Make sure that you use footwear which is comfortable and appropriate for your chosen activities. Nothing has the ability to spoil your entire activity like wearing uncomfortable footwear! Shoes are extremely personal. Just because a shoe is well regard doesn’t mean that it will be good for you. There is no substitute from trying on a pair of shoes/boots, and then wearing them for an extended period of time. Even if your footwear doesn’t need to be “broken in”, you should spend time wearing them before you take them for some extended activity / adventure. Most people find running shoes to be be the most comfortable footwear. As sensibilities and product offerings have expanded, running shoes are appropriate in many situations.
I will note that for outdoor activities, hiking, backpacking, etc I strongly recommend using trail runners rather than traditional hiking boots or shoes. If you look at the experience of people on long distance trails, you will find the majority of people are using trail runners and the percent using trail runners increases each year. For example, here is a review of shoes worn on the AT in 2022.
I have a number of posts related to selecting and using footwear:
- Barefoot and Minimalist Shoes – Fair bit of science suggests a very good approach but you have to build some muscles and transition slowly
- Trail / runners – best shoes for most activities though needs to be replaced after 400-1000 miles
- Sandals – lets your feet breath and dries quickly
- Crocs / Water Shoes – Can be useful in wet conditions. Some people hike in them?!
- Trail runners vs Boots
- Hiking Shoes
- Hiking Boots – durable, maybe protective, blisters without right socks
- Footwear in Wet Condition
- Footwear in Cold Conditions
I have found that “barefoot” style shoes that have minimal soles and zero drop heels work best for me. Around 2005 a friend encourage me shift from landing on my heel to the front of my foot and use minimalist shoes. The transition produced some soreness as the leg muscles I used changed, but once I made the shift I found that my knee pain disappeared and the number of miles I could comfortably walk more than doubled. For several years I used ultra minimalist shoes (Vibram 5fingers and Luna Sandals), but I kept stubbing my toes. For several years I switched to trail runners (mostly Altra) and Keen sandals thanks to their toe cap. I am back to using Luna sandals because I am better at foot placement.
- Luna sandals: ok to good traction depending on model. Super light weight. Great trail feel. Use them hiking, running, and everyday life.
- Vivobarefoot Gobi 2 Desert Boots: ok traction and acceptable looks even if I have to wear a suit while traveling
- Trail runners: looking for a new shoe. Most recently 15 pairs of Altra superiors, but something has changed and my big toe is getting a hotspot.
I normally wear light weight Darn Tough wool socks but just starting using a pair of Xoskin xo-toes which have prevented blisters from forming. In cool, wet conditions I sometimes use a Rocky Gore-Tex over-socks. When I was doing a lot of sub-freezing outdoor activities I used coolmax liner toe socks combined with insulated vapor barrier socks. I am no longer climbing or doing hard core winter trips so I have no need for specialized shoes and boots for these activities. The last pair I had were some insulated Keen boots which worked quite well.
More than most other clothing types, the “best” foot wear varies a great deal person to person because feet are quite different, and these differences have a direct impact on how well a shoe would work for you. I used to have a terrible time finding shoes which fit me because I have a very narrow heel, a small volume foot which a modest arch, and need a large toe box because I have both hammertoes and morton’s toes.
Backpacker had a nice article which is still on archive.org about understanding feet and footwear which is oriented toward boots, but has a lot of valuable information such as the wet foot test. You might try to find a local store that has been trained in the FitSystem by Phil Oren. Or go all the way and get a gait-analysis.
There is a nice video about Customizing shoe fit by relacing.
The weight of your shoe ends up making a big difference in the amount of energy you expend when walking or running. I recommend people wear shoes that are as light as practical.
for every 1 lb of footwear, it’s like carrying an extra 6.4 lb of weight on your back[Legg SJ, Mahanty A. Energy cost of backpacking in heavy boots. Ergonomics.1986 Mar;29(3):433-8.]