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What to expect from day hiking shoes for men and women

best day hiking shoes
Best day hiking shoes - December 2019

  • Day hiking shoes have low-cut shafts. Indeed, shoes intended for day hikes have cuffs reaching no more than the immediate lower borders of your ankles. Going beyond the ankles would then mean that the footwear you possess is no longer a shoe but categorically a boot. Day hiking shoes, because of their low-top design, may have insufficient ankle support; however, what they lack in this type of support, they make up for mobility and agility.
  • Shoes crafted for day hiking are generally lightweight. Yes, just like hiking sandals, day hiking shoes overflow with lightness, but unlike their strappy cousins, day hiking shoes have more coverage and, therefore, provide better overall upper protection. You can refer to our best lightweight hiking shoes list if lightness is important to you.
  • When it comes to flexibility, day hiking shoes have ample amounts to offer. Their soles are still sturdy with enough stiffness, but they often feature multi-density zones and flex points to allow for easier transitions and toe-offs.
  • Day hiking shoes are usually cheaper than most hiking footwear types. Expect to spend anywhere between $100 and $160 for a decent pair of day hikers. Note that technologies dictate the asking price of a given shoe. One such technology that makes a pair more expensive is waterproofing. Tip: If the trails you frequent are often dry, opt for non-waterproof varieties as they are cheaper than waterproof hiking shoes.
  • Shoes specifically built for day hiking are sturdier and beefier than your average sneakers and trail runners. Although there are striking similarities among the three, there is no denying the added physical features and technical capabilities unique to day hiking shoes.
  • Expect to have a well-rounded day hiking experience with this type of footwear. In every pair, you will likely discover a combination of features, both basic and technical, that will cover virtually all bases and provide you equal amounts of comfort, support, and stability.
  • Day hiking shoes come in different varieties, whether in size, width, colorway or style. This diversity can’t be any truer as day hiking shoes directly compete with multi-sport sandals and day hiking boots when it comes to popularity, and therefore are quite saturated in the market. With this wealth of options across various factors, you are ensured to find a pair that responds to your needs and matches your tastes.
  • Due to their low-cut ankle cuffs, day hiking shoes are fairly easy to put on and remove. Most models also come with pull tabs which are often stitched on the back of the footwear’s heel to make on and off a convenient task.

Things to consider when scouting for men's and women's day hiking shoes

The outsole’s treads and lugs. Widely made of specialized rubber compounds, outsoles are built to effectively latch onto various surfaces. In day hiking shoes, outsoles are specially designed to give traction on dirt paths, undeveloped trails, and rocky tracks. The sole of practically every day hiking shoe is peppered with lugs and tread patterns. These protrusions and grooves are the bread and butter of the outsole, particularly when it is up against loose soil and uneven ground.

What are treads?

Treads are the indented linings or recesses that grant traction over flat or level surfaces. Tread patterns that go from the outsole’s center out provide channels through which water may escape, preventing hydroplaning. Some footwear designers place aggressive, horizontal treads (aka ridges) on both ends of the outsole to give wearers better foothold during ascents and descents.

What are lugs used for?

Lugs are designed to dig into soft or loose surfaces, the likes of which include rocky inclines and muddy trails, in order to provide a stable and secure footing for the wearer. Without lugs, slips and loss of foothold are expected to occur. Consider the following essential information about lugs:

  • Hollow, circular lugs effectively disperse water, preventing the occurrence of hydroplaning.
  • Multi-directional lugs provide traction from nearly every angle.
  • The space between lugs prevents sticky elements from getting stuck in the outsole. It also sheds away mud, rocks, and other form of debris with every step.

The midsole for cushioning and stability. This component acts as a defensive layer against all things wearers encounter underfoot. From pointy rocks to bulging roots, the midsole will protect and cushion your foot with its thick build and springy characteristic. The science behind its construction effectively absorbs and distributes shock from the origin of impact throughout the midsole unit. This cushy and protective layer is also a platform that provides ground stability, especially over terrain characterized by unevenness. For even more stability, opt for a pair that comes with an extra midsole component called shank.

What else is there to know about shanks?

  • Aside from stability, shanks will also add a spring to your step which makes transitions a smoother affair.
  • Shanks are rigid by design. If your shoe has one, expect to have a less flexible hiking experience.
  • Shanks are often made of steel, though some are crafted using non-metal materials like fiberglass or nylon. Tip: If you prefer to remain agile with as much stability as possible, choose a pair of day hiking shoes with a non-metal shank.

