The Secret To Comfortable Feet On The Trail

Several weeks ago I went on a one night backpacking trip with a small group of friends. I had been really rushed when packing because it wasn’t exactly planned out. I had decided to go the evening before (Never do this). I wore a pair of old trail running shoes that were failing already and never though anything about it. As luck would have it, It poured down the rain the entire time and I walked in puddles the entire time. I never got the laces tight so my foot slid around in them. and there was basically no cushion in them. I felt every single step while wearing my backpack. If I had been more prepared I would have taken better footwear. This article will go over everything you need to know about footwear.

What To Look For

Good Fit – Your shoes should be the proper length, width, and volume. They should match your arch and should conform to your feet so that your feet don’t conform to them. They should just feel good.

Breathability – Your shoes should be able to let air in to allow your sweat to dry. You don’t want sweat to build up in them and cause your feet to get wet. This can cause all kinds of issue such as blisters and maceration.

Quick Dry – Just like your clothes, you want to get shoes that dry quickly when they get wet. Don’t count on them not getting wet because after moderate use they will lose their ability to hold water back. Some hikers even look for a great quick drying shoe rather than one that is waterproof.

Durability – Everyone wants a long lasting shoe.

Underfoot Protection – Good cushioning can help your feet stay comfortable int he rough terrain. This is worth it to avoid sore feet.

Sensitivity/Agility – Even with the underfoot protection you should still be able to feel the trail under your feet. This will help you to be more confident in your foot placement and to adjust your feet to surface abnormalities.

Light Weight – It takes 5 to 6 times more energy to move weight on your feet as it does on your back. This means that 2 pounds less on your feet can be like lightening your backpack around 10 – 12 pounds. Do I really need to say more?

Insulation/No Insulation – In cold weather you may want more insulation to help keep your feet warm. In warm weather you will not want this insulation.

Upper Protection – One trails that are not maintained as well, having upper protection can help protect you from thick brush and other things in the rough terrain. This can also include waterproofed so that you can step in deeper puddles.

Support and Control – During the course of my life I have broken my right ankle twice. Finding good support in my shoe is definitely on my list.


Hiking boot made by Keen will offer the best feet protection when out on the trail

Boots are the heaviest and most nonconforming option on listed here. You will have to break them in before they are comfortable. They will not breath well and will not dry very fast when wet. They are also the most expensive. The good side is they offer the most protection and support for your feet and ankles. They are very durable and will be more waterproof than hiking shoes or trail running shoes. Boots are typically used for mountaineering or hiking in the snow.

Hiking Shoes

Hiking shoe made by Keen that is lighter than a boot but still offers foot protection.

Hiking shoes are best described as a mix between a trail running shoe and a hiking boot. They are more comfortable out of the box. They will be somewhat stiff so you will still be getting protection for your feet. They will dry quicker than a boot but not as fast as a trail running shoe. They will not be very water resistant unless it has a waterproof liner with will reduce the breathability of the shoe tremendously. You Will find hiking shoes priced cheaper than boots but not as cheap as running shoes. Hiking shoes are typically used for backpacking with a moderate load or on rough terrain.

Trail Running Shoes

This trail running shoe will be lightweight and dry quickly but will not support your ankles very much.

Trail running shoes are the lightest and most comfortable out of the box. They will dry quickly which is good because they offer very little protection from getting wet. They are great in hot and warm weather and are very breathable. Many hikers choose this option simply because of them being so light and comfortable. The down side is they will not protect your feet from much of anything and will not offer much support. Trail running shoes are the cheapest option listed here. They are typically used for trail running and backpacking with a light load.

Sandals, Water Shoes, and Barefoot-Like Shoes

These shoes made by Vibram can be used for crossing rivers.

There are some hikers that will take a pair of sandals or similiar shoe just for crossing rivers or when at camp. These types of shoes will not absorb much water. Meaning they will not get heavy when wet and will dry very quickly. They will not offer any support or protection for your feet and simply don’t work well when carrying heavy loads.


These Darn Tough socks have a lifetime guarantee with them.

This article would not be complete with out going over a few basics about sock. Socks are actually very important for your feet and should not be taken lightly. Your socks can work like the layered clothing system that I covered in a previous article. Your socks will most likely be made of a blend of any of these materials: polyester, merino wool, spandex, and nylon. Sock liners will be like your base layer in a layered clothing system and will be worn next to your skin. They are primarily to manage moisture. Your outer sock will be used for insulation over the sock liner and can be thick or thin.

Now that you know the basics of footwear you should be on the right path to keeping your feet in better shape than what i did in my earlier story. Remember your feet are like the tires on your car, you need to keep them in good working order. If you found this article helpful please be sure to share it with your friends so that they too can have comfortable feet.