A complete guide to buying the best hiking boots

hikers

How to choose hiking shoes

Decide what the shoes are for

If you are planning a major expedition, you’ll need very different boots than if you are simply wanting to go on some day hikes.

Make sure they’re comfortable It’s vital to be sure that your boots are comfortable or you could end up being in a lot of pain.

Types of boots

Light

Light hiking shoes look very much like strong running ones and are generally the best type of boot for some light day hiking. People who are hiking longer distances also sometimes prefer them because of their lightness – the saying goes that for every extra pound your boots weigh it is the equivalent of 5 pounds in your backpack. Light boots usually have flexible mid-soles.

Hiking 

Hiking boots are more supportive and hard-wearing and they are meant for harder terrain.

Backpacking 

Backpacking boots are designed for walkers on longer expeditions who have to carry heavier loads. To cope with the extra punishment they have stronger midsoles than the lighter boots.

Mountaineering 

Mountaineering boots are also pretty weighty but additionally you can fix crampons to them if you are on a glacier.

Types of cut

Low-cut

Low-cut boots are best suited to ground that is not too rough because they do not wrap around the ankle so provide no support in this area. And there is more chance of debris getting into the shoe.

Mid-cut

Mid-cut boots do wrap around the ankles so there is much more protection from knocks or from debris getting into the shoe. They are a good option for trips of more than one day when you are carrying a not too heavy rucksack.

High-cut

High-cut boots are the best choice for rough ground because they provide a lot of ankle support. They are also the best option if you’re carrying a heavy rucksack which weighs around 40 pounds. With these kind of boots it’s vital that you break them in before your big trip or you could end up in a lot of pain from blisters.

What hiking boots are made from

Uppers

The upper boot can be made of various types of materials including:

Full-grain leather

Full-grain leather has great resistance to water and is very strong. It is mostly used in the heavy high-cut boots that are used for carrying heavy rucksacks or walking long distances. The main problem with this material is that it is neither light nor breathable. And the boot will need to be broken in before a long trip to avoid problems with blisters.

Nubuck leather

Nuback leather is full-grain leather that has been buffed so that is starts to look like Suede. It is very resistant to water and is very hard wearing. It also needs to be broken in before going on a long hike.

Split-grain leather

This kind of leather is not as resistant to water and is not as strong, but it is cheaper. Because it is less resistant to water, boots made with it often have waterproof liners in them.

Synthetic materials

Synthetic materials such as nylon or polyester are generally cheaper and dry faster and are often found on modern boots. Their weak points are that they are not as hard wearing as leather boots and their outside stitching often begins to fray after a while.

Midsole materials

Midsoles are important for cushioning the feet and the stronger the midsole the stiffer it will be. The most commonly used materials are EVA and Polyurethane. EVA is cheaper, lighter and gives a bit more cushioning. Polyurethane is stronger and lasts longer so is usually found on the more heavy duty boots used for longer expeditions. Extra support is provided by inserting shanks and plates into the shoes. The shanks are inserts made of nylon that make the midsole stronger. Plates offer extra protections from rocks or roots of trees underfoot

Outsoles

The outsoles of all hiking boots are made of rubber, one of the best-known makes is Virbram. But sometimes carbon may be added to heavyweight boots to make them even stronger. The outsoles are usually glued to the rest of the boot because it is cheaper than stitching them. But you have to be careful not to leave the boots anywhere that is very hot, such as in front of a fire, because the glue could melt. When walking on very steep or difficult ground you’ll want to get boots that have a strong heel brake on them, this enables you to dig into the ground and stop yourself slipping. A deep lug pattern is also useful, this is the bumps that you see on an outsole. It helps to give grip when it is muddy.

Should I resole my old boots?

Light hiking boots – it is not generally worth resoling these boots as they are pretty cheap to buy new.

Hiking boots – also probably not worth it.

Backpacking boots – as these are more expensive to buy new it probably is worth it

Mountaineering boots – these are expensive and it is worth resoling them. If you’re not sure ask your cobbler how much they will cost to resole and see how this compares with buying a new pair.

boots for mountaineering

How to get a good fit

Getting a boot that fits well and is comfortable is certainly the most important thing when trying boots on. Things to look out for are:

Length – You want your toes to move about easily inside the boot, not to feel too tight or trapped at all.

Width – Your feet should not feel too tightly packed into the boots but nor should they be able to slide around much.

Volume – You want your feet to fit snugly into the boot but not be too tight or loose. It’s especially important that the your heels don’t feel too loose as this can cause blisters, or that your toes aren’t too tight.

