Reese Whitherspoon’s hiking boots tumble off the side of a mountain, one after the other, laces flying. The boots bounce off rocks, rolling towards the valley below.
That’s the only part of the Wild movie that I remember.
Don’t follow in Reese’s socked footsteps wincing over rocky trails — remember, her boots went off a mountain — ditch your hiking boots at the start of your trip. And don’t end up like me, with your feet a bloody mass of blisters because you forgot to break the bad boys in before boarding your plane.
They are the shoe industry’s equivalent to the offer of, “Would you like to get a large popcorn for only a $1 more?” They’re an unnecessary upsell designed for Mount-Rainier-like conditions that we’ll never encounter on a normal trip.
They’re a smooth-talking hustler out to steal your hard-earned $150+. You could use that money to get 30,000 feet in the air and actually see the destination you’ve been dreaming of. You know, the destination that these hiking boots promised you.
Don’t believe the hype. Hiking boots are heavy, expensive, and single use. FAIL on the top three criteria for items to make it into your carry on.
“I’ve got a mountain to hike,” you say, “And a 5 mile trail to get to this spectacular waterfall. Hiking boots are a must.”
Sorry, but they’re really not. Let me explain. This is coming from a girl who lives in the state with the most 14,000+ mountains, hikes every single summer weekend, and considers a trip without an outdoor expedition a waste.
What you really need are comfortable shoes with three things:
- Thicker soles so your arches don’t complain after an hour of walking over hard rocks.
- Meaty tread to give you lots of good traction in slippery rock slide conditions (or if you have bad balance, like me).
- Some ankle support so you’re not hobbling for the remainder of your trip.
If your trip’s purpose is to hike Mount Everest, get yourself some hiking boots and a sherpa. For the rest of us, regular shoes that already live in our closets will fit the bill. The biggest bonus: you don’t have to break them in, or lug around heavy hiking boots, just for one little four mile hike.
Here are some strong candidates (er, alternatives) to give ye old hiking boots the boot:
While I’ve never owned a pair, Shawn is a huge fan. With their thick rubber soles (so you’re striding in comfort) and classy style, I see why. You can dress them up or down. Either way, you’ll be comfortable and smart-looking. They do, however, lack ankle support.
Think shoes that work equally hard on the trail as they do canvassing a new city’s streets. My Sketchers took the beating of cobblestone roads and smoothly transitioned to clambering up a Berlin park’s damp trails to explore abandoned anti-aircraft flak towers.
Typically, these shoes have grippy tread, good arch support, and enough cushion to clamber over rocks. Skip the very flat soles or you’ll be ice skating at the mention of water.
Leather + Rubber Soled Shoes
This combo serves up the best of both worlds: classy chic and comfort. Rubber soles cushion your feet against the hard trail and leather jazzes up your outfit. Plus, these shoes pull double duty, easily going from city stroll to nature hike (or more). These classy shoes will take you from work to vacation to weekend brews — while lasting many years.
- Guys: Redwing Classic Oxfords, or Heritage Moc, or Timberland Earthkeepers.
- Ladies: Hush Puppies Mary Jane, or Soft Walk Taylor Too.
Ah, so you’re paying attention. Nicely done. Unless you hate your feet, don’t go for this option.
Cross-Training, or Trail-Running Shoes
Confession: I ran trails, three hours, down an Austrian mountain in my cross-training sneakers to catch a bus. On the uncertain terrain littered with leaves, sticks, and rocks, my sneakers were great.
These are my favorite shoes to wear when traveling: suited for any condition, soles studded with great traction, and solid arch support so my dogs aren’t barking at the end of a long day.
Top name brands like Nike, Adidas, New Balance, and Under Armor all have great options for trail-running shoes.
Bonus: they’re found at your neighborhood sports goods store. So you can pick up a pair today and start breaking them in if the ones in your closet won’t last another week.
Ditch the heavy hiking boots and opt for shoes that will gladly work-horse for you on any trail:
- Boat shoes
- Lifestyle shoes
- Leather + rubber soled shoes
- Cross-training shoes
- Trail-running shoes
- Never ballet flats, don’t be silly
I’d be willing to bet that at least one pair of these shoes is already in your closet. So, you don’t even have to worry about spending time or money shopping for new shoes that could be better spent on your trip.