What Shoes To Wear For Hiking: Best Tips For Beginners

by Jason | Last Updated:   December 8th, 2022
What Shoes To Wear For Hiking: Best Tips For Beginners

You might be wondering what shoes to wear for hiking.

And here’s the thing:

Wearing the right shoes when you’re hiking is vital in terms of how much traction you create and how much ankle support you have.

Yet, while I’m hiking, I still see many people using the wrong shoes, which can put them in danger.

In my experience, people wearing the wrong shoes usually need to call mountain rescue for assistance.

So, if you don’t want to be one of those people, make sure you read this article. I’ll run you through the shoes you can and can’t wear, so you never get caught out while hiking.

Don’t go anywhere:

What Makes The Ideal Footwear For Hiking?

Before moving on to which shoes you should or shouldn’t wear, I think it’s important to discuss what makes the ideal footwear.

Obviously, hiking boots or lightweight shoes are always the best options for trekking footwear, but what traits make them so good?

Well, you’ll find that most hiking shoes/boots come with these traits:

  • Traction: One of the most important aspects of a hiking shoe is that it provides traction while you’re walking on wet rocky, or muddy terrain. Ideally, your hiking shoe should use sticky rubber and deep lugs for extra grip.
  • Ankle Support: Ankle protection is another thing you must consider regarding suitable shoes. One of the most common injuries among hikers is twisting your ankle and using mid to high-top boots to protect your ankles.
  • Durability: Another thing you should consider is the footwear’s durability. It will likely be on rugged landscapes, which can quickly destroy footwear while hiking.
  • Foot Protection: The last thing you need to consider is whether the shoe will protect the bottom of your feet. The toe cap should help to prevent damaging your toes, and if it’s made with waterproof materials, that’s great too.

If you’re looking for a shoe that will fill all of the above, your best option is to choose hiking boots for your next investment.

They’re specially designed for the outdoors, giving you the best chance of finding something that suits your needs.

Can I Wear Regular Shoes For Hiking?

Many people ask whether they can use their regular shoes for hiking. So in this section, I wanted to talk you through some shoe styles to see whether they are viable options:

Are Sneakers OK For Hiking?

One of the most common shoe types people like to wear when they’re hiking is the traditional sneaker.

And this is mainly due to the comfort they provide the wearer. The question is, are they suitable footwear?

In all honesty, it depends on where you’re hiking. If you’re hiking relatively flat trails with well-trodden paths, you should be fine wearing sneakers for the hike.

With that being said, you should still check out the weather reports. Sneakers aren’t great at repelling water, which means they could get pretty drenched if you’re not careful.

If you plan on taking on rocky terrain, try and steer clear of sneakers. They don’t provide adequate grip to deal with intense hiking trails, which could lead to injuries if you’re not careful.

And that’s not the only downside of wearing sneakers while hiking:

Sneakers don’t provide you with ankle protection, so you run the risk of incurring a serious injury if your ankle rolls. Even if you’re wearing hi-top sneakers, you won’t get the same protection level as hiking boots.

So, in short, you need to think about the route you’re hiking and the rough terrain you’re tackling before opting for sneakers.

Can You Use Running Shoes For Hiking?

Running shoes pose the same risks as sneakers, so they’re not the best option you have at your disposal.


You can use them, but it’s not recommended. One benefit of running shoes over sneakers is that they tend to have slightly more grip.

The thing is:

They are definitely usually designed to be used on pavements or city streets, so they aren’t as durable and don’t provide protection.

And just like sneakers, they tend to lack waterproofing, making hiking in the rain a nightmare, especially when your shoes are slipping and sliding under your feet, making it extremely hard to get your footing.

If you want to use running shoes, then there is a better option than the more traditional footwear:

Can You Use Trail Running Shoes For Hiking?

Trail runners are the better option for the person trying to avoid heavier and more expensive hiking boots while keeping the shoe’s performance.

One of the best things about trail shoes is that they are reasonably lightweight while providing excellent traction under the feet.

Not only do they provide more traction than your regular running shoes, but they also provide a lot more durability, so they should last longer.

You’ll find that quite a few hikers are starting to opt for trail running shoes, thanks to being more breathable and ultra-lightweight.

The one downside of trail running shoes is that they don’t provide ankle protection. For this reason, it’s worth thinking about how steady you are before you wear trail running shoes.

They’re not just for a trail runner; hikers can use them too; they are designed for rocky trails.

If you’re looking for lightweight hiking shoes that can handle rugged terrain, a trail running shoe is one of your best options.

Are Hiking Sandals Good For Hiking?

