There is no other single piece of gear that will have such a large impact on your hiking happiness than your choice of footwear. Depending on your hike and your personal taste, there are a variety of options spanning from lightweight sandals to full on mountaineering boots.
Some thru-hikers swear by their sandals and will wear them for whole scenic trails, while others won’t even give them a chance. One thing is certain, your feet are exposed; they’ll dry quickly, stay cool and experience less fatigue, but they’ll also be susceptible to stubs, debris and whatever else the trail brings.
These are the off-road equivalent of running shoes. With a rugged sole, excellent support and world-class breathability, these are the preferred footwear of most distance thru-hikers.
There are three classes of hikers ranging from light to heavy, and each is good for a different kind of hike. Lightweight hikers are generally low-top hiking type shoes. Many models have waterproof liners that can detract from the breathability, but can add a significant amount of weather protection. Midweight hikers are the most traditional hiking boots. They are heavier than the lightweight hiker, with strong support, a tough exterior and, in most cases, strong ankle support. Heavyweight hikers are typically waterproof and their stiff, supportive soles make them the best boots for winter hikes or hikes over extremely rough terrain.
These are the toughest and most structured and restrictive footwear option for hiking. Because mountaineering boots were originally designed for scaling raw rock and ice climbing, they have an immensely stiff and protective sole, as well as hardcore insulation and waterproofing.