Hiking and rugged footwear seem to be borrowing a lot from the athletics side of the business these days — everything from comfort to color is finding its way into the new models. The new generation of hikers definitely is taking its cue from the fashion footwear business.
Companies are finding more casual wearers for hiking boots and are trimming heavy lug soles to accommodate the new audience. In athletics, where hiking had running origins, hiking has moved forward with new technology and more functional styling.
Hiking boot bottoms are being made with smaller lugs for ecological reasons and are responsible partly for taking weight off the boot. You do hear some talk about going back to heavier boots, but that’s because the functional hiker comes into and out of the picture, affecting sales, but a return to heavier boots is unlikely.
A growing trend, according to Noss, is the use of an athletic shoe styled upper instead of the more traditional work boot upper.
2 Types of Hikers
There are two kinds of hikers — serious and the Saturday afternoon hiker who maybe wears hikers to the football game as casual footwear, who likes to create the look.
Kangaroos is moving more in the direction of the functional hiker, but actually “splits the middle,” using rugged, functional-type bottoms and more fashion-oriented uppers.
Hikers, by and large, are fashion items. Only a small percentage of hiking boots are worn by serious hikers. And athletic looks are the direction of the future. Hikers are a new category of casual.
If some companies have ditched the lightweight boot in favor of heavier models. Light weight, comfort, and flexibility are here to stay for the foreseeable future. Waterproof is the other key.
Noting that Rocky Boots is part of a support team for two people planning to walk across Africa over the next few months. Because of it not only will be hot but also mountainous, their actual footwear requests were for lightweight hiking boots and running footwear.
Strong Color Use
To generate new sales he sees a trend toward the aggressive use of color. We really will be following the athletic shoe people. The browns and earth tones that were standbys will be eroded by reds, blues, multi-colors in both uppers and outsoles.
Other companies appear to be combining the best of both technical and fashion worlds to woo back enthusiasts who may have felt cheated as of late by the lightweight hikers. These same companies believe the heavier hikers are making a comeback.
Hikers tend to think the lighter weight models do not have the stability of the heavier styles, he explained. The old style looked like a hiking boot and people tend to be more interested in that again. Lightweight boots that had the hiking look were often sold as hiking boots but could not stand up to the terrain. This year Red Wing has a lightweight boot out that has substance. Yeah, it’s lightweight, but it’s a lot of boot.
Comebacks and Crossovers
Hiking shoes are making a comeback with a number of manufacturers offering the category again or for the first time.
Airwalk, Carlsbad, Calif., also is introducing a line of lightweight hikers, with the bright-colored Airwalk look. According to Laura Wollner, marketing communications manager, the hiking line will be marketed to Airwalk’s target age group–8-18 — as well as the 14-25-year-old group. Hiking shoes will work as a crossover product, not as a high-tech item, but more as fun fashion footwear.
Turntec will offer lightweight hikers with the same technology as its running shoes. We are introducing hiking as a new category. The reason we are adding hiking shoes is because a certain percentage of our retail customers already carry hiking shoes, and we want to offer that service to them.
Our mountain bike shoes are designed for the recreational biker, but they also serve as a recreational shoe for bikers that allows them to also hike and climb rocks. The emphasis is a universal shoe that can be used for recreations, somewhat like a cross trainer.
First, there is a bit of a resurgence of the real hiker. The other is a fashion aspect from the inner city and suburban areas. New Balance’s biggest seller in hiking is an all-black model with reflective trim. That’s fashion.
The technical consumer needs a given amount of stability but also wants light weight. They need it sturdy but as light as it can get without being flimsy.
Potpourri of Hues
Using more full-grain leather and nubuck uppers in favor of suede. British Knight’s holiday collection of hikers includes more three-quarter heights and fewer hightops.
Although Adidas is discontinuing its walking category, its hiking sales are growing stronger, marketing manager for Adidas USA Inc., Warren. N.J. Hiking is another story. That’s a market where we are actually expanding our skulls in.
Adidas had its first introduction in the hiking category last fall with the Sequoia, and it plans to add spring introductions also.
It sort of hit a market that, depending on the colorations… captured an inner city business and people who were using it for a legitimate reason. The shoes feature assorted upper materials, including leather and mesh, and newer models will even be offered in more colorways.