When choosing the right footwear for outdoor activities you should take your time. There are some questions that should be answered in advance to avoid problems with unsuitable shoes or aching feet. Not only physical ailments such as the well-known blisters are among them, but also a shoe that does not fit the purpose will not be a pleasure or will not offer sufficient stability and safety.
Table of Contents
- Categories of hiking boots
- Outdoor low shoes
WHICH CATEGORIES OF HIKING & MOUNTAINEERING SHOES ARE THERE?
The traditional German company Meindl has established an interesting and useful categorization for hiking and mountaineering shoes, which hikers can use as a guide when it comes to finding the right footwear for trekking, hiking and mountaineering. It is intended to serve as a first orientation in the shoe jungle:
- Category A: Light hiking boots (mostly low shoes) for forest and meadow paths with flexible soles and little cushioning for everyday life as well as for shorter hikes with light luggage (daypack) on largely flat and paved paths.
- Category A/B: High hiking boots for extended day trips or tours with overnight stay and medium-heavy luggage (backpacks up to approx. 35 liters) as well as for largely paved paths with (significant) ascents and occasionally loose ground. The sole is twistable, but relatively stiff and thick.
- Category B: Classic trekking boots with torsion-resistant sole, thick midsole for lots of cushioning and with high lacing. Mostly made of leather and resoled depending on the model. Suitable for tours lasting several days with a large backpack (trekking backpack 40-70 liters) and mountainous and sometimes rough terrain, but still with clear routing. Can be used with Grödeln. Not recommended for long mountain tours, under very cold conditions or for high altitudes (over 3000 meters). However, in combination with thick woollen socks, it is ideal as a light winter (hiking) shoe.
- Category B/C: Heavy trekking boots for tours on rough, steep terrain, possibly without direct access and for shorter winter tours in icy weather. Stiff sole with low profile, very high lacing and stable upper. Suitable for fixed rope routes and at higher altitudes (around 3000 to 4000 meters). Suitable for Grödel and crampons with double strap-on binding. From this category upwards it is usually possible to resole the shoe.
- Category C: Mountain boots for touring on very rough and steep terrain, ice and firn as well as off-road paths. They can also be used for winter tours lasting several days or at higher altitudes (up to about 5000 meters). Very high shaft, usually additionally insulated. An edge at the heel allows the use of step-in crampons (heel clip at the back, simple strap-on at the front). High weight, very low profile and extremely robust materials.
- Category D: Expedition boots with removable, insulated inner boot, extremely robust and durable manufacture for high altitude and extreme mountaineering or expeditions. Fully crampon proof. Also ideal for glaciers, long winter tours, ice and mixed climbing.
In addition to the differences in the primary purpose, the upper material (leather or synthetic), weather resistance (waterproof shoe with membrane or particularly breathable, membrane-free shoe) and the material of the inner lining (mesh or leather) must be considered. However, these are questions of demand and comfort that everyone must answer for themselves. For example, not everyone can cope with natural products. Although leather is generally more robust and durable, it also requires more care than synthetic fabrics, which dry quickly and are lighter.
OUTDOOR LOW SHOES
Furthermore, there are some subcategories, especially among the low shoes, which depend on special purposes and are associated with the A-category.
- Multisport shoes are light hiking boots in a design suitable for everyday use or particularly robust running shoes, which combine an extra light upper fabric with the sole of a hiking shoe. They are optically appealing, sporty-light and perfectly suited for everyday use as well as for easy hikes or walks. They are also suitable for speedhiking at moderate altitudes as long as you have little luggage with you.
- The so-called approach or access shoes are interesting for climbers. These are usually half-height shoes with a robust and relatively stiff outer sole, which have an edge at the front of the inner foot for easy climbing (as with climbing shoes). The appearance and construction are comparable to hiking shoes, but in addition to the sole, the lacing that extends far forward is also similar to climbing shoes. These shoes are ideal for the way from the car over slopes and scree to the rock as well as for securing or for simple via ferrata. Approach shoes are mountain oriented and belong to the A/B shoes. The design is sporty and suitable for everyday use. Models with softer soles can also be used for hiking. The cushioning makes the shoes suitable for use with touring backpacks and hardware.
- Climbing shoes and bouldering shoes are more or less pre-curved and asymmetrical, have a perfect fit (the more of these features, the more uncomfortable and the more ambitious), have a prominent climbing edge at the front of the inner foot and lacing or Velcro fastenings that reach far forward (usually a matter of comfort). Upper and lining are often one and usually made of leather. They also have a completely smooth rubber sole. This guarantees the best grip on the smallest steps. You can find out everything else in our detailed purchase advice for climbing shoes.
- Trail running shoes are very light and have a highly flexible and cushioned sole. The synthetic upper material is highly breathable and depending on the model, there is a waterproof membrane between the outer fabric and mesh lining or not. There are special quick lacing systems as well as differences in sole profile depending on the preferred training surface. Running shoes are also versatile, carefree companions in everyday life.
- Bicycle shoes are available as MTB shoes or racing bike shoes. Here, special attention must be paid to the suitability of the pedal plates and the locking system. You can find out everything else in our separate purchase advice for MTB and road bike shoes.
Pure summer shoes are different types of sandals and water shoes. They serve as a proper companion on vacation in the summertime, when kayaking or canoeing, as well as for use in the water and on land. Toe sandals are particularly suitable for everyday use – here design and comfort are important. Trekking sandals have an outsole like light hiking boots and are moderately cushioned. They can be used for day hiking tours with little luggage or as a second shoe for summer trekking. There are waterproof models as well as variants in soft leather and quick-drying synthetics. The strap arrangement should definitely meet the comfort requirements. Water shoes are made with a quick-drying mesh or sandal-like upper and a non-slip, profiled sole for rocky, wet surfaces. They are particularly suitable for boat trips.
With the winter shoes one differentiates between pure winter boots and winter hiking boots. The latter are A/B or B shoes in boot form. They are always waterproof, lined on the inside, and have a particularly non-slip sole, thus distinguishing them from their three-season colleagues from the hiking sector. A smooth upper material is easier to clean from slush. The insulation is either made of soft fleece, a particularly light and warm synthetic fiber, or natural, odor-resistant virgin wool. Sometimes there is a removable inner shoe that can be used as a hut shoe. Winter hiking boots are sufficiently cushioned for touring backpacks up to about 50 liters.
Pure winter shoes have a non-slip sole and insulation, but are not made for hiking, as they are not cushioned. There are low shoes, fashionable boots and especially light down shoes. Here the optical aspect and details such as the lacing, the insulation performance (down is warmest, followed by synthetic fiber, then wool and fleece) and the upper fabric (leather or synthetic) play a particularly important role.
EVERYDAY SHOES & LEISURE SHOES
Slippers are also made for warm feet, but can be worn all year round. There are very soft and light models for the sofa and variants with stable soles for taking out the garbage. Mostly wool felt, down, synthetic fibre and leather are used. Clearly shoes where comfort and design play the biggest role!
Even rubber boots are everyday shoes and can be used all year round. Here it depends on the bootleg height and if necessary the closure.
Sneakers and leisure shoes are suitable for slacklining, after training, for the way to university and to the office and are therefore bought clearly according to design and comfort features.
TIPS FOR SIZE SELECTION
In general, men’s models are usually cut wider, women’s lasts are often slim. If in doubt, buy outdoor shoes a little larger, especially hiking boots and boots will often end up one size higher. Many models are now sustainably produced and are completely or partially recycled and made of biomaterials.
Important for the fitting: in the afternoon and with authentic socks! So nothing stands in the way of the right choice of shoes!