5 Kinds of Hiking Footwear for Every Kind of Adventure From Water to Mountains

Which hiking shoe is right for you? Lightweight boot, Bryce Canyon National Park. Hanging with the HooDoos.
From Yosemite to Zion to Vermont's Green Mountains to Bryce Canyon's blazing-orange Hoodoos, my feet take me on the trails everywhere. And unless you’re a barefooter, the correct type of hiking footwear is the most basic, important, vital part of your hiking gear. Some might say it’s the sole/soul of the operation, so to speak.

But shoe puns aside, we’ve all had the wrong type of footwear on a trip. Where our feet scream up at us and we have blistery, black & blue reminders of our mistake for months.

I fall hard for my hiking gear. And my choice of footwear is probably the most important gear item on my list.

Here are 5 kinds of hiking footwear for every kind of adventure:

Reflections in Yosemite National Park wearing my Sport Sandals for a hike up the South Fork of the Merced River.
1 - The Sport Sandal
Surprisingly, these sandals are made for more thank just splashing around in a stream. From the first Velcro Tevas I ever owned to these magenta Merrells with super-dry, super support, I use these on warm to hot days for not only general outdoor activities, but also for 4+ mile hikes. 

Gear companies are using new technology to make these non-stinky, adjustable, and comfortable with a great “footframe” to make them more like a hiking shoe than just a flat flip-flop. Some brands to check out are Merrell, Chaco and Teva.

My favorite of the pack, Trail Runners at the summit of Angel's Landing, Zion National Park.
2 - The Trail Runner
Hands down my favorite piece of hiking footwear. They’re the first thing I grab. I switched over to trail runners after an interesting conversation with a podiatrist I met hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park when I lived in Boulder, Colorado years ago. The chatty foot-doctor highly recommended moving into trail runners for their lightness, agility, stability and grip. And I haven’t looked back since. 

I’ve now owned multiple generations of Saucony Xodus and it’s like having 4x4 tires on my feet. With a wider foot bed and incredible Vibram tread and stability, they are my BFF of hiking footwear.

Relaxing at Shelf Lake in my Lightweight Hiking Boots after a hike into the 7 Devil's Wilderness, Idaho.
3 - The Lightweight Waterproof Hiking Boot
Heading out for a week of backpacking last September, I’d just gotten the news that the weather in the Seven Devils Wilderness in Idaho was unusually funky and surprise hailstorms were hitting the region. I made a decision to head to REI to look at waterproof footwear options to bring instead of my Saucony trail runners.

Now the usual mantra for hikers is to have PLENTY OF TIME to break in your boots. I had just two weeks – you usually want AT LEAST a month – so I was playing with fire and needed just the right boot: lightweight, easy to break in & waterproof. After chatting with the REI dude and trying on options, this low rise boot from Ahnu stood out. And it performed with a minimal break-in period. With a heavy backpack and some stream crossings, I didn't have a single foot issue and I had super comfortable, trail worthy support.

Overlooking Golden Gate National Recreation Area, California in my Big Kahuna Hiking Boots.
4 - The Big Kahuna Hiking Boot
When I wear these, I feel like I could hike through a volcano and kick the arse of Godzilla if he came my way. I grab this type of boot if I know it’s going to be a wet or gnarly trail for excellent toe protection. I put my kids in a similar low cut version of these Keen boots for their summer camps and intense kowabunga kid-adventures. 

Again, because of modern technology, they're still relatively light compared to some of the old leather standards I grew up with. Solid Keen Durands for solid hiking and backpacking.

Water Shoes for foot protection for rafting, swimming and hiking the trails on the Snake River, Hell's Canyon.
5 - Optional: The Water Shoe
If you’re going to be spending a lot of time in the water, getting a pair of quick-dry water footwear that DOESN’T LET ROCKS into the shoe is another option. Trail runners will work if you need to be in water just once in a while because they’re lightweight and dry relatively quickly. 

But you can check into water shoes like these from Columbia I wore on the Snake River as a part of the crew of Hell Hike and Raft last year. We rafted for days and I needed footwear I could wear in the boat, swim in, and then hop on the land and explore the terrain with good support.

So there you go. Five great options to take care of your feet. Pick the right shoe for the right adventure and let’s see how far we can go!

See you out on the trails and let me know what you think.

-Outdoorsy Mama

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  1. wow! very nice boot. I like this boot. this is called beauty of nature and it is very good to enjoy this beauty of nature and backpacking in this place is a beautiful experience. Its always great to find good honest practical content. I have shared your site with many friends and family. It is always a pleasure to read. Thank you so much.

    1. thank you so much, jean michel bui! getting out in nature is wonderful and having the right gear to have fun enjoying nature is so important. i'm so glad you are liking my site and sharing with your friends and family. see you in the mountains :)

  2. it's important like this shoes but you can find something profeesionel WHEN BUYING WATER SHOES

  3. excellent your blog post. thank's for sharing. I love camping. outdoor is the best way to chill out and go out and enjoy yourself. this will be a refreshing experience to enjoy camping in the natural climate.

    1. thank you Rose. hope you are getting out camping soon :)

  4. This is just the article I have been searching for; all the important info on hiking footwear in one place. I think the trail runner and the water shoe will come in handy on my next expedition. I also found some amazing choices here: http://survival-mastery.com/reviews/best-hiking-boots.html

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  9. thank you for providing this useful information
    I would prefer wearing sport sandals especially when it comes hot.

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