With so many different types of hiking footwear out there, picking out the right pair of shoes for Scouting can be a challenge. Are you looking for arch support? How about a breathable fit? Or maybe you should choose the most lightweight shoes possible? As a former scout and Eagle Scout, I totally understand the struggle of finding good hiking shoes.
After testing many different types of footwear in my own troop, I’ve learned that there are only a few simple things you need to pay attention to when choosing the right shoes for Scouting. Ask yourself:
- What types of troop activities will these shoes need to stand up to?
- How long will it likely take to outgrow your current shoe size?
- What is the longest distance you expect to be hiking?
- How much weight do you expect to be carrying?
In this guide, you’ll be using your answers to determine what footwear will best suit your Scouting activities. I’ll also give you a brief overview of the components, safety benefits, and drawbacks of different types of shoes you can select. For those of you in a hurry though, below is my general recommendation of footwear that will be suitable for most scouts.
My General Recommendation:
For most scouts under 16, I’d recommend choosing a synthetic pair of hiking shoes usually costing between $50-$80. However, for scouts aged 16+ whose feet will not continue to grow, a durable pair of high-cut hiking boots might be a good choice, as they tend to offer greater support and ankle protection. Although likely costing anywhere from $75-$150, the right boots will stand up to more challenging treks and last for years to come.
In the next section, I’ll be giving you an introduction to the 3 most common types of outdoor footwear. By understanding the basic differences in style pricing, and safety features between these types of shoes, you’ll begin to get a better idea of what shoes (or boots) will best serve your Scouting needs!
If you’d like a few specific and tested recommendations, you can also check out my top 3 picks on Scouting footwear and other outdoor gear by clicking the link here.
The 3 Types of Hiking Footwear: Which is Best For Scouting?
There are 3 main types of footwear typically used for wilderness treks.
Hiking shoes: Typically the least expensive option, hiking shoes are great for new scouts who will mainly be trekking through ‘easy’ terrain. These shoes are lightweight, comfortable, and great for day trips or weekend camps. However, because hiking shoes are low-cut (ending at the ankle), they are not ideal for rugged conditions or for supporting heavy backpack loads.
Hiking Boots: Hiking boots may be more expensive than hiking shoes, but provide a greater level of stability and support. Typically either a mid or high cut, hiking boots can be laced above the ankles and greatly reduce the likelihood of sprains. Great for challenging multi-day hikes and backpacking trips, hiking boots are ideal for athletic and experienced scouts.
Mountaineering and Backpacking Boots: Both of these types of boots are very heavy duty and well-suited for long wilderness treks on difficult terrain. I would not recommend these boots for younger scouts, as they tend to be much heavier and more expensive. However, they’re indispensable for difficult hikes, as they can help you lift greater loads and are often waterproof.
In my experience, practically all normal Scouting activities can be done using basic hiking shoes. However, advanced treks and trips tend to require reliable hiking boots, at a minimum.
When Scouts begin to participate in more challenging activities at around the age of 16, their feet are also practically done growing. Both of these factors mean that it might be a good idea to buy a sturdy pair of hiking boots around this age.
While the type of footwear you choose matters, the most important things to take into account when buying shoes are fit, comfort, and support. In the next section, we’ll be covering the main things to keep in mind when buying hiking footwear for Scouting, as well as features you should be careful to avoid.
What to Look For in Hiking Footwear (And What to Avoid)
There are 3 things you should look for when choosing the right footwear.
- Material: This impacts your footwear’s weight, airflow, and durability. I’d recommend going for a shoe made of a lightweight, synthetic material like nylon.
- Sole Flexibility: Sturdy hiking shoes flex when bent, but will never fold in the middle. Choosing a shoe with a stiff sole will make it easier to walk on uneven terrain and protect against ankle injuries.
- Cushion: Take a few minutes to walk around. Are the shoes comfortable? As you’ll likely be hiking for hours at a time, so you’ll want a well-cushioned and supported shoe.
When trying on different types of outdoor shoes, its best to wear hiking socks to get the right fit. Whether you’re buying instore or online, it’s important to give your shoes some time to break in. If your first choice isn’t working for you, return it. Having the wrong hiking shoes will lead to a miserable outdoor experience.
