Filter your choices
There are more niche-specific light hikers than there are swimming events at the Olympics, so figure out what you need. For scrambling and approach: a sticky sole and a protective rubber rand. For rough trail hiking: a deep lugged outsole and a cupped heel pocket. For multi-sport: cushioning, flexible sole and light weight. For light overnights: a mid to full cut and a half shank. For rainy or muddy places: a waterproof liner and leather construction.
Leather and nubuck are tougher than synthetics; the thicker, the better. Midsoles that have PU and/or EVA cushion your feet and provide support longer. Squeeze the heel rise; it should be stiff, not flimsy.
Go to the store later in the day when your feet are swollen, and bring your hiking socks and insoles. Visit reputable retailers with trained staff, and ask lots of questions. Try on several pairs and walk around in each for five to 10 minutes.
Get the right fit
There should be no pressure or pinch spots, no movement in the heel. You want room to wiggle your toes without touching the shoe, and room between the eyelets to tighten and loosen laces. Remember: Leather shoes will stretch a little, but synthetic ones won’t.
Take them home
Wear them around the house for a couple of hours before taking them outside, to make sure the fit is still good. Apply the appropriate weatherproofing, even for waterproof shoes.