How to buy the right walking shoes: Pro tips & guidelines

Megan Smith
 min read

How to buy the right walking shoes can be a little complicated, so we thought of making it easier.

How to buy the right walking shoes: Pro tips & guidelinesWalking is one of the best ways to obtain improved physical and mental health.

The right walking shoes are the most important part of a hiker’s equipment. Choose walking shoes or hiking boots that fit your walking style, fit well, feel comfortable and are durable. 

Read on for detailed buying tips and common misconceptions before you purchase a pair of walking shoes.

How to buy the right walking shoes

Determine which walking shoes fit your feet

Choosing the right hiking boots is quite tricky. After all, there are many types of hiking boots for sale in online stores and also a lot of brands. But which pair of hiking boots should you choose?

Before buying hiking boots, the first tip is to consider a few questions.

Consider your walking style

  • How much distance do you plan to walk on average per day?
  • What type of trails or roads do you prefer to hike on? Roads where it is easy to put one foot in front of the other? Narrow and bumpy paths? Or do you plan to get off the trails often?
  • Do you run mostly on flat ground or also in hilly areas or do you go into the mountains?
  • Do you do day hikes without luggage, with a small backpack or do you hike for several days with a heavier backpack?
  • Do you hike primarily in hot summer conditions? Or are you also planning to go out in the winter? What about the chance of rain along the way?

Consider yourself as a walker

  • Are you very steady on your feet? Or do you just easily sink through your ankles? In the latter case, you are more likely to need a (higher) hiking shoe that provides more support.
  • Do you have wide, bulky feet? Or do you have flat and “skinny” feet? In any case, pay attention to the “last” of the hiking shoe you have in mind.
  • What is your body weight? For more body weight, more support from the hiking boot is needed.
  • Are you an experienced hiker? Or are you a beginner?

It’s all about which type of shoe fits your foot? And with what you’re going to do.

Where one hiker chooses a low hiking shoe, another hiker may benefit more from a higher and stiffer shoe.

Your weight may also play a role, especially if you’re on the heavy side.

Types of hiking boots

There is an ABCD classification of hiking boots used by a number of shoe manufacturers and stores for the average hiker.

The A shoe stands for a flexible and light hiking shoe that is generally used for hikes over easy terrain with a light backpack.

Next comes the high B shoe, suitable for hiking on slightly more difficult (mountain) trails with a slightly heavier backpack.

The sole of this B shoe is stiffer than that of the A shoe but still pliable. And with a high shank and heavier construction, this hiking boot gives more support and protection to feet and ankles.

If you walk over even tougher terrain (off the trails in the mountains) with more weight on your back, you end up with a stiff C or even a D shoe.

Personal hiking preferences

Where some prefer to put on sturdy and high hiking boots already on flat ground, others hike through a mountain range on low shoes.

Did you know that the best hiking shoe for the average hiker does not exist because no one is the average hiker.

Nevertheless, you could say that for an average day hike, most hikers can get by with a light and low hiking shoe.

Seek professional advice

The ABCD format seems straightforward, but it’s not that simple.

By no means do all brands and stores use the ABCD classification, and one A or B shoe is not another.

Brands often use their own designations such as trekking, hiking or backpacking, and there are also intermediate forms such as A/B, B/C and C/D.

We recommend going to a specialized store for advice, trying on the hiking boots and taking them for a walk around the store.

If, on the other hand, you have a lot of hiking experience, then at some point you will know better which shoe you need.

An online purchase at the most competitive price is then probably wise.

If you have little experience, you will have to start somewhere and in the store they can help you with that.

Soles of a hiking boot

Underneath a hiking boot is, of course, a sole. A criteria you don’t usually consider, but certainly not unimportant.

Actually, the hiking shoe consists of several soles:

  • A walking sole with tread
  • Cushioning midsole
  • An insole that determines pliability, and
  • The insole with or without ergonomic footbed

Make sure the sole bends in the right place, i.e. at the flexion line between toes and foot. Furthermore, the sole should comfortably wrap around and provide adequate cushioning.

You shouldn’t feel too many pebbles through the sole and the tread should be suitable.

One tread is designed for flat roads while another is better suited to mountainous terrain (grip and braking during a descent).

The right fit | How to buy the right walking shoes

Have you decided which type of hiking shoe is best for your feet and your way of hiking? Then the fitting begins.

Because the most important thing is that the shoe is comfortable with a “match” between the shoe and your foot.

Of course, the length of the shoe must be right with enough room for the toes but very important is also that the end of the shoe fits the shape of the foot.

