two people grasp hands while on a hike
two people grasp hands while on a hike

Leveling Up Your Hiking Skills

Here at KEEN, we love hiking in all of its forms. We love casual forest strolls and fast hikes on the weekend. We love walks in the park and treks to summit views. The beauty of hiking is that it can be anything (and anywhere) you want it to be. Sometimes you follow signs. Sometimes you follow cairns. And sometimes you simply make your own way.

But while every hike is worth the effort, some hikes require a little more effort than others. From boulder fields to muddy switchbacks, there is some terrain that takes the challenge of hiking one step further.

It’s for these hikes — the spicy ones — that we designed our NXIS hiking sneakers. Because no terrain is the same, these light, fast, and stable shoes are made to handle all of it. They let you cruise on flats and fly across uneven terrain. They let you see more sights and experience more outdoor goodness.

To help you unlock the world of challenging hikes and technical terrain, we’ve also compiled the following list of skills to complement your hike.


Part climbing and part hiking, scrambling is where you use both your hands and feet to move yourself upward. It’s less technical than climbing (no special shoes or rope required), but more intensive than casual hiking. It’s an essential skill to have when you encounter steep, rocky sections or boulder fields on your hike. Here are some tips for safe scrambling:

• Assess the difficulty of the scramble. Ask yourself: Does this terrain look so steep that a fall would have serious consequences? Is this something I can climb back down? If you feel like you might get into trouble, skip it.

• Put away your trekking poles. You’ll want to have your hands free to grip rocks.

a person scrambles up onto a large boulder

• Test out rocks and boulders before putting your full weight on them. Loose rocks can shift under your weight.

• Pause to look up. This will help you stay on course and prepare for what’s ahead.

Hiking through Scree

When you’re hiking through alpine environments, you might encounter scree. Scree is an accumulation of small, loose rocks on mountain slopes, and it’s notoriously unfun (and potentially dangerous) to hike through. But when you push through, scree slopes often reward with summit views. Here are some tips for hiking through scree:

• Make peace with the inevitable backward slide. As mentally (and physically) exhausting as it may be to step and slide through loose terrain, you will get to the top if you just keep moving.

• Let your feet sink into the scree to gain traction. When you’re going up, dig your toes in. When you’re going down, dig your heels in.

• Test each foothold before putting your full weight onto it.

• Use trekking poles to aid with balance.

KEEN tip: When you’re hiking through scree, small, jagged rocks love to get into your shoes. Wear gaiters with your footwear to avoid this annoyance.

two hikers make their way across a scree field

Clip-In Hikes

Want to really challenge yourself and test your limits? You can take your hiking skills into the realm of climbing and alpinism by trying out a clip-in hike. Referred to as a via ferrata, or “iron path,” these hybrid hiking-climbing routes utilize hardware that is attached to rock walls and iron cables that hikers clip into in order to safely ascend mountain routes. We love clip-in hikes because they allow hikers to access difficult terrain without specialized rock climbing skills or equipment. Here are a few tips for trying them out:

• Choose the right route. Via ferratas can range from short scrambles to arduous climbs, and there are different rating systems in different countries. Do your research to make sure your route is within your comfort level.

• Acquire a via ferrata set. This will include a harness, energy-absorbing lanyards with attached carabiners, and a climbing helmet. You can often rent these from outdoor retailers and via ferrata guiding companies.

• Enjoy the view. There’s nothing like the thrill of standing on a suspension bridge over thin air or looking down from a ladder a thousand feet up.

KEEN tip: Via Ferratas are particularly popular in the Italian Dolomites and the French Alps, but you can try them out right here in the United States too! Check out the via ferratas at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area in California, or take on the notoriously challenging hike up Half Dome. Experience views from up high in Telluride, or visit vertical walls in Kentucky, New Mexico and West Virginia.

Traversing Snow

While climbing up snowy peaks is a mountaineers game, hikers often encounter snow on the trails, too (particularly on early-season or high-elevation hikes). From small patches to snow fields, it's essential to know how to safely move across snow. Here are some quick tips:

two hikers make their way across a snowfield using trekking poles

• Assess the conditions. If you think a snowy slope might pose an avalanche risk, avoid it.

• Know the risks. While walking on soft or melting snow, you might break through the surface. In slushy or icy snow, you might slip or slide. While firm snow is the easiest to move across, it’s not always what you encounter when on the go. Move slowly and intentionally.

• Wear shoes with good traction, like our NXIS hiking shoes.

• When you’re moving across snowfields, practice kicking steps. This is when you kick the edge of your foot into the snow perpendicular to a slope to create a platform.

• Use trekking poles or an ice axe for balance.

Hiking through Water

From streams to rivers to water-filled slot canyons, water is a common feature you might encounter on your hike. Here are some tips for moving through it with confidence:

• When traversing streams, scout to find the safest place to cross. Look for rocks you can walk across and slow-moving sections of flow.

• If there are plenty of rocks and logs to make a dry crossing above the water, move carefully. Test each surface before putting your full weight on it to make sure it’s solid. Use trekking poles to aid with balance.

• If you have to get your feet wet, keep your shoes on to avoid injury from sharp rocks and other hazards. As you move over rocky creek bottoms, make sure that each foot is secure before moving the other foot. If you’re moving through water with a strong current, face upstream and shuffle sideways so you aren’t knocked off balance.

With a pair of all-terrain hiking sneakers and the know-how to handle challenging trails, there’s no limit to the terrain you can see when you travel by foot. Tag us @KEEN to let us know where your NXIS hiking sneakers take you.

a person hops across rocks while crossing a stream

Related Stories

Behind Targhee IV: Our Most Durable Targhee Yet
Behind Targhee IV: Our Most Durable Targhee Yet
Wedge Sole vs. 90-Degree Heel: What’s the Difference?
Wedge Sole vs. 90-Degree Heel: What’s the Difference?
What Is PFAS Free?
What Is PFAS Free?
Delivering TLC to Fans & Forest in Kentucky
Delivering TLC to Fans & Forest in Kentucky
SUPing With Baby Sharks
SUPing With Baby Sharks
KEEN-parison: Which Cozy Slip-Ons for Winter Days?
KEEN-parison: Which Cozy Slip-Ons for Winter Days?
10 Tips for Happier Winter Hiking
10 Tips for Happier Winter Hiking
KEEN-parison: Winter Work Boot Traction
KEEN-parison: Winter Work Boot Traction