Choosing the right hiking boot to buy can sometimes be more intimidating than actually getting out on the trail. When you walk into your favorite outdoor store and see their wall, probably a mile long, with a million different boots to choose from, you probably want to run away and scream. But making the right decision about your next pair of boots is very important to your comfort on the trail–it can mean the difference between gliding along the trail with ease and sitting down and crying over your blisters. Don’t be the person with blisters: take the time to understand what you’re looking for in a hiking boot.
The main things you should look for in the perfect boot are comfort, durability, weight, warmth, stability, and water resistance. That seems like a lot of things to think about, huh?
Well then, concentrate on making your decision based on the terrain you usually hike and the weight of the boot. Most of us have heard the old adage, “one pound on your foot equals five pounds on your back.” Whether that’s technically true or not, I think all hikers and backpackers can agree that less weight is a good thing.
Consider Your Trail
Before you even get to the store, consider the trails you usually hike and how you usually hike them.
Are you usually on relatively easy terrain with little weight?
If this is the case for you, then you may want to consider hiking shoes. Hiking shoes differ from hiking boots because they’re more like beefy running shoes than an actual boot. They’re low-cut with flexible midsoles, and are perfect for day hikes with light weight. What makes these shoes really great is that they’re much lighter than your traditional hiking boot, while still offering some protection and plenty of cushion.
Do you love multi-day hikes, but tend to stick to the trail?
If so, you’ll want a pair of hiking boots. Traditional hiking boots are mid- to high-cut boots that flex easily, but offer less support and durability than backpacking and mountaineering boots. This shoe is great for day hikes, as well as weekend backpacking trips with light loads. Hiking boots offer moderate protection from debris (dirt, pebbles, small sticks, etc.), and more cushion and ankle support than the hiking shoe. With a moderate break-in period, you can have these babies out on the trail quickly.
Do you like to hop off the trail now and then for some exploring?
Then backpacking boots will be your best friend. These boots are perfect for on and off-trail hiking, and can support varying weights. With their stiffer midsoles, ankle support, and high durability, backpacking boots can easily stand up to multi-day trips in the backcountry. With the support, however, comes the addition of weight, so be sure to keep that in mind.
Are you constantly hiking long-distances and summiting icy mountains?
Mountaineering boots will help you get there. The heaviest of the boots, these shoes have stiff midsoles that can bear heavy loads with ease. Their high cut provides excellent ankle support on rocky, uneven terrain, and when you reach those ice covered peaks, these boots will accept crampons to help you get to the top.
Remember, these are some basic categories to help you better understand the type of boot you need. Often times, boots will cross lines and blend styles. If you’re not sure any of these styles fit your needs, then take a look at our Which Hiking Shoes Best Suit You? article.
Understanding what boot cut you want, and what that entails, is important to finding the right fit. The varying ranges are low-cut, mid-cut, and high-cut. The lower the cut, the less the boot weighs (typically), but the higher the cut, the more protection and ankle support you get.
This is absolutely the most important factor in your boot-buying experience. Make sure you ignore the numbers and choose a boot not based on size, but rather on comfort.
Length: makes sure that your toes can easily wiggle inside your boot. Length is especially important to those people who have foot issues and toe sensitivity.
Width: your foot should never slide around or feel compressed inside your shoe. It should be snug, not tight.
Make sure your toebox isn’t too narrow for your foot–toeboxes don’t expand easily so you’ll be stuck with a very uncomfortable shoe. You also want to pay attention to tongue padding–you want plenty of padding, but you also want it to be stiff. This will provide protection from your laces when you’re going up steep terrain.
Ultimately, you want your foot to be “quiet” inside your boot. It shouldn’t move around, nor should it hurt. If you feel any pressure point, pinches, or problems, do not buy the boot. These problems will only get worse when you’re wearing them continuously out on the trail.
Helpful Hint: shop at the end of the day when your foot is slightly swollen, similar to how it will be on the trail.
Now you can tackle your boot buying adventure with confidence. Understand your priorities, your likes and dislikes, and be honest with yourself about the fit. If you do all of these things, you’ll be sure to bring home the perfect boot!