Kids’ feet grow fast and unpredictably. The shoe dilemma — how to keep up with those ever-changing feet — has most parents simply relying on hand-me-downs or combing the shelves. That’s not the best option when it comes to hiking or backpacking boots, however. Out on the trail, ill-fitting shoes can be a disaster than can slow a hike or, worse, leave kids with blisters or other foot problems. So what should you look for when choosing the right hiking boots for your kids? Two words: comfort and stability. They will be pounding out some trail miles in these kicks so they have to want to wear them, but they will also be navigating tough terrain, so the boots will need to hold their own and protect those precious feet too.
When shopping for kids hiking boots, look for shoes that combine those two aspects. Boots that are too stable can take too long to break in and hurt. Too floppy and your kid goes home with a sprained ankle. Keeping those boots fitting while jostling around on the trail is key, so seek out lace systems that are easy to pull snug and keep secure. When it comes to size, remember that those feet will grow, so leave some room, but don’t by they so big that they cause blisters or flopping on the trail. Also, be aware of what type of hiking you plan on doing with your progeny: Day hikes lend themselves to lighter boots that the kid can also wear to school. Big trips require boots that won’t fail out away from the nearest REI.
With those principles in mind, here are three options for three different budgets and sets of objectives.
Best Low-Priced Kids Hiking Boots: Northside Copeland Low
Coming in at less price lower than the latest Ninjago Lego set, these boots from Northside, a brand based in the rugged Cascades, can take a beating. The beefy sole offers lots of grip and the laces are easy to tie and stay fastened on the trail. Plus, a mesh upper makes them breathable so you won’t face complaining about hot feet and they will dry out fast. That tough sole offers up a lot of versatility, making the boots ideal for everything from rocky trails to school trips. Now, as is normal at this price, they don’t provide as much ankle support as bigger boots (may not be the best choice for big packs or clambering over boulders terrain). They’re also not waterproof.
Best Mid-Priced Kids Hiking Boots: Columbia Big Kids’ Newton Ridge Waterproof Hiking Boot
These waterproof leather boots combine a lot of protection with out-of-the-box comfort thanks to a bootie fit that makes slipping into a serious hiker feel more like fitting a sneaker. Combine that with a thick, stable, shock-absorbing sole that grips everything from granite boulders to slippery downed logs and you have a boot that will allow your kid to focus more on all the waterfalls and wildlife they see along the trail rather than how much their shoes bug them. For a boot that offers up so much technical performance, they are extremely comfortable. They’re also waterproof. No, considering it’s a more serious hiking boot, your kid probably won’t wear it to school everyday or out to play.
Best High-End Kids Hiking Boot: Lowa Arco GTX Mid Jr
All too often your gear is far better than what you force your kids to suffer through, especially on a big trip, simply because it’s tough to find kids gear with technical chops. German brand Lowa put the same features into these top-of-the-line kids boots as it does in the grown-up version. That dedication to performance makes a big difference on the trail: Handmade in Europe, these burly trekkers feel like far lighter boots, wigeon in at under one pound per pair but offering up lots of support with a high ankle and power lacing, plus a Monowrap frame, a flexible, tough exoskeleton that allows for lighter materials in the upper without the sacrificing stability of a more rigid boot. A Gore-tex liner to keep out the wet and expo the sweat and a bomber Vibram sole complete the package, making for a boot that ensures your kid will be well prepared for the demands of a multi-day trek or big summit scramble.