Overall weight. As previously mentioned, most day hiking shoes are lightweight. A pair of this type of shoe usually has a typical weight not exceeding 900 g. This lightness is arguably among the key characteristics of day hiking shoes, and you are likely to choose the lightest pair you can find. However, if a slightly heavier shoe is among your options, one that provides all the features you need, choose that.

What can I do to make my day hiking experience as light as possible?

Avoid carrying a pack. If you need to carry one, make sure you are bringing only the important things for the duration of the trip. Wear wool socks as they are lighter than cotton. Also, refrain from submerging your day hiking shoes in water since drenched shoes are heavier than dry ones.

The upper and its types. A shoe is never complete without its upper. This primary shoe part shields the foot from the elements. It is a comfy housing where the foot rests, thanks to its padded interior. An upper is usually made of either genuine leather or synthetic materials. It is quite commonplace for everyday hiking shoes to have uppers made of synthetics. In fact, footwear makers favor them for being inexpensive and easy to process. From your perspective, a synthetic upper, particularly the mesh kind, you may find favorable too as a mesh upper is notably lightweight and extremely breathable.

What other things do I need to know about synthetic uppers?

  • Shoes with synthetic uppers usually require minimal break-in period; you will find most pairs ready to wear out of the box.
  • They make footwear easy to clean and dry.
  • They are prone to wear and tear, so look for a pair with abrasion-resistant overlays or outer coverings.

What can I expect from leather hiking shoes?

Day hiking shoes made of genuine leather put comfort to the fore. They conform to the shape of your foot over time, so your pair of leather hikers become more comfortable as you continue wearing them. They also have natural protection against wet elements. Lightness may take a back seat in most leather pairs, but since shoes designed for daily hikes are low-cut by nature, you will still find them fairly lightweight.

Protection. Typically, day hiking shoes feature overlays—additional layers that cover vulnerable portions of the upper. They are usually made of sturdy synthetic materials to ward off abrasive hazards, leaving the less-resilient mesh upper unscathed. Another necessary protective coverage comes by means of a rubber rand. It is often found at the tip of the forefoot zone, giving the shoe a sturdy rubber toe guard.

When it comes to water protection, most day hiking shoes are infused with a waterproofing membrane. Popular in this regard is the Gore-Tex waterproof liner which is imbued within the bootie of the shoe. This registered technology is used by many footwear brands, although some develop their own to varying levels of success.

How can I tell if a day hiking shoe is waterproof?

Off the shelves, an often clear indication that a pair of day hiking shoes is waterproof is via a tag stitched on the upper stating that it is “waterproof.” Shoes with names having any one of the codes G, GT, and GTX are widely known as waterproof since these codes usually refer to Gore-Tex and its variations of waterproofing technologies. Check with the store’s customer service or staff when in doubt.

Is there a way to prevent debris from entering day hiking shoes?

Unlike high-cut hiking boots and backpacking boots with which debris is effectively kept at bay, thanks to their above-the-ankle shafts, day hiking shoes perform poorly against such foreign elements due to their low-top collars. As a response to this undeniable fact, consider putting on a pair of gaiters. Gaiters are like leggings that secure the upper of the shoe, walling off unwanted debris from around the ankle’s proximity, which includes the tongue zone, all the way up to the calf.

Ankle cuff. Given that day hiking shoes automatically translate to low-cut shafts, you would find most pairs feature aggressively contoured ankle cuffs. These curves and ridges promote freer mobility and improve lateral movement by allowing the ankle and heel to function unhindered.

If you have especially robust ankles, choose a pair with deeply curved collars. Extra-cushy ankle lining is also a consideration if your ankle circumference is narrower than usual.

The footbed for support. You will mostly, if not entirely, be depending on the footbed of your day hiking shoes when it comes to support—especially with regard to arch support. By default, footbeds have slightly raised arch zones. If you are a normal pronator, these stock insoles might be adequate. However, if you have high arches (which means you are an underpronator), and the footbed that comes with your desired pair does not have enough arch support, you can simply replace it with your preferred “arched” custom orthotics. Switch to an after-market insole with more defined heel cups and raised arch borders if you have flat feet and overpronate.

Heel support, on the other hand, comes by way of the footbed’s raised heel borders. This cup-like design prevents underfoot slippage by keeping the foot at the center as much as possible.

What about ankle support?

Unfortunately, footbeds have little-to-no control over this kind of support. As previously stated, shoes of this type have minimal arch support, if not none at all, for their low-top collar line. That said, you can always equip yourself with a pair of hiking poles to support your overall footing when taking on particularly challenging trails.

