Written By
Published Oct. 5, 2021

As a divorced father of two kids, every other weekend means I’m in charge of finding fun activities to do as a family. With a single salary, I can’t afford to constantly drop money on arcades, trampoline parks, going to the movies, and other expensive activities. My kids have always loved wandering around in the woods, and our trail walks grew progressively harder each year.

Hiking is an amazing way to bond with kids, free from the distractions of life like cell phones, computers, and television. This summer, we took a family vacation to Lake Placid and traversed the trails and mountains of upstate New York. My kids called the trip “the best week of their lives,” and we’re already planning for another visit next year.

I’m planning to upgrade all our hiking essentials for next year, especially the kids’ hiking shoes. Both kids wore regular sneakers to hike this year and the proper pair of hiking shoes would have made the hikes even better, especially for the 8-year-old.

I’ve spent the last few weeks researching kids hiking shoes for next vacation and for the fall and winter months and figured my research would be beneficial to other parents.

How We Picked The Best Kids Hiking Shoes

Methodology

I consulted several different sources of information to compile this list of the best kids hiking shoes, including other parents and people who sell hiking gear for a living. I also applied my expertise from years of road and trail running. When it came to narrowing down the field, here’s what took top consideration:

  • Price: Cost was a significant factor while compiling this list. More expensive kids hiking shoes are available online or at major retailers, but spending an excessive amount of money for shoes that will spend more time in the dirt than the classroom seems frivolous. All the shoes on this list are under $75 and will hold up over the miles.
  • Lacing: As any parent will attest, kids just can’t seem to keep their shoes tied. Untied shoes are even more hazardous while running around the wilderness. Straps are a must for the younger kids, and I included shoes for the older kids that were either fully laced with a strap enclosure on top or with the bungee laces that secure the shoe and don’t come undone. This cuts down on the possibility of an accident and also reduces the number of times kids will need to stop and tie their shoes.
  • Styles: Getting kids to wear anything new is always a chore. For this reason, I stuck with kids hiking shoes that were just as colorful and vibrant as the typical street sneaker.

The Best Kids Hiking Shoes: Reviews and Recommendations

Best Overall: Salomon Speedcross J Unisex Trail Running Shoe

Ruggedly Comfortable

Built with extra grip for young feet that are ready to move fast and follow you on any terrain. Salomon

Check Price

Why They Made The Cut: The most popular trail running shoe on the market—the Salomon Speedcross—is now engineered for smaller feet. Whether it’s up the side of a mountain or in the woods behind the house, the Speedcross J provides extra stability as young explorers traverse trails, hurdle rocks, and spring over mud. The extra cushy midsole adds additional support and protection for young feet even after hours of use.   

Specs:

  • Material: Quick-drying mesh shoe, rubber sole
  • Sizes: Meant for kids ages 4-12
  • Colors: Assorted

Pros:

  • Quicklace, one-pull tightening
  • Breakaway lace system
  • Protective synthetic toe cap
  • Mudguard

Cons:

  • Not waterproof
  • No rock plate

Salomon has been an industry leader in outdoor gear since the late 1940s. The company pumps out the shoes worn by some of the biggest names in trail running, like Kilian Jornet and Mira Rai. Here, the brand puts as much thought and effort into developing shoes for kids, shrinking down their iconic Speedcross trail sneakers for kids under 12.

The quicklaces allow kids to take the shoes on and off with ease, and these kids hiking shoes are equipped with pockets to keep the laces secure and minimize tripping. The molded EVA midsoles provide security with lightweight cushioning, and the outsoles offer traction on various surfaces. The Salomon Speedcross J shoes are superb for extended outdoor activities such as camping, trail running, or tree climbing.

Even though the Speedcross J sneakers aren’t water-resistant, the quick-drying lining allows for breathability and will stay comfortable in the event the elements get a little sloppy.

Best Value: Mishansha Water-Resistant Hiking Boots

All-Weather Winners

Multi-functional footwear perfect for trekking, climbing, and playing. Mishansha

Check Price

Why They Made The Cut: The Mishansha received high marks from some parents I spoke to about the topic. This surprised me, since I’d never heard of the company before. These water-resistant kids hiking boots provide exceptional ankle support without being too constrictive, and they come in a broad range of colors to please even the most demanding kid.

