What type footwear is best to use while hiking the Appalachian Trail is a running debate amongst hikers. There is no definitive right or wrong answer to what type of footwear is best to use while hiking this trail. However, as an experienced hiker and an AT thru hiker (2006), I feel qualified to speak on this topic.
For in camp and during stream crossings, Crocs are the hands down favorite. They weigh in at about 10 ounces per pair and are made of rubber so they work great in water and dry fast. Crocs will work in a pinch for hiking short distances as well.
Tevas (thick rubber sandals) work great as water shoes or on relatively dry trail. They weigh a full pound and so are heavier and sturdier than Crocs. Should you run into a long stretch of wet rainy conditions, which on a 5-6 month AT hike is going to happen, your feet in Tevas will be constantly wet.
Wearing trail runners, those low cut sneaker like shoes, works if your load is not too heavy, and conditions are not very wet. Many AT hikers swear by trail runners. But wait till they puncture on rocks or just plain wear out and you hit a very wet stretch. I hiked from Mt Killington to Route 4 on the AT wearing trail runners that I had since Delaware Water Gap and was in agony. Water was leaking in like a sieve by that time and wet feet mean misery.
While you don’t want the old style five pound waffle stompers– it is said a pound on your feet is worth five on your back—mid weight leather or fabric hiking boots are my recommendation. They provide grip, ankle support, and a certain degree of water impermeability not to mention durability. Don’t get taken in by the gore-tex hype though. Yes the gore-tex lining keeps water out, but it also keeps the water in once the water gets in. After days of hiking in a prolonged rain with mud and puddles, the water will find its way in. Trust me.
A word about insoles. The insoles that come with new boots are useless and are best thrown out. Look into getting a pair of shockblockers or Spenco backpacker insoles. Spenco and shockblockers, have never given me problems. Many people seem to like super feet insoles. I don’t. They have very little give and the few times I used them my feet hurt like the dickens, especially under the balls of my feet.
Finally, when and if you purchase new hiking boots, it is imperative to break them in prior to your hike. That means wearing them around the house and around town before you take them on the trail. Taking brand new boots onto the trail for a long day hike or backpack will virtually guarantee you foot problems.
For further information about buying hiking boots, including the importance of fit, check out this article from REI: