Toddler Hiking Shoes – How To Choose The Right Pair

by ForSomethingMore
(Last Updated On: June 9, 2021)
toddler hiking shoes on a boy's feet
Peri’s happy with the shoe’s we got him!

Ever since Peri could walk, we’ve been taking him out hiking. When he first began toddling down the trails, we didn’t worry about buying him a pair of toddler hiking shoes.

His street shoes were mildly supportive and had decent grip, so everything was fine.

After all, when Peri was still working on his balance and coordination, we only took him on easy routes like the Ho Pui Reservoir Family Walk.

a toddler hiking in sneakers
Peri used to hike in simple sneakers.

Nowadays though…

Peri is fully capable of walking and running too! So we’re able to take him on a much wider variety of hiking terrain. (Kai looks on jealously, but he’ll be up to speed soon too!)

We still frequent our old and mellow favorites, such as the Sir Cecil’s Ride Stream hike.

However…

Now we are able to take Peri on much more intense routes too.

One example is the Ng Tung Chai Waterfall hike (though we did have to carry him a bit on this one).

And, this is where sturdy toddler hiking shoes come into play.

a toddler hiking on a dirt trail

But before getting into specific toddler hiking shoes and toddler sandals that meet our high standards, we’re going to take a bit of a deep dive into how to choose the right pair for your little one.

If you have any questions along the way, feel free to leave us a comment below, and we’ll get back to you in a flash!

As an aside, this post contains affiliate links that help us cover the cost of running this site and do not cost you anything extra if indeed you purchase something through one of them.

Toddler Hiking Shoe Vs. Hiking Boot Vs. Toddler Hiking Sandal

Toddler Hiking Shoes 

toddler hiking shoes
Peri is fine in toddler hiking shoes, not boots.

We have found that Peri does not need much ankle support, regardless of the terrain.

Therefore:

We keep him in low-cut hiking shoes. If ever he needs more ankle support, we’d consider a boot, but for now there’s no need.

If your toddler needs a bit more ankle support consider a high-cut boot.

Toddler Hiking Boots 

When we take our boys hiking in cold, snowy, or wet conditions, boots will be the footwear we choose.

When we go backpacking as a family someday…

We will definitely put Peri and Kai in boots.

After all, carrying a heavy load justifies more ankle support for kids and adults alike. But for now, low cut toddler hiking shoes are all we need.

Toddler Hiking Sandals

We put Peri in his toddler sandals when he might get wet.

For example, the Tai Shui Hang Waterfall Hike up Madai Stream is one route where we’ll use his toddler sandals.

And then when we’re back on dry ground, we change him back into his hiking shoes. 

toddler sandals

While Peri could hike wet and dry terrain in sandals, his shoes provide more traction and support.

Also, your toddler will have a higher chance of getting blisters if she/he hikes long distances in sandals.

So, to lessen Peri’s chances of slipping, falling, blisters, or stubbing his toes…

It’s shoes for the dry sections and sandals for the wet ones.

It’s as simple as that!

Quality Matters

Just as is the case with adult hiking shoes, the quality of toddler hiking shoes runs the gamut.

What we look for in our own shoes, we look for in Peri’s.

More specifically we look for shoes that are:

  • Comfortable
  • Sturdy
  • Supportive
  • High-traction
  • Easy to put on and take off
  • Machine washable
  • And most importantly, stylish! (Just joking!)

Closure – Velcro All The Way

Most toddler hiking shoes we’ve encountered have some type of velcro closure, and for good reason.

The velcro makes putting them on and taking them off much easier than laces.

BEWARE: Some toddler hiking shoes are essentially slip-ons that tighten via. elastic laces. In our experience, the elastic wears out quickly, and then we can’t get Peri’s shoes tight enough.

The Takeaway: Make sure your toddler’s hiking shoes have at least a velcro closure, or both velcro and elastic. Also a heel loop in the back is useful for helpping your little one get their shoes on.

Comfort – Fit and Shock Absorption

There is no “one shoe fits all” when it comes to toddler hiking shoes.

What fits Peri perfectly may fit your little one terribly.

So…

We have Peri try on his shoes, we ask him how they feel, and we go from there.

Of course, we also double-check to make sure his shoes fit properly in the first place.

In addition…

We check to see if the shoe we’re considering for Peri has enough shock absorption.

Just as we adults pound our knees on the downhills, so too do kids.

toddler jumping off small rock

To check how shock-absorbing a toddler hiking shoe is:

  1. Place the shoes on a firm surface (right side up)
  2. With your thumb, press down on the footbed.
  3. Firm and springy is what you’re looking for!
  4. Super-soft or super-hard is not a good sign.

