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I recently moved to US (New York) and planning to go hiking to all nearby places - NY, NJ trails. Some hikes require that I wear waterproof shoes, and some hikes doesn't specify any.

I first thought I will go with lightweight waterproof shoes like the one that Merrell has on its website http://www.merrell.com/US/en/Hike. But after visiting the website and visiting REI and paragonsports - two popular outdoor shops, I really got confused by options there, and the specification of them. Each one seems to be having a different purpose.

Should I buy 2-3 pair of shoes really? Is it worth it? (Each pair costs about $100 approximately - Am I wrong?) I am not really a beginner, but I was hiking carelessly wearing sneakers, but now with my knee, ankle pain - I am little more concerned, careful and want to go with proper hiking shoes. Mostly it will be a one day hike and I will be hiking in and out of NY, NJ trails - I think they are not snowy.

Can you please help narrow-down to one kind of shoe? or at a max 2. Any shoe recommendations are welcome:) Thanks.

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I'll try and write a good write up later, if no one else has. But there are kind of too many options on the market. The shoes are usually high quality, but very specialized (hiking shoes vs trail running shoes vs hiking sandals vs light boots). Minimally, you just need a comfortable shoe that doesn't give you blisters. If you're hiking over rocky terrain, a "vibram" brand sole may be nice. If you're especially worried about your ankles you may want a boot instead of a shoe. No shoe is really going to be very waterproof, because the top of the shoe is too low to really keep water out. –  DavidR Jul 7 '13 at 14:57
    
I thought my ankle pain might be because that my sneakers have the cushiony out-sole, that doesn't work out well for hikes - I may be totally wrong. I tried couple of boots they are heavy (about 3-4 times heavier than my sneakers :) and since this is the first time I am wearing a shoe that covers my ankle, I felt slightly different while walking - may be I will get used to, if I go for it. –  oneworld Jul 7 '13 at 16:13
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oh, I didn't see you mention you were having knee and ankle problems... I don't know your situation, but I'd go to an REI or some similar store and talk about that with the shop clerk. Some ankle problems may be fixed by wearing boots instead of shoes, and sometimes knee problems can be fixed by wearing a 3rd party shoe insert (like Super Feet), but sometimes not. (i.e., maybe you have a minor underlying orthopedic issue), and its hard to really pin that down on an internet forum. –  DavidR Jul 8 '13 at 14:16
    
A related question: outdoors.stackexchange.com/q/105/19 –  Ryley Jul 18 '13 at 21:37
    
I got a Keen sandal couple of days back (Men's Newport H2 model). I just used it from office to home commute, which is about less than 2 miles of walk. I feel its pretty heavy, and I get pain on my knee. Not sure what's going on! I felt that I need to go for a lightweight Sandal or a shoe. Any suggestions? should I just retain this as it might be helpful for a day backpack? Is this pretty common for anyone trying to wear a heavy shoe? I wear Converse shoes which I think are almost the same weight as of this. –  oneworld Jul 24 '13 at 14:16
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5 Answers 5

The minimal set is one pair of versatile shoes.

Although as you've seen, there's a confusing array of options, you can think of shoes for the outdoors as mostly falling on a spectrum from light (minimalist trail running shoes) to heavy (full-leather backpacking boots). REI has a great rundown of the types online here.

Where you go on that spectrum is entirely a matter of individual preference, but I'd suggest for day hikes that you start out in the middle, with mid or low cut shoes that are variously called hiking shoe/light hiking boots/cross-training shoes. These tend to be very versatile and should handle most of the environments you'll encounter.

The time to broaden out is probably later, if you see a need – for instance, if you feel that you want more ankle mobility and less weight and want to investigate trail running type shoes, or if you want more protection and want to invest in a pair of boots.

my individual preference

My first pair of boots were mid-height Mountain Treads that lasted 8 years of heavy use traveling, trekking, hiking, walking, and scrambling. Great shoes. Alternatively, if you liked the look of the Merrells you linked to, they're a good brand, and I think the Moab models would be equivalent.

camp shoes

After making the point that you only need one shoe type, I'll add that it can be very nice to have a pair of sandals for crossing streams, walking in the surf, and/or giving your feet a break in camp if you go on a hike longer than a day hike. You can have the best boots in the world, but it's always a relief to be able to take them off.

