Comfortable footwear is crucial to getting the most from the outdoors. When we venture into the wilderness, it can be for long periods and over some pretty rough terrain. Making sure your feet stay happy is very important. With a pair of well-fitted, suitable, durable and comfortable shoes, you’ll be striding with sass and hiking on a high.

*It must be noted that this article is no substitute to trying on hiking footwear in-store with expert in-person advice. Whenever possible we suggest a visit to your local Paddy Pallin Store and seeking the assistance of our knowledgeable staff.


Typically hiking footwear can be divided into a few categories. Each different type tends to be accompanied be a varying set of features. These do tend to overlap a bit, particularly in the boots.

Shoes/low-cut: These will be low-cut around the ankle, typically with a softer more flexible sole. Generally these used for easier day-hikes and travel. A shoe like this could a burly full-leather model, good for hiking and travel to cooler climes. Whilst others will be lighter, with a synthetic/mesh upper, which is more suited to cooler climates.

Light hiking boots/mid-cut: As the name suggest these are cut higher around the ankle than a shoe, but usually just high enough to cover your ankle bone on the side. A light hiker will usually be a bit stiffer than most hiking shoes, but still quite flexible. They are lightweight and good for a mixture of activities, from travel in colder climates and day hikes to easier multi-day adventures with a lighter pack.

Heavy trekking boots/high-cut: Again as expected these are heavier, stiffer and higher-cut around the ankles. This category is for serious trekking and bush walking. This is the kind of boot suited travelling over rough terrain, off-track and carrying a heavy pack for multiple days. The uppers will be well padded and the sole should not flex too much.

Sandals: Whilst this article is mainly looking at enclosed footwear, sandals still deserve a mention. These are basically sandals that provide more support and grip than your usual casual offerings. Most of the time enclosed footwear is the ideal choice for hiking, but sandals can be a good option in some instances. The obvious one is in very hot and humid climates. Paddy Pallin stocks a range of Men’s and Women’s sandals from Teva and Merrell

Fit & Sizing

Foot size/length – It’s important to know your foot size. The best way to do this is by using a Brannock Device, which is the worldwide standardised tool for measuring foot size. All Paddy Pallin stores are equipped with these and the experienced staff are happy to help take a measurement of your foot. (*Tip always have both feet measured as one is often larger). We’d also suggest sticking with using European sizing as it’s simple and consistent between men’s & women’s footwear.

Typically the rule of thumb is your shoe size will be between a half to a full size larger than what your measurement is. For example if the device shows your (larger) foot to be size EU42, then start by trying on some size 42.5 to 43 shoes.

Foot shape & Volume: The shape and volume of your foot will also play a big part in shoe selection. Some people have narrow feet, whilst others quite wide. Likewise some people have slender (Low Volume) feet whilst other’s will be quite chunky (High Volume). If you’re not sure how your foot shape stacks up, just ask the Paddy’s staff member who is helping you for their appraisal. Across the range of footwear, there will be varying fits between the brands and models. This known as the shoe’s ‘last’.

How Men’s & Women’s vary: Typically Women have narrower feet than men, so the footwear is generally built around a narrower last. Likewise Men typically have larger feet than women. Generally Women’s models will be available in sizes from around 36 up to 42, Whilst Men’s might start at 40 and go as large as 50. Of course don’t fret if you’re outside the average, eg. you’re man and end up fitting better in a ‘women’s’ boot, or vice versa.

Trying them on: It might seem obvious, but give yourself plenty of time to try some different styles and if needed, multiple sizes. Walk around the store and up and down the incline ramp (most Paddy’s stores have one of these). Feel for any uncomfortable pressure points or tightness. Basically You’re looking for a snug and supportive fit, but with some room in the toe box for your toes to wriggle a bit and spread out. Facing down-hill on the ramp you don’t want your toes touching the front of the shoe, nor do you want to be sliding forward too much.

It’s also important to try on boots with socks that are as thick, or even slightly thicker than the socks you would typically wear whilst hiking. Finally, if possible, it can be good to try on footwear later in the day after you’ve been walking around for a while. Most people’s feet will swell a bit throughout the day.

