Searching for the Best Hiking Footwear

Besides being an avid birder, I’m an obsessive walker and hiker. I’ll go in any weather and over any terrain. The only prerequisites for trekking in any condition: comfortable clothing and excellent footwear. Wearing out my current walking shoes and seeking more support for my hiking boots, I am in search of the best hiking footwear (and thus seek the opinion of other birders and naturalists.

My history of hiking boots is fairly limited (or at least my memory of what I wore is). Back in 2001 prior to going on a great western adventure with my dad and our two dogs, we purchased identical boots: Rocky Sport Utility Max Insulated Waterproof Boot (or at least something fairly similar).

These boots lasted five years of heavy use before they began breaking down and were no longer waterproof. They more than paid for themselves providing footing in every state west of the Mississippi River and on countless local hikes.

Left to right: Adidas, Keen, Irish Setter
Birding Footwear

Sometime in 2008 I decided to replace these battered boots with a new pair: Irish Setter (by Red Wing Shoes) 3856 Aerotracker [size 11 1/2]. These sturdy, comfortable boots are breathable yet waterproof. I can confidently walk in just about any terrain, through muck and flooded paths, without worrying about losing my footing. I even use them as a winter boot although they aren’t the warmest boots for some really cold walks.

Besides boots I like to walk at work during my lunch hour (even if I’m not birding). Plus I walk/run two Dobermans (separately) so I like comfortable yet long-lasting walking/running shoes. I have a pair of Keen Ridgeline that are now retired to gardening or other dirty jobs and a new pair of Adidas Yukon Trail that are for walking/running.

I am really happy thus far with the Adidas. I took them on a muddy trail and they cleaned off nicely. Plus, I can run with the dogs on sidewalks and they are comfortable.

Unfortunately, I also own a pair of Keen Newport (hard-toed sandals) that were of poor quality. They were comfortable and I loved wearing them on trails. They were breathable and you could throw them in the wash. But after only a few seasonal months of wearing them, the main strap ripped making them unwearable. Worse yet, Keen’s support has been terrible. One email was ignored completely and the other one was rather ho-hum and said in a roundabout way that they may or may not honor the warranty (1-year). It is technically now more than a year but when I first contacted them (and was ignored) it was well within it.

I sent all my information for a warranty claim but have not received a new pair nor a response. Such a disappointment considering I had been bragging up Keen to all birders (and hikers) I talked to.

What hiking footwear do you recommend? I would love to hear what other birders wear and swear by. Birding footwear is pretty vital gear for successful birding yet it can often be overlooked.

2 thoughts on “Searching for the Best Hiking Footwear

  1. I had a pair of waterproof shoes I picked up from LL Bean several years back that I absolutely loved. They lasted until I wore them on a winter pelagic and the salt water corroded the elastic laces. As I couldn’t find replacements and the shoes were discontinued, I had to find something else.

    I wear Asolos now, and I generally like them. The toe box is pretty narrow though, which is fine for me but those with wider feet might find them uncomfortable.

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