Are toddler hiking shoes necessary? And how do you figure out which of the many hiking boots and shoes out there are the best options for your preschooler?
Those are the questions we sought to answer after watching our 3 and 5-year-old boys slip and slide on the trails. When our youngest started saying he didn’t want to go anymore because he was afraid of falling, it became clear that we needed something a bit different from their running shoes. We aren’t the type of people who splurge on kids’ footwear, but a good shoe is worth the investment when it comes to keeping children safe and comfortable on family hikes.
After a lot of shopping, talking with outdoorsy moms and trail running friends, and some trial and error, we narrowed down our list to the top 10 hiking shoes for toddlers and kids featured here.
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IN THIS POST
TOP 10 HIKING SHOES FOR KIDS AND TODDLERS
BEST ALL AROUND: MERRELL KIDS TRAIL CHASER
You don’t have to worry about buying an extra pair of outdoor shoes with these Merrell Trail Chasers. The flexible design makes them just as good for the playground as the trails. They’ll support your little adventurer wherever they run.
Merrell uses high-quality and durable materials, so these shoes should remain intact as long as your child still fits in them. And this mom loves the anti-stink properties that help control stinky shoe odors! Reviewers say they have no trouble throwing them in the washer and dryer as well.
I’ve loved my Merrells for about 15 years now, so I feel confident about the brand’s value and durability. At under $40, they are also one of the most affordable options on this list.
When it comes to fit, I love that these come in half sizes and wide options. Bug has rectangular feet like his dad, so we take all of the sizing options we can get.
TOP HIKING BOOT FOR TINY TODDLERS: LL BEAN WATERPROOF TRAIL MODEL HIKERS
You’d be hard-pressed to find another pair of toddler hiking shoes like these. LL Bean essentially took the quality of their popular Waterproof Trail Model Hikers and sized them down for the next generation to enjoy.
These boots are on the pricey side, but if you frequent hiking trails and rocky terrain with a toddler who wants to run and climb, these boots might be worth the investment. LL Bean’s Trail Trac rubber outsole provides multi-surface traction so they can gain the confidence they’ll need to explore without slipping and sliding.
BEST WATERPROOF HIKING BOOT FOR KIDS: MERRELL KIDS CHAMELEON 7
The Merrell Chameleon 7 was designed to keep feet dry and to keep kids upright. These are going to offer more support than shoes with a lower cut, but they are also lightweight enough that they don’t get too heavy on the trails.
The waterproof design is said to wick away sweat in addition to the water your kids might encounter from local streams. Just remember, these are not interchangeable with rain boots! While your children’s feet will stay drier than with other hiking boots, they aren’t made of rubber and are still cut low enough to allow water from a creek or large puddle to get in from the top.
Another popular choice for mid-height waterproof hiking boots for kids is the Keen Targhee Mid Height Waterproof Hiking Boot.
BEST KIDS’ HIKING SHOE FOR A HEALTHY PLANET: LA SPORTIVA JYNX LITTLE KIDS’ HIKING SHOE
It’s no secret that the shoe industry has pollution and fair trade problems. As I educate myself further on these issues, I’m more and more impressed by brands that are willing to spend a little more to design and manufacture products with a focus on sustainability.
The La Sportiva brand has an excellent reputation in this area. They are Bluesign® approved and are working to make all their footwear PFC-free. La Sportiva staff dedicate time to conservation projects and the factory uses 100% renewable energy. Find out more about La Sportiva’s sustainability efforts here.
And of course, the shoes have earned high praise from kids and parents for comfort, grip, and durability!
COMFORTABLE TRAIL RUNNERS DESIGNED FOR GROWING FEET: ALTRA YOUTH LONE PEAK TRAIL RUNNING SHOE
Fans of Altra’s adult shoes will be thrilled to discover Altra Youth Lone Peak Trail Running Shoes.
Altra advocates for healthy foot growth, and it shows throughout this thoughtful design. The wide toe box fits the natural shape of a child’s foot so little toes can relax and spread out for greater comfort and stability. Altra even thought to include a removable insole to provide a little extra room before it’s time to size up.
