As you gear up to introduce your little one to hiking, shoes have no doubt come up in a conversation or two. What kind of shoes should kids wear when hiking? Must you invest in hiking boots, which, to be honest, are quite costly?
The honest answer: Whatever shoes the child will wear and be comfortable in. Our kids have hiked with everything from tennis shoes to rain boots and even their school sneakers. The only reason adults need hiking boots is because we put a lot of weight on our legs hence the need for extra support and stability. Kids do not have this problem since they weigh very little and rarely carry anything in their backpacks.
According to Dr. Thomas Jinguji, a Pediatric Orthopedics at Seattle Children’s Hospital, young children also have a lower arch, and hiking shoes with pronounced arch support irritate their delicate feet and make them feel like there’s a bump in the shoe.
His advice: less is more. “If the child wants to wear Crocs to a three-mile hike, let them.”
Dr. Jinguji also says kids are less prone to rolling their ankles, so the extra ankle support provided by hiking boots is not necessary. What he insists on instead is shoes that will protect the feet from rocks and have enough room, especially for the toes. We discussed how comfort is among the top two factors you should look for when buying shoes for hiking.
Safety and comfort aside, I also agree with Dr. Jinguji that you should consider inexpensive shoes. Kids outgrow shoes incredibly fast, leaving you with barely used expensive pairs of hiking boots twice a year.
That said, a few factors such as terrain, climate, altitude and distance will determine what kind of shoes you and the kids wear to hike on that day. For instance, my daughter wore rain boots to every hike in Seattle because the terrain was mostly wet and cold. Now that we are back in Texas and it’s dryer here, we mostly switch between hiking sandals and her favorite tennis shoes or sneakers.
If you are still on the fence about having the kids join you on a hike, this post about reasons why kids should hike is for you.
Can Kids Hike in Sneakers?
Sneakers get the most wear by kids after Crocs because they are cool and comfortable. And because they are a popular everyday shoe, they make fantastic hiking shoes, provided the trail is not rocky or slippery and also doesn’t have water crossings.
Sneakers are often light, well-cushioned and very comfortable, making great walking shoes. On the downside though, they have a flat sole and are often spacious, so they provide almost zero arch and ankle support. And since most have rubber soles, traction is unheard of.
The main reason I don’t recommend sneakers for hiking though is lack of durability. This is one shoe that’s not designed for repetitive, high-stress activities like hiking, so you will be shortening its lifespan tremendously. Considering sneakers are not cheap either, maybe using them for the wrong purpose is not a good idea.
Can Kids Hike in Running Shoes?
Hiking in running shoes is an excellent idea for kids in most cases. Running shoes are designed for comfort thanks to their soft, cushioned midsole, inner sole liner and breathable upper layer. They also have a very flexible upper part to reduce rubbing and irritation.
And unlike most everyday shoes, running shoes have an outsole just like hiking shoes, so they provide better traction and durability. According to Matt Hart, a sports podiatrist at ACE Feet in Motion, wearing running shoes for shorter hikes or flat trails is beneficial. They are more comfortable, lighter, and the cushioning is really amazing.
Trail runners are especially good because they are designed for trail running, so they are more durable and have better traction. Most trail runners are also waterproof unless your child steps in deep water. But if you are planning to hit some rocky terrain, a pair of hiking-specific shoes will be necessary.
Can Kids Hike in Sandals?
Kids can hike with sandals on short hikes, sandy trails and trails with water crossings. (This post runs down types of hiking and how to choose the best for your kids)
We also prefer putting kids on sandals when it’s really hot so their feet can breathe a little. However, we do recommend hiking sandals instead of regular ones, even though we use regular sandals all the time.
Hiking sandals are well-ventilated, quick to dry and keep the feet cooler when it’s hot. They are also super light, so the child won’t expend much energy or feel the bulk of the shoes. I prefer a sandal with toe guards to protect the poor toes from rocks and roots.
But as you choose hiking sandals, look for the same features you want in hiking shoes; comfort, tough soles, good arch support and traction.
Can Kids Hike in Tennis Shoes?
Tennis shoes are the perfect alternative to hiking shoes, especially for kids. They are lighter, more comfortable and easy to put on. And because the child is already used to wearing the shoe, they won’t be whining about blisters or discomfort along the way.
Unlike running shoes and sneakers, tennis shoes are designed to provide ample ankle support and extra heel cushioning. The shoe caters to the dynamic foot movement in tennis, which also works for hiking. Most importantly, tennis shoes have the correct outsole and snugness to provide stability, comfort and durability. The soles have an excellent grip on the right terrain, so you never have to worry about sliding.
Be sure however to choose all-court tennis shoes, not carpet or grass or clay court tennis shoes. The kind of traction and durability you get from each type of tennis shoe is very different.
Here’s the Bottom Line
Kids do not need as much support as adults when hiking. It is rare to see kids going up those problematic terrains and even rarer to have them carrying heavy backpacks that add stress to the feet. Any shoe the child can comfortably walk or run with will work for hiking.
As the child gets older (10-17 years old) and joins the world of real hiking, you can invest in a good pair of hiking boots or hiking sandals for them. But even so, we always take a pair of tennis shoes just in case they want to change into something lighter and more comfy.