Spending the money on pint-sized hiking shoes for kids can feel like a a waste, especially when your child is going to grow out of them so quickly. Can your child just get away with wearing their basic school shoes or sandals on a hike? Well, yes, but mostly no. If your hikes are mainly easy, flat trails under a mile without a lot of rocks and roots, your child will be fine in most footwear.
However, if you want to take your child on longer adventures, and you want them to enjoy those adventures, a good pair of hiking shoes is a critical piece of gear. Their shoe is the connection between them and the ground, and if they are uncomfortable, then YOU will be uncomfortable. If your children are like mine, they are certain to make you know when something doesn’t feel right.
I personally tend to prefer more minimalist-style shoes for myself and my children. This means I look for shoes with flexible soles and a foot bed that is more neutral than a typical sneaker. There are many companies that make minimalist shoes for younger children, but these are harder to find as kids get older and harder on footwear. I have found shoes that are still flexible for young feet, while offering the protection and and traction necessary for technical terrain.
>>>Looking for more hiking gear recommendations? Check out this post!<<<
Favorite Light Hiking Shoes for Kids or Trail Running Shoes for Kids
Most often, I buy shoes in this category for my children. They don’t find heavier hiking boots comfortable, so generally, we buy light hiking shoes or trail running shoes. They are not as durable as tradition hiking boots, but they get way more use out of them since they wear them all the time.
Salomon XA Pro 3D Trail Runners: Fantastic traction and durability
My daughters wore a previous generation model of these shoes several years ago, and my sons now have the same shoe. I am impressed by the flexibility of the sole and the easy lacing system. I love that Salomon’s lacing system is made of a dense, high tensile material instead of elastic. My children have overstretched elastic lacing systems several times–so I avoid them now.
The lug pattern and grip on these shoes is fantastic. I am often frustrated by children’s “hiking” shoes that don’t have good traction. The last I want when hiking up a granite ledge is to have my son or daughter start sliding off just because their shoes aren’t well built. These Salomon Trail Runners definitely have the right grip for most trail conditions.
Additionally, these shoes are made tough, and will last through multiple seasons. Win for this mom!
Merrell Chameleon Kid’s Hiking Shoes: Best multi-purpose shoe for kids hiking
These hiking shoes were a staple of my kids’ wardrobe for several years. They have flexible soles, sturdy laces, and enough traction for most trails. They don’t have quite enough rebound for distance running, though my sons have definitely run and played soccer in them comfortably.
I liked that the laces were real shoelaces—elastic ones always seemed to wear out or break, even though they are easier to put on. I also liked that the uppers were durable–a few pairs of these shoes were used by multiple children.
The Merrell Chameleon hiking shoes for kids are a great, sturdy all around hiking shoe that you can use for short hikes or an overnight backpack trip.
Altra Lone Peak Trail Running : Best minimalist hiking shoe for kids
Altra is famous for their adult sized zero-drop crossover trail running/hiking shoes. The Lone Peak in particular is beloved by many thru-hiking backpackers. Several hiking families that I know, including TMM Team Member Valerie, swear by them as shoes for their hiking kids.
I personally LOVE my adult sized Altra Lone Peaks for hiking, running, and day-long comfort.
The Altra Lone Peak hiking and running shoes have excellent flexibility for bounding over rocks and roots. Because they have running shoe soles, the rubber is sticky and offers great traction.
They are also a zero-drop shoe, which is great if you and your kids prefer that feel. They have a wide toe box so your child’s toes can find a natural position.
The one downside to these shoes is that they will tend to wear out faster than the Salomons or a more rugged shoe. That trade off is because of the lighter, more flexible materials used in the shoe.
Keen Chandler CNX Shoe: Best hiking shoes for younger kids
This hiking shoe is a favorite of many active families who have younger children. The elastic and velcro lacing system makes putting them on a breeze, and the mesh makes them dry faster for when kiddos decide to splash in a puddle.