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Thanks for your answer Wajurgmitr. I am not really biased towards any specific brand, infact I don't own any Merrell's at all, but when I tried shoes at paragonsports, they were fitting lot better for my wide feet. –  oneworld Jul 7 '13 at 16:07
    
Concerning your last point - I cannot comprehend why people wear shoes in summer, instead of sandals. The only advantage is the ankle support. And that comes at the price sweated wet feet from noon to evening. –  Vorac Jul 7 '13 at 20:03
    
I fit wide, too, and find that Keens and Merrell (and actually those Mountain Treads too) all tend to accommodate that well.But trying on is your best bet, of course. At any good outdoor store they should also be able to give you advice on fit and on lacing. –  Oreotrephes Jul 7 '13 at 22:56
    
@Vorac, I agree in general, but try scree skiing with a pair of sandals... Sometimes a bit of protection is nice. –  Oreotrephes Jul 7 '13 at 23:01
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You can do most one-day trails with a pair of sneakers. It's much more comfortable, than any type of "hiking boots". And also much lighter (you spend less energy lifting it up many thousand times a day), and more blister-proof.

IMO, there are three situations, when you need something heavier:

  1. Hard terrain: rocks, snow, ice
  2. Low temperatures
  3. Heavy backpack

Hard terrain

When you have loose rocks (scree), there is an increased risk to sprain your ankle or to get a rock falling on your foot. Small stones also tend to find their way inside your shoes. So high trekking boots with less ankle mobility are preferred.

Snow also tends to get into sneakers, and they are often too slippery on the snow (and you can't effectively kick to make a "ladder"). For ice you'll need crampons, which just can't be used with sneakers (without adhesive tape, that is;)).

If you have only a couple of rocks on a dirt trail, you don't need heavy boots. E.g. sneakers are perfectly fine for hiking one-day trails in Grand Canyon.

Low temperatures

Low temperatures thing is obvious. For this you will need a heavy boot, and make sure it's not too tight so you can use it with a warm sock.

Heavy load

If you backpack is heavy (I mean really heavy, on multi-day autonomous trips, 25 kg+ for me), the risk of spraining an ankle is also too high. If you don't have much experience with heavy backpacks, your limit may be lower: just upgrade to high boots if you feel uncomfortable.

Bottom line

On US trails there is a lot of hikers wearing unnecessarry heavy boots. Please consider lightweight sneakers first, if there is no real need to upgrade. You feet will say thank you.

Also as @Wajurgmitr said, lightweight camp (aka fording) sandals are a good addition to main shoes (be it sneakers or hiking boots).

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Knee and Anlke pain

In your question, you mention that you have recently been experiencing knee and ankle pain from hiking. Reading it again, it sounds like you're almost trying to find the "right" kind of outdoor shoes because your knees and ankles hurt while you were hiking in sneakers. IMHO, getting a fancy pair of hiking shoes may or may not address the problem at all.

Rough Terrain and Ankles

If you're having ankle pain when you're hiking, and ONLY when you're hiking (i.e., your ankles are fine when you're jogging or working out in a gym), you may want to look at a pair of full hiking boots. The heavier kind. A well fitting pair of boots will have good ankle protection, and keep your ankles from rolling when you're hiking on rough terrain.

Knees

There's not going to be a single fix for knee pain, because knee pain can be caused by a variety of underlying issues. There is no particular kind of shoe (or boot) that is universally better for knees.

I (personally) have noticably less knee pain when I hike with a pair of 3rd party arch supports (I wear the blue "Superfeet" shoe inserts). Also, I have to make sure my shoes aren't too old, because I tend to wear the outside edge of my soles, and when that wears down too much my foot hits the ground at an angle. But I have issues with the arches of my feet. This may or may not apply to your situation, and there's no way to really diagnose it over the internet.

