What To Look For
Canyon hiking often presents unique challenges for selecting a hiking boot or shoe. Steep terrain dictates a proper fit for a boot or shoe. Select a boot that fits well, provides room in the toe box and fits comfortably around the ankle and lower leg. Choose a shoe with a stiffer foot sole. A rock solid sole can often prevent as many ankle injuries as an ankle high boot. Consider waterproof boots during colder months especially if snow is a possibility. Shoes should also be waterproof to deal with mushy trails following a summer thunderstorm.
Avoid taking the cheap way out. Boots and shoes are not the place to save money on a canyon hiking trip. Less-expensive boots and shoes may have poor construction in the foot bed and will typically not be waterproof. Select a hiking boot for heavier packs as low cut shoe may not provide enough stability for a 50-lbs. pound pack. On the other hand, a lighter shoe may be a better choice for a day hike that requires only a small pack for water and other essentials.
Where To Buy
It is always a good idea to choose a store built around outdoor activities and features footwear that can handle canyon hiking specifically. When buying boots, choose a store that has a good selection of boots in different heights and materials. Not all outdoor stores carry the same variety of shoes as they do boots. National chains such as REI are an excellent source for footwear and have a knowledgeable staff to help fit shoes and boots. Knowledgeable staff who have actually participated in canyon hiking will have insight others may not.
Hiking boots will typically cost more than shoes. A pair of Vasque Summit GTX boots, suitable for canyon hiking, may cost upwards of $350 while the most expensive shoe from Vasque tops out around $130. Materials such as Gore Tex and leather as well as design features may drastically impact the price of shoes and boots.
Try on several shoes as well as boots that would be suitable for canyon hiking. Find a store with an incline or footwear testing area and spend some time trying on footwear. Select a good pair of socks similar to what you would actually wear. Try on different shoes and test them on the incline to determine ankle stability and toe box room. Repeat the process with boots testing for stability and room. Narrow your choices and then do a head-to-head comparison between the shoes and boots. Ask if there is a weighted pack that you may wear while testing to get a real feel for the footwear.
Take into consideration the laces, foot bed and features of the shoes and boots. Are the laces round or flat? Are there enough eyelets on the shoe to provide a secure fit that will prevent your foot from sliding? Consider if the boots have speed lace system from the ankle up or must be laced through eyelets. Speed lacing allow the boots to be laced and tied around the ankle rather than completely to the top if desired. This is a convenient option especially when canyon hiking. Also consider if the foot bed may be customized to your foot. Keep in mind that waterproofing is a consideration even in the summer as sudden showers may reduce dusty trails to a muddy mess in only a few minutes.
Pay special attention to the ankle area when choosing boots for canyon hiking. This is often times a rub point and should not be overlooked. Spend time in your boots before starting out on a canyon hike. Ankle irritation and blisters can prove especially difficult to address on the trail. Many people choose shoes because they are lighter in weight and may be cooler, however, they must also be capable of withstanding the same abuse as boots. Canyon hiking is hard on shoes and shoe soles. It is not uncommon to lose as much as a half-inch of sole at heavier contact points on the sole of shoes or boots after only one lengthy hike on a canyon trail.