Tips on how to get the best-fitting day hiking shoes

  • Ensure that the pair you are fitting has adequate toe box space. Ideally, the amount of space between your big toe and the tip of the forefoot zone should be about half an inch. The dome of the toe box must also have enough height—a few millimeters should be sufficient—in which your toes may comfortably wiggle.
  • Did you know that your feet enlarge somewhat towards the end of the day? Indeed, the slight enlargement or swelling of the foot is virtually a daily occurrence, and you must take this into account when shopping for your next pair of day hiking shoes. To get the most accurate fit possible, try on shoes sometime in the afternoon or early in the evening.
  • Be on the lookout for day hiking shoes available in half sizes. Half-size shoes offer precision fit, so going either a half size up or a half size down will make a big difference, especially when whole sizes seem to give you inconsistent fit most of the time.
  • If you have bulky feet, consider getting a pair of hiking shoes in wide. It is true that most shoes come in standard width, but if you can find a pair in wide—whether it suits your taste aesthetically or not—go for it.
  • Even though most socks have only a few millimeters in thickness, they still add to the overall bulkiness of your feet. For this reason, it is quite important to wear your preferred socks while trying on shoes to get the best possible fit.
  • Just like socks, your custom orthotics also need to be part of the equation while test-fitting shoes. Custom orthotics are usually thicker and have more prominent contours than default insoles and therefore add more height underfoot. With your custom orthotics inserted, you will be able to see if the pair you are trying on has just the right fit, especially around the instep area.
  • Day hiking shoes come in different styles across brands, and while they may be labeled with the same number for a particular size, chances are they have different overall fit. Therefore, make sure you test every pair you got your eyes on and never assume your size.
  • Before checking out, do not forget to test your selected day hiking shoes by simulating certain hiking maneuvers, such as walking on uneven surfaces, ascending stairs, going down ramps, and performing sidesteps (to test the shoe’s lateral movement capability). The objective is to check for any signs of discomfort while performing such maneuvers.
  • You should get minimal-to-no heel lift as you walk around in your day hiking shoes. Reconfigure the laces at the collar line until heel lift is eliminated or reduced significantly. Alternatively, you may incrementally size up or down, or get a pair in narrow or wide to get that no-lift heel fit.

Using day hiking shoes the right way

Allow the shoes to break in. Day hiking shoes have break-in periods just like most types of outdoor footwear (except for, maybe, slippers and flip-flops). You need to break in your shoes so that you can get a comfortable cradle out of them in preparation for your upcoming hike. The good news is that break-in time for most day hiking shoes is short; some can even be worn straight out of the box with little-to-no foot pain or blisters after initial use.

Avoid abrasive hazards as much as possible. Adventuring out in the wild will subject your day hiking shoes to all manners of wear and tear. While shoes designed for day hiking are built for such rugged use, it would be in your best interest if you altogether avoid abrasive hazards when you can. Roots and bushes are your prime enemies in this regard, so stay on the well-maintained course and keep your pair scratch free for as long as possible.

Pack light. Although there is arguably nothing wrong with carrying a pack while in your pair of day hiking shoes, you must make an effort to pack as light as possible. This type of footwear, unlike its big brothers hiking boots and backpacking boots, may not have a stiff-enough midsole to bear weight well beyond your own body mass. Pushing the shoe’s limits by carrying unusually heavy loads will cause serious damage to its sole unit, rendering the footwear unusable in just a short amount of time.

How much should my pack weigh?

As a day hiker, the weight of your pack should be no more than 10% of your body mass. For example, if you weigh approximately 170 lb., then your pack should not exceed 17 lb. Note that this limit (10%) applies to all hikers who wear day hiking shoes.

Take time to reconfigure your laces when necessary. Loose laces when not retightened will wear and damage the components making up the shoe’s closure system (and those surrounding it)—laces, eyelets, tongue, lining bordering the tongue—due to frequent rubbing and uneven pressure produced while walking. To prevent all this, reconfigure your laces whenever possible.

What can I do to minimize the instances I need to reconfigure my laces?

With standard laces, it will depend on how well you tie the knot that locks the laces in place. On a regular basis, simply tying the knot as snugly as possible will do the trick. If tightly tying your laces does not cut it, try doing a double knot before ending the configuration with a ribbon to better secure your setup.

Stay on dry ground. Whether or not your day hiking shoes are waterproof, keeping to the dry ground will prove to be more beneficial than haphazardly wading through puddles and streams in the long haul. Avoid waters that you think will go beyond your ankle line to prevent water intrusion. Remember that wet elements can speed up a shoe’s wear and tear, and you must be diligent in preventing that.

