So you are looking at purchasing a brand new pair of hiking boots but you don’t know where to start? I’ve been there. There’s so much to choose from, from which type of boot, which materials to go for and everything in between. This guide to how to choose the perfect hiking boots will give you the confidence to go out and purchase that boot stat.
Hiking boots have the power to make or break your hike. You will either spend the day skipping through the forest or cringing with every step. Here’s hoping for the former after you have read this guide.
How to choose the perfect hiking boots | The Fit
The fit of your hiking boot should be the most first feature you look at. A properly fitted boot will help prevent blisters and a thoroughly uncomfortable hike. You can get professional fittings but if for some reason you can’t here are some things to keep in mind when trying on different boots.
When trying on hiking boots:
- Try them on at the end of the day when your feet have naturally swelled to their largest
- Pop on your hiking socks when trying on new boots. Hiking socks tend to be thicker than regular ole socks
- Walk around the shop to see how they feel, they should be snug enough that they don’t move around as you walk but not so snug that you can feel the front of the boot with your toes. Your heel also shouldn’t raise as you step
- When you push your toes to the front of the boot, you should be able to slide two fingers down either side of the Achilles
- If you wear insoles, make sure to use them in the boots you are trying on
But, how to choose the perfect hiking boots doesn’t stop with the fit! Nope. Nuh-uh. You also need to be aware of the purpose you will be using the boots for annnnnd think about the different components of the boot. Sigh. If only it were that easy….
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How to choose the perfect hiking boots | The Purpose
Think about what you will be using your hiking boots for. Will it be mostly shorter hikes? Multi-day hikes? Mountaineering? Climbing? What weather conditions will you mainly be hiking in? Also, think about the terrain you will be mostly hiking on. Think about where you will be hiking. These are all things to keep in mind as they will affect what type of boot you will need.
If you are going for mainly longer hikes you will need more support in your boots. Generally, when you hike longer, your bag will be heavier which in turn means you will need more support.
Shorter hikes means you can have a lighter, more flexible boot.
The weather and other environmental factors will determine if you need a breathable mesh shoe or a waterproof boot. If you do a lot of stream crossings this will affect what kind of boot you go for.
This is why when asked, ‘what are you going to use the boots for’, answering with,’hiking’ probably isn’t quite specific enough when searching for the perfect hiking boot.
Types of hiking boots:
- Hiking shoes: These are low-cut with flexible midsoles. Some ultralight backpackers may even choose trail-running shoes for long-distance journeys.
- Day hiking boots: These range from mid- to high-cut models and are intended for day hikes or short backpacking trips with light loads. They often flex easily and require little break-in time, but they lack the support and durability of stout backpacking boots.
- Backpacking boots: These are designed to carry heavier loads on multi-day trips deep into the backcountry. Most have a high cut that wraps above the ankles for excellent support. Durable and supportive, with stiffer midsoles than lighter footwear, they are suitable for on- or off-trail travel.
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How to choose the perfect hiking boots | The Components
Think about the parts that make up your boot. You will need to look at the hiking boot uppers, midsoles, internal support and outsoles. Phew! That’s a lot to think about.
Boot uppers are what makes up the complete upper part of your boot including the outside and often a membrane. Different materials will impact a boot’s weight, breathability, durability and water resistance. The materials will also affect how much you pay for your hiking boots.
- Full-grain leather: Full-grain letter is most commonly used for extended trips, heavy loads and rugged terrain. This material has durability, abrasion resistance as well as good water resistance. However, it isn’t as light or breathable as some of the other options and you will need to break them in well before a long hike.
- Split-grain leather: This is usually paired with nylon or nylon mesh as this creates a lightweight boot with breathability. Usually, this is a cheaper option. However, there is less water resistance and abrasion resistance.
- Nubuck leather: Nubuck leather resembles suede, but it is a full-grain letter that has been buffed. It is a durable material that offers water and abrasion resistance as well as being fairly flexible. However, you will need to break these in.
- Synthetics: Synthetic materials are common and include polyester, nylon and synthetic leather. These boots will be lighter than leather boots and break in fairly quickly. They tend to be cheaper than leather boots. However, they are less durable.
- Waterproof membranes: Waterproof boots usually are constructed with a waterproof/breathable membrane to keep feet dry in wet conditions. However, this reduces the breathability compared to other types of boots and are often harder to dry.
- Vegan: Vegan-friendly hiking boots and shoes are made without any animal ingredients or byproducts.
- Insulation: Synthetic insulation is added to some mountaineering boots for warmth when hiking on snow and glaciers.
This is your cushion. The midsole protects your feet from shock and will determine how stiff your boot is. Stiff boots are great for long hikes as well as uneven terrain. However, if you are going for mainly shorter hikes with smoother trails, you may want a more flexible boot.
EVA and polyurethane are the most common options.
EVA is lighter and a bit cheaper whereas polyurethane is generally firmer and more durable.
Internal support is found between a boots midsole and outsole. They provide extra protection from rocks and roots as well as load-bearing stiffness to the midsole. These will be in the form of shanks (not the ones you eat) and plates.
Shanks are 3-5mm thick inserts that are placed between the midsole and outsole. This adds load-bearing stiffness to the midsole. You can get ones that span the entire length of the midsole or ones that cover half.
Plates are also placed between the midsole and outsole, if there is a shank, these puppies go under them. Plates will protect your feet from getting bruised by roots or uneven rocks.
Outsoles are the bits of the sole you see on the outside of the boots. These are always rubber, sometimes additives are added to increase hardness and increase durability. Things to look at are the lug pattern and heel brake.
The lugs are the bumps on the outsole that provides traction. Deeper, thicker lugs improve grip and widely spaced lugs offer more traction and shed mud easier.
The heel brake is the heel of your outsole that reduces your chance of slipping down steep hills (ah, so that’s why I slip. Not because I am clumsy…)
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How to choose the perfect hiking boots | Tips
- Shop around, check out places like REI, Kathmandu and Mountain Warehouse. Try on a few different styles and types of boots. You can also get professionally fitted at some outdoors shops
- Talk to someone who hikes often and in similar areas to you. They will know what works on the terrain and the specific conditions
- Get an experienced hikers opinion on different hiking boots
- If you are a question asker (like myself), keep a list of questions you want to ask in the store. Things like durability, materials and waterproofness are all good things to ask about.
- There is no one size fits all model when it comes to choosing the perfect hiking boots. What works for one person may not work for another
- Read reviews online. Sometimes what seems to be a great boot in store doesn’t quite do the trick when actually put to the test. Try on as many different boots as you can then write down the make and model of the ones you liked best and do a good ole Google search
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Learning how to choose the perfect hiking boots doesn’t have to be overwhelming. The type of hiking boot that you will need will largely depend on the type of hiking you will be doing. Bear that in mind when you head to the shops and you will be as right as rain. Don’t overthink it too much and just get out and explore.
I hope this post has helped if you have any questions or comments leave them in the comments below or feel free to contact me using the form in the bottom footer bar. I am always happy to help.
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