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: The KEEN.DRY waterproof, breathable membrane keeps your feet dry and comfortable all day long by allowing vapor out without letting water in; All leather is treated with a PFC-free water repellant, so you still get the same protection without the harmful chemicals
- TRACTION & SUPPORT: KEEN ALL-TERRAIN rubber outsole provides high-traction grip in all environments; Non-marking rubber outsoles leaves no trace when walking indoors; The Torsion stability External Support Shank (ESS) and mid-cut height adds ankle support and balance; the contoured heel provides a next-level stability
- SUPPORT: The Torsion stability External Support Shank (ESS) and mid-cut height adds ankle support and balance on uneven surfaces; Low-profile upper for secure fit with padded tongue and collar; the contoured heel provides a next-level stability
- FIT & COMFORT: Low-profile upper for comfort and secure fit with padded tongue and collar; The Metatomical Footbed Design provides excellent arch support and cradles to the natural contours of the foot; This style is running a 1/2 size small; We suggest ordering a 1/2 size larger than your usual size
- CARE TIPS: We've carefully selected leather uppers designed to last; However, if you're wearing your KEENs daily, they won't always be scuff and dirt-free; To treat day to day wear and tear we recommend using a common leather cleaner and conditioner
For the Backpacker:
- LONG DISTANCE HIKING BOOT - An over-the-ankle, all synthetic hiking boot designed for moving fast on all types of terrain; Durable, lightweight, highly breathable materials minimize fatigue during long hikes and backpacking trips
- GORE-TEX PROTECTION - Waterproof, breathable Gore-Tex Surround technology keeps your feet dry during extended day hikes or overnight backpacking trips no matter the weather
- BREATHABLE - Ultralight moisture-wicking AirMesh fabrics with Nano-Cell technology keep your feet cool on hot days, control moisture, and prevent blisters
- STABILITY & CONTROL - Vibram Nano sole with Impact Brake System provides excellent traction and stability on steep descents; Confidently navigate rocks, roots, and other obstacles with the Core High GTX's reinforced compression-molded EVA / TPU inserts
- ANKLE SUPPORT - STB Technology stabilizes the foot by wrapping and unifying the midsole with the upper for the perfect locked-down fit to provide the extra support and stability ultralight backpackers and mountaineers need for high mileage days
- 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.
- Textile and Synthetic
- Rubber sole
- Shaft measures approximately Low-Top" from arch
- Rearfoot GEL Cushioning System: Attenuates shock during impact phase and allows for a smooth transition to midstance.
- 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.