Taking your kids into the great outdoors is one of the best ways to jump-start a lifelong relationship with nature. Hiking with your children not only removes them from the constant stream of screens and devices, but also introduces them to the wonders of the outdoors. Your kids can experience the wonders of a wildlife encounter, try to wrap their arms around a tree that’s larger than their body, or take in the expanse of an endless vista.
On top of that, hiking with your kids sets them on the path of a healthy lifestyle. Hiking is a form of exercise that can improve physical and mental well-being as they grow, as well as build their self-confidence. As if that were not enough, hiking is one of the best ways to create memories that will bring your family together for decades to come.
Of course, instilling a love for hiking in your children entails giving them the best experience possible during their early years. And that starts with their feet.
Hiking shoes or hiking boots are among the most important pieces of gear you can get for your child when starting them out in the outdoors. Comfortable hiking footwear ensures that they won’t suffer from blisters, foot pain, or strained tendons – all of which can put a damper on an otherwise lovely day outside and stifle their burgeoning love for the outdoors.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know in order to get the best pair of hiking shoes or boots for your child. To make outfitting your kids for outdoor adventures even easier, we’ll also review five of the best pairs of kids hiking shoes and five of the best pairs of kids hiking boots.
Hiking Shoes vs. Hiking Boots: Which is Right for Your Child?
There’s a lot of confusion about the difference between hiking shoes and hiking boots and which is better for hiking. Add children into the mix, and it can be difficult to figure out what’s best.
There’s no hard line between what constitutes a hiking shoe vs. a hiking boot. But, hiking shoes generally cut off around the ankle, much like sneakers, while hiking boots extend above the ankle or even up to the lower part of your calf.
Hiking shoes tend to be relatively lightweight and can be more comfortable on the trail, especially for kids who aren’t used to wearing big boots on their feet. With hiking shoes, your legs will be less tired since you don’t have to lift up as much weight with each step. The downside to hiking shoes is that there’s less protection for your kids’ ankles, and kids are notoriously prone to slipping and spraining an ankle.
Hiking boots are heavier than hiking shoes, but they offer more support and protection. Hiking boots are also often waterproof, while that feature is more rare on hiking shoes.
Which type of footwear is best for hiking with your children? It all depends on where you’re hiking and what your children feel comfortable in.
Hiking shoes are generally a good choice for children since they remove the extra weight of boots from the hiking equation. Especially if you’ll be on mostly flat trails, you don’t need the added protection of hiking boots and hiking shoes tend to be more comfortable for many kids.
Hiking boots are better if you’ll be taking your kids on more complex terrain – typically, this is something that would be reserved for older children. Boots are also essential if your kids will be carrying loaded backpacks, since this is where the ankle support that boots provide becomes very important.
How to Choose Hiking Shoes or Boots for Your Kids
Once you’ve decided whether you want hiking shoes or hiking boots for your children, the next step is finding the right pair. There’s a lot to think about when considering different hiking shoes or boots for kids, including performance, comfort, and durability. Here, we’ll take a closer look at the main factors you need to know about.
Different hiking shoes and hiking boots are designed for different feet. Unlike for adults, your children’s feet will actually change over time – and not just in size.
Kids’ feet develop arches around age six, so there’s a big difference in the shape of the soles of many little kids and big kids shoes and boots. It’s important to make sure that if you’re buying shoes or boots for an older child, the sole has a defined arch just like adult footwear.
In addition, older kids will show the first signs of narrow or wide feet and thus are likely to find some shoes and boots more comfortable than others. If cramped toes are a common complaint from your child, look for a pair of kids shoes or boots that offers an extra-wide toe box.
Especially if you plan to hike in the summer, it’s important to get a pair of hiking shoes or boots that breathes well. Otherwise, your child’s feet will slowly build up heat and moisture that can quickly lead to blisters – which spell the end of any day out hiking with your children.
Most of the breathability in hiking shoes and boots comes from the upper. Mesh or woven nylon upper materials tend to be the best for allowing heat and moisture to escape since these materials are lightweight and allow ample air circulation. Keep in mind, though, that the thickness of the upper can also play a role in whether it allows air to circulate all the way down to your child’s foot.