Proper upkeep of day hiking shoes

Keeping your day hiking shoes in good shape for years can be a real challenge, and proper care for such shoes vary from brand to brand. That said, here are some general tips on how to prolong the shelf life of your day hikers:

  • Using a soft-bristled brush, lightly scrape off accumulated dust and other foreign elements from the shoe’s upper.
  • For smudges and marks, try wiping them off using a damp (not dripping wet) cloth. You may also spot clean particularly stubborn stains using a soft-bristled brush with some liquid soap.
  • Air dry your day hiking shoes. This method is the safest and simplest way through which to dry shoes unless your brand allows you to use other means. Remove the laces and footbed to expedite the drying process.
  • Gently tap and shake your shoe collar-side down to remove any debris from within it. You may take out the insole to make sure no debris is left behind during this process.
  • Get rid of rock granules, pebbles and other forms of debris stuck between your outsole’s lugs and treads using a toothpick, cotton swab, or a similar, non-sharpened yet pointed tool. For mud and other sticky substances caking your shoe’s sole, you may use the aid of running water as you brush them away. Be sure to expose only the outsole in water and prevent the upper and the inner lining from getting drenched.
  • Store your day hiking shoes at room temperature and away from direct sunlight. If you have an enclosed storage for your shoes, ensure that it is well ventilated. Have a packet or two of silica gel inside your shoe storage to prevent moisture buildup.

Misconceptions about day hiking shoes

Day hiking shoes are exclusively for entry-level hikers. You will find great value in day hiking shoes regardless if you are someone who has just started out in the hiking world or a seasoned outdoor adventurer yourself. Shoes under this category are not made solely because entry-level hikers need something to start with, but rather they are primarily crafted in order to respond to the specific demands of day hiking.

Their lightness translates to lack of or compromised durability. While day hiking shoes are usually associated with lightness, they are not left with poor defenses against wear and tear—and, perhaps, even against misuse and abuse. Shoes of this type are built with rugged use in mind and, thus, are often given enough protection by means of reinforced overlays and weatherproof linings.

Day hiking shoes are inferior to mid-cut or high-cut hiking boots. In outdoor adventuring, hiking gears are designed for specific use, and day hiking shoes are no different. This is a classic “apples and oranges” case where a given type works for a set purpose while others for their own. Case in point, shoes made specifically for daily hikes may not be packed with extra features seen in beefier hiking boots, but what they got are more than sufficient for their intended purpose.

Day hiking shoes are all dull and brown. This notion could not be further from the truth. Since the boom of day hiking, footwear brands have found ways to diversify their hiking footwear lineup when it comes to style and color. In fact, many day hiking shoes are so out of this world with their colorways and design they could pass for party hats if you put them on your head.

Frequently asked questions

Can I use day hiking shoes for running?

Provided that your day hiking shoes have flexible soles, you definitely can. However, for optimum running performance, take on trails and off-road tracks instead of urban roads as day hiking shoes have hardy lugs that might give you discomfort if used on concrete and like surfaces.

What kinds of trails can I hike on in my day hiking shoes?

Trails you take on in your day hikers should be mainly flat and well maintained. Day hiking shoes have almost non-existent ankle support, so avoid climbing high elevations and treading over extremely rocky terrain. That said, inclines and slopes with easy-to-moderate steepness can be easily navigated with this type of shoe on.

What sort of technologies should I prioritize in selecting my next pair of day hiking shoes?

If you often find yourself negotiating slippery surfaces, bank on a pair with specially engineered outsoles. Some brands make their own technologies in this regard, and you are better off with them; however, day hiking shoes with Vibram outsoles are also great options.

If your go-to hiking grounds receive constant rains or feature shallow waters (creeks, streams, and puddles), aside from a grippy outsole, a level of water repellency, if not complete waterproofing, should be part of your next pair. Still, even if the trails you frequent are dry for most of the year, it is always better to come prepared for a sudden downpour with a pair of day hiking shoes that is either water-repellent or waterproof.

A moisture-wicking liner is another good consideration. Rain or shine, your feet are bound to sweat, so if the inner liner of your shoes can wick away moisture, you can expect a comfortable experience for longer. Note that most waterproof shoes have moisture-wicking liners as well.

Needless to say, the technologies that would make or break your hiking experience depend on your needs, so take time to identify your priorities before you set off hunting for your next pair of hiking shoes.