Specs:

  • Material: Artificial leather shoe, rubber sole
  • Sizes: Toddler to 12
  • Colors: Assorted

Pros:

  • Environment and animal friendly
  • Toe guard for protection
  • Easy closure with no laces
  • Water-resistant for all elements
  • Anti-skid sole for added protection

Cons:

  • Artificial leather vulnerable to punctures and tears
  • Material isn’t breathable

The Mishansha N035 hiking boots will be the go-to shoes for your kids when the seasons change and the dry ground hikes of summer turn to messy schlepps through the fall mud. These kids hiking boots aren’t just good for playing around in the woods—they’re perfect for inclement weather too, whether it’s waiting at the school bus stop during an early morning drizzle or running between raindrops from the car to the dance studio or gymnastics practice.

For extra protection, the company included an abrasion-resistant toe guard designed to protect a youngster’s toes from unfortunate collisions with large rocks or those unforgiving tree roots hidden under fallen leaves.

The only drawback to these kids hiking shoes from Mishansha is artificial leather’s inability to handle elements besides water, snow, and mud. Artificial leather is more susceptible to tears and punctures, which will happen while walking over rocks, sticks, and brush.  

Best Water-Resistant: Merrell Hydro Junior Sport Sandal

Flexible and Lasting Protection

The ultimate summer camp shoe to navigate any wet or dry adventure. Merrell

Check Price

Why They Made The Cut: I witnessed these kids hiking shoes in action. Remember the vacation to Lake Placid I mentioned earlier? My 7-year-old nephew tagged along with the family, and these sports sandals helped him carve paths through rugged terrain and keep up with the older kids. These shoes stood the test, took a beating, and his hiking shoes dried quicker than the others.

Specs:

  • Material: Leather shoe, rubber sole
  • Sizes: Toddler to Big Kid
  • Colors: Assorted

Pros:

  • Durable rubber sole
  • Slip-on with strap closure for secure fit
  • Available for wide feet
  • Easy washing

Cons:

  • Hard to keep in stock
  • Only come in whole sizes

The Merrell Hydro kids hiking shoes are comfortable on the first wear and are constructed of materials that’ll be dry in no time at all. The durable rubber sole is suitable for various terrain and will give the kids the feeling that they’re running barefoot through the woods. I favor hiking shoes like these because kids don’t have to wear socks. There’s nothing worse than listening to a kid complain about wet socks for an entire afternoon in the wilderness.  

These shoes are machine washable, so toss them into the washer with the dirty clothes and they’ll come out looking like new. You can also wash the shoes by hand, and they’ll be dry in time for the next adventure.  

The Merrell Hydro is so popular that the shoe often sells out quickly, especially during the spring and summer months. The Hydro is available in Wide for kids with wider feet, but unfortunately, the company doesn’t offer kids hiking shoes in half-sizes which may be problematic for rapidly growing feet.  

Best For Traction: Merrell Chameleon 7

Fewer Slips & Trips

Inspired by the reptile’s versatility, these take kids seamlessly from fishing to freeze tag. Merrell

Check Price

Why It Made The Cut: Merrell’s Chameleon 7 is a first-rate shoe for kids of all ages, providing all the traction and support your kid will need for any terrain, turf, or topography. The rubber cup sole and lug pattern outsole provide superior traction, and the waterproof coating will keep the mini mountaineer’s feet drier for longer.

Specs:

  • Material: Leather and synthetic shoe, rubber sole
  • Sizes: 1-13.5 (Little Kids) and 1-7 (Big Kids)
  • Colors: Gunsmoke, Grey/Blue, and Berry/Coral

Pros:

  • Waterproof
  • Lace-up closure
  • Non-marking traction
  • Padded tongue and collar with pull tabs
  • Protective toe bumper

Cons:

  • Limited color options
  • Can’t loosen laces

This shoe repeatedly came up during my conversations with other parents about the best kids hiking shoes. Here are some of their key reasons for buying the Chameleon 7 hiking shoes. First, the waterproof factor. As I mentioned earlier, there are few things worse than listening to a kid complain incessantly about their feet and shoes being soaked. Second, the Chameleons come up slightly higher around the ankle to provide extra support and prevent rocks, dirt, and debris from getting inside the shoe.

Another essential feature of the Chameleon 7s is their superior traction. One unfortunate trip and fall and a day of hiking is ruined. These shoes will prevent kids from sliding or slipping on wet rocks better than the average kids hiking shoe.

Finally, the parents I spoke to were sold on the overall quality of the shoe. The Merrell company makes a stout, dependable sneaker built to last. These shoes can get passed down from kid to kid, making them invaluable to families on a budget. 

Best For Trail Running: New Balance Fresh Foam Arishi V1

Sleek but Sturdy

Made to help young adventurers step out with comfort and confidence. New Balance

Check Price

Why They Made The Cut: Designed by a company that knows how to make comfortable kicks, the New Balance Fresh Foam Arishis are built tough with performance in mind. The toe-protect technology shields young feet from rocks, roots, and debris, and a durable dual-lug outsole provides superior traction. The Arishi are also handsome-looking shoes and a more stylish option for the older fashion-minded explorers in the family.

