Hike Without Pain
One of the best and most natural ways to get and stay in shape is by going on long walks or hikes. Hiking is an excellent choice for low-impact aerobic exercise, since it employs the large muscles of your legs and core in a low-intensity, long-duration workout. Aerobic exercise also burns fat, and evidence suggests that medium-intensity aerobic activity leads your body to choose your fat stores as its source of calories to burn. [Journal of Applied Physiology, Vol. 113 no. 12, 1831-1837] This means that hiking (and strenuous walking in general) is an effective way to burn calories and lose some fat. I have always been an enthusiastic hiker and camper despite suffering at times from a chronic heel pain condition called plantar fasciitis. If you can make hiking and long-walking a part of your weekly exercise regimen, yet you suffer from plantar fasciitis or some other form of chronic foot pain, you will need hiking boots that don't aggravate your condition. This article lists 5 of the top hiking boots for people who suffer from chronic heel and foot pain.
Do not follow where the path may lead.
Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Hiking Boots for Heel Pain Number Five: Vasque Men’s St. Elias GTX
Among the hiking boots on this list with high marks for both durability and comfort is the Vasque Elias GTX boot. I like this pair for its leather uppers and a complete Gore-Tex lining, since my heel pain was helped by both heel cushioning and overall comfort. The Vibram sole protects sensitive feet from the full impact that contributes to plantar fasciitis inflammation, as does the removable insole that gives you comfort options in accordance with the terrain and your own conditioning.
As a plantar fasciitis sufferer, I can vouch for boots like these that cushion the blow of each heel-strike. Since the devilish part of this condition is that it gets worse every time your heels lands on the ground, a boot that softens the blow is an essential part of recovery. After all, if you can't walk, you can't stay in shape, and if you're out of shape, your pain levels rise. It's a vicious circle.
How Are Hiking Boots Different From Regular Outdoor Shoes?
Hiking boots are typically valued for comfort as well as durability and support of your ankles. They have tough, heavy tread that keeps you from slipping on slick, muddy trails; some hiking boots have “lug soles” that are essentially snow tire tread. While comfort is a priority, cushioning heels damaged by plantar fasciitis is not. It can be very difficult to find boots that are both safe and solid on the trail, and also therapeutic for sore feet.
Hiking Boots that Help Your Foot and Heel Pain
While foot-friendly boots that are appropriate for hiking are hard to find, they do exists. It took me a lot of searching, as well as several pairs of boots returned to the seller, to find boots that actually felt good on my aching feet. This list includes boots that helped me, as well as some that have features that I know from personal experience are important for comfort and recovery. These are high-quality hiking boots designed for all kinds of trails and weather conditions.
Hiking Boots for Heel Pain Number Four: Ahnu Coburn
The Ahnu Coburn boot, like the other boots on this list, is a tough and well-reviewed boot that won’t fall apart on the trail. When I tried these boots I immediately felt the support and comfort that heel pain demands. The feature that puts it in my top 5 is the EVA high-density insole that’s designed to reduce heel strike impact. As anyone who suffers from plantar fasciitis knows, you need anything that protects the vulnerable fasciitis that runs under your heel from the impact of the bone. A product like the Ahnu Coburn hiking boot protects the fascia from the full impact of your heel strike.
Plantar Fasciitis: My Heel Pain Experience
Unfortunately for those of us who have battled heel and foot pain, hiking and strenuous walking can really hurt our feet. I battled plantar fasciitis for nearly a year following an ill-advised run on a hilly course, which meant I had trouble walking from the couch to the fridge, let alone setting out on a 10-mile hike through wild woods. I was eager to get in shape and lose a little fat, but it was really hard to make that work. I needed a way to let my injured heels recover.
I have written several articles about my experience with plantar fasciitis heel pain, including pieces about the reparative effect of wearing Nike Air Max running shoes. Plantar fasciitis refers to inflammation and damage to the plantar fascia, which is the name for a band of connective tissue that runs under your heel. It’s one of the unfortunate parts of the design of the human body that our heels end in a bony point or spur, and this point impacts the plantar fascia with every step we take. If we walk too much or too fast, or if we gain weight, the bony heel point can damage the tissue under the heel. The inflammation and pain that results can take forever to resolve – in my case, it took nearly four months before I was back to normal. One reason it takes so long to get better is the fact that every step basically re-injures the fascia, and it’s impossible to not walk for four months while you wait for it to heal! I would have never recovered, it seems, if it weren’t for the cushioning effects of Nike Air Max running shoes.
Hiking Boots for Heel Pain Number Three: Five Ten Camp Four Hiking Boots
Don't let the confusing name throw you off -- these boots are made by a company best known for climbing shoes, so you can expect flexibility, lightweight, and a build meant for agility. Five Ten Camp Four hiking boots are tough, waterproof, and designed for the most challenging terrain (as any quality hiking boot should be). The reason I have them on our list here is that they feature lace-to-toe closures and high-ankle structure that my favorite hiking boots have, so you can give your ankles as much support as they need.
Stanford-Led Study Links Walking in Nature with Lower Risk of Depression
A recent study found empirical evidence for something that those of us who regularly get up and out in nature already know -- hiking is good for your brain. The study, published in 2015,
A new study finds quantifiable evidence that walking in nature could lead to a lower risk of depression. Specifically, the study, published in 2015 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, found that "people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area, as opposed to participants who walked in a high-traffic urban setting, showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression."
