Kids will climb rocks and trudge through mud wearing nothing but their Keds. But for outdoor trips, their feet really should be cradled inside a pair of quality shoes because, well, promoting good biomechanics is pretty essential. When it comes to hiking, you want shoes or sneakers with activity-appropriate support, both underfoot and in the ankle. Choose hikers made from high-quality materials that will breathe and dry quickly so that your child’s feet stay healthy and comfortable. You should also look for lacing that’s kid-friendly so your kid actually benefits from the structure of the shoe and that it’s not a sloppy fit. Finally, look for good durability and reinforcement so that you won’t be buying new hiking shoes constantly. Well, at least until your kids grow out of their first pair. Here are a few of our trail-tested favorites.
Keen Big Kids’ Oakridge Waterproof
This low-cut hiker has waterproof-breathable leather and fabric on top with a non-marking, rock-gripping sole. The bungee lace system, which on the little kids’ version combines elasticized laces with a Velcro closure, is easy to get on and off, and also easy for your child to fine tune when they’re rock hopping and running around. The padded collar and tongue prevent pressure points. And because the shoe is treated with odor control, even when your scrambler wears it barefoot, it won’t stink.
Salomon Speedcross Junior
At around six oz., the Speedcross is the lightest shoe in this review. That means your kid can run around unencumbered. The quick-dry, breathable mesh shoe is reinforced on the toe, sides, and heel to better endure the beating kids dish out. But that doesn’t interfere with its nimble traction: A Contagrip sole, the same one Salomon uses on its adult shoes, gives little kids stability and control on any terrain, whether they’re scrambling up a boulder field, running at top speed on gravely dirt, or trudging through muddy fields. Breathable mesh in the upper helps the shoe dry fast when wet grass saturates these light hikers.
Chaco Outcross 2 Water Shoe
If your little hiker is going to spend most of their time with their feet submerged, a hybrid hiker/sandal will make their life (and yours) easier. The Outcross 2 combines a water-repelling open construction upper with a supportive midsole and sticky-in-the-water outsole. Toggle lacing is fast on and off, and the openings in the sides of the shoe let water and debris out easily. They also help keep naturally hot kids’ feet cool.
Vasque Breeze III Ultra-Dry
This durable, waterproof, fabric-and-suede hiking shoe is a downsized version of Vasque’s best-selling adult boot. In it, your backpacking kid will have the support they need to carry the weight of a backpack for multiple days. The meshy upper is breathable, with hefty toe and heel bumpers to protect feet and the shoes. To-the-toe speed lacing, though not as intuitive as elasticized lacing, helped kids get fit dialed and let them tighten up the ankle without overtightening the forefoot. Add a grippy sole and a comfy padded ankle, and these shoes will accompany your child for many miles of asking you “what’s that? what’s that? what’s that?”
Columbia Youth Newton Ridge
One of the most rugged and durable hiking boots available for kids, the Youth Newton Ridge has a nearly indestructible waterproof, reinforced leather upper with an aggressive grippy sole. For a leather boot, it’ super light. Credit the running sneaker-like cushy midsole and light, high-traction rubber soles that didn’t slip scrambling, hiking or just running around. Because they’re a higher cut, they have plenty of support for carrying a pack. A higher cut also protects little ankles from rocks and the perils of hard playing.
The North Face Lightwave Flow Jr.
Amphibious kids don’t differentiate between land and water, and these low cut sneaker-like hikers will let them navigate river and trail in one pair of shoes. The non-marking sole has spider-like traction in wet and dry conditions. And the mesh upper, reinforced for stability and protection in high wear areas, dries almost instantly. A fat midsole is cushy and shock absorbing so your little hiker can run around longer without getting tired. And though the single pull lacing makes them super quick and easy to get on, even if your child steps on the heel and wears these like clogs, it won’t compromise the shoe.