One of the new trends I’ve seen out on the mountains is the hiking sandal, but are they worth using?

Hiking sandals are designed to provide the wearer with plenty of traction, but other than that, they aren’t that great.

The main problem with people wearing hiking sandals is that they do not protect your feet.

The open design makes it extremely easy to stub your toe on any protruding rock. And if a rock falls on your foot, it will crush it. They also don’t provide ankle support, so you risk rolling your ankle.

If I had to choose one good thing about them, it doesn’t matter much if your feet get wet; they’ll dry quickly.

Can You Wear Timberlands For Hiking?

This is another question I get asked a lot due to them looking reasonably similar to hiking boots, so I will break it down here.

One of the first things you might notice about Timberlands is how similar their shape is to hiking boots. They have the same high-ankle support and provide a lot of protection around the toe, so they must be suitable for hiking, right?

Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. 

Timberlands aren’t designed for hiking long distances or on strenuous hills. You might be able to get away with short walks, but is it worth the risk on such a long trip?

They don’t give the user the traction needed to stop you from slipping. And to make it worse, the ankle is usually a pretty loose fit, so you don’t get any protection from your ankle rolling.

You’ll also find that Timberlands don’t have the same durability as hiking shoes, which means they can wear out pretty quickly.

Ideally, you should avoid using Timberlands if you plan to go hiking. But, if you don’t have any other choice and the hiking route isn’t too strenuous, then you should be okay for the day.

Why Are Hiking Boots Important?

What Shoes To Wear For Hiking

So, we’ve spoken about various shoes that people use for hiking. But we haven’t explained why hiking boots are so important.

This is why I want to explain why you need them over other styles of shoes.

Let’s take a look:

One of the first things that make hiking boots stand out is the fact they use a sticky rubber on the sole.

Not only do they use better rubber, but they usually have a more pronounced tread on the shoe, which really helps to provide more grip.

On top of the boot’s extra grip, it also gives the user much more protection around the ankle and toes. And this can be very important if you’re hiking in an area with lots of loose rocks and stones.

But there is a downside to hiking boots that some people come across:

And that’s the overall comfort of the hiking shoes. The thing is, hiking shoes don’t have to be uncomfortable. 

This is why I wanted to explain…

How To Make Hiking Shoes More Comfortable

Before getting into some of the tips you can use to make your hiking footwear more comfortable, it helps if you understand a little bit about your feet.

Your feet are split into three regions:

  1. Forefoot 
  2. Midfoot
  3. Hindfoot

And many of the problems people have with their feet will stem from at least one of these regions. 


Understanding the problems your feet face when choosing your hiking boot helps you find a more suitable shoe.

For example, knowing your midfoot is arched or your forefoot is wider than usual can help you find the right shoe.

If you’re unsure what problems you have with your feet, you can go to a podiatrist to find out what abnormalities or arche-type you have trouble with.

Here are some of the most common problems:

  • High Arches
  • Flat Arches
  • Wide Forefoot
  • Narrow Forefoot

If you’ve already got a pair of boots, and you don’t want to buy other hiking shoes, then there are ways to make them more comfortable.

Let’s take a look:

#1 Wear The Right Socks

It might sound like something that won’t make much difference, but it really is surprising how much a decent pair of socks can help you.

And this is why ensuring you’re wearing the appropriate socks is necessary. Wearing the wrong socks, whether it’s the material, size, or thickness, can significantly impact how comfy your hiking shoes will be.

So, the question is, what makes a good hiking sock?

You should first consider the material the sock is made with. You want to try and stay away from cotton socks at all costs.

Cotton doesn’t have the features that make great hiking socks, so take a look for a good wool or a blend of wool. 

Wool is a better material because it regulates temperature and wicks away sweat better than other materials, and this can help reduce blisters, athlete’s foot, and hot spots.

The next thing you must think about is finding a sock with the proper padding (cushioning) required for your feet.

Cushioning socks will help increase your shoe’s comfort and be better for cold-weather hiking. So, try on different socks to see which ones work best for you and your hiking boots.

And lastly, make sure you choose the correct size of sock. If the socks are too small, they’ll slip down your foot, and if they’re too big, they’ll bunch up and feel uncomfortable. 

#2 Break In Your Shoes

Another great way to make your hiking shoes more comfortable is to break the backpacking boots in. The problem with hiking shoes is they have a very rigid base, making them feel pretty uncomfortable the first few times.

So, before you go off on a long hike, spend some time walking around the house with them on or during short walks.

Slowly work yourself to walking longer distances till you eventually can walk a couple of miles on a trail.

