Choosing Appropriate Footwear For Backpacking

Are you planning a backpacking adventure but unsure of how to choose the right footwear for the journey ahead? Selecting the appropriate footwear is crucial for a successful and comfortable backpacking experience. With so many options available, it can be overwhelming to make a decision. However, fear not! In this article, we will guide you through the factors to consider when choosing backpacking footwear, ensuring that your feet are well-equipped for the trails that lie ahead.

What to Consider for Selecting Appropriate Footwear:

When it comes to selecting the appropriate footwear for backpacking, there are several factors that you should take into consideration. These factors can greatly impact your comfort, safety, and overall experience on the trail. By evaluating the terrain and conditions, length and difficulty of the trail, weight of your backpack, foot size and shape, as well as your personal comfort and preference, you can make an informed decision on the type of footwear that will best suit your needs.

Terrain and Conditions

The first factor to consider is the terrain and conditions that you will be facing on your backpacking trip. Will you be hiking mostly on well-maintained trails, or will you be traversing through rugged and uneven terrain? Are you planning to hike in dry, arid climates, or do you anticipate encountering wet and muddy conditions? Evaluating the specific terrain and conditions will help determine the level of traction, support, and protection that your footwear should provide.

Length and Difficulty of the Trail

Another important factor to consider is the length and difficulty of the trail you will be hiking. Will you be embarking on a short-day hike or tackling a multi-day backpacking trip? The length and difficulty of the trail will impact the amount of time you spend on your feet as well as the level of strain placed on your muscles and joints. This will affect the type of footwear you need, as longer and more challenging trails may require extra support, cushioning, and durability.

Weight of the Backpack

The weight of your backpack can also impact your footwear needs. Carrying a heavy backpack adds additional strain on your feet and legs, therefore requiring more support and stability from your footwear. If you are planning to carry a heavy load, it is advisable to opt for footwear that provides excellent ankle support and cushioning to help mitigate the added weight and reduce the risk of injury.

Foot Size and Shape

Considering your foot size and shape is crucial when selecting the right footwear for backpacking. Everyone’s feet are unique, and having footwear that fits properly is essential for comfort and avoiding blisters or other foot problems. Take note of your foot’s width, arch type, and any unique features or issues you may have when fitting footwear. This will help you find a pair of shoes or boots that provide the necessary support and comfort for your specific foot shape.

Personal Comfort and Preference

Last but not least, your personal comfort and preference play a significant role in selecting backpacking footwear. Everyone has different preferences when it comes to the fit, feel, and style of their footwear. Some people may prefer the added ankle support of boots, while others may find more comfort and freedom of movement in lightweight trail runners or hiking shoes. It’s important to find footwear that not only meets functional requirements but also feels comfortable and enjoyable for you to wear during your backpacking adventures.

Types of Footwear

Once you have considered the various factors outlined above, it’s time to explore the different types of footwear available for backpacking. Each type has its own unique features and benefits, so it’s worth exploring all options before making your final decision.

Hiking Boots

Hiking boots are a popular choice for backpackers, especially those tackling rugged terrain and carrying heavier loads. These boots typically rise above the ankle to provide excellent support and stability while also offering toe protection and durable construction. Hiking boots are designed to handle challenging conditions such as rocky trails, uneven terrain, and wet environments. They often feature stiff midsoles for added support and aggressive lug patterns on the outsole for enhanced traction.

Hiking Shoes

Hiking shoes are a more lightweight and versatile option compared to hiking boots. They offer a lower-profile design and are usually made with lighter materials. Hiking shoes provide a good balance between support and flexibility, making them suitable for a variety of terrain and moderate backpacking trips. They still offer some ankle support, but generally not as much as hiking boots. Hiking shoes are a great choice for those who prioritize agility and prefer a more comfortable and breathable option.

Trail Runners

For those who prioritize speed and agility on the trail, trail runners are an excellent choice. These lightweight and flexible shoes are designed for trail running but have gained popularity among backpackers due to their comfort and versatility. Trail runners offer good cushioning and breathability while providing enough traction for most trails. They are ideal for those with strong ankles who prefer minimal footwear and do not require as much support and protection.

Approach Shoes

Approach shoes are a hybrid between hiking boots and climbing shoes. They are designed to provide excellent traction, grip, and stability for scrambling over rocky terrain and climbing. Approach shoes typically have sticky rubber outsoles and toe protection for added durability and protection. While these shoes are not specifically designed for backpacking, they can be a good option for backpackers who plan to encounter technical or rocky terrain on their trips.