Specs:

  • Material: Mesh/synthetic upper, rubber sole
  • Sizes: 1-13.5 (Little Kids) and 1-7 (Big Kids)
  • Colors: Assorted

Pros:

  • Bungee closure system provides tight fit
  • Fresh foam midsole gives cushier feel
  • Exceptional toe protection
  • Available in wider sizes
  • Lightweight

Cons:

  • Not waterproof
  • Insufficient underfoot protection

I’m a sucker for a slick-looking pair of running shoes. I’ve bought more than my fair share of sneakers based only on their aesthetics, only to be disappointed in their performance. The New Balance Fresh Foam Arishi V1 is a fine-looking shoe that delivers and comes in various great colors with some pretty fun names. What kid wouldn’t want a fresh pair of sneakers that come in colors like “Energy Lime” and “Dynamite”?

The shoes are cushiony and comfy on the first wear but aren’t bulky on the feet and will still give kids the feeling of running barefoot through the terrain.  

The AT Tread outsoles make the Arishi V1 the perfect shoe for regular play on playgrounds, turf, and asphalt.

The only negatives of the shoe would be a lack of waterproof material, so these will get soaked on a sloppy day out on the trails. Even though the shoes deliver good inner support, the Arishi lacks sufficient underfoot protection for a trail sneaker.

Things to Consider In Kids Hiking Shoes

Here are a few things to consider before buying a new pair of hiking shoes for kids.

Comfort

As with any shoe, comfort is key. Make sure your child can try the shoes on before purchasing. If you’re ordering online, be sure your kid wears the shoes around the house to get a feel for the shoe. Don’t strap on a new pair of shoes right before a five-mile hike.

Traction

Kids aren’t going to stick to paths on a trail hike. They’re going to want to climb every fallen tree, free climb over massive rocks, and do everything to make a parent’s heart jump just a little. Be sure to check the soles of the shoes for traction ability before purchasing.

Durability

It’s tempting to buy cheap shoes for hiking and trail walks because we all know the shoes will take a beating. Just remember the old expression that “cheap is expensive” and that you’ll end up paying more in the long run by constantly replacing the cheaper shoes that wear out quicker.

Support

Kids’ hiking shoes should provide good arch and ankle support. 

Closures

For the younger kids, stick to straps. Less time will be spent tying shoes on trails.

FAQs

Q: Can kids wear regular sneakers to hike?

Yes, kids can wear regular sneakers for hiking, but a pair of shoes specifically for hiking, camping, and trail walking is advised for several reasons. First, these outdoor activities are tough on shoes, and hiking shoes are designed to take a beating. Second, the regular sneakers will last longer and look nicer for longer. Most importantly, kids hiking shoes are designed for rocky, muddy, and slippery surfaces and will prevent kids from falling as often. The standard rubber soles on regular athletic sneakers don’t provide as much traction as a good kids hiking shoe.

Q: When should kids start hiking?

Hiking is the same as sports, learning, or any endeavor—the younger a child is exposed, the better. Getting kids to venture into the wilderness shouldn’t be difficult, especially if mom and dad are also explorers, but the crucial thing to keep in mind is always to keep things fun. Allow the kids to hike at their own pace and don’t push them to go farther than their abilities will allow. Remember that easy hill, piles of rocks, or never-ending trail looks simple in the eyes of an adult but can seem intimidating to a kid. Be sure to start small in both trail difficulty and length of time.

Q: Do kids need anything besides trail sneakers for hiking?

I pack for a trail walk or mountain hike as I would for a day at the beach—minus the beach chair and umbrella. I’ll bring snacks, drinks, and a towel to wipe away sweat or dry anything that accidentally gets wet. I have a backpack that’s already packed with trail necessities like bandages, antiseptic wipes, sunblock, and a pair of sunglasses for each kid. You know your kids better than anyone, so prepare for the typical requests and pack accordingly.

Final Thoughts

Finding a suitable hiking shoe for your child shouldn’t be a difficult task. Once you find a hiking shoe your kid loves, stick with it until they’re too old to buy kids’ sizes. You can’t go wrong with sneakers from popular hiking shoe brands like Merrell and Salomon, and the shoes should last at least a season or more. If you can, buy two pairs at a time and rotate to keep one pair from wearing out too quickly.   

Another suggestion stemming from personal experience is to involve your kid in the process of picking out the hiking shoes and allow them to wear the shoes before hiking to break in the new pair. There’s nothing more painful than walking for miles in a new and uncomfortable pair of shoes.

MORE TO READ