If you’re an outdoor adventurer who spends a lot of time on the trail, a dependable pair of hiking boots can be the most important gear you own. The wrong footwear can often make the difference between a great hike and a frustrating one. Yet shopping for the perfect pair presents a familiar gear-buying dilemma: too many choices. It can be difficult to know where to start and how to narrow down the options. In this post, we’ll explain how to choose a hiking boot and provide 8 great options no matter your hiking style.
Before you start your search, it’s important to ask yourself: What type of hiking do I plan to do? Consider the climate and terrain where you plan to hike. Then think about the distance you plan to cover. Does most of your hiking involve short day trips to local parks? Or are you preparing for a backpacking trip or Colorado summit? Will you be hiking in a dry, warm climate or a humid and cool one? Answering these questions is the first step in narrowing down your footwear options in order to find the best hiking boot (or shoe) for you.
There are two main categories of hiking footwear: hiking shoes and hiking boots. Here are the main differences:
- Low cut (minimal ankle support)
- Flexible soles
- Not lightweight
- Mid- and high-cut (more ankle support)
- Sturdy soles
In general, hiking shoes are well-suited to shorter distance day hikes that don’t require you to carry a heavy pack. Hiking boots are heavier but also sturdier and are good for longer hikes, backpacking, and places with difficult terrain. Once you’ve landed on the category of footwear you want, here are a few more things to consider:
Ankle support: Low-cut shoes don’t provide much ankle support (if any). Yet, if you hike mainly on flat terrain or established trails, that’s not as important.
Weight: Sturdier shoes and boots are often heavier because of the way they’re made. It’s a worthwhile trade-off if you’re doing some intense hiking, but can also contribute to fatigue.
Waterproof/breathability: Unless you’re hiking in a desert environment, encountering water or mud on a trail is inevitable. Most of the time, it’s a good idea to choose a boot that’s waterproof. (Speaking from experience, cold, soggy feet make a difficult hike that much harder!) Yet, along with being waterproof, you’ll also want to make sure your boots are breathable to prevent your feet from becoming too hot.
Of course, the most important factor in any hiking shoe or hiking boot is the fit. That’s why reading reviews of hiking boots isn’t always helpful. Fit is a matter of personal preference, of course. A boot that’s comfortable for one person may cause blisters and pain for someone else.
Like any shoe, the best way to determine if a boot is right for you is to check out the fit for yourself. Whether you shop in store, or try them on at home, be sure to spend a little time wearing the boots before making your final decision. Here are some tips for ensuring you get the correct fit.
- Confirm your size. Feet change over time so always measure your foot to make sure you’re shopping for the correct size. (Note: Boot sizes also tend to vary a little from standard shoe sizes.) That said, try on at least two different sizes because sizes will vary across brands.
- Wear hiking socks. When trying on boots, be sure to wear the type of socks that you plan to wear most often with them.
- Use orthotics (if you need them). If you usually wear orthotics in your shoes, use them when you try on boots.
- Wait until the end of the day. The conventional wisdom for shoe-shopping says to try on shoes at the end of the day. This applies to shopping for hiking boots too. At the end of the day, your feet will be at their largest due to normal swelling that happens during the day.
- Check the fit. When you’re walking downhill in a hiking boot, your toes shouldn’t hit the front of the boot. When you walk uphill or on flat ground, your heel should slightly move. (Not so much that the rubbing will cause blisters, but iyour heel shouldn’t be immovable either. That will also lead to blisters.)
There are a multitude of options out there for hiking shoes and boots, but here are a few highly rated boots we’ve grouped according to hiking style.
For the Weekend Walker:
- Breathable mesh lining
- EVA contoured footbed
- Merrell Air Cushion comfort technology
- Nylon Arch Shank
- Bellows tongue to keep out debris
- Leather, Mesh Upper
- Vibram TC5 Outsole
- Nylon Arch Shank
- Merrell Air Cushion
- EVA for Stability ; 5 millimeter lug depth
For the Occasional Adventurer:
- ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY: Columbia Women's Newton Ridge Plus Waterproof Hiking Boot features our lightweight, durable midsole for long lasting comfort, superior cushioning, and high energy return as well as an advanced traction rubber sole for slip-free movement on rough ground.
- HANDY FEATURES: Treacherous days out on the trail are comfortable and worry-free with this boot's waterproof full-grain leather and mesh bootie construction and its durable mesh tongue for breathability.
- ADJUSTABLE FEATURES: The Newton Ridge Plus Waterproof Hiking Boot features a lace-up closure for an adjustable, secure fit.
- FEMININE STYLE: This women's waterproof hiking boot delivers style and durability with its contrasting color combinations and soft mesh exterior.
- OMNI-GRIP: This multi-terrain traction system matches specially formulated compounds and treads to specific environments. A dual-zone winter tread pattern ensures solid footing on surfaces such as ice and snow.
- WATERPROOF & PROTECTION: KEEN.DRY breathable membrane keeps feet dry and comfortable by allowing vapor out without letting water in; Bruise plate for protection on uneven surfaces; High abrasion rubber toe guard for added durability
- MATERIAL & CONSCIOUSLY CREATED: Durable premium leather and breathable performance mesh; Quick dry lining for active use; KEEN sources hides from Leather Working Group certified tanneries; Environmentally friendly DWR helps keep leather from drying out
- TRACTION: KEEN ALL-TERRAIN rubber provides high traction grip in muddy environments and on rocky surfaces; 4mm multi direction lugs provide optimal traction for sure footing; Non marking rubber outsoles leaves no imprints when walking indoors
- SUPPORT & COMFORT: External Support Shank and mid cut height adds balance and ankle support; Contoured heel for stability; Removable footbed with arch support cradles to the foot’s shape; Resilient cushioning doesn’t compress quickly after extended use
- FIT & CARE: KEEN Original Fit gives generous space for toes to spread out; Gently brush leather with a soft bristle brush or hand towel to remove loose dirt and debris; Tough stains may require a leather cleaner
For the Backpacker:
- Vasque's most breathable hiking boot with abrasion-resistant air mesh panels
- GORE-TEX with Extended Comfort Technology for breathable waterproof protection
- Molded rubber toe cap
- Reflective piping
- Dual Density EVA footbed
For the Trail Runner:
This last category of hiking footwear is a hiking shoe that’s designed for runners. They’re typically lightweight like a traditional running shoe yet with a rugged tread that can handle uneven terrain.
- SpEVA Midsole Material Improves bounce back characteristics and decreases midsole breakdown
- Trusstic System Technology Reduces the weight of the sole unit while retaining the structural integrity of the shoe
- DuoMax Support System A dual density midsole system positioned to enhance support and stability, positioned sport specifically
- Trail Specific Outsole Reversed lugs provide uphill and downhill traction on all types of terrain
- Extended Comfort
- Lightweight EVA
- High Traction Rubber Outsole
Did you know the also make hiking boots for dogs? That’s right, Fido’s feet need some love too, especially if you’re planning on traveling on rough or rocky terrain.