Sandals may not be the first choice for backpacking, but they can be suitable for certain situations. They offer maximum breathability, comfort, and freedom of movement for those hiking in hot climates or during water crossings. Sandals are great for short hikes or as camp shoes, providing relief from sweaty and tired feet. However, they lack the support and protection necessary for more challenging trails and should only be considered in specific circumstances.

Material and Construction

The material and construction of your backpacking footwear greatly impact its durability, comfort, and performance on the trail. Understanding the different components of footwear can help you make an informed decision based on your specific needs.


The upper part of the footwear refers to the material that covers the top of your foot. It plays a crucial role in protecting your feet from the elements, providing comfort, and allowing breathability. Common materials used for uppers include leather, synthetic fabrics, and mesh. Leather uppers are more durable and provide better water resistance, but they can be heavier and less breathable. Synthetic uppers are lighter, more breathable, and may dry more quickly, but they may not offer the same level of durability and water resistance as leather. Mesh panels or inserts on the upper can enhance breathability and reduce weight.


The midsole is the layer of material between the outsole and the insole of your footwear. It is responsible for providing cushioning, support, and energy transfer. EVA (ethylene-vinyl acetate) and PU (polyurethane) are common materials used in midsoles. EVA is lightweight and offers good cushioning, while PU is more durable and provides better support. The thickness and density of the midsole can vary, and it’s important to choose a midsole that suits your level of comfort and support needs.


The outsole is the layer of material that comes into direct contact with the ground. It is responsible for providing traction and grip on various terrains. The lug pattern, rubber compound, and design of the outsole determine its performance. Deep and aggressive lug patterns are ideal for hiking in muddy or loose terrains, while shallower lugs are suitable for dry and rocky trails. The rubber compound used in the outsole affects its durability and stickiness. Vibram is a well-known brand that produces high-quality rubber outsoles known for their durability and excellent traction.


Waterproofing is an important feature to consider, especially if you anticipate encountering wet conditions or river crossings. Some footwear comes with built-in waterproof membranes, such as Gore-Tex, that prevent water from entering your shoes. Waterproof shoes can be beneficial in wet environments but may sacrifice breathability. Keep in mind that no footwear is completely waterproof, and if water does enter your shoes, it may be challenging to dry them out. Consider your specific needs and the conditions you will face when deciding whether waterproofing is necessary for your backpacking footwear.


Breathability is equally important as waterproofing, especially in hot and humid conditions. Breathable footwear allows moisture and heat to escape, keeping your feet dry and comfortable. Shoes with mesh panels or breathable fabrics in the upper, as well as ventilated midsoles, promote airflow and enhance breathability. Balancing waterproofing and breathability is important, as excessive moisture inside your shoes can lead to discomfort, blisters, and foot problems.

Fit and Sizing

Finding the right fit and sizing for your backpacking footwear is crucial to ensuring comfort, preventing blisters, and reducing the risk of foot injuries. Here are some important aspects to consider when it comes to fit and sizing.

Try Before Buying

It’s highly recommended to try on footwear before making a purchase, preferably in the afternoon or evening when your feet tend to be slightly larger. Visit a reputable outdoor retailer, where you can try on different brands and models to find the best fit for your feet. Walk around in the shoes for a while to assess their comfort and fit. Keep in mind that sizes can vary between brands, so don’t rely solely on your usual shoe size.

Importance of Proper Fit

Proper fit is crucial for backpacking footwear. Shoes that are too tight can cause discomfort, blisters, and pressure points, while shoes that are too loose can lead to instability and foot sliding, increasing the risk of injuries. Make sure there is enough room in the toe box for your toes to wiggle without feeling cramped, but also ensure a snug fit around the heel and midfoot. Your footwear should feel secure yet comfortable, with no excessive movement or friction.

Room for Toes

Proper toe room is essential for preventing blisters and foot pain on the trail. Ideally, your toes should have enough space to move freely and splay naturally while walking. If your toes feel cramped or squished, try a larger size or a different brand that offers a roomier toe box. Having sufficient toe room also allows for better circulation and prevents numbness or discomfort during long hikes.

Consider Socks

When trying on footwear, it’s important to wear the type of socks that you would typically wear during your backpacking trips. Socks can significantly impact the fit and comfort of your footwear, so choose socks that are moisture-wicking, cushioned, and suitable for the expected weather conditions. Bring multiple pairs of socks to try on with different footwear options, as thickness and material can vary between brands and models.