Hiking shoes and boots that aren’t breathable aren’t necessarily bad, but you’ll want to use them primarily during colder weather. Many winter boots are not breathable by design since this helps trap heat inside the boots and keeps your kid’s feet from freezing.
The vast majority of kids hiking shoes and hiking boots are finished with a waterproof membrane to lock out water. That’s important, since kids can go splashing around in a creek and not realize the consequences that wet feet will have for the rest of the day – and then be quite unhappy when they discover that soggy socks are uncomfortable to hike in.
Make sure the waterproofing on the shoes or boots you like for your child is durable. Some membranes fade after just a few trips outside, but well-constructed shoes and boots should remain waterproof for years of use.
Kids hiking shoes and boots differ widely in the amount of traction they offer. A lot of shoes and boots have basic tread patterns that are primarily useful for walking on flat trails – they don’t offer the same lugs you’d find on adult hiking shoes and boots. If you plan on taking your child on trails that require climbing or descending, or even scrambling, it’s important to look for a pair of shoes or boots that have capable traction patterns built into the soles.
Hiking on snow during the winter presents an entirely different need for traction. In this case, you’ll need boots with a sole that won’t clog with snow and that can grip easily whether you find powder or slush. Typically, you’ll find traction patterns suitable for snow on insulated kids hiking boots designed for winter use.
- Closure System
Most adult hiking shoes and boots close with laces, but there’s a lot more diversity in how kids hiking shoes and boots tighten up.
Kids hiking shoes frequently use a bungie-lace system, which doesn’t require tying and automatically tightens against your child’s feet to keep the shoe secure. Little kids hiking shoes will also often feature a Velcro strap that’s easy for them to tighten or loosen themselves.
On hiking boots, standard laces are more common, although you’ll still see some models with bungie-lace closures. Again, hiking boots designed for kids under the age of six or eight will typically have a Velcro strap so that they feel empowered to put their own boots on and take them off.
If you’re in the market for a pair of winter hiking boots for your child, it’s worth finding a pair with some insulation. Kid’s feet get cold very quickly even if the rest of their bodies are bundled up, and cold feet can be yet another way to end your day out.
Kids winter hiking boots usually have some amount of fleecy insulation on the inside of the boot, which not only traps heat but also provides comfort against their feet. Also look for heavy, less breathable uppers that don’t allow heat to escape.
Kids hiking shoes and boots need to be able to take a beating. Kids love to explore off the trail, wade through water, step in unexpected things, and more. So, it’s important to get a pair of hiking shoes and boots that are built to last.
The majority of kids hiking shoes and boots incorporate suede leather as a durable, water-resistant, and somewhat breathable material. It’s inexpensive and can stand up to quite a lot of wear. Also look for reinforced toe caps and boot edges, which may feature rubber materials to help protect the leather from abrasion.
The 5 Best Hiking Shoes for Kids in 2019
1. Merrell Kids Chameleon 7 Access Hiking Shoe – Overall Best Hiking Shoe
This incredibly versatile hiking shoe from Merrell is perfect for starting out your toddlers on the trail or getting older kids out to hike. The shoe is available in sizes for both little kids (4-8 years old) and pre-teens (8-12 years old). Plus, it comes in a wide variety of colors so you can match the style of any boy or girl.
These hiking shoes blur the line between shoes and boots, extending just to the top of your child’s ankle. That provides just a little bit of extra protection and stability without being overly large and heavy.
The shoes are made with a leather and mesh upper, which provides durability and breathability at the same time. Merrell says that the hiking shoes are waterproof, but this doesn’t seem to be borne out in wet-weather conditions. In any case, you shouldn’t plan on hiking through the rain with your kids if you want them to have a good time.
What kids will really like about this shoe is that it’s easy to get on and off. Older kids can tie up the laces every time they put the shoe on, while younger kids can simply fix the Velcro strap across the top of the shoe in place.
- Two size classes available
- Ankle cut provides extra support
- Durable, breathable upper
- Laces and Velcro used together
- Waterproofing doesn’t work well
2. DADAWEN Outdoor Hiking Sneakers – Best Waterproof Kids Hiking Shoe
You wouldn’t know this hiking shoe from DADAWEN is even designed for the outdoors just by looking at it. The shoe is extremely stylish for kids and comes in a variety of bright colors.