What you could try

You could play around with newer shoes and / or boots, with a 3rd party insert. First, wait until you're knees and ankles have settled down from whatever strain they went under on your last trip. Go to a store with a good return policy, and get fitted for a boot, and possibly shoe inserts. Wear them to work for a day or two, and if everything feels OK, try going on a short hike around your neighborhood. If everything is good, then try going on incrementally longer hikes.

If that doesn't work, or if you have knee or ankle pain that bothers you when you're not hiking (i.e, when you're at work or trying to sleep), then don't hesitate to see a doctor. A doctor may be able to tell if you have a specific foot issue that could be addressed with custom orthodics, or could prescribe a regiment of stretches and strengthening exercises that may help. (If the doctor immediately proposes surgery as a solution... go get a second opinion).

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It depends much more on your individual condition, how your body (mostly feet and knees) react to various kinds of shoes.

There is a guy in the series "Dual survival" that claim not to need shoes at all, even in hard terrain. But it's extreme.

If we limit the scope to the people not used to walking barefoot, and exclude special activities, such as climbing and glacier trekking, which requires very special shoes, all outdoor shoes would be adequate.

  • sport shoes (such as running shoes) are very light and good for people who have more delicate knees and are rather tolerant to walking in wet shoes. Those shoes will go wet immediately, but they will also dry quickly. If you want to go with them in higher mountains, your feet should be flexible and relatively immune to bending, because you have no protection to your ankles - higher risk of foot twisting.

  • heavy trekking shoes will keep your feet warm and dry in moderate conditions. In summer, however, they may make your feet too warm. If your feet doesn't tolerate too much heat, you have higher risk of blisters. They are also more overloading the knees, because they have very hard soles. But they give you very strong protection for your ankles. Note, that if they soak, they may be getting dry for days.

  • light trekking shoes - they are somehow compromise. Lighter that heavy shoes, less overloading the knees, giving quite good protection against foot twisting (but not as much as heavy shoes). They soak much quicker, but usually gets dry overnight (in warm room).

  • sandals - for some people considered extreme, because of high risk of foot twisting. But if you are good trained and flexible, it may not be a problem for you. They are perfect for walking on streets and flat surfaces during hot weather. Perfect for crossing streams. Not so perfect when it's cold or you are crossing bushes. You may be also bitten by snake or spider - but those animals are present in hot climate zones, boreal forests are generally free of them. In winter sandals are absolute extreme, except stream crossing.

I prefer taking light trekking shoes and sandals. Sandals are very light and take little place, and they are perfect when it's very hot and terrain is light. I often get blisters when my feet are sweating and it's hot, especially when walking on asphalt. In the winter, however, I take heavy trekking shoes. But I have also running shoes - but I use them exclusively for running.

If I would have to decide for only one pair, I would choose light trekking shoes.

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Lightweight nylon mesh running shoes are great for hiking in dry conditions. You will be more efficient hiking in them than in heavy boots.

However, if there are places where you have to slog through lots puddles, shallow streams, etc., you may have problems. You can take your shoes off and do creek crossings barefoot, or if you're concerned about hurting your feet, e.g., on broken glass, you can take off the socks and inserts, cross while wearing the shoes, and then reassemble on the other side. This works fine if you have one or two wet crossings in a day, but may be totally impractical if the conditions are more wet in general. Once your socks are wet, you're almost guaranteed to get blisters.

For these reasons, a pretty versatile minimal set of shoes to own would be one pair of running shoes plus one pair of goretex boots. The boots will also work in snow.

You could talk to a podiatrist or physical therapist about your ankle and knee problems, but a lot of these folks are not basing their advice on evidence-based medicine. The choice of shoes is not likely to have much effect on your knee problems. The solution to the ankle problem may just be to strengthen your ankles, or you may find that boots with ankle support help.

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