up and down which will cause blisters. It is also very important that your toes have some wiggle room. If you are hiking down a hill with a pack on, your toes will hit the front of your boot and can kill your toenails! If this happens your toenail will turn black and eventually fall off - it’s happened to me a few times, not fun! Your feet swell throughout the day, so if you are shopping for shoes it’s good to try on shoes at the end of the day. Also, remember that your feet will swell more when you are hiking. When you go to try shoes on, bring the socks that you plan to wear hiking and any orthotics that you use in your shoes! It is great to go to a store to try the shoe on before you buy it, and most stores will do price matches if you can find it for less online, be sure to ask them!!!

Now that you’ve been out hiking and trail running up a storm how can you know if you need to replace your shoes?

Boots tend to last 500-1,000 miles and running shoes last closer to 300-500 miles. That is a big range for both and depends on a lot of factors like: the terrain you are on, your body weight and your running / hiking technique. Here are some things to look for to know if you should get some new shoes:

New aches and pains: Your knees, angles and hips might start to feel more achy after a hike or run, this could mean the cushioning in your shoes is worn out.

Sore feet: You notice soreness and stiffness in the bottoms of your feet especially your arches, this could mean your shoes have worn down to a shape that no longer fits your foot.

Treads are worn out: The tread on the bottom of your shoe is important to how your shoe rolls with the natural stride of your foot. If the tread is worn out the shoe won’t work as well.

Midsole of shoe feels tough: If you press your thumb into the midsole of the shoe and it is tough instead of springing, that could mean the cushioning of the shoe has been compressed and no longer will offer support

One last thought: really, your shoe choice is very personal. When I go hiking on any given trail I see people in everything from flip flops to the burliest hiking boots and they are all out having fun. I recently hiked to the top of Timpanogos mountain, 14 miles and very rough trail with a friend and her 4 year old who had a toe poking out of her little tennis shoes and you know what, she did great!! Hiking in Africa I saw the locals carry huge loads on their heads up crazy trails for days in flip flops! So don’t overthink it. Wear what is most comfortable to you and if you don’t have perfect shoes yet remember the 4 year old and the Africans and still get out and have fun!!!

By: Anna Cox

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