But underneath that colorful exterior, DADAWEN has built a waterproof hiking shoe that can hold its own on any trail. The shoe is built with a suede leather upper and textile lining, which together make the shoe extremely breathable during longer hikes. On top of that, the textile lining ensures that your child won’t develop blisters – which can quickly put an end to your day out.
Better yet, the waterproofing on this shoe is reliable. That’s ideal for times when your child wanders down to the creek to splash around, but then doesn’t want to be walking around in wet shoes for the rest of the day.
Kids will also appreciate the simple hook-and-loop closure system on these shoes. A bungie lace keeps the shoe tight enough without needing a knot, and a Velcro strap finishes off the shoe. However, it’s nearly impossible to replace the lace if it breaks.
- Stylish and colorful
- Breathable suede leather upper
- Soft, blister-free lining
- Simple closure system
- Lacing system is not replaceable
3. Keen Kid’s Terradora Low Hiking Shoe – Best for Kids with Wide Feet
Keen is known for making high-quality hiking shoes for adults, and the kid’s version of the Terradora features the same excellent construction. This hiking shoe is built with a mesh upper that’s extremely breathable and lightweight, making it ideal for warm summer days. Better yet, the mesh upper is completely waterproof so you never have to worry about complaints because of soaked feet.
Parents note that the shape of the Keen shoe is perfect for kids who can never seem to get the right fit. It features a wide toe box, which helps to minimize rubbing that causes blisters or other pressure points. The EVA footbed is also a nice touch, since that provides more shock absorption underfoot than most other kids hiking shoes.
You’ll find Velcro only on the little kids version of this shoe, while the bigger kids version is designed for children who can handle their own laces. The laces are bungie-style laces and they come relatively long, so plan to either cut them or tuck them into the shoe.
- Breathable and waterproof mesh upper
- Wide toe box
- EVA footbed for shock absorption
- Bungie-style laces
- Laces need to be cut
4. Columbia Kids Redmond Hiking Shoe – Most Rugged Kids Hiking Shoe
The Columbia kids Redmond hiking shoe immediately stands out for its unique upper construction. This shoe has strips of suede leather interspersed with mesh and webbing, which allows it to be one of the best breathing kids shoes on the market. On top of that, Columbia has treated the mesh with a hydrophobic spray so that it stays waterproof. This waterproofing can wear off over time, but probably not before your child outgrows the shoe.
Compared to other kids hiking shoe, the Redmond is also slightly more rugged. It features a cushioned midsole to reduce shock and wear on your child’s legs when heading downhill. The bottom of the shoe is designed with an extremely grippy traction pattern. Best of all, there’s a heavy-duty rubber patch on the front of the shoe that saves your child’s toes if they accidentally kick a rock or trip.
The shoe is closed with elastic laces like other kids hiking shoes. However, beware that the quality of the laces is sub-par and they can break within a few months of use. It’s not expensive to replace the laces, but it is annoying given the price of the shoe.
- Unique breathable upper design
- Cushioned midsole
- Excellent traction
- Heavy-duty rubber toe
- Waterproofing can wear off over time
- Poor quality of laces
5. Teva Kids Arrowood Hiking Shoe – Best High-cut Kids Hiking Shoe
This high-cut hiking shoe from Teva is designed much like the Merrell Kids Chameleon 7. It extends up to the top of your child’s ankle, adding a little bit of extra protection and stability without taking on the much heavier form of a true hiking boot.
The upper on this kids hiking shoe is primarily made of mesh, although there are bits of suede leather around the edges. This design makes it extremely breathable, while the leather adds durability where it’s most needed. The upper is also covered in a waterproof membrane, which works very well to keep water out no matter how wet your child tries to get.
The tread pattern on the bottom of this shoe is relatively basic. While the rubber is sticky, we wouldn’t recommend this shoe for more complex hiking terrain – it’s definitely most suited for flat trails.
There’s no Velcro on the closure of this shoe, even in the little kids version. Instead, it uses a bungie-lace system with a simple stopper at the top of the laces. Note that only two colors are available for this shoe – one for boys and one for girls.
