Having good hiking equipment and attire to cover all of your needs and requirements can definitely make your time on the trail more enjoyable. But having the best hiking boots is crucial for both your comfort and safety.
Hiking boots alone can easily be the difference between a great outdoor experience, and a nightmare trip, but with so many brands, types and models out there, knowing what exactly you should be looking for is easier said than done.
In this guide, we’ll tell you exactly how to choose a hiking boot, so that the next time you get an outdoor footwear upgrade, you’ll have no problems at all!
How to Choose a Hiking Boot
If you’re shopping around for the right pair of hiking boots, you’re likely to come across a wealth of different options – from brands, materials, styles, features and more.
With so many variables available, this is likely to cause some confusion, so we’ve broken this down to give you a better understanding, and make it that much easier to get your head around:
Although hiking boots nearly always have soles made from rubber, the actual fabric of the boot itself that tightens around your foot can be made from a range of different materials.
The material you choose to go for can have a big impact on how effective your shoe is when dealing with water/moisture, how much it weighs, as well as how durable and hard-wearing it is.
Nubuck and Suede
Although more comfortable than full-grain leather, the downside is that it’s not quite as hardwearing, and doesn’t offer as much water-resistance.
This is extremely durable, and also has fantastic water-resistant properties. However, it’s very heavy, and often isn’t very breathable.
This covers a range of materials, such as nylon, polyester, polyurethane and more. Synthetics are often designed to imitate the good qualities of other, natural-forming materials – such as leather, wool or cotton – but sometimes manage to do this without including their bad properties. Because of this, synthetics tend to be lighter, more moisture-resistant, and more flexible too.
These are often placed between the outer and inner layers of hiking boots, in order to form a waterproof barrier. This allows certain materials that aren’t completely waterproof to be used on the outside of a boot, whilst allowing more comfortable and breathable materials to be used on the inside.
More common in sports trainers that hiking shoes, this is extremely breathable, but offers very little water-resistance, and is also prone to tearing or breaking.
A ‘rand’ or toe cap is a bumper that’s placed at the toe of the boot that acts as a shield against sudden impacts. These are usually made of hardened rubber or plastic, and can sometimes be found on the heel or sides of the boot as well.
A gusseted tongue is a type of tongue that’s attached to the upper section of the boot. This prevents dirt, grit, and gravel from getting inside, to keep your feet comfortable.
Traction is extremely important, especially when traversing challenging terrain, as this will prevent you from slipping over, and help reduce the risk of injury.
Understanding a hiking boot’s lugs (the tread on the bottom – like than on a car tire) will give you an indication of what terrain they’ll be best suited for. Wide, shallow lugs are better suited for a smoother terrain, whereas deeper and narrow lugs offer better traction in harsher, uneven terrains.
Different sized and shaped lugs also work differently in wetter or drier conditions too. It’s important to get the balance between something that’s efficient, but also gives you stability when tacking different parts of the trail.
As mentioned before, as little as 1 pound extra weight on your hiking boots can make a huge difference, especially if going on an all-day hike.
The only downside is that heavier boots tend to offer the most support, which is something you might need when tackling tough terrain. The lighter your footwear the better – but you shouldn’t sacrifice durability or support in order to pick up something that’s lightweight.
Why Should You Wear Hiking Boots?
There are various reasons why you might want to choose a hiking boot over other types of footwear than can be worn on the trail.
Experienced hikers know that a good pair of boots can offer the perfect balance between something that’s lightweight, durable, water-resistant and tough enough to resist tears and scratches in rough terrain. Having heavy footwear can really sap your energy when hiking, but it’s also important to have something that can provide you with adequate support, to avoid any potential injuries or falls.
Although hiking boots are often heavier than trainers, or minimal hiking-based shoes, they’re well worth the extra weight, as the stability and protection they offer is second to none. In short, hiking boots are the ideal all-round shoe for hiking – hence why the most experienced hikers nearly always opt for them!
Types of Hiking Boots
Here are the main types of hiking boots:
Some hiking boots are low-cut, giving them a more casual and minimal look and feel. Although they may not offer as much support as high-rising hiking boots, they make up for that with their lighter weight.
Day Hiking Boots
Day hiking boots tend to lie somewhere in between normal hiking boots and hiking shoes, and are often mid-cut, meaning that they’re higher than the ankles, but don’t rise much above the bottom of the shin.
These are ideal for slightly longer hikes, but in terrains where you don’t need loads of protection against uneven ground. They’re also a good idea if you’re carrying a backpack, as the extra weight you’re carrying will require some added support.
Backpacking boots are designed for longer trips – often spanning multiple days – and are also suitable for carrying heavier loads.
