To Boot or Not to Boot

Does Your Child Need Hiking Boots?
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Choosing Boots for Kids

There's plenty of good news about boot-buying for kids.

Their hiking boots don't have to be outrageously expensive. There's plenty of selection. And they can wear these boots to school and to play, in addition to hikes, making them a practical item, not simply a luxury.

When adults buy hiking boots, it's a major deal. They're more expensive and most people hope they'll be wearing their new purchase for several years at a minimum. It's a bit of a marriage. Not so with kids.

They're probably going to wear them for a year at most, so you don't have to spend days researching them. Go to any good outdoor store and the sales associates can guide you to reputable brands and models that provide a comfortable fit.

When I decided my six-year-old needed boots, we zeroed in on two possible models:

* L.L. Bean's Trailblazers, a low-cut combination of hikers, sneakers, and trail runners. The suede/nylon material gives them some water resistance; the shoe provides better padding and support than do many tennis shoes; the traction is also better too. And at $32, they're the same price, if not cheaper, than a good pair of sneakers. They're low-cut, so there's not as much ankle support as with a boot, but kids are apt to find them more comfortable as a result.

* L.L. Bean's Day Hikers. These boots rise above the ankle, giving the ankle the support that's so vital on many trails. The rubber soles provide excellent traction. And again, at $38, they're reasonably priced for well-made footwear.

My son decided he preferred the Trailblazers, so that's what we're using. I liked the added ankle support of the Day Hikers, but half of the battle with boots is getting your child to enjoy and therefore wear them, so we're both happy.

When my son is a bit older and hiking more and more challenging trails, we'll graduate to something like Bean's Gore-Tex Day Hikers, which are breathable, more waterproof, and provide even greater grip. But they're priced at $58, so I'll wait until Will is ready to pile up plenty of trail miles.

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Any parent knows how expensive shoes are. What's worse, costs quickly mount up when you have to buy tennis shoes, dress shoes, sandals, winter boots, and rain boots.

Do you really need to add hiking boots to this list?

The answer depends on how much hiking your child will be doing and on what type of terrain.

For instance, I just got my six-year-old son his first real pair of hiking boots. Until this summer, good tennis shoes or other shoes with good traction have served him well. But this summer we tackled some steep trails that required significant rock scrambling. It was high time for an extra dose of traction.

Add to this the bonus that if you wait a bit, the hiking boots will seem like a reward for slightly older children. My son is proud of his new hikers, and he loves to perch on rocks and show me how well they grip.

I can foresee that my twin girls, now age one, might get their first hiking boots a bit earlier than my son. Last summer we were busy tending to new babies, so Will didn't get to hike much. But by the time the girls are four or five, they'll have plenty of opportunities to scramble to keep up with their big brother.

Here's a little primer on hiking boots and kids.


Article and photos © Alice Cary


Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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