Trekking Shoes Guide- What to Know Before You Buy Your Next Pair
The most important piece of gear you will buy when you start trekking is your shoe.
The right trekking shoe will decide how to feel the next morning after your first day of trekking.
The wrong type or ill-fitting trekking shoe will leave you with a feeling of exhaustion and strained muscles and unable to start trekking the next day.
To make things worse, wrong trekking shoes will leave you with blisters and squished toes.
Trekking shoes can be really expensive and when we start trekking, we tend to compromise and buy a cheap pair of shoes.
But ask every trekker, the most important gear you will ever own is a good pair of trekking shoes. Think of this as an investment and not an expense.
A good pair of trekking shoes will ensure you enjoy your trek and also keep you safe on the trail.
How long does a trekking shoe last?
Now that we called a good pair of trekking shoes an investment, how long do they usually last?
The life of trekking shoes depends on many factors.
A trail running shoe from a reputed manufacturer lasts for an average of 800 Kms.
A middleweight trekking shoe would last anywhere from 800- 1000 Kms.
And a heavy-duty trekking boot would last for an average of 1000 km.
Now, these are averages and there are many factors that come into play.
What to consider before you buy your next trekking shoe?
1. Comfort and Fit
The outer sole should be hard enough to absorb impact and shock from the trail. But it should also be flexible so as to keep you agile.
Don’t worry, you can definitely buy shoes online. Manufacturers use standard sizing. A size 10 is same between manufacturer A and manufacturer B.
This is not the same case with t-shirts where the body structure change based on race and ethnicity.
Always buy .5 size bigger than what you would usually wear.
Your shoe should also have sufficient wiggle room for your toes.
If your toes feel compressed, then they are definitely going to be hitting every rock on your descent. Most first time trekkers get this wrong and feel they are not cut out for an activity like trekking.
Your feet also tend to swell after a couple of days of tough hiking and you would need extra room in your shoes to compensate for this swelling.
When you go on winter treks, you would need to wear woollen socks which tend to be thicker. The .5 size definitely makes a big difference to accommodate the above two factors.
Trekking shoes range from extremely lightweight trail running shoes to heavy expedition boots. The saying is, 450 Gms on your feet is like carrying 2.2 Kg on your back.
A study by the US army in 1984 confirms the same.
Using heavy shoes for a day hike is unnecessary and is going to tire you out.
Using lightweight shoes for a 10-day trek won’t give you good ankle support and shock absorption.
You need to decide what kind of treks you would be doing more often and buy a pair that matches the requirement.
The design and build strategy of trekking shoe varies between manufacturers. The traction that your shoe provides is based on this strategy and the research that they have conducted.
Manufacturers are constantly testing and enhancing what they offer.
A deep lug pattern would help dig into the ground and provide extra grip.
You trekking shoe should also have a heel brake.
This means that the lug pattern on your heel and below your toe section will be separated by the arch.
Splitting the pattern helps ensure you get more grip when descending on the trail. The wider or more prominent the gap, the better the grip.
- Ankle Support
The common notion is that people buy shoes with good ankle support thinking that the feature will do all the work for them.
In order for the high top ankle to work, there are specific lacing techniques that help wrap the ankle support around your feet.
So how exactly does ankle support help you? Well, it stabilises your ankles.
If you slip and your feet go one way and your body the other, the pressure falls on your ankle, which could end your trek.
A good pair of trekking shoes keeps your ankle stable and would help prevent this.
We came across some opinions that, ankle support was meant for older people with weaker knees and legs.
But honestly, I would still buy a pair with ankle support, better safe than sorry right?
For more details on ankle support, you could read our Anatomy of a Trekking Shoe
Look for trekking shoe that offers a good cushy sole. Trail runners offer a lightweight and flexible sole which adapts and move with your feet.
Trekking boot soles are rigid and very low on flexibility but they offer great support and shock absorption.
A good pair of waterproof trekking shoes can be essential.
The argument is, what if you’re hiking in rain? Your body would get wet and water would drip down your legs into your shoes? Then what?
But owning a pair of waterproof trekking shoes will definitely be better than a shoe that’s going to get wet even in a small puddle.
Most shoes use Gore-Tex membranes to keep your shoes waterproof.
Please do note, the life of the waterproof technology tends to reduce with wear and tear.
Waterproof shoes tend to get difficult to dry if water enters the insides of the shoe.
Related Article: How to Properly Dry a Wet Trekking Shoe
Trail runners are extremely breathable.
