To Boot or Not to Boot

Tennis Shoes, Anyone?
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I've always maintained that for toddlers and preschoolers, tennis shoes are usually all that's needed. After all, kids this age typically aren't doing much more than taking nature walks.

However, there's a very important clause here:

The tennis shoes must have good grip.

A friend of mine recently forgot about this necessity, and it made her weekend miserable. We were taking a group of young children on an overnight trip to a hut in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

The trail to the hut wasn't long, about one and three-quarters miles, but there was some climbing and plenty of rocks and roots to trip up little feet.

My friend had a pair of hiking boots for her four-year-old, but he refused to wear them, so she left them home. As a result, her son took on the trail using a pair of old-fashioned Keds, the kind that have virtually smooth soles.

The poor boy kept falling, slipping, and sliding. His mother's trip was nearly ruined with worry. Her older son was at home with a broken ankle, and she was terrified at the thought of another cast in the family.

The next day, on the trip down the mountain, she put her son in Tevas, which aren't a good choice for hiking (there's no support or protection for scratches and scrapes), but at least they had much better grip than did the Keds.

Here are two basic tenets to keep in mind when selecting hiking footwear for kids:

  • Get a grip. Whether you go with hiking boots or tennis shoes, be sure the footwear you choose has excellent traction. Whether your child is jumping from rock to rock or simply running over some wet leaves, his or her shoes should help him avoid as many falls — not to mention blisters — as possible.
  • Think quality.Nobody wants to spend an arm and a leg on shoes that your child will soon outgrow, but cheap footwear is cheap footwear. There are plenty of what I call"pseudo-boots" on the market. These things look like boots, except they're poorly made and therefore fit poorly. Avoid them. You're much better off with a good pair of tennis shoes than a pair of these things.

I always regret when I cast aside my better judgment and purchase cheap tennis shoes. After a month or two, most of the 10-and 12-dollar tennis shoes we've purchased start smelling to high heaven, and the synthetic materials can't be washed. I end up banishing them to the garage or throwing them away.

Your child deserves a pair of boots or shoes that fits well and will perform well on varied types of terrain.

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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