Break-In Period

Keep in mind that many backpacking footwear styles require a break-in period. It’s important to allow your feet and the shoes to adjust and adapt to each other before embarking on a long hike. Wear your new footwear on shorter walks and gradually increase the duration and intensity to allow them to conform to your feet. This will give you a chance to identify any discomfort or fit issues and address them before hitting the trail for an extended period.

Support and Stability

Support and stability are crucial factors to consider when selecting backpacking footwear, as they can help prevent injuries and provide comfort on uneven terrain. Here are some key elements to take into account.

Ankle Support

Ankle support is particularly important for hikers carrying heavy backpacks or those prone to ankle injuries. Hiking boots typically provide more ankle support compared to hiking shoes or trail runners. The higher collar of hiking boots helps stabilize the ankles and reduces the risk of twisting or rolling on uneven terrain. If ankle support is a priority for you, opt for boots with a higher shaft height and a sturdy construction.

Arch Support

Arch support is essential for maintaining proper foot alignment and reducing stress on the arches during prolonged hikes. The level of arch support required varies from person to person, depending on the individual’s foot structure and any pre-existing foot conditions. Some backpacking footwear comes with built-in arch support, while others allow for customized insoles or orthotics to be inserted. It’s important to choose footwear that provides adequate arch support or to use additional inserts if needed.

Heel Counter

The heel counter refers to the firm structure at the back of the footwear that wraps around the heel. It provides stability and prevents excessive side-to-side movement of the foot. A well-constructed heel counter helps keep your foot securely in place and reduces the risk of blisters and hot spots. When trying on footwear, pay attention to how the heel counter feels and ensure it fits snugly without causing any discomfort or rubbing.


Cushioning plays a critical role in absorbing shock and providing comfort during long hikes. It helps reduce impact on your feet, knees, and joints. The level of cushioning required depends on personal preference, the weight of your backpack, and the terrain you will be hiking on. Hiking boots typically offer more cushioning compared to hiking shoes or trail runners, providing additional comfort and shock absorption. However, excessive cushioning can sacrifice stability and make the footwear bulky or heavy. Strike a balance between cushioning and stability based on your specific needs and preferences.

Torsional Stability

Torsional stability refers to the footwear’s ability to resist twisting forces when navigating uneven terrain. A stable shoe or boot helps maintain your balance and prevents your foot from rolling or twisting. Footwear with a stiff midsole and a supportive shank provides good torsional stability. This is especially important when carrying heavy backpacks or hiking on rocky trails where the terrain can be unpredictable. Ensure that your chosen footwear offers adequate torsional stability to keep your feet and ankles protected during your backpacking adventures.


Protecting your feet from various elements and potential hazards is crucial for a safe and comfortable backpacking experience. Consider the following aspects of protection when selecting footwear:

Toe Protection

Toe protection is important, particularly when hiking on rocky terrain or encountering obstacles on the trail. Look for footwear that has reinforced toe caps or rubber bumpers in the front to guard against accidental impacts. These protective features can prevent painful toe stubs and potentially save you from serious injuries. While hiking shoes and trail runners may have a more minimal toe cap compared to hiking boots, they still offer some level of protection.

Rock Plates

Rock plates are thin inserts made of flexible yet protective material that are placed between the midsole and outsole of footwear. They provide additional protection against sharp rocks and uneven surfaces, dispersing the pressure and reducing discomfort from underfoot debris. Rock plates are commonly found in hiking boots and some hiking shoes, enhancing foot protection on challenging and rocky terrain.


Gaiters are protective coverings that wrap around the lower leg and the top of the footwear. They are worn to prevent debris, such as rocks, dirt, and twigs, from entering your shoes or boots. Gaiters are especially useful in dusty, muddy, or snowy conditions, where they can help keep your feet clean and dry. Some backpacking footwear is designed with integrated gaiter attachments, allowing for easier integration and added protection.

Water Resistance

Water resistance is an important aspect of protection, especially if you anticipate encountering wet conditions or crossing streams. Waterproof or water-resistant footwear can help keep your feet dry and comfortable in damp environments. However, it’s important to note that waterproof footwear is not completely impervious to water, and prolonged exposure to water can eventually lead to moisture penetration. Consider the expected weather conditions and the level of water resistance needed for your backpacking trips.