Buying the boots

If you pick a time when the shops are less busy you should be able to get more help from an assistant. Make sure that you take along a typical pair of socks that you wear when you go hiking so that you wear them when trying the boots on. It’ll enable you to judge better how the boots fit. If you try the boots on with a thick pair of socks then they may be too tight and uncomfortable when it comes to putting them on with thicker socks.

Make use of the sales assistant Let them know

  • Where you are going hiking
  • How experienced you are as a hiker
  • What type of weather you are anticipating
  • How much you expect your rucksack to be weighing
  • Any feet problems that you have
  • Any particular brands that you like

Make sure that you try on various pairs 

Things to watch out for

  • Do your feet feel at all squashed? If so then you’ll need a wider or longer pair.
  • Are your heels moving about? If so then you’ll need a smaller pair.
  • Is anything rubbing or pinching? If so you’ll need a bigger pair.

Go for a walk around

Don’t just try the boots on, make sure you go for a walk in them and if possible go up some stairs or a slope to see how they feel. If your feet move forward the either the laces are too lose or there is too much volume in your boot. Have a walk around the store and up and down some stairs and a slope. If your feet slide forward then the laces may be too lose – or there may be too much volume in the boot. If your toes feel constricted when you walk downhill then the boot is likely to be too narrow.

Buying boots online

If you’ve bought a particular brand before and have been happy with it then it could be worth sticking with that brand because companies don’t generally change the way they make shoes so the type of fit is likely to be similar.

  • Make sure that you know what your size is, either by going into a store or using a size chart that you can get online.
  • Choose 3 pairs that you like the look of and when they arrive try them all on with socks.
  • Walk around your house and see how the boots are fitting. Adjust the laces if necessary
  • Send back the two that you didn’t prefer.

Are waterproof boots necessary?

It is certainly important to keep you feet dry because damp can cause blisters. The advantage of waterproof boots are fairly obvious – they should keep you feet nice and dry in all conditions. The disadvantages are that they are generally heavier boots and less breathable. Some hikers opt for waterproof shoes in conditions where they are likely to encounter wet conditions – in wet countries or in winter – and wear a pair of boots that are lighter and more breathable in summer or in warmer countries. If you do get damp feet then as soon as you have chance take your boots off so you can try and dry them out.

How to modify boots

Using Insoles

Insoles add padding to the boot and can make them more stable. Using them can be a good idea for people who have feet problems.

Socks – the type of socks you are wearing can dramatically affect how well the boots fit, and if you find that your boots are too small or too big then a different pair of socks can often help them to fit better.

Laces – tightening or loosening laces can help to get a better fit. If you have no luck with that then you could try a new way of lacing the boots.

How to prepare your feet for a hike

Break the boots in – have a good walk around the house first of all in the boots. Next walk some shorter distances outside and finally go on a day hike with them.

Cut toenails- to stop them digging in to you.

Blisters – The best way to avoid blisters is to make sure that you have socks and boots that fit you well. The next best step is to carry moleskin around with you, moleskin is a fabric that helps as protection against blisters.

Get the right socks – see below

What are the best socks to wear?

Wool socks are good for regulating feet temperature, and are also good at keeping damp out.

Synthetic socks – are good at drying out if they have become wet

Cotton socks – are not recommended.

Some of the best hiking shoes

Lowa Hudson LL Mid

The Lowa Hudson is a heavyweight boot designed for long trips with a large backpack in difficult terrain. They have very good ankle protection but there is still plenty of flexibility. They have a medium tread, and are a good looking boot, although not cheap.

Columbia PeakFreak Enduro Mid

The Columbia PeakFreak Enduro Mid is a light and airy shoe but still has a lot of support in it. It has a high cuff and a TPU shank. The uppers are waterproof and are made of a breathable mesh. The outsole is rounded on all sides which stops them catching on anything.  

SCARPA Zanskar GTX

The SCARPA Zanskar GTX is a top quality heavyweight boot – it weighs around 2 pound for each boot – and has a waterproof lining made of gore-tex. It has polyurethane midsole and is very comfortable even in difficult terrain. It can have crampons attached if you want or need to use it on ice. It’s an excellent boot although expensive.

Salomon X Ultra Mid GTX Hiking Shoes 

Salomon are famous for making running shoes and they have based these shoes on those designs. They can even be used for running, and with great grip are particularly useful in poor conditions They are light and flexible shoes with a waterproof upper and combine the best of both words, being flexible but able to be good for most terrains.

Merrell Moab Waterproof

Merrell’s are a popular brand and this is their flagship shoe. It is a light shoe with waterproof leather, and is very good value. The inside of them has been specially sprayed with a substance that helps to kill off odors.

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