Footwear is an extremely important consideration on the trail. You are going to need you feet to keep you going each and everyday. I looked at a few things when making my decisions as to the footwear choices I have made, however, I am going to cover as much of the decision making process as I can from the beginning.
There are several types of footwear when it comes to hiking, so lets list the various options to choose from and them we will expand from there on what properties are best for each type. (Definitions are from Wikipedia)
Mountaineering boots are usually taller, stiffer, and insulated. The boots can be made of leather, plastic, or modern synthetic materials like Kevlar. The extra height and stiffness of mountaineering boots helps support the climber in steep terrain where flexible boots could cause unsure footing and possibly result in a fall. This extra stiffness is traditionally achieved through the use of a full steel shank, though some manufacturers have begun to use carbon fiber to create the necessary stiffness. Mountaineering boots are typically designed to be used with crampons. The stiffness of the boot enhances the precision of the crampon and allows a climber to pursue steeper and more difficult terrain. (These will not be used on the Appalachian Trail Thru-hike; this would be overkill, it is too much boot)
(Pictures are of leather boot, synthetic boot, and crampons)
Hiking boots are constructed to provide comfort for miles of walking over rough terrains, and protect the hiker's feet against water, mud, rocks, and other wilderness obstacles. Hiking boots support the ankle to avoid twisting but should not restrict the ankle's movement much. They also must be fairly stiff to support the foot. A properly fitted boot and/or friction-reducing patches applied to troublesome areas can ensure protection against blisters and other discomforts associated with long hikes on rugged terrain.
(Pictures are of full leather boot, leather & synthetic boot, and full sythetic boot)
Halfway between a running shoe and a hiking boot, these are specificially designed shoes that have aggressively knobby soles that are generally more rigid than road running shoes. The usually EVA compound midsole often contain a lightweight, flexible nylon plastic layer to protect the feet from puncture wounds from sharp rocks or other objects. Trail running shoes are low to the ground which provides the best stability on uneven terrain. (We chose trail runners from Gore-tex as the first boot starting from Springer Mountain, GA)
(Pictures are of the Trail runners that I chose: Vasque Velocity GTX)
Some hikers go with a shoe designed for long distance running, without any purpose for hiking. Some hikers feel that the lack of ankle support helps to strengthen their ankles. Some feel that they constantly breath easier and go without Gore-Tex fabric. Some hikers believe that Gore-Tex just cannot breathe enough under intense hiking conditions; as well some tend to experience that NON Gore-tex shoes DRY faster. Many days will be soaking wet on the trail and your boots could take days to dry, thus the NON Gore-tex would benefit in this situation. These types of shoes are usually made of flexible compounds, typically featuring a sole made of dense rubber. Usually an extremely light type of shoe that offer no puncture resistance or stiff type of sole. On the contrary, ususally they bend easily. (There is a good chance that we will move to an extremely light/comfortable NON Gore-tex running shoe in the summer; I hear some have done the hike in Chacos )
Usually this is a type of footwear that gives your feet a break after being trapped inside boots most of the time. Some hikers use Crocs. I personally don't like the Crocs because they are not the best all around solution for use when you are not hiking. For example if you are going to be in town or fording a river, yet don't want to get your boots wet... you can use something like I have chose. My choice is still going to dry very quickly. One of my other concerns was that they slipped on. When you put the back of the shoe down and stand on it... the shoe becomes a slip on.
(Salomon Techamphibian 2 shown below)
(This article will not cover FOOTCARE. We will cover that later. Most likely when we get to First Aid kit and First Aid itself)