Lightweight hiking shoes have the advantage over bulkier boots in their breathability, flexibility and versatility. They generally lack the ankle support of hiking boots, but modern hiking shoes are invariably comfortable, offer great impact support, have good grip and, frankly, look a lot nicer. Get one good pair and they’ll do you for most hikes, and for walking the dog.
- Weight: The lighter the better. After a couple of kilometres, you need all the help you can get.
- Comfort: Thick padding provides shock-absorption, cushioning and offers some rigidity to support the foot.
- Waterproofing: Many synthetic shoes come with a waterproof lining although it can cost more.
- Traction: The outsoles should offer good traction. Get an irregular sole – the more varied and cleat-like the design, the better the grip.
- Breathability: Look for a mesh lining that will help sweaty feet breathe.
- Extras: Look for anti-microbial linings that minimise fungus, and toe protection caps and sewn-in bellowed tongues keep dirt and stones out.
How to find the proper fit
- Your feet will expand slightly after an hour of walking so go for a slightly bigger size shoe than normal, to allow space for swelling.
- Take a pair of thick socks – socks that you’ll actually be wearing when you hike – lace up snugly and take a trot around the store. Your feet shouldn’t move about inside the shoe, but the shoes should feel light, secure and well-padded and there should be only limited upward movement at your heels.
- If any element of the shoe bugs you, do not buy it. Small issues in the store will become much larger, and often painful, issues out on the trail.
1. Adidas Terrex Swift R Mid GTX
Comfort: Removable shock-absorbing midsole inserts with arch support on either side of the foot.
Traction: Traxion rubber, deep tread but uniform pattern on the soles.
Breathability: Mesh synthetic upper, but no visible breathability.
Extras: Rubber toe and heel caps.
The ankle height of these flexible, stylish shoes offers extra support and the wide, built-in tongue keeps out debris. They’re durable, have high rubber sides for protection against rocks, and a speed-lacing system. They could do with extra padding, but they’re not uncomfortable.
These hiking shoes fit like a glove and feel sturdy and supportive. The speed-lace system is gimmicky, but it works. Waterproof, durable and snug, I’d probably wear them every day – 9/10.
2. Salomon Women’s Ellipse Aero Shoe
Comfort: Well-padded, good arch support and EVA midsole.
Traction: Contagrip, non-uniform sole pattern and aggressive tread.
Breathability: Quick-drying nylon mesh with visible holes covering most of the upper.
Extras: Toe and heel caps.
There’s no heel strap and the narrow tongue doesn’t prevent dirt entering. However, the shoes are sleek, durable and very comfortable. A mesh panel over the forefoot provides for better flexibility.
I used these for most of the Tankwa Camino and was satisfied with the support, traction breathability and weight, but one shoelace did break and some waterproofing wouldn’t hurt 8/10.
3. Merrell Women’s Chameleon 2 Flux Shoe
Comfort: Little padding, but stable and snug with removable EVA midsoles.
Traction: Vibram sticky grip rubber, non-uniform sole pattern and aggressive tread.
Breathability: Mesh upper.
Extras: Rubber toe and heel caps and microfibre footbed treated with antimicrobial solution to reduce odour.
Hardy, protective and flexible these shoes have the best tongue design – elastic bellows to keep out debris. They’re wide with little arch support, but keep the foot centred.
These shoes have excellent traction and are supportive. I’d like better breathability and waterproofing. 7/10.
4. Wolverine Black Ledge LX Lo Sport Hiker
Comfort: Best padding of the shoes tested here. Light and protective and EVA midsoles.
Waterproofing: Full-grain leather uppers.
Traction: The most uniform sole of the tested shoes.
Breathability: Waterproof, breathable membrane lining, but no visible airflow channels.
Extras: Rubber toe and heel caps.
They look and feel like hardy adventure shoes, with thick soles, a built-in tongue, arched foot support, superior padding, robust protection and a heel strap to pull the shoe on.
These warm, durable shoes are built to stand up to scrapes. Geared for wet, muddy walks, they are surprisingly comfortable, lightweight and flexible for their bulky look. The thick walls will protect the foot, but the breathability is minimal. 7/10
Choose the right socks
Walking socks should contain fibres such as wool that are able to transfer moisture away from your foot and out of the shoe via the breathable lining – this process is called wicking and it’s your friend.
1. Falke Left and Right Hiking Sock
These longer-length socks won’t slip down and they prevent scrapes to the ankle. Featuring Drynamix moisture management (a synthetic alternative to wool) and strategic mesh management for extra ventilation, these are a firm favourite. The asymmetrical left and right toe design moulds to the feet for best comfort and there’s cushioning in all the right places. They also wick well thanks to the lightweight yarn blend, but keep you warm with a fluffier ankle weave.
The Falke Trail Running sock is another great, lightweight option with excellent mesh breathability, but much less padding.
2. Hi-Tec Elite Hiker Sock
These ankle-height socks are well-padded, snug and have a reinforced toe and heel for added durability. The versatile rib-top ensures the sock stays up or can be folded over. They are treated to prevent odours or bacteria forming and there is a also strategic ventilation mesh above the toes and around the heel.
3. Bridgedale Endurance Trekker Sock
These socks are fancy and top of the range, designed to give extra warmth, comfort and cushioning with superior wicking ability as they’re made from wool (one of the best materials out there for keeping skin dry). They also feature double density pads underfoot, ventilation ridging around the ankle and are elasticated where it counts such as around the middle of the foot, the ankle and the calf.
Insoles absorb shock
On day three of the Camino, my knees hurt and I wished I’d had insoles. These removable layers absorb shock, which would otherwise affect the ankles, hips and knees.
Sofsole Athlete Insole
These insoles provide provide extra gel comfort and have antimicrobial properties that won’t compromise the moisture management of the shoes or socks as they feature wicking technology. These insoles have a neutral arch, but other arch-types are available.
You can be tested at Sportsmans Warehouse stores to determine which inserts will work for your arch type and stride.
This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Getaway magazine.
Please note that prices are subject to change at each supplier’s discretion.