Another Altra design feature is a focus on balanced cushioning. This results in the heel and toe being equally distant from the ground to minimize impact while running.
If you’re willing to pay a bit more for comfort, these shoes might be a good pick for your child.
A STYLISH OPTION FOR KIDS WITH WIDER FEET: ADIDAS OUTDOOR KIDS TERREX AX2R CF
Parents of kids with slightly wider feet are loyal purchasers of the stylish Adidas Terrex. Like the Merrell Trail Chaser, they get high marks for both family day hikes and everyday use at school or on the playground.
The bungee lacing system and hook and loop ankle strap mean that you won’t have to worry about your child running around with untied laces.
The Adidas Terrex also gets high marks for durability from happy parents.
BEST HIKING SHOES FOR SERIOUS GRIP ON THE TRAILS: SALOMON KIDS XA PRO 3D CSWP
The Salomon brand is known for increasing confidence on any trail surface. With its aggressive grip and stability, this shoe will be perfect for any day hike or even a beginner backpacking trip! If you’re looking to stop slipping and sliding, the Salomon Kids XA Pro could be the shoe for you.
Priced at $75 at the time of writing, these are pricey for kids’ hiking shoes, but they are beloved by parents who’ve found that other popular brands like Merrell and Keens don’t stop their kids from slipping on their favorite trails.
The kids’ version of this shoe is made with a softer and more flexible sole than the adult version which will be more comfortable overall for little feet.
MORE GREAT OPTIONS FOR ALL AROUND HIKING SHOES: KEEN KIDS CHANDLER CNX AND SAUCONY PEREGRINE
The Keen Kids Chandler CNX Hiking Shoe is another great all-around hiking shoe option for kids. The performance mesh will keep their feet cool while the rubber toe cap keeps their toes protected from stubs. They can also double as a scooter brake without tearing the front of the shoe.
Parents love the durability, minimal construction, and wide-toe box. Like the Merrell Trail Chaser, many families transition these from occasional hiking shoes to everyday shoes because they are just as perfect for playground play.
One more all-around hiking and playground shoe option to consider is the Saucony Peregrine. Sauconys are reputed to be cushy and a bit heavier than their more minimal counterparts, but I’ve personally been a fan for years. When I bought my first pair, some jokingly referred to them as the “Cadillac” of running shoes. And you know what? Some of us love that Cadillac-style!
BEST KIDS HIKING SANDAL: KEEN KIDS SEACAMP II CNX-C
If you’re looking for toddler hiking shoes to keep little ones from slipping and stubbing their toes near lakes, rivers, or creeks, you can’t go wrong with KEEN hiking sandals. The KEEN Kids Seacamp is designed to have a better grip than their popular Newport and Moxie models and more support than the KEEN Stingray.
The straps are adjustable to help you get the right fit. Some parents even purchase larger pairs at first to last two summers!
All KEEN sandals are machine washable.
Parents love the versatility of these shoes and their durability after being put through every type of setting you can imagine for an outdoorsy little kid. They are a staple for many active families.
HIKING BOOT BASICS
Good hiking boots can be a game-changer, but what is considered “good” varies greatly by how you’ll be using them. If you’re wondering whether to purchase hiking boots or hiking shoes, consider the following:
This option is a comfortable choice for easy day hikes. Their low-cut and flexible midsoles make for a comfortable option when out for a stroll or even running around the park. Some of the options given above, like the Merrell Kids Trail Chaser, can even double as a running shoe that’s perfectly appropriate for the playground. Buying toddler hiking shoes just for the trails can seem a bit much for some families, but buying one good shoe that is great for the trail and the playground is a very different calculation.
DAY HIKING BOOTS
The goldilocks of kids hiking boots, day hiking boots have a mid-high cut that offers more support on longer hikes and shorter backpacking trips. Boots like the LL Bean Toddlers Waterproof Trail Model Hikers fit this category. As toddler hiking shoes, they help young kids who need more support to stay on their feet on a rocky trail. These will be more flexible than traditionally designed hiking boots but will also lack some of their support.