The Takeaway: Make sure your toddler’s hiking shoes fit properly, and also make sure they are suitably shock-absorbing.

Sturdiness – Kids Are Rough

If we’ve learned nothing else as parents we’ve learned…

Kids are rough on EVERYTHING!

toddler climbing up dirt hill

From their shirts and pants to their socks and shoes, Peri and Kai seem to develop holes, rips and snags faster than we could ever hope to repair them.

Therefore:

We look for extremely durable toddler hiking shoes.

The Takeaway: If they feel cheaply made, in all likelihood they are. If the toddler hiking shoe feels solid in your hand, that’s a good sign. If it’s stitched in the same fashion you’d expect an adult shoe to be, you may have a winner!

Support – Shoe Structure

Aside from foot protection, a toddler hiking shoe is designed to support your toddler’s foot. This is especially true while they’re out on the trails!

With that said, there is a three-point test for shoe support you can use to determine how supportive a shoe will be.

It works for both adult and kids’ shoes, so try it on your own!

In all three cases, you want a shoe that is quite firm, but not rock-hard.

The pictures below are from the link above, and they are certainly worth a thousand words, so take a look!

In short, to do the 3-point shoe support test you:

1. Twist the shoe (You’ll be testing the torsional rigidity.)

torsional rigidity shoe test

2. Bend the shoe in a u-shape (You’ll be testing for flexion stability.)

flexion stability shoe test

3. Pinch the heel cup (You’ll be testing for heel counter rigidity.)

heel counter rigidity shoe test

The Takeaway: In all three tests, you’re looking for a good firm feel.

Stay away if the shoe feels too rigid or flexible.

Traction – The Sole

What would a toddler hiking shoe be without good traction? Maybe an ice skate?

As traction is super important, we analyze the shoe’s sole in three ways.

  1. We look at it to determine if it looks to have enough traction, i.e. are there sufficient bumps, ridges, etc.
  2. We feel the sole material to determine if it feels as though it’ll “stick” to the rocks and surfaces out on the trail.
  3. We have Peri try them on, and then we have him walk up and down some inclines.
toddler hiking shoes with good traction

Unfortunately, it’s not possible to try shoes out on the trails before you buy them.

But…

Many shoe stores have those hiking-simulation-ramps, so have your toddler use that if it’s available.

The Takeaway: Look at, feel and then have your toddler test the soles to determine if they’ll be high-traction out on the trails.

Water-Resistance And Breathability

There’s no perfect toddler hiking shoe for every situation.

Peri usually hikes in warm yet dry conditions, so in these situations, we opt for something more breathable and less water-resistant.

In the event that he’s in wet conditions, we put him in a water-resitant yet less breathable shoe.

There is no single perfect shoe for all conditions, so consider buying your toddler more than one pair.

The Takeaway: Consider the conditions you’ll be hiking in, and buy a shoe accordingly. If your little one hikes as much as Peri does (we usually go hiking on Saturday and Sunday as well as one day during the week) consider buying your toddler one shoe well suited for dry and warm conditions and another for wet and cooler conditions.

Machine Washable

Peri gets dirty faster than we can say “dirty.” The same goes for his shoes.

toddler throwing rock on hiking trail

Being able to throw his shoes in the washing machine is a must have feature in his toddler hiking shoe.

Clearly, washing them keeps them looking and smelling good.

But did you know…?

Washing the dirt off the shoe fibers also makes them last longer!

The Toddler Hiking Shoes Peri Uses

While there are a good number of toddler hiking shoes out there, not all toddler hiking shoes are equal.

Our bottom line for Peri is the golden-hiking-shoe-rule:

Only put your child in shoes that you yourself would like to hike in.

In other words…

We want his shoes to be as good as our shoes. After all, he spends just as much time on the trails as we do, so we want his shoes to be comfortable, supportive, functional, and durable.

The following two pairs of shoes (and one pair of toddler sandals) are what Peri uses.

And…

He uses them because they fully meet the quality standards we’ve just talked about above.

Give these a try on your own toddler, and ask her/him how they feel.

If they don’t answer you, but instead they just take off running, you’ve likely hit the mark.

If instead, they don’t seem comfy on your toddler’s feet, use our criteria above, and keep searching! You’ll certainly find a pair that works!

Ultimately, if you have questions about the shoes below or about toddler hiking shoes in general, feel free to leave us a comment below, as we’re always glad to help!

A Toddler Shoe Specialized For Hiking

Little Kid’s Trail Quest Jr.

