What Kind Of Shoes You Should Wear When Hiking?

If you’re just starting out hiking, you may wonder why it matters what hiking footwear you wear, especially if you decide to buy a new pair of shoes specifically for the purpose.  

I totally get it. It seems logical that your favorite pair of running shoes will also feel great on your feet while hiking. However, in my personal experience, the shoes you choose play a big part in your overall experience.  

People always ask me what shoes to wear for hiking and if hiking boots are the only way to make your feet comfortable while on the trails.

I often tell them that there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer to this question but that there are definitely certain things you should consider when choosing your footwear. 

Quick Summary 

  • Hikers should always wear appropriate shoes to avoid injury or discomfort. 
  • Many good options exist that provide the right about of protection, style, and wearability. 
  • Sneakers are not a good hiking shoe option, and you should never wear flip-flops or high heels. 

Can I Wear Regular Shoes For Hiking? 

I do not recommend wearing your regular shoes for hiking, as they likely will not provide you with the support, traction, and durability needed for more rugged terrain. I always suggest that people wear hiking boots or trail runners when they want to hit the trail to ensure they adequately protect their feet and prevent injury.   

What Shoes Are Best For Hiking? 

When deciding what type of footwear to purchase for hiking, you should consider various factors, including the trails you intend to hike (terrain), how often you will hike, the weather conditions you’ll face, and any foot problems you have. 

In general, I’ve found that the following shoes each have their pros and cons, which hikers should consider before wearing them. 

Hiking Boots 

salomon hiking boot

Hiking boots are the first thing most people think of wearing for a hike.

Although they do provide an excellent amount of foot protection, surprisingly, they aren’t always the best choice.

I have pairs of hiking boots that I absolutely love, but I still don’t wear them every time I embark on an outdoor adventure. 


  • They’re highly durable, rugged, and can handle even the most technical or rocky terrain—an excellent option for all types of trekking.  
  • Most have good waterproofing, keeping your feet from getting wet. 
  • They have good traction, which helps to reduce slips and falls. 
  • The high top provides great ankle support reducing the chance of sprains or other injuries.  
  • They’re well-insulted, which helps keep your feet warm in winter. 


  • They’re often heavy, and the extra weight may make your feet tired more quickly. 
  • You need to properly break them in to avoid discomfort. 
  • Some materials don’t allow for much airflow, so your feet may sweat.  

Hiking Shoes 

Hiking shoes are similar to hiking boots in traction and durability, but they’re often not as tall or rugged as a hiking boot. Many people find that a low-top hiking shoe is more comfortable overall because they tend to be more lightweight and versatile. 

They work exceptionally well for a short hike or on a trail that’s well-maintained or not in the mountains.  


  • They’re lighter than boots but still provide good traction and protection. 
  • They’re often more stylish than boots, and you can wear them casually and for hikes. 
  • Can be more comfortable than boots. 
  • Many brands have added waterproofing. 


  • They lack the ankle support that a pair of hiking boots provides. 
  • Not waterproof or protective enough for extremely muddy trails or trekking in very dense wilderness. 

Trail Running Shoes 

trail running shoes for hiking

In recent years, trail running shoes have grown more and more popular. Trail running shoes are a cross between hiking shoes and running shoes, and most people like them because they’re breathable, flexible, and don’t require breaking in before you wear them on your adventures. 

Some experts even say that top trail running shoes can replace hiking boots altogether. I don’t agree with this advice because they are intended for different use.

However, for many recreational hikers, trail running shoes provide just the right features, and many find trail runners suitable to wear on a hike


  • Extremely light, flexible, and known for comfort. 
  • Excellent airflow helps feet stay dry. 
  • Don’t require breaking in and make you less prone to blisters. 


  • Not waterproof and not suitable for icy or extremely wet conditions, so they likely will not keep your feet dry. 
  • Don’t provide any insulation for your foot. 
  • Do not provide a high level of ankle support. 
  • Not as durable and is more prone to wear and tear. 

Hiking Sandals 

hiking sandals

Although even top hiking sandals don’t provide the most foot protection, sandals make a good option to wear hiking on an easy summer walk. Sandals help your feet to stay cool in warm weather and work well for hikes where I’ll cross streams or rivers.

I would never wear them on a multi-day hike or if I was planning to summit a mountain, mainly because of their lack of toe and ankle support (Here is our selection for best hiking boots with ankle support if this is what you looking for).

They are most commonly thought of as a recreational type of shoe than one for serious hiking, but they are still something to consider for comfort and style. 


  • Provide significant weight savings because they aren’t bulky or heavy.
  • Won’t hold onto water, so they make a good option for waterfalls, rivers, or streams. 
  • Have better traction than regular sandals so they will grip the terrain well.  
  • Keep your feet cool and have good ventilation. 


  • Do not shield the toes or other areas from scrapes or bruises. 
  • Little to no ankle support 
  • They can lack comfort if the straps dig into you as you walk. 
  • The possibility that you will get sunburned because they don’t cover your skin. 

What Are The Worst Type Of Shoes To Hike With?

Without a doubt, there are certain types of shoes that you should never wear hiking as they don’t give you any traction, and you risk injuries and discomfort. Here’s my list of shoes you should never wear as hiking shoes. 

Flip Flops 

Even just for walking, flip-flops make a terrible option and will also give your feet a problem. They are not safe and have no durability or protective elements. 

High Heels  

High heels not only pose a tripping hazard but are also very uncomfortable and will not give you any type of traction on slippery or uneven surfaces.   

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Are Sneakers OK For Hiking? 

Sneakers or running shoes will be OK for short flat hikes. However, they lack durability and can suffer from rips or tears. They also could get ruined by a muddy trail and aren’t designed for most types of natural outdoor terrain.

They’re better suited for flat concrete or the gym. If you like the style of sneakers, you’re better off with a trail running shoe for hikes. 

Can I Wear Trail Runners or Lightweight Hiking Shoes for Day Hikes?

When it comes to day hikes, you have options. While some hikers prefer traditional hiking boots, wearing trail runners or lightweight hiking shoes is a popular choice.

These shoes offer several advantages. They are lighter, allowing for a swifter pace, especially on flat trails. For well-maintained paths or less rugged terrain, running shoes provide the necessary comfort and flexibility.

However, if you encounter rough terrain or plan to tackle rugged trails, most hiking shoes provide better protection and stability.

Tips And Recommendations 

Always wear a hiking shoe that’s designed for various trail conditions and gives good traction to prevent you from any slips or falls.

Based on our experience, we tested and reviewed different hiking boots and shoes so far, and based on each foot condition, we recommend checking our guides for:

Whether wandering through the mountains or headed out on a backpacking adventure, you want your feet to have comfort and safety to remain a priority. 

Christina Utz

Christina Utz

Christina Utz is a professional writer, mountain addict, and hiking enthusiast. She successfully finished a rock climbing class and a wilderness survival course, and by the age of 24, she hiked more than 1800 miles and finished over 260 different trails! Her expertise in hiking and outdoors helped numerous people to fulfill their adventurous spirit!

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