How to choose the right hiking shoes

I thought I knew a lot about hiking. I thought I was prepared. I mean, I have been doing long distance hiking for ten years now. But then I did something foolish. I joined a bunch of Facebook groups about the Camino de Santiago (spoiler: its one of our upcoming adventures) and now I am completely doubting all of my previous hiking knowledge.

I bought my first pair of hiking shoes in Scotland, those were the best clean white shoes I eve got. I actually bought them while en route to hike Ben Nevis. They were the traditional high top style of hiking shoe, they were a size too small, but they were reduced for quick sale due to a manufacturing fault. Decision making for the win. Despite being a size too small – not so small that my toes were super squished, but small enough that I had to make sure my toenails were always cut super short – I never had any issues with them. That day we didn’t end up hiking Ben Nevis (icy conditions made it too dangerous), but I did end up using those shoes all through New Zealand (all the great walks bar one), all over Australia, and all through South America. Never a blister, not one.

Then when we were hiking around Banff, I found another pair of hiking shoes on sale. These ones were trail walking style and were my actual size. A big improvement. They were super comfortable from the very beginning. I used them all over Banff, and then all through the mountains of Australia and across steamy Hamilton Island. No blisters, no issues.

So you would think I would be well prepared for the Camino. After all, we are planning to walk on average 18 km’s a day and have planned in several rest days. And that is what I thought too. And then I joined the forums.

These are some of the comments when I asked if my hiking shoes would be appropriate.

I would and do wear hiking shoes 1 size larger than my normal shoe wear. You need room for your feet to expand and swell.”

“My feet ballooned on my first Camino and I resorted to cutting off the toe sections so my toes could stick out but I still lost my 2 big toe nails…..but I was walking in 38 degrees for 10 days for 9 hours day.”

Sounds like you have the perfect shoes for you. I went a size bigger for the French Camino and regretted it, got huge blisters. Wore my regular size on the Portuguese Camino the following year and was fine.

No. The heat and long hours on your feet will make your feet at least half size larger than normal. Keep your lovely shoes for shorter post Camino hikes and get new larger shoes…

Take your favorite shoes, not sized up, and a pair of sandals burly enough for hiking. If your feet do swell, then you can always hike in your sandals. I have completed 3 Caminos, never sized up and been fine. Halfway through my first Camino I switched to sandals and have only used sandals since.

So, conflicting advice. So I decided to ask the experts. Below is Dr. Velimir Petkov’s advice from Premier Podiatry on choosing the best hiking boots. Here is his advice below:

Choosing the right pair of hiking boots can make the difference between being comfortable and having a miserable experience.

One of the most important things to look for when shopping for hiking boots is the thickness and stiffness of the sole. You don’t want to get a pair of boots with soles that are too flexible. They should also provide a good grip to prevent slipping if you intend to hike through rocky surfaces.

Next, you have to make sure that the toe box (part of the shoe that covers and protects your toes) is wide enough. If possible, get professionally fit by a podiatrist or a sports/hiking shoes sales specialist. Your toes need just enough room to wiggle around freely so that you don’t get blisters. Your toes and forefoot bones should fit comfortably in the shoe when you are standing and walking. Choosing boots with a narrow toe box can harm your feet by causing bunions, hammertoes or Morton’s Neuroma.

You also want to have excellent arch support. If you are serious about hiking, I recommend that you invest in a good pair of custom molded orthotics. In my practice, I see a fair bit of hiking enthusiasts. I measure their feet using a 3-dimensional volumetric foot scanning device which allows for an extremely accurate and precise fit. I then design custom orthotics with a lightweight carbon fiber sole, a shock-absorption XRD mid-layer and silver-infused cover on top. XRD allows for up to 90% absorption of energy when impacted. Metallic silver prevents the growth of bacteria and eliminates human odor. A great pair of orthotics should last for about 2 years with good care.

Take into consideration the terrain where you’re going to be hiking. Warm climate calls for breathability while hiking through wet conditions (in snow or through streams) requires you to have water-repelling boots.

Lastly, don’t get dazzled by a pair of boots’ color, style or a fancy name. At the end of the day, you want your boots to withstand the demands of the trail you’ve chosen. Durability, rigidness, size, and comfort should be at the top of your priority list. 

I then asked him about some of those comments I had gotten in the camino forums. I have been stressed for months about having to buy another pair of hiking shoes. I love my current hiking shoes, but they are definitely not fitting me loose. I have pretty big feet and I the largest size in the women’s range is *just* the right size. But if I move into the men’s range, the sizes tend to be too wide for my narrow feet. Oh the problems of a tall girl!

Dr. Velimir Petkov’s had this advice about hiking shoe sizing:

Shopping for shoes is best done in the afternoon because our feet expand and get swollen during the day. When it comes to hiking shoes, you should be able to slip 1 finger in between your heel and the back of the shoe when unlaced.

Some sandals can be suitable for hiking, provided that the terrain is not too rough and the weather condition are mild.

Ok so with that, I think I will stick to my original plan. I am going to keep my comfy hiking shoes and in addition, I am going to buy a pair of those fancy hiking sandals. Then, if my feet do swell, I can switch shoes mid hike to allow my feet a chance to breath and rest. This should also help with blisters as I can switch shoes if anything starts to rub.

So tell me, what type of shoes do YOU prefer to hike in?

One thought on “How to choose the right hiking shoes

  1. I used the usual sneakers, we call them sport shoes here, for years. Every time, I either had blisters or knee pain after descending. I didn’t want real hiking boots because of the weight. Then recently, after a 2600m hike in the heat of the Great Rift, I decided to get some boots. I got some second hand (almost new) hiking boots from Germany, to prepare my feet for the weight as I am planning to hike about 5300m end of the year. I am liking them, though it’s still slip-and-land-on-your-bum when hiking wet places.


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