Basic Anatomy of Hiking Footwear:

Upper: As the name suggests, this is the upper part of the boot. The outer will be made from a variety of materials – Traditionally leather (Full-grain, Split & Nubuck) or Synthetics. Inside there is padding for comfort and a lining. The uppers dictates much of of how the boot fits and how insulated it will be. For example lighter upper with mesh panels will breath well and be good for cooler climates. Whilst a heavily padded full-leather upper will be much warmer.

Mid-sole: The mid-sole is there to provide cushioning, protect the feet from shock partially determines the stiffness of the boot. Depending on the construction you may not see the mid-sole as it’s hidden under the outer-sole. The mid-sole commonly made from either EVA or Polyurethane

Outer-sole: The outer-sole is what connects with the ground. It’s made from a tough and grippy rubber compound. A hard compound will wear slower but be less grippy, whilst a softer compound wears quickly but provides more grip. The outer-sole will have an array of lugs or tread, designed to give the boot grip across a range of surfaces. Generally high-cut heavy-duty boots will have deeper and more aggressive tread pattern.

Innersole: This is the removable padded insert inside the boot. The innersole adds further cushioning and support, but more pertinently allows for customisation of the fit. Some people’s feet will need more or less arch support for example – So an aftermarket innersole, such as the Superfeet range, can be used to tailor the fit to your foot.

Internal support or shank: This is typically in the form of a stiffened ‘shank’ or ‘sheet’ that sits between the mid-sole and outer-sole, adding load-bearing stiffness to the boot.  A shank is typically found in the more robust and heavy duty models. Whilst most hiking footwear has a sheet of some kind to add stiffness, but also protect the foot from bruising by rocks and roots.

Laces: Last but not least, the laces. These play a big part in keeping your boots not only securely on your feet, but performing correctly. It’s typical for people new to hiking to lace their boots too loose. This can allow for slippage and rubbing, not ideal. As a general rule try lacing them a bit looser through the toe area, but snug and secure around the ankle.

Waterproof or Not?

In simple terms hiking footwear will either be waterproof, or not. Choosing which option will be better for your needs can actually be quite difficult. Typically modern waterproof footwear relies upon a synthetic waterproof lining sewn into the upper. Often this will be made from GORE-TEX or another comparable membrane based material. It acts a bit like a low sock inside your boot, keeping water out from the sides and below. Of course water can still enter the bot from the top opening.

Another type of waterproof boot is those with entirely a full grain leather upper. A bot like this relies of the leather being treated to remain waterproof. Provided you keep re-treating the leather uppers, they should remain waterproof.

Choosing waterproof or not will depend on where and how you plan to use the footwear. With that in mind, here are some pro’s and cons to help inform that decision.

Pros: Keeps water out of your shoes, thus keeping your feet drier and warmer.

Cons: Breaths less and keeps your sweat in. If the boot is flooded with water, it will also take longer to dry out than a non-waterproof equivalent.

So in a nut shell… Typically for cold, wet, snowy and muddy conditions – Go waterproof. For hotter, humid and tropical conditions – A non waterproof option might be better.

Footwear care: 

As with all outdoor gear, the correct care is important for maintaining the performance, durability and lifespan of your boots. Check out this article for some tips on how to keep your hiking boots in tip-top shape: Footwear Care

Socks: It’s worth noting just how important socks are when hiking. Paddy’s stock a great range of quality hiking socks, and deciphering which are best for each climate and activity is something we will be covering in a future article.

Hopefully this article has helped a bit to enlighten you about the topic and assist with getting the perfect footwear for your next outdoor adventure. To see the great footwear range on offer at Paddy Pallin, check the links below or even better, visit your local Paddy Pallin store.

Women’s Footwear Men’s Footwear

About The Author

Lachlan Gardiner

Lachlan works as a freelance photographer, writer and videographer. His practice lies somewhere between storytelling and being a total gear nerd. Often found hiking, mountaineering, climbing, cycling, packrafting, or just hunting down the next story - Lachlan will take basically any excuse to get into the outdoors. In between all of the above, he also works in our Paddy Pallin store in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane.

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