Because of this, they offer fantastic support, and are ultra-durable and hardwearing, making them suitable for even the most unforgiving terrains. Ideal for those wild adventures in the mountains, or those multi-day hikes in varied landscapes.
What Are the Advantages of Hiking Boots?
Despite them often being heavier and slightly more clunky than other shoes – such as trainers, or minimal shoes – the main advantages of hiking boots lies within the protection they offer. Hiking boots offer optimal protection against twisted ankles and slips or falls, and are also constructed to be ultra-tough.
The material used in their design also makes them great for different temperatures, landscapes, weather conditions and more. Although other footwear can be worn in more tame and predictable conditions, for those obstacle-heavy trails, uneven craggy rocks or wet and sludgy conditions, hiking boots are the best way to ensure that your feet will stay safe, comfortable and dry the entire time.
Although hiking boots used to be a lot clunkier, some manufacturers have been able to make some efficient modern designs, that are surprisingly lightweight and comfortable. They also offer a range of colors, styles and sizing adjustments, allowing you to make them perfect for you – both in the way they look and the way they fit!
How to Fit Hiking Boots
If you feel you know enough about hiking boots – their various materials, uses, properties, etc. – then you’re ready to try on some for yourself.
The best way to do this is to go to your local outdoors store, or retailer, and try them on in person. Alternatively, you can measure up your feet at home and buy a pair online instead.
Get Your Hiking Boots in the Right Size
You can either get your feet measured professionally in-store, or you can measure your feet at home yourself. It’s important to re-measure your feet for hiking boots, rather than assuming you’ll be the same size as you are for all your other shoes, as hiking boots will fit differently, and you’ll most likely be wearing different socks than you do when wearing your normal shoes.
When measuring your feet, it’s best to do this standing up as this is more accurate to what you’ll be doing when wearing hiking boots. Bear in mind though that sizes can vary greatly between brands.
Keep in Mind the Shape of Your Feet
Not only do feet differ in length, but they also differ greatly in width. Some people have narrower feet, that struggle to reach the sides of their shoes or boots, whilst others have wider feet, and need their footwear to accommodate this.
In short, you’re unlikely to be the same ‘shoe size’ in all shoe types or brands, so you’ll need your hiking boots to adhere to this for them to be comfortable and safe.
Put the Hiking Boots On
When trying hiking boots on, it’s important to move – walk around, wiggle your toes, do whatever you need to imitate what you’ll be using them for.
This will give you a more accurate idea of how they will feel on the trail.
- Make sure to wear the same socks as you would when wearing the boots for real – socks with different thicknesses can have a big impact on the overall fit.
- Consider trying boots on in the afternoon or evening, as your feet will usually swell throughout the day, so this will give a more accurate-to-life fit.
- Always put both shoes on – your feet aren’t perfectly symmetrical, so just because your left foot fits well, doesn’t mean your right will too!
- Walk up and down – slopes, stairs, ramps, whatever can imitate the different terrains you might be walking in. Make sure when walking that the boots don’t tug too much on your toes or heels, as this could create blisters after prolonged use.
- Your foot should always feel secure in the boot, regardless of the surface you’re walking on.
- Consider buying insoles to add padding inside, as this can also reduce discomfort when hiking over long distances.
How to Break in Your New Hiking Boots
Although many manufacturers design their boots to be worn the moment you buy them, some still need to be ‘broken in’ or ‘worn in’. This is where both your foot and the boot get used to each other.
This will allow your feet to harden in places where the boot might tug a bit tighter, but will also encourage the material of the boot to flex to accommodate this too.
You should aim to wear them for at least an hour in total (broken up into small chunks), before heading out on the trail for a long walk. If any irritation caused doesn’t go away over time, then the boots might just be a bad fit.
Important Hiking Boot Accessories
Here are a few accessories you should consider getting:
Insoles sit on the base of the boot, and are what your foot is in most contact with when standing up. They vary in material, thickness and texture, but are designed to add comfort and warmth, as well as wick away any excess moisture, to ensure that your feet feel comfortable and dry. Some are also designed for hygiene reasons, and include antibacterial properties.
Gaiters are small cuff-like covers that wrap around your lower shin. They prevent dirt, grit and rain from getting into the boots, so they remain comfortable throughout your hike. Although they might not be necessary, in certain conditions they can make a huge difference to your overall experience, so they might be worth picking up.
Although there seems to be an almost unlimited number of things to consider when choosing the right hiking boot, with enough understanding of what each of these things are for, you’ll have the know-how to pick the perfect pair for you. Aim for something lightweight and durable, with suitable traction for your chosen terrain, as well as offering some water-resistance.
The perfect pair doesn’t exist, but if you take your time when shopping around, you’ll find the pair that’s just right for you. The extra time spent is always worth it in the end – hopefully now you know just how to choose a hiking boot!