So I decided to hike in sneakers, and I certainly wasn’t the only one – most of the people I passed up and down the trail were wearing them. And for an intermittent hiker, that’s totally fine, says board-certified podiatrist Mark Mendeszun, DPM, a hiker and spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medical Association. “Long term, sneakers aren’t really recommended for serious hikers,” he says. But for the occasional out and back, you can get by, especially if your sneakers have some of the key features that all good hiking boots have.
5 features to keep in mind when hiking in sneakers
1. Watch for big lags
“Most hiking shoes will have a significant grip on the outsole to adapt to different surfaces, and to provide stability and traction,” says Dr. Mendeszun. So if you’re choosing sneakers, go with the pair that has the biggest lugs (the tooth-like protrusions on the sole). If the sole of the shoe is completely smooth, it won’t provide much support for the different surfaces you walk on.
2. Foam is your friend
When hiking in sneakers, Dr. Mendeszun does not recommend wearing a minimal pair of shoes. You want some extra padding on the soles of the feet to reduce the pain when walking over rocky surfaces. “Footbeds should generally have adequate room and cushioning, good insulation for comfort and support,” he says. If you don’t already have a pair that fits the bill, Dr. Mendeszoon says an insert that adds a little more cushioning to the soles of your feet is another option.
3. Opt for an aerial top
According to Dr. Mendeszun, the upper of a traditional hiking boot usually allows for air movement. You can emulate this by choosing a sneaker with a mesh or knit upper instead of the types of leather or synthetic materials you often see on lifestyle sneakers.
4. Consider a cross trainer
Dr. Mendeszoon says what sets hiking boots apart from the average walking or running shoe is their excellent lateral support and stability, in the form of a solid heel counter on both the sides and back of the shoe. Since walking and running shoes are made for forward motion, not sideways, it may be best to pull on the shoes you want to wear for a HIIT workout—as long as the soles aren’t too smooth—since they’re designed to move in multiple planes of motion. Has been: front/back, side-to-side and rotationally.
5. Avoid short laces
“Most trail shoes or hiking boots will have laces long enough to be tied properly and even double-knotted to protect the feet and ankles during long hikes, especially when people start ascending or descending uneven surfaces,” Dr. Mendezon said. If your sneakers are too short to come with, consider threading a longer pair of laces.
Take the terrain into consideration
Terrain plays an important role in determining which shoes will be the best for hitting the trail. “Hiking on flat trails and surfaces is generally easier and less stressful,” says Dr. Mendesun. In that case, it’s okay to wear shoes that aren’t specifically designed for hiking.
“But when people start climbing higher mountains or if they start hiking in the mountains, hiking boots will generally be more durable, a little heavier, more insulated and more secure to fit around your feet and ankles,” he says. “Most of the hiking injuries that I’ve seen as a foot and ankle specialist and surgeon are when people are going down a hill or on top of a hill — they can lose balance and lose grip on the ground, resulting in a fall.”
Are trail runners an alternative to hiking boots?
Once you’re more than an occasional hiker, Dr. Mendeszun says it’s time to invest in shoes designed specifically for the activity. But if the added bulk and weight of hiking boots seems like a deterrent, a trail running shoe might be your best bet because they’re designed with all the features Dr. Mendeszun mentioned above.
It can also be a particularly good option depending on your foot type, as Dr. Mendeszoon says hiking boots aren’t made with flat feet or high arches in mind, so you can get a bit of a custom fit by going on a trail. the runner
Best practices for buying hiking shoes
Even though we live in an age of online shopping, when you’ve become regular enough to stop wearing sneakers, Dr. Mendeszun says your first stop should be a hiking specialty store that has the appropriate fittings. Knowing what to look for in hiking shoes is no substitute for getting professional help buying a pair. “Once people get trail shoes,” Dr. Mendeszun says, “usually they don’t go back to sneakers.”