No matter where you're hiking, your footwear sets the tone for the outing. Although you can -- and people do -- hike in anything from sandals to mountaineering boots, mid-cut hiking boots or shoes seem to hit the sweet spot between flexibility and support, weight and protection.
Lightweight hiking boots will be stiffer and more supportive of your feet than walking or running shoes -- and better support your ankles in particular -- making them the best choice for hiking, especially with a heavy pack.
Hiking shoes are typically used for day hikes, although some hikers wear them for backpacking. The lightest models in this category weigh about 2 pounds per pair.
Heavy-duty hiking or backpacking boots are highly durable. A good pair can easily last you for a decade or more than 1,000 miles on the trail. Made for serious backpackers, they weigh as much as 4 pounds per pair. Most have some degree of waterproofing, but backpackers who frequently hike in wet climates or damp terrain may want to consider dedicated waterproof hiking boots.
Prices for hiking boots and shoes will vary depending on their purpose. Hiking shoes and lightweight boots average $100 to $200. They aren't as durable as heavy-duty hiking boots and will need to be replaced more often, every one to five years depending on how they're built and how much you hike. Leather backpacking boots are more expensive, typically costing about $300, but may last for many years.
Some people avoid purpose-built hiking footwear in favor of trail-running shoes, which usually offer great traction and flexibility but not much support. Some hikers take it even further, preferring minimalist or "barefoot" trail shoes like Vibram's FiveFingers. For more information about barefoot-style shoes, see our report on minimalist running shoes.
That said, most experts recommend hiking boots and shoes that are supportive enough to protect your feet against rocks and tree roots in the trails, and that offer the type of all-terrain stability you won't find in everyday shoes or minimalist models.
ConsumerSearch.com analyzes dozens of expert reviews and hundreds of owner posts to evaluate the comfort, fit, performance and durability of hiking boots and shoes for men and women. The result is our picks for the best hiking boots for wherever your adventures take you.