Insulation is crucial for backpacking trips in colder climates or during the winter season. Insulated footwear helps retain body heat and keeps your feet warm in low temperatures. Insulation is typically added to the upper portion of the shoe or boot, providing extra warmth. The level of insulation required depends on the expected temperatures and personal cold tolerance. Remember to balance insulation with breathability, as excessive warmth can lead to sweaty and uncomfortable feet.

Weight and Packability

Considering the weight and packability of your backpacking footwear is essential, especially if you prioritize lightweight backpacking or have limited space in your backpack. Here are some factors to keep in mind:

Lightweight Options

If reducing the overall weight of your backpack is a priority, consider lightweight options for your footwear. Trail runners and hiking shoes are generally lighter compared to hiking boots. They offer sufficient support and traction while minimizing weight. However, keep in mind that lighter footwear may sacrifice some durability and protection, so evaluate your specific needs and the terrain you will be hiking on before opting for the lightest option available.


Packability is important, especially if you have limited backpack space or if you need to stow away your footwear when not in use. If you plan to travel or backpack for extended periods, consider footwear that is easily compressible or foldable. Some lightweight hiking shoes or trail runners can be compressed and stored in tight spaces or packed into a backpack more easily compared to bulkier boots. Consider this factor if space efficiency is a priority for you.

Consideration for Ultralight Backpacking

Ultralight backpacking enthusiasts prioritize minimizing overall pack weight and opt for the lightest gear available. If you fall into this category, consider footwear specifically designed for ultralight backpacking. These footwear options are made with lightweight yet durable materials, minimal cushioning, and a stripped-down design. Ultralight footwear allows for faster movement and greater agility on the trail but may sacrifice some support and protection compared to heavier alternatives.


In addition to weight and compressibility, packability refers to how well your footwear fits into your backpack when not in use. Some hiking shoes or boots have a collapsible or foldable design, allowing for easier storage in your backpack. This can be convenient when you need to pack your footwear away during other activities or when traveling. If packability is a priority, look for footwear options that are specifically designed to be compact and fit into tight spaces.

Traction and Grip

Having reliable traction and grip on various terrains is crucial for a safe and enjoyable backpacking experience. Here are some factors to consider when evaluating the traction and grip capabilities of your footwear.

Lug Pattern

The lug pattern refers to the raised patterns on the outsole of your footwear that provide traction and grip. Deep, multi-directional lugs are ideal for muddy or loose terrain, as they help channel away mud and provide maximum traction. Widely spaced lugs are suitable for muddy conditions, while closely spaced lugs offer better grip on rocky surfaces. The lug pattern should be tailored to the specific terrain you will encounter on your backpacking trips.

Rubber Compound

The type of rubber used in the outsole greatly impacts its stickiness and durability. Different rubber compounds provide varying levels of traction on different surfaces. Vibram is a well-known brand that produces high-quality rubber compounds known for their excellent grip performance. Some hiking boots or shoes may also use proprietary rubber compounds that are specifically designed for enhanced traction. When selecting footwear, pay attention to the type of rubber used and the reputation of the brand for traction and grip.

Outsole Design

In addition to the lug pattern and rubber compound, the overall design of the outsole can influence the traction and grip capabilities of your footwear. Some outsoles feature multidirectional lugs or strategically placed grooves that help improve stability and traction on various terrains. Flex grooves allow for better flexibility and adaptability to uneven surfaces. The design and construction of the outsole should align with the specific terrain you will be hiking on.

Consideration for Different Terrains

Different terrains require specific traction capabilities. If you primarily hike on well-maintained trails or dry, rocky terrain, lugged outsoles with shallow to medium-depth lugs should provide sufficient grip. For muddy or slippery conditions, deeper and more aggressive lugs are recommended for better traction. If you anticipate encountering snow or ice, consider footwear with specialized outsoles designed for winter traction, such as those with built-in crampon compatibility or compatibility with removable traction devices.

Traction on Wet Surfaces

Hiking in wet conditions, such as rain or wet rocks, requires footwear with reliable traction on wet surfaces. Look for outsoles with specially designed rubber compounds that offer better grip on smooth, wet surfaces. Some outsoles incorporate unique tread patterns or channels that help disperse water and improve traction. Keep in mind that no outsole can completely eliminate the risk of slipping on wet surfaces, so exercise caution and adjust your hiking pace accordingly.


