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Which Shoes for Which Purpose

It is not uncommon for an outdoor enthusiast to have at least five different pairs of shoes for various adventures. How to pick which pair to wear for each activity can be challenging for someone just getting into a new sport. While many type of shoes can crossover to anther activity (ie. Trail running shoes can be used for hiking), sometimes the best shoe is the one designed for your adventure.


Hiking Boots: Hiking boots tend to have a higher ankle support, a stiffer sole, and less mobility. They are designed to move a walking pace up and down steep and rugged terrain carrying a heavy pack. Whether they are made of leather or Gore-Tex, most hiking shoes are either waterproof or water-resistant. Some people find them comfortable for all activities, although many people opt to use trail runners or approach shoes if they are not going to be on steep rugged trails.


Trail Running Shoes: Trail running shoes have better tread, often times a little less cushioning, higher ankle support, and water proof parts. They are designed to take you through mud and muck, over rocky surfaces, give you good support in the ankles (where you need it) with possibly less shock absorption in the soles (since you’ll be running on a trail and not concrete). Trail running shoes are best used on trails that have moderate incline and decline. They are also best when you plan to be running and are not carrying a heavy load.


Approach Shoes: Designed for approaching climbs, approach shoes also make great hiking shoes for shorter hikes. They are built with sticky rubber on the bottoms so that you will not slide around if you are climbing grade 5 approaches. Sticky rubber does not last as long as regular rubber and approach shoes usually don’t have great tread, since they are designed more for climbing around on rocks. They are best used for their purpose, which is to hike across rocks and set up climbs.


Water Shoes: Many outdoor and shoe manufacturers have started making close-toed shoes that look like running shoes, but they are designed for the water. There are several differenced between waters shoe and running shoes. They have less shock absorption. They let water through (this helps keep your feet from getting soggy and it helps keep your shoes from getting moldy). They often have a mesh barrier that keeps rocks and pebbles out. One frustrating fact is that the mesh also tends to keep sand in. Water shoes are better than sandals if you are going to be doing some hiking as well, or if you will be in tumultuous whitewater.


Sandals: As long as they stay on your feet, protect your soles, and you find them comfortable, then sandals are doing your job. Sandals typically offer little shock absorption and a lot of freedom. They do not make good hiking shoes unless you are hiking short distances on flat terrain. However, for sea kayaking, rafting, canoeing, stand up paddle boarding, fishing, or boating, sandals are a great way to ensure that your shoes will be with you at the end of the day and your feet will be protected.


A quick guide:

Backpacking - on steep slopes and varied terrain, carrying a heavy load, or off-trail hiking: hiking boots

Trail Running: trail running shoes

Day Hiking – without carrying much weight: trail runners, hiking boots, or approach shoes

Rock climbing (short hikes on rock): approach shoes

Active water sports – whitewater rafting, stand up paddle boarding, river boarding, kayaking: water shoes

Mellow water sports – fishing, sea kayaking, snorkeling: sandals with heel straps

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