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Published Sep 21, 2022 9:51 AM

Outfitting your kid with hiking shoes can take on outsized importance to outdoorsy parents. Are these the right shoes to inspire her with a lifelong love of the outdoors? Or are they so lacking in traction and underfoot protection that they’ll turn a short hike into a Type 2 fun sufferfest for the whole family? As the parent of a three year old—and staff writer on the gear team of Outdoor Life to boot—these thoughts run through my head more than I care to admit. But what I learned in my search for the best hiking shoes for kids wasn’t what I expected.

How I Tested Tried to Test Hiking Shoes for Kids

Nothing excites me more than sharing my love of the outdoors with my three year old, so I was sure that testing hiking shoes for kids was going to be a blast. I researched the top options from the most reputable brands, checked that they had her current size, and then picked out the colors I thought would excite her most. Then I brought them along for a week-long car camping romp, so she could choose a new pair each day as the mood struck her. Or so I thought.

The best hiking shoes for kids lined up in the grass.
Surely one of these pairs of shoes will be a hit, right? Laura Lancaster

The X factor that I hadn’t accounted for was a pair of colorful polka-dotted galoshes she had on loan from her preschool. At first, my independent-minded tot seemed to most appreciate how easily she could put them on and take them off. Finally something this newly minted “big kid” could do by herself! But then she started getting compliments—from strangers on the street, clerks at the grocery store—and before long, they were all she would wear.

Kid exploring tide pools in rainboots.
Exploring tide pools is one hiking scenario where galoshes make at least some kind of sense. Laura Lancaster

When I proposed trying out some new kicks, it did—to put it mildly—not go over well. Even after I had coaxed her into my lap to try on one of the shoes, she wouldn’t leave them on for more than a few seconds—they just felt wrong to her, in a way those galoshes did not, and there was no getting around that. When it started to feel like she was associating efforts to try on the hiking shoes for kids with actual hiking, I backed off. 

What the Experts Have to Say 

But was my kid’s plan to wear galoshes through one of the hottest summers on record in the Pacific Northwest going to doom her love of hiking, or worse, damage the small, growing bones in her feet in some way? To find out, I chatted with Dr. Thomas Jinguji, a Pediatric Orthopedics specialist at Seattle Children’s Hospital. The first thing that Dr. Jinguji told me was that I could relax. In his practice at Seattle Children’s, they simply don’t see the same issues with children’s feet that can be common with adults. In fact, if anything, less is usually more. “If you’re going on a three mile hike with your young child on rocky terrain, with a stream crossing, they don’t need to wear a high-top hiking boot with ankle support. If they want to wear their Crocs, you can just let them wear their Crocs.” For instance, because children have a lower arch, especially young children, hiking shoes with pronounced arch support can be irritating to kids, and may feel as if there is a bump in the shoe itself. (Older tweens may be ready for shoes with more arch support, so it may be best to have them try on a few pairs in a store before making a final decision.) Similarly, says Dr. Jinguji, as children are not prone to rolling their ankles, high-top hiking boots are not necessary for kids. What he says is important, however, is making sure that your kids’ hiking shoes will protect their feet from rocks, and are both non-restrictive and plenty big, with lots of room in the toe as well as a comfortable width. Dr. Jinguji also advises choosing shoes that are inexpensive, given how frequently you’ll want to replace them as children grow. Beyond that? “Enjoy your time with your child, it goes by fast,” he says.

Best Overall: Whatever Makes Your Kid Happy

Puddle Play

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Why It Made the Cut

As long as your child has shoes on their feet (and sometimes even if they don’t), they should be able to get out on most hikes that are appropriate for kids.

Key Features

  • Available in all sizes
  • Comes in the only pattern or color your child will wear
  • Machine washable

Pros

  • Cost efficient
  • Already in your closet
  • Tear-free start to your hike

Cons

  • May have less traction than shoes designed for hiking

Product Description

My instinct as a parent was to balk at my kid wearing galoshes on a hiking trail. I could argue that the traction wasn’t as solid, that the stiff rubber was impeding her mobility—all true—but my real problem was that they weren’t the “right” shoe for hiking. But eventually I realized that they were making my kid happy, that she wanted to go outside when she was wearing them, and that’s what counts in the end. 