It's nice to have this confirmed, but this is one of those "no, duh" findings that anyone who walks, runs, or hikes in nature already knows -- being outside makes you feel better. I myself most often run or walk in busy urban settings, and that feels good -- but the minute I get a chance to run, walk, or hike in the wild, or anything close to it, I jump at the chance. There's just something different, and better, about moving in nature. The study proves it, but so does first-hand experience.
We don’t stop hiking because we grow old –
We grow old because we stop hiking.
— Finis Mitchel
Hiking Boots for Heel Pain Number Two: Nike Air Max Goadome
The Nike Air Max Goadome boot is my go-to for hiking and all-weather outdoor situations. This boot not only has that heel cushion unit, it also provides similar air cushioning in the midsole. This translates into luxurious cushioning throughout virtually the entire sole. Customer reviews typically focus on the boot’s durability, with some reporting that one pair has lasted two years or more, and the high-quality waterproof exterior. Put it all together and you have a pair of out and hiking boots that are both weather proof and fully cushioned with state-of-the art technology. What that means for those of us with aching feet is the freedom to go hiking, with all the fat-burning, spirit-lifting benefits that implies.
Why the Air Max heel unit is special
Nike was started in the 1960’s by two guys who saw a need for highly cushioned athletic shoes. If you have ever worn a pair of old Converse basketball shoes, then you know that these shoes have almost no cushioning at all, and are really all about traction and lightweight construction. The Nike prototype was actually made using foam rubber and a waffle iron; the “waffle pattern” of those first Nike shoes is still evident in nearly every pair of athletic shoes on the market today.
Nike Air Max Heel Units
When it comes to the Air Max heel unit, Nike clearly made comfort and cushioning their top priority. The Air Max heel is actually a highly-designed miniature air bag, divided into units and supported with a tough neoprene “skeleton.” Think of the sheets of blister-packaging, the little cushioning bubbles that protect fragile goods, and you’re on the right track. Those cushioning air bubbles, it turns out, is exactly what a damaged plantar fascia is looking for to help it feel better and recover. When I got my first pair of Air Maxes, I immediately realized that they felt special on my aching feet. Within two weeks I was almost completely cured, and within a month I was as good as new. I was a convert to the Air Max genius.
Hiking Boots for Heel Pain Number One: The Asolo 535 Hiking Boot
Even though the Air Max/Goadome heel unit basically cured my plantar fasciitis, it's the Asolo TPS that is actually designed to fix conditions caused or aggravated by repeated impact on your feet. One of the reasons that hiking is problematic for people with damage to the plantar fascia is that they typically need to carry a substantial amount of weight in the form of a backpack and other gear.
The reason the Asolo TPS 535 hiking boot is number one on my list is that they take this fact into consideration. The soles on the TPS 535 absorb the impact of each heel-strike with a proprietary “Triple Power Structure” technology, utilizing dual density polyurethane shock absorbers combined with Vibram technology. The issue of comfort, so important to a top-quality hiking boot, is taken care of by a chambrelle lining that wicks interior moister. Combine that with an anatomical footbed designed for easy breaking-in, and this boot really does have it all. This is a top-quality boot for those of us who really want to get out there and take on some serious trails.
Hiking and Heel Health
Hiking is, by definition, hard on your feet. You’re taking on steeps, uneven, slippery trails, and you’re walking a long way, sometimes for days. On top of that, you’re often carrying a heavy pack. All of this adds up to a complete nightmare for heel pain, and in fact sounds like a recipe for developing plantar fasciitis even if you’ve never had heel pain in your life. While you don’t necessarily need to run out and get a pair of Air Max heel hiking boots before you start hiking agin, it may be worth considering, especially if you’re getting older, have gained weight, or are planning a hike with a heavy pack over long distances. Throw in steep, hilly terrain and you’ve really got a recipe for fascia destruction.
HONORABLE MENTION: Phaserbound
In addition to sporting a pretty great name, Phaserbound offers a great boot with features much appreciated by us sufferers of chronic heel pain. The boot is not flashy -- other than that name – but it makes up for its simplicity with its impact-deflecting Vibram sole and a foot-supporting cushioned ankle. Look for features like these when you’re buying a new pair of boots and your feet are already starting to twinge.
In all things of nature, there is something of the marvelous.
Journal of Applied Physiology, Vol. 113 no. 12, 1831-1837
Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 2014 Volume:44 Issue:11 Pages:A1–A33
BootBomb: A Quick Summary Of The Best Mens, Womens Hiking Boots For Plantar Fasciitis In 2017
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Sam on February 20, 2018:
I have flat feet.. How long do i need to wear flat feet support sandal?? Only till i get the archs..?
Paul Jonsson, Woking UK on September 21, 2017:
Very useful list. I enjoy long distance walking but eventually my heels play up. I might need some better boots. Time to shop!
Ruth Nodel on September 14, 2017:
do these boots come in womens sizes too? i have used a keene hiking boot for about 4 years now and i need a new boot. i appreciate your article here. thank you
GreenMind Guides (author) from USA on February 13, 2017:
Hey thanks! Glad my work can help.
Mary Wickison from Brazil on February 13, 2017:
Although I don't suffer from this, I can appreciate how difficult it must be to find a hiking boot which will allow a suffer to stay active.
You've done a wonderful job explaining the benefits of each of boots you recommend.