If you’re looking for strictly a toddler hiking shoe, Peri can confirm that the Little Kid’s Trail Quest Jr. are indeed just that!

Peri put on this shoe, and he was off to the races!

toddler hiking down dirt trail

They were easy to put on him. They have a velcro strap, elastic laces, and a heel loop.

Also, they were comfortable for him right out of the box.

We know this because we asked him, and also because he never complained about his shoes. In some of his old shoes, he complained about toe pain.

toddler standing on large boulder

The sole on these is also super grippy, and the foot bed is appropriately rigid.

Consequently, they are perfect for all sorts of hiking terrain.

The shoe itself is also very supportive and passes the three-point test we mentioned above. 

toddler hiking up steep dirt trail

In short, if you and your toddler plan on doing some serious hiking, it’d be well worth your time to have your little one try these on for size. 

For lots more information on the Little Kid’s Trail Quest Jr., check out our Trail Quest Jr shoe review!

A Hybrid Option – Hiking And Playgrounds

Little Kid’s Bare Steps® Ridge Jr. Hiker

As crazy as this may seem, we indeed do other things with Peri and Kai than take them hiking.

That’s where this shoe comes nicely into play!

One afternoon we were with Peri on the playground, and these shoes provided him all the comfort, traction, and support he needed.

toddler climbing up rock wall

He certainly had no trouble getting around the jungle gym.

On the sidewalk and street, Peri was also good to go.

toddler running in hybrid hiking shoes

Again, we asked him about the shoes, and he told us he really liked them. 

Then, somewhat spontaneously, we decided to hop on a minibus up to he Sir Cecil’s Ride Stream hike.

Transitioning right from the playground onto the trail was no problem given the very grippy soles the Little Kids’ Bare Steps Ridge Jr. Hikers have. 

Admittedly, we’d definitely choose the Little Kid’s Trail Quest Jr. if we were strictly hiking for the day.

But…

If you want an all around solid hybrid shoe, this is certainly a great choice by us and Peri.

Again, keep your eyes peeled for our full review of the Little Kid’s Bare Steps® Ridge Jr. Hikers, where we’ll go into much more depth about why we like this shoe for Peri. 

Toddler Sandals

While sandals and shoes are clearly somewhat different animals, they still have quite a bit in common.

Generally speaking, toddler sandals will provide much less support and protection than a toddler hiking shoe.

But they are usually an excellent choice for a hike strewn with watering holes!

toddler sandals on boy's feet in stream

Even with a sandal, we do both the twisting and bending test.

But of coures:

We don’t do the test on the heel cup, as there isn’t one!

We also look for the shock-absorbing quality, and examine the overall durability and build-quality.

With that said, the sandals below not only fit comfortably on Peri’s foot, but they meet all our expectations for a toddler sandal.

Gentle Hiking And Wet Terrain

Little Kid’s Hydro Quench Jr. Sandal

Again, since toddler sandals, or any sandals for that matter, are much less supportive than toddler hiking shoes, we only put these on Peri when we do a gentle hike to a stream, river, or beach.

toddler sandals help a boy cross a stream

In other words, if we have to do some serious hiking in order to get to the water feature, we’ll put him in his Little Kid’s Trail Quest Jr. shoes, and then change him into these once we arrive at the water.

With that said, when we took Peri out to try these sandals, they performed amazingly well.

He was able to climb all over slippery rocks with amazing traction.

Getting in and out of pools, was no issue for him.

boy using toddler sandals in a stream

And, he did so without slipping and falling even a single time.

boy stepping in to water with toddler sandals

They dry super quickly, and are also very easy to put on.

All in all, Peri loves these toddler sandals, and so do we! 

Keep your eyes peeled for our full review of the Little Kid’s Hydro Quench Jr. Sandal, where we’ll go into much more depth about why we like this toddler sandal for Peri.

Toddler Hiking Shoes and Toddler Sandals – Lots To Consider

While there are a lot of things to consider when choosing toddler hiking shoes, toddler sandals or both, frankly, if you keep it simple, you’ll be good to go.

First, use our criteria to find some high-quality footware.

Next, focus on how they fit your toddler.

Lastly, consider the terrain you’ll be on, and then select your shoe!

It’s that simple!

Use any of the three shoes above as a jumping-off point for finding footwear for your own toddler.

And if you keep in mind that no “one shoe fits all” when it comes to toddler footwear, we’re sure you’ll make a great choice!

Lastly, if you have any questions or comments about finding a hiking shoe for your own toddler, we’d be glad to help, so leave us a comment below, and we’ll get back to you just as soon as we can!

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