What do hiking shoes and online dating have in common? Finding the right fit takes time—and you don’t want to rush into anything.
“You’re not going to buy a pair on Friday night and embark on a five-day hike on Saturday,” says Karla Field, senior merchant at Mountain Equipment Company. Instead, start your search by thinking about what you want to do in the shoe. A lightweight trail runner is suitable for runs on relatively smooth terrain. The next step up is a hiking shoe, ideal for short day treks. And a stiffer, ankle-supporting boot with a sturdy sole is best if you’re embarking on a multi-day hike on rough terrain with a heavy pack.
The biggest mistake Field sees newbie hikers make? Buying a shoe that’s too small. To avoid this, head to the store at the end of the day, when your feet are naturally more swollen. Lace the shoes loosely—there should still be a little room at the heel when you push your foot forward. Then walk around the store as much as you can, climbing any stairs or ramps. Also beware of any heel slippage and/or hot spots while you’re trying on shoes—both can lead to blisters.
Our tester found her match in the Merrell Bravada 2, designed specifically for women’s feet. These hiking sneakers were comfy and provided good traction on pavement, gravel and rough terrain. The narrow heel was just right, and the breathable mesh lining prevented sweaty feet. They were so comfortable, in fact, she ended up hiking 10K on her first outing. $145, merrell.com.