- Cut to top of ankle for extra protection
- Waterproof mesh upper
- Suede leather adds durability
- Easy to use bungie-lace system
- Only two colors available
- Traction pattern is only suitable for flat trails
The 5 Best Hiking Boots for Kids in 2019
1. Northside Kids Rampart Hiking Boot – Best Waterproof Kids Hiking Boot
If it were larger, this hiking boot from Northside would look just as at home on an adult’s foot as it does on a kid’s foot. The boot features the same construction found on many adult hiking boot, including a leather upper supplemented with ripstop nylon. That upper material makes this boot extremely durable, but it can also suffer from poor breathability on warmer hikes. As you might expect, this boot is fully waterproof.
The midsole of the boot is padded with EVA to provide all-day comfort, and the boot is shaped to provide a reasonable amount of arch support for young feet. Leather and rubber around the sides of the boot protect it against rocks, while a rubber patch on the toe helps to reduce toe pain if you child accidentally trips or kicks a rock.
The boot is closed with a standard lace, although the little kids version has a Velcro strap across the top to make it easier for kids to get the boot on and off. The brown color isn’t particularly stylish, but it works well for both boys and girls.
- Leather and ripstop nylon upper
- Fully waterproof
- EVA midsole for padding
- Highly durable
- Not the most breathable boot
- Only one color available
2. Littleplum Kids Hiking Boot – Best Winter Hiking Boot
This bright, colorful hiking boot is sure to catch every kid’s attention and have them asking to try it on. The boot is available in 15 different color combinations, so you can appeal to the style of any boy or girl.
Of course, the boot offers a lot more than just style. It’s built with a suede leather and mesh upper, which provides a nice balance of protection and breathability. This is covered in a waterproof membrane so that your child’s feet stay dry even if the weather turns south mid-hike. The boot isn’t overly stiff, but it does provide plenty of ankle support even for older kids who are carrying a loaded backpack.
One of the things that makes this boot stand out is a Plus Cashmere lining on the inside of the boot. That offers a degree of insulation not found in most other hiking boots, which makes this boot the perfect choice for wintertime activities. The high collar of the boot also helps to keep snow out if your child takes off into a snowbank.
Best of all, this hiking boot is built to last. The toe is covered by a rubber toe cap and the rubber sole extends up to the side of the shoe to add extra protection. Especially given the low price of this shoe, there are few negative things to say about it.
- Breathable mesh and leather upper
- Plus Cashmere insulated lining
- Durable construction
- 15 different colors available
- Insulation makes it less than ideal for summer
3. Deer Stags Drew Hiker Boot – Most Durable Kids Hiking Boots
This burly kids hiking boot from Deer Stags is designed to handle any trail, which makes it one of the most versatile kids boot offerings. The thick rubber sole features the same lug pattern you’d find on many adult boots, and the high cut of the boot provides superior stability and ankle protection.
The upper of this boot is made primarily from suede leather, although you’ll find a few places where ballistic nylon has been substituted for breathability. Either way, the boot is built to be incredibly durable and can withstand use as a hand-me-down for a second child after your first outgrows it. Plus, the boot is fully waterproof and the membrane doesn’t wear out over time like it does on other boots and shoes.
The boots are also designed for comfort, with a spacious toe box and a nice arch design. However, there’s no EVA midsole in these boots like in some competitors, which means they’re not quite as good at absorbing shock.
- Durable and versatile
- Adaptable lug pattern on sole
- Suede leather and ballistic nylon upper
- Not the most breathable boot
- Not much shock absorption
4. Hotangcl Kids Hiking Boot – Best Kids Snow Boot
This inexpensive hiking boot from Hotangcl is perfect for families on a tight budget. You get a lot of the benefits of a name-brand boot with this footwear, without the high price tag.
The boot is built with a suede leather and nylon upper. This isn’t perfect for breathability, but it’s quite warm for winter hikes and is covered in a waterproof membrane to lock out water. Plus, it’s durable enough to stand up to even the most rambunctious children.
This boot is primarily designed for winter use since it has a thick layer of insulating fluff on the inside of the boot. This feels soft against your child’s feet and it’s extremely effective at trapping heat inside the boot. Of course, that also means that these boots are not going to be great in the summer, since all that heat will cause sweating and blisters.
The sole of the boot is specifically adapted to walking in the snow. In addition to a unique tread pattern, it includes an anti-slip steel buckle that’s designed to grab the snow with every step. With these boots, you never have to worry about your day ending suddenly because your child fell and got a face full of snow.