These are updated versions of good old traditional hiking boots that are designed to be worn while carrying heavy loads on multi-day trips. The high cut is for greater ankle support and they have durable, supportive, stiff mid-soles. Needless to say, traditional hiking boot styles aren’t going to be necessary for most young hikers.
FACTORS TO CONSIDER WHEN SHOPPING FOR TODDLER AND KID HIKING SHOES
WHERE DO YOU HIKE MOST OFTEN?
Will you be hiking near water or in rainy conditions? Are your trails slippery? Do you find a lot of loose rock where you hike? Every child’s perfect hiking shoe will differ depending on their family’s favorite and most frequent hikes.
If you find that your kids are slipping and sliding while wearing shoes with average grip, you might want to consider the Salomon Kids XA Pro with their famously aggressive grip.
And if nothing stands out to you about your trails, but you want to step up from running shoes, an all-around pair like the Merrell Trail Chaser might be best for you.
DO YOU WANT TO PURCHASE USE TRADITIONAL LACES?
This is another matter of personal preference, but you’ll notice that some of the shoes above have traditional tie laces whereas others have bungee laces or toggles.
The latter is a popular pick for toddler hiking shoes and for younger children that still can’t tie their own shoelaces. One less tripping hazard to avoid! However, if they break there isn’t an option to replace them like buying another pair of laces.
Many durability issues that people have with hiking shoes are related to laces.
REINFORCED RUBBER TOES
You’ll notice that the KEEN Kids’ shoes above have a reinforced rubber toe, whereas many of the other shoes have something that looks more like a toe bumper. These are great in toddler hiking shoes to protect littles from stubbing their toes. If your children tend to get holes in the front of their shoes or if they like to use their shoes as a scooter break, you might want to pay extra attention to this part of the shoe design.
WHAT’S IN A BRAND NAME?
In the past, we haven’t been particularly choosy when it comes to brands. But the more I educate myself on sustainable manufacturing and fair trade practices, the more I seek out brands with a solid reputation in the outdoor industry, significant investment in research and design over time, and practice of transparent communication to consumers. While I’m still in learning mode, I have a great deal of respect for La Sportiva’s sustainability efforts and view their higher price tag through this lens.
The first hiking shoes we bought for the boys were from a brand called Feetmat on Amazon. Honestly, the shoes worked just fine, and they showed normal wear and tear until the boys started to outgrow them. But it bothers me not to know anything about the brand or their approach to manufacturing. It also looks like there are a few brands with the same design selling on Amazon. I don’t know exactly what this means, but being aware of some of the ethical implications involved in buying clothes and shoes, I’ve decided to follow my instincts and steer clear of brands like these until I understand more.
DON’T FORGET THE SOCKS!
Quality comfortable shoes are an important part of your hiking gear but don’t forget the role that good hiking socks play in keeping little feet comfortable on the trail. Keep in mind four factors when choosing hiking socks: height, cushioning, fabric and fit.
- Height will vary depending on the height of the shoes you ultimately choose. Basically, pick a sock height greater than your shoes to avoid ankle blisters.
- Cushioning will depend on the length of your hike and the weather. You’ll want extra padding for extra comfort on longer trips. Obviously, you don’t want your kids in heavy socks mid-summer, but ultra-light socks might not do the trick for a longer hike.
- Sock fabrics will most likely be a blend, but look for socks that have a decent percentage of wool for longer hikes. Wool regulates temperature and provides cushioning. Many of us think of wool as itchy, but merino wool and the blends manufacturers use today make wool socks much more comfortable than they used to be.
- As for fit, I am guilty of just guessing based on shoe size, but it’s helpful to know the size of your child’s actual foot. Socks that are too big can cause blisters, and socks that are too small can pull down and not fit correctly. Getting the right fit goes a long way toward keeping kids comfortable on the trails.
The Smartwool Shop on Amazon has lots of great options for little feet.