But there was a lot to love about the shoes that I had planned to test, so here’s a look at the best of the rest. 

Easiest Pull On: Reima Toddlers’ Evaste

Why It Made the Cut

The lace-free Reima Evastes will be the easiest for kids to pull on and off, and are lightweight to leave little feet unencumbered

Key Features

  • Available sizes: 6-10.5
  • Comes in black, red, blue, and turquoise
  • Machine washable

Pros

  • Easy for even small children to pull on
  • Removable insole makes sizing easier
  • Lightweight with a comparatively thin construction 

Cons

  • Less traction than other kids’ shoes I looked at

Product Description

If my kid hadn’t already gone all in on polka-dotted galoshes, I think the Evaste would have been a major hit for one simple reason:They are the easiest to put on of everything I looked at. Instead of cinch-up laces, there were just wide velcro tabs that hit the middle ground between having enough hold to stay in place while also having enough give that a small child could actually loosen it themselves. This design also means that the tongue flips all the way out. 

The removable sole of the Reima Evastes can help you determine if it’s the right size before you try to squash it on your kid’s foot.
The removable sole of the Reima Evastes can help you determine if it’s the right size before you try to squash it on your kid’s foot. Laura Lancaster

Parents will also like that the inside sole has a handy sizing guide on it—especially useful if you are trying the shoe on in store, but also helpful if you are trying to confirm that you have the right size from an online purchase before asking your child to try it on for the first time. 

Best Mini Me: Merrell Little Kid’s Trail Quest Jr.

Merrell

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Why It Made the Cut

Kids that love to copy their parents will appreciate how much the Trail Quest Jr. looks like the Merrell Moab.

Key Features

  • Available sizes: 5-10
  • Comes in purple, red, and blue
  • Machine washable

Pros

  • Non-marking outsole
  • Similar in appearance to the Merrell Moab
  • Thinner construction than others I looked at

Cons

  • Velcro closure may be tough for small hands to use

Product Description

Whether it’s a toy phone or one of the best kids’ fishing poles, children love to have kid-sized versions of adult products. So if you are already hiking in the Merrell Moab (one of the most popular hiking shoes out there), then your kid may well gravitate toward that brand’s Trail Quest Jr., essentially a mini version of the full-size shoe. What’s different here is that in lieu of traditional laces, it has elastic bands and a velcro closure (although this one might be too tough for young children). It was also the only kids’ hiking shoe that I looked at that had a detectable (although slight) bump along the arch—something to keep in mind if your child is especially sensitive to unusual sensations. 

Best Protection: KEEN Little Kids’ Targhee Sport Vent 

Why It Made the Cut

Little kids that hike hard and play hard will benefit from the protective Targhee Sport Vent.

Key Features

  • Available sizes: 8-13
  • Comes in black, gray, and blue
  • Hand wash

Pros

  • Protective rubber toe
  • Non-marking sole
  • Good traction

Cons

  • Expensive compared to other shoes I looked at
  • Not machine washable

Product Description

While it shares the same name as one of the best hiking boots for women, the kids’ version of the KEEN Targhee isn’t quite the mini-me version that the Merrell Trail Quest Jr. is to the Moab, although it’s pretty close. But where this kids’ hiking shoe really shines is in the protective details. In addition to its non-marking soles and cinch-cord closure with a secure Velcro strap, it also has a robust rubber toe that will help protect your little ones when they hit the inevitable rock while flying down trail at top speed. In addition to being on the pricey side for kids’ shoes, this one also came in a fairly limited color palette, which may be less appealing to little ones in love with bright colors.