- Excellent traction in snow with anti-slip buckle
- Insulated interior
- Upper is waterproof and holds heat well
- Mostly good for use in snow because of sole design
- Too hot for three-season use
5. Hi-Tec Altitude Lite I Hiking Boot – Overall Best Kids Hiking Boot
This premium kids hiking boot bears a lot of resemblance to the high-cut hiking shoes from Teva and Merrell, only with a slightly higher cut that fully covers the ankle. In addition, an important difference that’s not as visible is that this boot is stiffer around the ankle and features a shaft in the midsole to provide stability underfoot.
The upper of this boot is constructed from a mix of suede leather and meshed nylon. The meshed nylon allows it to be one of the most breathable kids hiking boots we’ve seen, making it an ideal choice for hot summer hiking. Of course, the nylon is coated so that it’s fully waterproof and this membrane lasts for years before fading.
The boot is padded almost everywhere to provide comfort and diminish shock from your child’s foot hitting the ground. The padded collar also works to prevents chafing and keeps debris out of the boot.
The traction pattern on the sole of this shoe is similar to what you’d find on adult hiking shoes, ensuring that your child is able to go just about anywhere with these boots. Plus, Hi-Tec’s unique Big Fit System allows these boots to work for a longer time as your child’s feet grow so that they can really get the most out of these boots.
- Stiff ankle and shaft for more protection
- Highly breathable
- Extensive padding for comfort
- Big Fit System for longer use
Tips for Hiking with Kids
Just because hiking with kids is rewarding doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s easy. Hiking with kids is a lot different than hiking on your own – your prime focus needs to be on making sure that your children have a good time, rather than on the hike itself. Investing time in getting your kids to love the outdoors will pay off later when they’re a little older.
With that in mind, here are five important tips you can use to help make hiking with your kids a success.
1. Choose Your Trails Wisely
It’s extremely important to set low expectations when you first start hiking with children. You may get lucky and cover five miles or more, but you also might not make it more than a few hundred yards from the parking lot before their enthusiasm wanes. So, choose your trail wisely.
It’s a good idea to pick a trail that isn’t particularly committing – for example, and out-and-back on relatively flat terrain. While it might be nice if there’s an attraction like a lake or waterfall at the end of the trail, don’t pin all your hopes on reaching it. Stay away from hikes that feature a lot of climbing or involve scrambling, as these are not likely to go over well with your kids.
2. Bring Snacks
When the energy suddenly drops and your kids complain of being tired, snacks are the answer. It’s a good idea to pack more snacks than you think you’ll need, and to pack a diversity of healthy foods and treats. Be sure to stop for snack breaks frequently – if your kids have started to show signs of fading, you’ve already gone too long without a snack break.
3. Layer Up
Even if the weather calls for sunny weather all day, bring layers. Having a ton of layers allows you to prepare for anything that comes up – whether it’s a breeze that’s colder than you might have expected or a passing rain shower. Depending on how old your kids are, you can give them backpacks so they can carry their own layers for the day.
4. Make It Fun
Often when you’re just starting out hiking with your kids, you need something other than just nature to keep them entertained. You can play games on the trail like I Spy, sing songs as you hike, or challenge your kids to find signs of wildlife. In addition, it’s a great idea to designate one child as the leader for a stretch of time – just remember to rotate which child is in the lead every so often.
5. Leave No Trace
It’s important to teach your kids the principles of Leave No Trace right from when they first start hiking. Point out when you’re carrying out garbage – “pack it in, pack it out” – and encourage your kids to pick up any trash they find around the trail. It’s also important to explain the idea behind Leave No Trace, that the wilderness should be just as pristine for the next people to visit.
Hiking with your kids can be an extremely rewarding experience that brings your family closer together and sets them on the path of getting outside for the rest of their lives. However, it’s important to make sure that early hiking trips are a good experience for your children, and that starts with taking care of their feet.
Both hiking shoes and hiking boots are suitable for almost every hiking trip. Hiking shoes tend to be better for simple trips on flat terrain, while hiking boots are more suitable for older kids taking on more variable trails and bringing loaded backpacks.
There’s a huge selection of kids hiking shoes and kids hiking boots to choose from. But with our reviews of the five best kids hiking shoes and five best kids hiking boots, you can get the footwear that’s perfect for hitting the trail with your child.