Yes, you might be OK to take your hiking boots straight onto a long hike, but it’s probably not worth the risk.

#3 Try Different Lacing Techniques

I won’t go into it too much here, but you should try different lacing techniques to see if you can make your hiking shoes more comfortable. 

You see: 

The classic lacing technique doesn’t always provide the comfort you need in your shoe. Have a look at the link I provide in this section to see which lacing system will work best for your foot style.

#4 Use Insoles

If you’re looking for other ways to increase the comfort of your shoes, then adding some insoles can make a huge difference.

Some insoles will provide extra comfort thanks to the padding they provide your feet. And other insoles are designed to help people with some of the abnormalities I listed above.

Insoles can be made with many different materials, but my favorite is gel because it absorbs impact more efficiently.

#5 Stretch The Toe Box

The finalñ thing you’ll need to think about is stretching the toe box. This is usually required for people with wider feet. 

If you have wide feet, you’ll also have to adjust your lacing style to give you a little more wiggle room inside the shoe.

If you need to stretch your toe box, simply stuff wadded paper into the shoe and leave it there overnight. If you’ve packed it tightly enough, you should notice that it’s stretched.

If it didn’t stretch enough, try packing the paper even tighter and leave it there for multiple nights, this should do the trick.

Is Ankle Support Necessary For Hiking?

A question I’ve often seen asked on the internet is whether ankle support is necessary for hiking, so I wanted to spend some time and explain.

It’s a great debate among hikers, so I think it’s worth laying out the facts you need to decide whether you should look for hiking boots with ankle support.

As you can imagine, high-top hiking boots lift over your ankle, so it would make sense that they protect your ankle from unwanted rotation.

The thing:

There have been no significant studies to confirm that high-ankle boots protect your ankle from unwanted protection.

All I can do is speak from my personal experiences. I’ve used a combination of high and low-ankle hiking boots throughout my life.

And I’ve injured my ankle in both from twisting my ankle, and there’s nothing to say the high-ankle boot prevented a more severe injury.

I think you should wear hiking shoes that are most comfortable for you. You should be OK with either style if the shoe provides decent protection and grip.

Do I Need Waterproof Hiking Boots?

While waterproof hiking boots aren’t necessary, it’s still something I like to think about when choosing new hiking shoes.

Here’s the thing:

You won’t always need waterproof hiking footwear, but if it rains or you have to walk through marshy land, you will be thankful for them.

One of the biggest problems with waterproof hiking shoes is some of them claim to be waterproof, yet they need some essential features.

And this can make your waterproof boots feel less than watertight.

One of the main features I like to look for in waterproof hiking shoes is the tongue of the boot. Many hiking boots use waterproof materials around the shoe, but then they have huge gaps between the shoe and the tongue.

And this means water can seep through if your foot goes too deep in a puddle or you’re walking through long grass.

Try to look for waterproof shoes with a skirt connecting the tongue to the main part of the shoe. The higher up the tongue, the better if you want decent waterproof protection.

Final Thoughts & Takeaways

Finding the right hiking shoes for you can take some time, and you need to think about many things if you want the right pair of hiking shoes.

But finding the right shoe for your feet with the features you need can improve your hiking experience.

Think about what kind of hiking you’re doing. If you’re not going on challenging trails, you might not even need hiking boots. And this can save you money and time trying to find some hiking boots.

But if you’re planning to take on mountains, I’d highly recommend you always wear hiking boots.

If you’re looking for more hiking-related articles, check out our article on how to prevent knee pain when hiking downhill?

Frequently Asked Questions

What To Wear If You Don’t Have Hiking Boots?

If you don’t have any hiking boots and are unsure whether you want to invest in them just yet, your best option is to wear running shoes or sneakers. Just make sure they’re comfortable, and you don’t mind getting them dirty.

Why Are Boots Better Than Shoes?

Boots have more room inside the shoe, so you can put a decent pair of socks on your feet. They also give you more traction, making you less likely to slip on a wet surface. And finally, they’re more durable than shoes, which means they will last longer. 

Are Hiking Sandals Worth It?

In my opinion, sandals are a waste of money. They give a secure fit around your feet and offer zero protection if a rock falls on your feet. They may provide more ventilation, but it’s not worth the risks they cause.

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Hey, my name's Jason, and before I was a writer, I worked as an outdoor activity instructor where I took groups kayaking and camping. Now I use my personal experiences to share tips and tricks I've learned over the years. For as long as I can remember, I've been passionate about the outdoors, and now I want to share that passion with my readers.