Choosing your Footwear

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Welcome hikers

Today we’re going to continue discussing outerwear, this time our shoes or boots. If you’re like me,  the first question that comes to mind when looking for a new pair of shoes is what shoes do I need?  Not an easy answer with so many options, but we can break it down to make it easier.

Before we break down how to find the best shoes for us, let’s gather around the campfire for another story. A few years ago my family and I visited Arches National Park and Zion National Park over a two-week trip. For most of the hikes, we went on I wore my hiking boots but those weren’t the only shoes I wore. When we did a hike on the Narrows River I wore water shoes and neoprene socks. The neoprene socks provided thermal protection in the cold water and the water shoes provided drainage and traction so I didn’t slip or have my shoes fill with water as I walked in the river.

Do I need to wear hiking boots or shoes? That’s really up to you but here are some discussion links

what shoes are best? the ones best suited for your feet, the weight you’ll be carrying,  the terrain, and the conditions you’ll use them in.

Terrain Use

  • On trail
  • Off-trail
  • River crossing

Characteristics to look for in boots

  • Abrasion resistant
  • Traction
  • Support
  • Waterproof 
  • Breathability
  • Durability
  • Fit


  • Outsole
    • Lug Pattern
    • Heel brake An aggressive, usually lateral lug pattern used in the outsole to provide additional grip and traction, particularly in descent.
  • Midsole
    • EVA
    • Polyurethane
  • Internal Support
    • Shanks
    • Brakes
  • Uppers
    • Full grain Leather
    • Split grain leather
    • Nubuck leather
    • Waterproof membranes
    • Vegan
    • Insulation
  • Insoles
    • Structural Misalignment
    • Plantar fasciitis
    • Supination or overprponation

Types of boots and shoes

  • Hiking Shoes Low cut uppers
    • Trail-Runners
  • Day Hiking Boots Mid-cut uppers
    • Light Hikers
  • Backpacking Boots  high cut uppers
  • Amphibious/Water Shoes
    • Hiking sandals covered toe box

Proper Fit

  • Snug but not tight around the whole foot
  • Room to move toes
  • ¼ to ½ “ heel slippage. (1 finger)
  • Areas of concern
    • Heel
    • Around the toes
    • The widest part of the foot, the ball

Feet expand during the day

Measure feet along the width and length, don’t just go by shoe size

Wear the socks you’ll use, thicker socks may require larger boots.

Breaking new boots in

  • Wear them inside the house, with the socks you intend to wear hiking
  • Walk around the block and around town, gradually upping the distance as you go making sure they feel good.
  • Hit the trail with your pack,  Always gradually increase weight and mileage as you break them in more.
  • Pay attention to pain points and hot spots.

Lacing your boots

  • Surgeons knot –  prevent heel slip
  • Window lacing – top-of-foot pressure
  • Toe-relief lacing – toe box pressure

Blister prevention and treatment


  • Pressure – from a tight spot in your boots or a wrinkle in your sock
  • Direct Friction – where shear force grabs the skin and slides such as a boot heel.
  • Moisture –  sweatier skin is softer and more susceptible to damage when friction occurs.


  • Wear properly fitted boots
  • Proper socks and sock liners
  • Change to dry socks
  • Fix hot spots quickly
    • Tape with gentle adhesive
    • Moleskin
    • Blister bandages or gels – Dr Scholls Blister defense stick


  • Doughnut hole from mole foam for blister for padding
  • Blister bandage with pad and gel for a protective barrier
  • Drain it if necessary and treat it as any wound after.

Socks and liners

Provide cushioning and blister prevention

  • Height
    • No-show
    • Ankle
    • Crew
    • Knee High – compression socks
  • Cushioning
    • None
    • Light
    • Medium
    • Heavy
  • Fabric
    • Wool
    • Polyester
    • Nylon
    • Silk
    • Spandex
  • Fit
    • Foot size, not shoe size,  measure
    • Snug but not overly tight
    • The heel cup lines up with your heel

Liners can help prevent blisters. They’re made of a thin polyester or lightweight wool that helps wick away moisture. May not work for everyone. They might work better for you in different climates, hikes, or days


  • Types
    • Hiking
    • Mountaineering
    • Trail Running
  • Height
    • Over-the-ankle
    • Mid-calf
    • Knee

So what is the best shoe for you?

The one that provides a proper fit, good traction for the terrain and conditions, and the necessary support while being durable and abrasion resistant.

Can you hike in regular shoes? 

The answer is yes if it’s a well-maintained local trail, but that may not be the best shoe for the activity.

See you on the trail,