Heavy expedition boots with waterproof Gore-Tex Membranes tend to be less breathable.
When trekking in warmer climates, your feet get sweaty and it tends to accumulate in your feet and shoes.
Do air out your socks and feet before getting into the tent with your friends. If you know what we mean!
What we would suggest is, to change into a fresh pair of socks when sleeping and use this pair only for sleeping in your tent.
Like we mentioned earlier, expedition boots tend to last many years. Some are of such great quality that you can hand them over to your kids when you grow old!
Trail runners cost less but will not last as long as a heavy trekking shoe.
Always think of a good pair of trekking shoes as an investment.
Related article: 5 Easy tips on How to Clean and Store your Trekking Shoes.
- Heel to toe drop
Some shoes are designed to ensures your heel and toes are on the same level.
The opinion is that this tends to make it easier to trek compared to shoes where the heel is slightly higher than the toes.
This again is an individual choice.
If you know that you will be trekking over the course of next 5 years, you could consider is having specialist shoes depending on the treks you take.
Types of Trekking Shoes
- Trail Running Shoes
Trail running shoes are like your normal running shoe but made for a hiking trail.
They are generally more durable, offer more shock absorption are and made to last longer than your normal running shoes.
City marathon runners started progressing into trail running, and manufacturers wanted to offer a hybrid of a running shoe and trekking shoe and so trail running shoes were created.
Since they are lightweight, you’re still agile and not lugging around heavy hiking shoes. Another benefit of this is that they can be used in the city too.
- Very flexible sole
- Suitable for daily use and on softer terrain
- Most models are extremely breathable and dry out even if they get wet
- Does not need breaking in
- Not suitable for trekking on rough terrain
- No ankle support
- Very breathable so your feet will get wet in monsoon conditions.
- Mid Ankle or Mid Weight Trekking shoe
A mid-ankle or mid-weight trekking shoe can easily handle rough terrain. These types of trekking shoes are the best choice for weekend treks.
These shoes have a flexible sole but with enough firmness to protect your feet from rocks.
They have good padding and insulation which would keep your feet warm.
They come in either no ankle support or mid ankle support. They are constructed in burly materials and can be a great pair of shoes for a weekend or moderate hikes.
Since they have little or no ankle support, these shoes may not be the best option for a new trekker.
These could be perfect for an advanced trekker, looking for a lightweight shoe. These could also be the second pair that they own.
Some models even offer some level of waterproofing.
- Not too heavy
- Enough protection for moderate hikes
- Little or no ankle support
- Not suitable for rough terrain
- May not have a tough toe guard
- Crampons can’t be used with these types of shoes
- Approach Shoe
An approach shoe is a blend of a hiking shoe and a bouldering shoe.
They have the burliness of a hiking shoe that would protect your feet and the flexibility that a mountain climbing shoe offers.
They are ideal for people who are into bouldering, and looking for a shoe which gives them added protection while trekking to climbing spots.
You might have to search a lot to find a good pair in India.
- Lightweight and flexible
- Keeps you agile
- Minimum protection
- Suitable for day hikes only
- Trekking Boots
As the name suggests, they are intended for rough terrain. We have considered only High-Top or full ankle support shoes in this section.
They come with features like rugged soles, padding for shock absorption, thick upper layers, waterproof inner membrane, a tough toe guard and ankle support.
These trekking shoes are meant for rugged terrains and will easily do the job of keeping your feet safe in moderate and difficult treks.
The increased weight requires some getting used to and these definitely have to be broken in.
We suggest using these on smaller treks and get used to them, before doing any serious treks for the first time.
Most of them come with an option to attach crampons.
- Suitable for any Himalayan treks
- Insulation from cold and snow
- Ankle support for difficult treks
- Strong sole and shock absorbing materials and rugged construction
- Can be very heavy
- Requires breaking in and getting used to
- Not suitable for day hikes
- Mountaineering boots
These are the most expensive type of shoe in the market.
They are made for mountaineering and not needed for the average trekker. Think of treks going over to 8k Mts. They come with great protection and insulation from cold and snow. Most crampons can be used with these shoes. They are extremely rigid.
- Highest quality of shoes
- Expensive, suitable for professionals.
If you know that you will be trekking over the course of next 5 years, what you could also consider is having specialist shoes depending on the treks you take.
We hope you liked this article and found it to be helpful in choosing the right type of trekking shoes.