When it comes to selecting the right hiking boot, forget about looks and flashy features, what matters is properties like comfort, durability, stability, weight, warmth, and water resistance in your hiking boots. Your perfect boots will comfortably fit on your feet and match your hiking ambitions.
Choosing Hiking/Backpacking boots
Hiking boots range from mid- or high-cut models intended for day hikes or weekend backpacking trips with light loads to high-cut models designed to carry heavier loads on multiday trips deep into the backcountry. They can flex easily and require little break-in time or sometimes the break-in time is much longer. It’s important to break-in your boots before your trip if you want to avoid worn out feet, discomfort and potential blisters. When choosing your hiking boots, don’t pay too much attention on numbers and sizing as the most important is that boot has a comfortable and snug fit and your toes are not touching the front of the boot. It’s recommended to get a boot slightly bigger for more comfort and considering a thick quality sock will be on your foot. Choose a model matched to your frequent type of use and terrain. If your travel styles vary widely, you’ll probably be happier in a slightly lighter boot. For a longer hikes on a uneven terrain you need to look for stiffer boots which gives your ankle more support. A stiff boot won’t allow your foot to wear out by wrapping around every rock or tree root you step on.
Plan your hiking trip and purchase your hiking equipment in advance, considering break-in time can be longer than you expect. The process of breaking in hiking boots is about softening the materials enough that they don’t rub or bother your feet. Lighter hiking boots will require less breaking in time than heavy boots or leather hiking boots. Keep this in mind when determining if your shoes are hike ready.
- Break in your new boots slowly with short hikes. This can include wearing the hiking boots while doing everyday jobs like mowing the lawn or taking short walks to the supermarket.
- Take progressively longer and more difficult hikes as the shoes permit.
- Don’t try to break-in your boots by hiking for a long periods or challenging terrain as this is most likely to cause you painful blisters and sore feet.
- While holding the boot in your hands, try gently bending the sole back and forth, however don’t be rough and vigorous as you can damage the shoe.
- If you keep having issues with your particular boot, you should consider customisation. Customizing a boot could mean anything from buying new insoles, adding a pad, stretching the shoe or adjusting the heel to relieve pressure.
Hiking Boot Fit Tips
Try on boots at the end of the day
Your feet can swell a bit during the day’s activities and will be at their largest later at the day. This helps you avoid buying boots that are too small.
Wear appropriate socks
Familiar socks can help you more quickly assess the fit and feel of new footwear. However, try to make sure the thickness of the socks matches what you intend to wear on the trail.
Spend some time in the boots
Take a stroll through the store, move around, walk up and down stairs or find an inclined surface and walk on it. If you detect an odd bump or seam, or a little pinching in the forefoot, the boot not right for you.
Consider a brand you have worn before
The fit is most likely to be similar, because boot companies tend to use a consistent foot model.
Consider aftermarket insoles
Insoles come in models that can enhance either comfort, support, fit or all three.
Hiking Boot Features
Hiking Boot Uppers
Synthetics like polyester, nylon and synthetic leather are commonly found in modern boots. They break in more quickly, are lighter than leather, dry faster and usually cost less. But due to more stitching on the outside of the boot, they may show signs of wear sooner.
Full grain leather offers excellent durability, abrasion resistance and very good water resistance. It is most used in hiking boots built for extended trips with heavy loads on rugged terrain. Full grain leather is not as light or breathable as nylon/split grain leather combinations. Ample break-in time is needed before starting an extended trip.
Split grain leather leather is usually combined with nylon or nylon mesh to offer breathable lightweight comfort. Split grain leather “splits away” the rougher inner part of the cowhide from the smooth exterior, offering lower cost, but also often less resistance to water and abrasion.
Nubuck leather is very durable full grain leather that has been buffed to resemble suede. It resists water and abrasion and It’s also fairly flexible. It also requires ample time to break in before an extended hike.
Waterproof boots and shoes feature uppers constructed with waterproof/breathable membranes to keep your feet dry in wet conditions such as Gore-Tex® or eVent®. Compared to the ventilating mesh used on some non waterproof shoes, the reduced breathability created by a membrane may encourage feet to sweat on summer days.
Insulated Some mountaineering boots has synthetic insulation added for warmth when hiking on snow and glaciers.
Vegan friendly hiking boots and shoes are made without any animal ingredients or byproducts.
Hiking Boot Midsoles
The midsole determinate boots stiffness, offers cushioning and buffers feet from the shock. Stiff boots mean greater comfort and stability for long hikes on rocky and uneven terrain. A stiff boot won’t allow your foot to wear out by wrapping around every rock or tree root you step on. The most well known midsole materials are EVA and polyurethane.
EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) is a bit cushier, lighter and less expensive. Midsoles use varying densities of EVA to provide firmer support where needed (e.g., around the forefoot).
Polyurethane is usually found in extended backpacking and mountaineering boots, it is generally firmer and more durable.
Hiking Boot Support Components
Shanks are 3-5mm thick inserts sandwiched between a boot’s midsole and outsole to add load-bearing stiffness to the midsole. They can cover the entire length of the midsole, while others only cover half.
Plates are thin, semiflexible inserts positioned between the midsole and the outsole, and below the shank if it’s included. They protect feet from getting bruised by roots or uneven rocks.
Hiking Boot Outsoles
Lug patterns are traction giving bumps on the outsole. Widely spaced lugs offer good traction and shed mud more easily. Deeper, thicker lugs are used on backpacking and mountaineering boots to improve grip.
Heel brake refers to the clearly defined heel zone that is distinct from the forefoot and arch, which reduces your chance of sliding during steep descents.
Hiking Boot Rands
A rand is the wide rubber wrap encircling the boot or just the toe area where the upper meets the midsole, which can be found on some waterproof/breathable boots and it offers extra defense against water penetration on wet, mucky trails as well as protects boot leather from rocks and abrasion.
These crampons have nylon webbing straps that secure the crampons to your boots. These crampons can be attached to nearly any boot, but as a downside it takes longer to attach them than other systems. For more flexible footwear, such as hiking shoes, hiking boots and backpacking boots, make sure the crampon’s center bar is compatible with the flex of your boot.
These crampons feature a wire bail that holds the toe in place while a heel lever attaches the crampon to the heel of your boot. This is the easiest, fastest and most precise attachment system, however, it can only be used with specific boots. To use crampons with a step-in binding, boots need to have rigid soles and at least a 3/8″ welt or groove on the heel and toe. These crampons are typically compatible with heavy duty mountaineering boots, but not with backpacking boots.
These crampons are a blend of strap-on and step-in crampons. They have a heel lever and toe strap, and they require a boot with a stiff sole and a heel groove or welt to hold the heel lever. The toe strap doesn’t need a welt to fit securely. Hybrid crampons go on very easily and quickly, and are compatible with most lightweight mountaineering boots as well as some backpacking boots.
This is most specialized crampon style. For highly technical mixed climbing, ice climbing and dry tooling, some climbers use low profile shoes with a precision fit, also called “fruit boots.” It has no heel or toe welts and it resemble bulky climbing shoe rather than a mountaineering boot. This style of boot requires special, minimalist crampons that bolt directly to the sole for precise climbing performance at the lowest weight possible. Fruit boots with screw-on crampons are highly specialized and only intended for technical mixed, ice and dry tooling, therefore they are not very warm and not intended for any kind of hiking or walking.