There are flat, narrow and skinny feet, wide, full feet with a high instep and everything in between.

Some brands are reputed to fit wide feet better, while others fit narrow and skinny feet better.

It’s important that:

  • the shoe closes well on the instep,
  • the heel stays in place during the walking motion,
  • the toes are able to move, and
  • very important: that you don’t feel any annoying pressure points.

When in doubt in the store don’t purchase the shoes.

Try on different models, with hiking socks, and walk a bit on them.

Many stores allow you to try the shoes at home for a certain period of time. As long as you don’t go outside with them, you can still exchange them.

Please inquire in the store about the possibilities.

You can also enjoy a not-satisfied money-back guarantee in several online shops. It often includes a free return option as well.

Disclaimer: Don’t forget that many shoes may not feel very comfortable right out of the box because they will require you to break them in on the first few walks: How do you break in new walking shoes? Essential advice

Weight of the hiking shoe

While walking, your feet constantly bear the weight of the shoes.

Therefore, hiking boots should not be unnecessarily heavy while providing sufficient support.

Waterproof or not?

Of course, we all want to keep our feet dry while hiking. This is more comfortable and better for your feet (think blister avoidance).

But it is not easy in practice to maintain dry feet. Water and moisture can come from above (rain), from outside (wet grass and puddles) but also from inside (sweaty feet).

A hiking shoe must be waterproof to protect the feet from rain, but to prevent sweat, the shoe must actually ventilate well.

A lot of hiking boots these days come with a waterproof membrane.

Well-known is the Gore-Tex brand, but other shoes with waterproof layers from other brands are also available.

Water droplets from outside cannot pass through there while sweat can.

Hiking boots can be made waterproof with maintenance products even without such a membrane, but with a light and low shoe this is difficult.

A waterproof membrane in the shoe is then nice, although the shoe then feels warm faster than the same shoe without a waterproof layer.

Of course, it also remains a personal choice: How often do you hike in the rain and on wet trails?

Hiking boots for ladies

A lot of hiking boots are available in styles for both men and women. The variant for ladies is often different (more feminine) in color but there’s more.

That women often have smaller feet than men is well known, but a smaller man’s shoe will not suffice for a woman in many cases.

In fact, several studies have shown that a woman’s foot is different when you look at the differences in the ratio of the forefoot to the heel.

Also, an average women’s foot needs more cushioning from the sole.

Three misconceptions about buying new hiking boots

Finding a good hiking boot seems easier than it is.

Especially if you’re dealing with a difficult foot, this can cause quite a bit of buying stress.

We highlight three misconceptions when buying hiking boots to clarify a few things:

With a good shoe, I’m ready: Myth 1

A good shoe won’t get you there. Use these in conjunction with the right hiking socks.

Special socks are available in many stores for you to wear while trying on shoes. In any case, never wear cotton socks. These absorb moisture more quickly and dry more slowly. Those socks dry only by drawing heat from the foot, but then you get colder and colder.

There are special hiking socks made of synthetic fiber or wool. These socks have no seams and your feet stay drier in them so you also have less chance of blisters.

Such socks really do make a big difference to prevent blisters, read all about it on How to prevent and treat blisters on feet from walking? Tips

Fit shoes in the afternoon: Myth 2

You can try on shoes anytime, in the morning, afternoon, and evening.

Feet do not lengthen during the day, the instep only swells up slightly. The main thing then is to tie correctly: the shoe must have sufficient space.

If the feet swell a bit, you can give them more room by tying the shoes a little looser.

The lighter the shoe, the better: Myth 3

Many people, especially novice hikers, have the idea that hiking boots are inherently heavy. They don’t want stiff and heavy shoes but the lightest possible hiking boots.

But beware: If a shoe is very light, you have no or less support. Stones can be felt through the sole. A lightweight shoe also tends to wear out faster.

People who try a slightly heavier shoe with good settlement often experience a finer walk and run anyway. So think too much about the weight.

How to buy the right walking shoes: Conclusion

If you’re a newbie then you might need to go to a physical store. Make sure that you know what sort of terrain and weather conditions you’ll be facing.

You’ll need the right socks too.

Good luck with your search for the right pair of hiking boots!

About Megan Smith

Megan has been fighting overweight and her plus size since her teenage years. After trying all types of remedies without success, she started doing her own research. Megan founded Plus Size Zeal to share her findings. She also developed various detailed buying guides for plus-size people in order to make their lives easier and more comfortable. Read More