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Thinking of buying hiking boots for everyone, any advice?

We have three young kids and are thinking of upping our hiking boot game. I'm looking for advice on things like what goes into decision making on how high the ankle support should be, for the adults, the difference between brands in terms of things like boot width, etc.  What brands/boots do the best job of being water resistent, etc.  Should I just get cheaper boots for the kids because their shoe sizes change with the seasons, or should I ball out and buy really nice ones because Kid #2, and #3 are going to get hand-me-downs some day?  ... and finally, is there anything I should be aware of when comparing men's vs women's boots... like should I be focused on something different than my wife?  I know this is a ton so any help with any of it is greatly appreciated! 


- Mike

7 Replies

Hi again, @osuhomebase /Mike! 

These are all great questions!

To start, I'd recommend checking out the Expert Advice articles in our Hiking Boot Basics series, starting with How to Choose Hiking Boots.

We've also had several posts in our community about hiking boots; you might check some of those out for more ideas. 

From there, I would highly recommend a family trip to your local REI Co-Op to work with a green vest who can properly fit each of you with a pair of comfortable hiking boots. In short, everyone will need a boot that fits differently, because everyone's feet are different. We carry a variety of waterproof boots for adults and kids (necessary for hiking or snowshoeing in the Colorado winters); waterproofing technologies may be different from boot to boot, but the waterproofing will be effective with proper care and cleaning. 

Finally, I know it can be tricky making the decision to buy items for kids that can last longer and can be handed down, versus inexpensive items that can be replaced for each child. Not having a child myself, I'd like to throw it over to @REI-JohnJ who can give much better insight into the gear needs of winter-loving kids! 

We look forward to seeing you all in-store for your boot fittings, or in a Virtual Outfitting soon! 

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

@osuhomebase Great question!

We definitely recommend a virtual outfitting appointment, not only do you get access to personalized knowledge for your specific needs but also the opportunity to ask follow up questions in a one-on-one setting. 

In terms of your kids, their age and how long they are able to hike is going to have a big impact on what the best footwear is for them. My daughter is almost 8 and can do a couple of miles with a fairly light backpack. She wears a low tail runner like the Salomon Speedcross J Trail-Running Shoes. That gives her enough traction and stability to be nimble on the trail, but are still comfortable enough that she can wear them all day. My son, who is 5, can't quite do much more than a mile or so and simply wears his tennis shoes or normal 'play' shoes.

My daughter will likely 'graduate' to a hiking boot like Merrell Moab FST Mid Waterproof hiking boots kids. They are a good transition boot and are lightweight, flexible, and give enough support to keep your kiddo feeling confident on the trail.

Hopefully this helps, don't hesitate to reach out with any other questions! 

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

howdy @osuhomebase , great question.

But you didn't mention how old your kids are or what type of hiking conditions you expect.

And is it just hiking or are you throwing in some backpacking?

Anyway, you really don't need boots anymore, especially for youth, actually for anyone, where you are just hiking on trails, including backpacking.

The tennis shoes they wear now will do just fine.

The trend is toward trail runners for non-snow, on trail, walking.

10,000 thru hikers can't be wrong.

The fear of ankle problems is what holds us back, and did for me as well.

I've been backpacking for over 40yrs and only made the leap of faith to trail runners about 3 seasons ago, and never looked back. 

They are lighter and more cushioned than boots.  I've worn out 3 pairs on 3 seasons and have had no ankle issues (knock on wood).

I made the transition after really thinking about what is seems 99% of thru hikers use on the big 3 long distance trails, and I wondered what do they know that we don't?

We think about boots almost automatically, because 'that's what we've always done', It really is a paradigm shift.

good luck

REI Member Since 1979

Thanks Phil! 

I get all that, but I was on a hike a few weeks ago with a friend and she rolled her ankle stepping on a rock and was put on the shelf for a week.  For me, if I don't plan on stepping in any mud or if the terrain is a well worn trail, I go with trail runners or something like chacos, but I don't like wet socks and I'm overly cautious fearing ankle rolling.  It's been snowy here lately as well and it sucks to submerge your foot in cold wet slushy mud without boots.  I'm going to cue the  the @REI guys right here to link us to their article on the great debate between boots vs trail runners, haha.  

Anyway, with the kids, they're ages 5 and 7, both boys.  We have a baby too, but he goes in the carrier for now.  The concern for the boys is different... they can do a lot worse damage to themselves than rolling and ankle so ankle support is the concern for the adults, whereas for the kids I'm just looking for something that won't hurt if they stub their toe, offers some level of water resistance and is comfortable for them when they're both walking and climbing things like trees and rocks.  Also the typical kid's shoe we buy wears out pretty quickly and I'm hopeful to find a boot that has potential to live through multiple kids.  

In any case, thanks to all for the feedback.  I definitely agree, the in store consult is the way to go.  I did that for my own boots before a thru hike a few years ago and I still love my Asolos.  I generally know a little bit about boots, but I'm looking to really walk into the store with as much knowledge as possible to minimize my time in there... both for safety reasons in the current situation, but also because 3 boys in an REI store for more than 20 or 30 minutes usually ends up with someone getting stuck in a display tent, losing a kid in the clothing racks, or breaking up a wrestling match on the sleeping pads.  Either way, thanks to all for your help.  The how to buy a boot articles are pretty solid and while I probably won't go the trail runner route for myself, it's great food for thought, especially for the kids.


- Mike


- Mike

@osuhomebase weighing in on a few specifics from your original post...


Typically, our advice on hiking boots/shoes for younger kids is different from what we recommend for adults, for a few reasons:

  • Kids typically weigh less, and carry less weight, which lessens the need for stiffer footwear
  • Kids are still learning their bodies and balance and center of gravity, so it's ideal that they have a good feel of the ground through their boots/shoes
  • Kids just want comfy shoes - they're often pretty easy going as long as the shoes are comfy and fit well

@REI-JohnJ already provided a few specifics shoes/boots you might consider. We find that most kids outgrow their hiking shoes before the hiking shoes are no longer usable, so the ability to pass them down from the oldest to the youngest is a great plan; we see this with kid's sandals too!

Men's vs. Women's boots:

  • Mainly you're just looking for what fits your feet, and your wife's feet, the best - and likely y'all have different feet considerations (width, volume, trouble spots), so while you may consider the same brands and styles, what you wind up with will depend 100% on your feet
  • Women's shoes/boots are based on a more narrow foot profile, with the average width being a B vs. D for men's
  • Other factors are not gender-specific, so men's and women's boots will be similar (ex: waterproof)

Hope this helps, and good luck getting all those feet ready!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

Thanks y'all! 


When my teenagers decided they wanted to join me backpacking I took them to REI. Both came out of the store with different brands, and while I prefer boots, they found Trail-hikers more to their liking. My son found his so comfortable he came out of the 42 mile backpacking trip without blisters, and now wears them everyday to school.  You may have an idea of the “perfect” shoe, but since we all have different feet I’d advise taking the crew to REI and while there, keep an open mind.