In the next section, I’ll explain how to select the right fit for your hiking shoes. First though, here are some common mistakes to avoid when buying footwear for Scouting.
Mistakes to Avoid When Buying Scouting Footwear
- Avoid buying heavy footwear. A pound of weight on your feet feels like an extra 5 pounds on your back.
- Waterproof or leather boots are not ideal for Scouting, as they often heat up and are slow to dry.
- Avoid buying overly expensive footwear for scouts under 16. As their feet are still growing, they’ll likely outgrow a nice pair of boots before having the time to completely wear them out.
- Purchase shoes from a company with a generous return policy. Some hiking shoes won’t be the right fit. Don’t settle for what doesn’t work.
- Cheap shoes might seem like an affordable option, but you often get what you pay for. It’s better to buy a single pair of shoes for $100 that’ll last for years than buy 5 pairs for $40 that’ll each last for a few months.
I’ve made a good number of these mistakes so, hopefully, you don’t need to! 🙂
Now that you know what to look out for, all that’s left is to pick the right size of footwear. Keep reading for some general tips on choosing and using the perfect hiking shoe.
Tips For Scouts Using New Hiking Footwear
A common problem with hiking footwear is having your toenails rub against the front of the shoe. On longer treks, this could mean bruises, blisters, or even having your toenail fall off! Here are a few tips to keep in mind for more comfortable feet.
When Purchasing Your Footwear
- In the store, choose a size that provides enough space from your toe to the front of the shoe to fit the width of your thumb when pushing down (about ¾ inch of space). Typically, this means going a half size or even a full size higher.
- If your foot can slide back-and-forth in your shoe while fully laced up, pick a slightly smaller size.
- If you’re not an experienced hiker, go with lighter footwear models. The weight that seems the heaviest on hikes or treks often comes from your shoes.
- Choosing footwear with stiffer soles will make for a more comfortable trek on uneven, rocky terrain, but may be uncomfortable on easy trails.
- I’d recommend purchasing insoles for your shoes, as they’re a great, inexpensive way to add additional cushion and arch support to your footwear.
- Choose hiking socks that suit your feet. If you tend to overheat, go with moisture-wicking socks. Reading the sock labels will help you to pick the right socks for your body type.
Preparing For The Trek
- Trim and round your toenails before each hike.
- If you buy stiff, heavy-duty boots, break them in by taking them on at least 3 short hikes before wearing them for extended periods.
- If your shoes begin to smell, remove the insole and either place the shoe out in direct sunlight to kill the bacteria or follow the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions.
On the Trail
- Bring an extra pair of socks on each hike (or 1.5x the number of trek days). Changing socks 1 or 2 times per day will help to prevent blisters and make for a much more comfortable trip.
- When steeply descending on a trail, stop, move your foot to the back of your shoe, then tie your shoelaces more tightly. This will prevent your toe from sliding into the front of your boot.
- Your feet will swell throughout the day. Loosen and remove your shoes during breaks so that your feet have time to cool and rest.
Frequently Asked Scouting Footwear Questions
What Footwear Should Scouts Avoid?
I’d recommend that scouts not buy leather footwear. Leather is heavier, less breathable, and can often be much more expensive than other types of material. As a scout, you’ll likely want shoes that are comfortable and will dry quickly. In that case, go with nylon or other synthetic materials.
Do Scouts Need Waterproof Footwear?
Unless you’ll often be walking through streams, or are in a very rainly climate, waterproof footwear might not be the best option. I’d recommend choosing a mesh-top shoe that is breathable and can dry quickly. As a bonus, these breathable shoes are often lighter and less costly than their waterproof counterparts!
How Much Should Scouting Footwear Cost?
Although there’s hiking footwear available at all price points, I’d recommend most scouts invest in a pair of shoes costing between $80 and $120. In my experience, this is where you’ll get the most value and comfort from your purchase, without breaking the bank.
Keep in mind, hiking shoes will last for years if they’re properly cared for and not outgrown. Take the time to choose a reliable pair that suits you, and you’ll be sure to have a more enjoyable time on the trails.