How to Pick a Hiking Shoe

 neptune's gear heads | expert staff advice


Tim | Floor Manager | @timfrommaine

Tim is a climber, trail runner, snowboarder and mountaineer living in Colorado since 2008. 


Find out whether you need a lightweight trail shoe, ankle protection and extra support, or a mountain boot for more technical adventures

neptune know how: how to pick a hiking shoe


So, you need to buy a hiking shoe. With seemingly endless options and a variety of special features, how do you pick? 

When shopping, maybe you tend to rely on friends' recommendations or go for your favorite color. But with hiking shoes, you want to put those factors aside and instead find the shoe that will help you accomplish your objectives and still have happy feet at the end of the day.

Our staff are outdoor junkies who use their expertise to help you find exactly the right shoe for you. They take into consideration everything from what you hike in now, to how strong your feet and ankles are, to the size and shape of your feet. 

But, if you're just starting your research, or you can't visit the store, we created this handy guide to help you in your journey toward finding the perfect pair. 

Here's what you'll need to consider:

  • TerrainWhere will you be hiking? Do you mostly stick to packed trails? Do you like scrambling across rocky talus fields? Will you be bushwhacking through dense branches or crossing streams?
  • Length of Hike - Are you going out for a short day hike? Will you be walking on rocky terrain for several hours? Are you planning a multi-day trip?
  • Pack Weight - Do you usually pack just a few snacks and water? Or is your pack heavier with backpacking or climbing gear?
  • Weather - Do you want breathability for summer hikes? Or do you need to stay warm and dry in rainy climates or snowy winter hikes?

Now, that you've considered how and where you want to hike, you can narrow down what type of hiking shoe will be the most comfortable.

Hiking Shoes

Best for: day hikes on packed trails

Hiking shoes are lightweight and breathable, which makes them great for shorter jaunts on well-maintained trails, especially if you're just carrying a small day pack (think water and snacks). They are less stiff, which generally makes them comfortable out of the box, without needing a break-in period. 

The low profile is great for comfort and breathability, but you'll want to stick to those packed trails or build up ankle strength before hitting more rugged terrain.

Staff Picks: 

La Sportiva Ultra Raptor (Women's)

la sportiva ultra raptor trail running shoe | neptune

Why we love it: The Ultra Raptor has awesome traction for a variety of trails without being too heavy. It's stiffer than a trail running shoe for support, but lighter than most mid-hikers. 

La Sportiva Trail Ridge Low (Men's and Women's)

la sportiva trail ridge low hiking shoe

Why we love them: The mesh panels make these low-cut hikers super breathable for warmer climates.

Hiking Boots - Mids

Best for:  backpacking; stability on rugged trails or for carrying heavier packs

If you plan to hike longer distances or even multiple days, carry a heavier pack, or you just want more support, a hiking boot is a great choice. Hiking boots usually have a wider, stiffer sole, which provides stability and prevents rolling an ankle. A stiffer sole also offers more comfort for longer days. The taller ankle cuff protects your from rocks and low branches, so you can venture out onto wilder terrain. 

Staff Picks:

Oboz Bridger Mid Bdry (Men's and Women's)


Oboz Bridger Mid Bdry Men's hiking boot
Why we love it: This shoe fits almost everyone, and the insole provides better arch support than most. 
Lowa Explorer GTX Mid (Men's and Women's)
Lowa Explorer GTX Mid hiking boot
Why we love it: This boot blends the support of mid-cut boot with a softer, lighter weight sole. 

Approach Shoe

Best for: Scrambling and technical trails

If you plan to do more technical hiking like crossing talus fields or scrambling up high peaks, you'll want a shoe that has good traction on rock. Approach shoes are sort of a hybrid between trail runners and climbing shoes. They feature sticky rubber, usually on both the sole and toe box. 

Staff Picks:

La Sportiva TX3

 La Sportiva Men's Tx3 approach shoe | Neptune

Why we love it: The TX3 is comfortable, lightweight, and breathable with sticky climbing rubber on the sole, as well as the toe, for easy scrambling in mountain terrain. 

Arc'teryx Aerios FI Mid GTX 

arc'teryx aerios FL mid gtx hiking shoe

Why we love it: This shoe combines features across categories. It's as lightweight and breathable as a trail runner, has the waterproofing and ankle protection of a mid-top, and the sticky rubber of an approach shoe. 

Mountain Boots 

Mountain boots are designed to keep you warm and dry in the alpine environment. They have a high cuff or ankle gaiter for protection from debris, a stiff sole for long days travelling on rock, and are made to be compatible with crampons for travelling across snow and ice. While these shoes are great for epic winter summits, mountain boots are much to heavy, stiff, and hot for shorter hikes in warm climates. 

Staff Picks:

Scarpa Phantom Tech

scarpa phantom tech | neptune

Why we love it: The sole has enough rocker to make it more comfortable than other stiff mountaineering boots, and the waterproof gaiter keeps out ice and snow. Plus, it's compatible with fully automatic crampons.