Proper footwear is one key to happy hiking, preventing the sore, bruised, tired or blistered feet that threaten to ruin any excursion. No single hiking shoe or boot is suited to every hiking type or environment, however. Trail shoes, trail hikers or hiking boots differ respectively in terms of weight, sturdiness and ankle support. Trail shoes are suitable for short trips with light gear, whereas hiking boots provide additional cushion and support to counter the load of a backpack.
As a rule, choose the lightest footwear that supports your particular foot needs (padding, arch support, etc. -- check with your doctor or an outdoor shoe specialist if you're uncertain about what you need) and suits the type of hike you are planning. Consider likely weather and environmental conditions as well: A warm, waterproof boot, for example, is unsuited to desert hiking.
The fit should be snug yet comfortable: Most hiking boots stretch a bit as you break them in, but not enough to correct a poor fit. They should allow your foot to roll from heel to toe but provide more lateral (side-to-side) support than a walking shoe. You'll want to break in your boots before hitting the trail, so try wearing them for short periods, working up to longer ones. Any pinching, rubbing or pain might be a sign you need to exchange them for a different style.
The right socks are also essential for avoiding blisters and regulating temperature. Most hikers recommend the two-sock system -- wearing a synthetic sock liner under an outer sock. The inner sock wicks away moisture, keeping feet and inner socks dry to prevent friction that can lead to hot spots or blisters. Wool or wool blend outer socks absorb moisture and regulate heat well, even while wet.
The remainder of your apparel should be both comfortable and suited to your environment. Body heat and outdoor temperature will fluctuate as you hike, so dress in layers or in clothes with zip-away sections to avoid becoming chilled or overheated. A hydration pack will help you keep on top of your water consumption, letting you hydrate while on the move, and can double as a daypack for storing other essentials.
Now that you're decked out for a hike, let's discuss an item that can help you stick with it.