Durability is a crucial factor to consider when investing in backpacking footwear. Here are some aspects to assess when evaluating the durability of different footwear options.

Quality of Materials

The quality of materials used in the construction of your footwear greatly affects its durability. Look for shoes or boots made from high-quality materials that can withstand the rigors of backpacking. Leather uppers are typically more durable and weather-resistant compared to synthetic materials, although they may require more maintenance. Check the stitching, reinforcement, and overall construction of the footwear to ensure they are built to last.

Stitching and Construction

Stitching and construction are key elements that contribute to the longevity of backpacking footwear. Reinforced stitching, double stitching, and secure bonding methods enhance the overall durability and structural integrity of the footwear. Pay attention to how the different components of the footwear are connected and stitched together. If possible, inspect the footwear in person or read user reviews to evaluate the durability of the construction.

Expected Lifespan

Consider the expected lifespan of the footwear before making a purchase. The durability of backpacking footwear can vary based on the materials used, the frequency of use, and the level of care and maintenance provided. Hiking boots made with premium materials and robust construction may have a longer lifespan compared to lightweight trail runners. Evaluate your specific needs, the frequency of your backpacking trips, and your budget constraints to determine the expected lifespan that suits your requirements.

Brand Reputation

Brand reputation plays a role in determining the durability and quality of backpacking footwear. Established brands with a history of producing reliable outdoor gear are often a safer bet in terms of durability. Research well-known brands that specialize in outdoor footwear and assess their reputation and customer reviews. Keep in mind that while brand reputation can be an indicator of quality, it is not the sole determinant, and it’s important to evaluate specific models based on their features and construction.

User Reviews

Reading user reviews can provide valuable insights into the durability of backpacking footwear. Check online platforms and outdoor gear forums to see what other backpackers are saying about different models and brands. Pay attention to any recurring issues or complaints regarding construction, longevity, or materials. User reviews provide firsthand experiences and can help you make an informed decision based on real-world feedback from fellow backpackers.

Cost and Budget

Cost and budget play a significant role in selecting backpacking footwear, as it is an investment that affects your comfort, safety, and overall experience on the trail. Here are some considerations to keep in mind:

Determining Your Budget

Before diving into the selection process, determine your budget for backpacking footwear. Establishing a price range will help narrow down your options and ensure that you focus on footwear within your financial means. Take into account other necessary gear and accessories for your backpacking trips to ensure a realistic budget allocation.

Value for Money

When evaluating the cost of footwear, consider the value for money that a particular product offers. Price should not be the sole determining factor; instead, analyze the features, durability, and performance of the footwear relative to its cost. A slightly higher-priced shoe or boot that offers superior durability, comfort, and performance may provide better long-term value compared to a cheaper option.

Considering Long-Term Use

While backpacking footwear is an investment, consider how frequently you plan to use them and their intended lifespan. If you are an avid backpacker who frequently embarks on long-distance trips, investing in a higher-priced and more durable option may be worth it. However, if you are an occasional backpacker or primarily engage in shorter hikes, a more budget-friendly option may suffice. Evaluate the cost relative to your intended usage to determine the most suitable option.

Sales and Discounts

Keep an eye out for sales, discounts, or clearance offers on backpacking footwear. Outdoor retailers often have seasonal promotions or special events where you can find high-quality footwear at more affordable prices. Sign up for newsletters or follow outdoor gear retailers on social media to stay informed about any upcoming sales or discount opportunities. Timing your purchase strategically could help you secure a higher-priced footwear option at a more budget-friendly cost.

Cost vs. Quality

When it comes to backpacking footwear, strike a balance between cost and quality. While it may be tempting to opt for the cheapest option available, remember that your footwear directly affects your comfort and safety on the trail. Investing in a higher-quality, more expensive option can provide better durability, support, and overall performance. Evaluate your needs, budget, and the reputation of different brands to find the best cost-quality balance that suits your requirements.

In conclusion, selecting the appropriate footwear for backpacking involves considering several factors, such as terrain and conditions, length and difficulty of the trail, weight of the backpack, foot size and shape, as well as personal comfort and preference. By evaluating these factors and exploring the different types of footwear available, you can make an informed decision that suits your specific needs. Pay attention to the material and construction, fit and sizing, support and stability, protection, weight and packability, traction and grip, durability, and cost and budget. Consider each aspect carefully to ensure that your chosen backpacking footwear enhances your comfort, safety, and enjoyment during your outdoor adventures.