Choosing the right shoes for your beginner walker by Rebcca Hosley for Hike it Baby

One of the most exciting milestones for a parent is watching their little one take their first wobbling, awkward steps. Watching your child grow up (and realizing you need to up your baby-proofing game ASAP) is enough to make anyone emotional! I remember tearing up and being filled with maternal pride as my son would take a few steps, plop on his bottom, get up and repeat the process over and over.

I will admit, however, the last thing on my mind was finding the right shoe for my little guy. While learning to walk is best done barefoot, there are various situations where shoes are a must for the safety of those precious little feet. For example, many outdoor surfaces can get very hot very quick during the summer. In addition, new-to-you trails may come with unknown surprises (such as glass or metal, especially in more urban settings). So how do you find the right shoe for little walkers? Read on to find the answers to some frequently asked questions along with our suggestions for the perfect first shoe for your little one.

What should parents look for in a new little walker’s shoe?

One of the most important features to look for is flexibility. Young walkers are already unstable on their feet, and a stiff, inflexible shoe can make it worse! Also, you want a “close to the ground” feel, which will feel similar to going barefoot. You may have heard this type of shoe termed as having a “0, kidddd MM drop,” which refers to a shoe that sits flat on a leveled surface with little to no cushioning throughout the shoe (normal adult shoes feature double the cushioning in the heel). Lastly, a wide toe box is important to allow for proper foot growth.

Does shoe material matter?

Absolutely! Have you ever removed your kiddo’s shoes only to find their feet soaked with sweat? That’s because children’s feet sweat about 2-3 times MORE than adult feet! This makes it important to choose a shoe made with breathable materials (such as leather and synthetics). Also, as mentioned earlier, flexibility is key for new walkers, so a soft and malleable shoe material is also important to promote that flexibility.

Choosing the right shoes for your beginner walker by Rebecca Hosley for Hike it Baby

Anything we should know about the growth of the foot?

Children’s feet grow rapidly, gaining up to a full size every three months! In addition, many children have wide feet (width is measured as the circumference of the child’s foot), even if they don’t appear wide. This makes measuring your child’s foot super important when looking to find a pair of shoes that fit well. I made the mistake of assuming that my son just needed the next size up when his shoes started getting tight. After hearing him complain that his new shoes hurt, I finally got him sized at a store and discovered that he gained two sizes and had wide feet! Check out this handy sizing chart from our friends at Merrell to help you determine the proper shoe size for your child.

How much support does a kid need for hiking shoes?

For a toddler who is just starting to walk, a flexible shoe with very little support is ideal in order to promote their walking development. As kids get older and more efficient at running, jumping, etc., a little extra cushioning support (such as a 4-8MM drop vs. the 0MM drop for new walkers) can be helpful.

Where can I find shoes that fit this criteria?

As more and more research emerges on the importance of shoes that won’t inhibit the proper growth and development of little feet, some shoe companies are designing shoes for just that purpose. Our favorite is the brand new line from Merrell called the Merrell Bare Steps™ collection. This new toddler shoe line features rounded edges on the outsole along with an extra wide toe box to follow the natural shape of toddler feet and promote proper foot development while also accommodating rapid foot growth and wide foot widths. These shoes provide a barefoot feel and super flexibility through the use of multi-directional grooves. Since beginner walkers are unstable on their feet, these shoes are also outfitted with Merrell’s M-Select GRIP outsoles for extra traction and stability on wet and dry ground. To top it off, the wide openings and alternative closures make it easy to get squirmy little feet into these shoes. You can check out the awesome new Merrell Bare Steps™ collection, which comes in both sneakers and boots.

Choosing the right shoes for your beginner walker by Rebecca Hosley for Hike it Baby

This post is sponsored by Merrell and Hike it Baby received compensation in exchange for writing this post.

Photos by Deanna Curry, Michelle Pearl Gee and Laura Castro.


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