The traction on the bottom is adequate for most dirt packed, moderate trails. The grip is less rugged than the other shoes I have checked out, but for most adventures the traction is perfect.
The soles of these KEEN hiking shoes are thin and flexible, which is great for younger hikers who need a comfortable shoe to wear. They have a wide toe-box, and great ventilation. Plus, they come in so many fun colors.
Northside Gamma Hiking Shoes for Kids
Best budget pick – tie with below option!
Northside is one of TMM Team Member Amelia’s top picks for budget-friendly hiking footwear. She finds them to be durable, and her children find them to be comfortable.
The Northside Gamma Hiking Shoe hits all the right targets for a kid’s hiking shoe. Respectable traction, durable nylon laces, and enough padding for comfortable day hikes. They make several models, but I like the low hiker model myself. They also maker higher-top models that are more rugged.
The cons with these shoes would be traction and long term durability. They don’t have the same aggressive traction and anti-slip rubber that other shoes do–but for many kids, they are a fantastic option for getting out on the trail.
Mishansha Kids Hiking Shoes
Best Budget Pick – tie with above option
We just discovered Mishansha kids’ hiking shoes this year and Amelia LOVES them for her kids. They come in a variety of styles, but they all have great traction and are durable, especially for a shoe that costs only about $30.
They do run a bit small, so size up!
Hiking Shoes for Kids for Trails Near Water
If you’ve ever hiked near a stream or lake, you already know what will happen when you combine a hike with water. That’s right–wet feet. My kids just love water, and no matter the season, they usually end up with wet toes or more.
Conveniently, there are myriads of choices for hiking shoes for kids for exactly these types of hikes. My children pretty much live in their hiking sandals all summer long, unless we are going for a longer, strenuous hike.
These shoes are great if you want a sandal with a sneaker-like feel. My 12 year old daughter is wearing a pair of these this year, and she finds them to be very comfortable and secure on her feet.
The Merrell Hydro hiking shoe is really a sandal, but has all the great features of a hiking shoe. Good traction, ergonomic foot bed, and secure velcro closure. The sandal/shoe comes in several colors, which is great for children who have opinions on fashion.
I like them because they are a zero-drop shoe, with a flexible sole. We find the traction to be shoe-like, which gives her good grip on slick mud and dirt. With a pair of socks, these shoes can even make the transition to fall.
The downside I see with them is that over time if the shoe spends a lot of time in water, the glue along the sole might be compromise, and lead to the shoe falling apart. However, for the price (we paid $25) it is a solid option.
These have been our go-to hiking sandals for kids for years. I like the flexible sole on the Keen CNX line, versus Keen’s other styles. I also love the rugged toe bumper, which keeps their toes protected from inevitable sticks and rocks.
The velcro and elastic toggle system on these hiking shoes are easy for my kids to adjust. They are easy to rinse out and dry in the sun when adventures turn muddy. My kids do everything in these sandals–shorter hikes, runs, mountain biking, playing in the yard, and errands in town.
These Keens hold up really well, with several pairs getting passed down to multiple children. Younger kids might have trouble with getting them on, and Keen does make similar shoes for small feet that are easier for little ones.
The Keen “Venice” model is one my younger children used and it was easy on/easy off, but a bit less secure.
Team member Kristin and her kids loves these minimalist hiking shoes for kids for short hikes, playing near water, and wearing all summer long.
These Unshoes Keotas are minimalist by design, which means they have thinner padding, zero drop, and a closer to the ground feel. These sandals are fantastic if you spend a lot of time hiking near or even in water. They lend a barefoot feel, but protect small feet from sharp objects.
These sandals will also dry much faster than the other options above, but the trade off is that they have less overall foot projection. They also have less padding so longer hikes may feel tiring in these shoes. These are great hiking shoes for kids to bring on a longer hike or backpacking trip since they are lightweight and make great camp shoes.
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