Best Traction: Columbia Little Kids’ Trailstorm 

Columbia

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Why It Made the Cut

The Columbia Little Kids’ Trailstorm had better traction than plenty of shoes that adults use for hiking, with lightweight mesh that will keep feet cool in the heat of summer. 

Key Features 

  • Available sizes: 8-13
  • Comes in black, gray, and pink
  • Hand wash

Pros

  • Great traction 
  • Non-marking rubber outsole
  • Breathable

Cons

  • Limited color palette
  • Not machine washable

Product Description

Parents of small children know they come in only two speeds: full-tilt running or “carry me.” And the former can quickly turn into the latter if they take a tumble on a sandy or rocky trail. To help keep your little one upright, the Columbia Trailstorm (available for both “little kids” and “big kids”) added adult-style traction underfoot, in addition to its other kid-friendly details: generous cinch-cord laces, breathable mesh, and a toe bumper. 

The bottoms of the best hiking shoes for kids laying in the grass.
While not completely necessary, grippy traction on the bottom of kids’ hiking shoes helps to keep them upright. Laura Lancaster

I wish the Columbia Trailstorm came in a wider color palette—a useful incentive for getting kids to try on new shoes: the Big Kid version is only available in black and gray, while the Little Kid shoe also comes in pink. 

Best Color Selection: Mishansha Kids Trekking and Hiking Shoes

Mishansha

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Why It Made the Cut

The Mishansha shoes, which were one of the least expensive I looked at, come in seemingly every color of the rainbow

Key Features 

  • Available sizes: 7.5-13 (as well as 4-5 for Big Kids)
  • Comes in black, blue, brown, green, pink, and purple
  • Hand wash

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Comes in a wide variety of colors

Cons

  • Not available in retail stores

Product Description

Choosing the right size when you are ordering the best hiking shoes online is fraught enough for adults, where seemingly every manufacturer makes their shoe in a slightly different length or width for the same size. But for little kids, who are apt to tell you that a shoe is the wrong size with a wail of despair, it can be especially fraught. Fortunately, the Mishansha Kids Trekking and Hiking Shoes, which is only available on Amazon, is inexpensive enough that you can purchase a couple of pairs in different sizes to help ensure you’ll find something that works for your tot (and then return the rest). Even better, this was the only shoe I looked at that came in a truly wide array of colors—black, blue, brown, green, pink and purple—increasing the odds that you’ll find something that will speak to your kid. 

FAQs

Q: How much do hiking shoes for kids cost?

Hiking shoes for kids vary in price from $20 all the way up to $80 or more.

Q: Do children need hiking shoes?

According to Thomas Jinguji, Pediatric Orthopedics specialist at Seattle Children’s Hospital, as long as your children’s feet are protected from rocks on the ground, then hiking shoes aren’t necessary. If your kid wants to wear crocs on your next hike, go ahead and let them!

Q: Should I size up kids hiking boots?

Sizing up a pair of kids hiking boots is a great way to extend their lifespan. Typically, hiking boots are made from much more robust material than tennis shoes, for instance, and a single pair can last the whole summer (assuming your kids aren’t too destructive). That being said, if the hiking shoes are too large, they may cause your kiddo to trip, discouraging them from heading out on a hike in the first place. Trial run a full size up (which should last for a few months at least) before committing to the purchase.

Final Thoughts

In the end, my biggest mistake in the search for the best hiking shoes for kids was putting too much importance on the decision. Like with so many things, my idea of what is essential for a hike (the best hiking shoes) is not my daughter’s idea of what is essential (the best camping snacks). 

Stopping to say hi to a grasshopper in Everglades National Park, never mind the alligator the adults were crowding around to see just up the trail.
Stopping to say hi to a grasshopper in Everglades National Park, never mind the alligator the adults were crowding around to see just up the trail. Laura Lancaster

And when we’re out on a hike, she’s not looking at the vistas or appreciating the serenity: she’s looking for bugs and slugs, ready to stomp in every stream that crosses the trail. So maybe it’s just as well that she is still wearing those galoshes.