Just like the perfect pair of running shoes or ski boots, the right hiking boot can make or break a hike in the woods.
When it comes to fit, there are so many different factors. From the size of the toe box to the curve of the arch support, each of these can make a huge difference in how a hiking boot supports you. It can be incredibly difficult figuring out how to choose hiking boots. So, we’ve put together a guide to help you. First, you will need to understand why these boots are the way they are. Secondly, you’ll have to understand your foot, hiking hopes, and desires to find the perfect shoe for you. So, let’s help you figure out how to choose hiking boots and dive right on in.
Types of Hiking Boots
While many people hike in sandals, we do recommend a solid hiking boot for your protection. This avoids a stick or rock getting under your foot and simply ruining your hike. So, there are three main types of hiking boots. The first is hiking shoes. These low-profile shoes have a similar build to sneakers but are made for hiking. Being lightweight and flexible are the two main jobs of this shoe. Great for day hikes or shorter weekend trips, these shoes lack the full ankle protection and support of the other types.
Next up is a light hiking boot, rather than the hiking shoe. These will rise a little higher on the ankle, providing some support. They are still flexible and sturdy but will require some breaking in. They won’t last the full length of the Appalachian Trail, but they are solid for week excursions or long day hikes. If you have a tendency to roll your ankle, we would suggest these for any hike you do.
The third category when figuring out how to choose hiking boots is backpacking boots. These boots are going to be a bit heavier, but with that comes added protection, durability, and stiffer midsoles. These boots will lace around the ankles tightly, providing incredible support. For those of us with weak ankles, this is a great option. Additionally, you’ll want a pair of these if you’re trekking hundreds of miles.
Materials of Hiking Boots
Leathers, synthetics, waterproofing, and insulation will all factor into how to choose hiking boots. A true leather boot will be incredibly durable, adaptable in the long run, and even waterproof. These boots will be more expensive but can be a great investment for long hikes. Keep in mind that the leather will take quite a bit of time to break in, though. So, if you buy full leather boots for a thru-hike, make sure to wear them on many weekend excursions before the true trek begins.
There is a myriad of leather blends, combining parts of leather with synthetic to create a more breathable and cheaper boot. These may be called split leather, nubuck leather, or simply partial leather. Each of these will not feature as much natural waterproofing as the real deal, though. This will give you a lower cost boot with more breathability. The boot will break in much faster, but it will also deteriorate faster. So, each decision made while learning how to choose hiking boots can have a big impact in the long run.
Lastly, many boots will have waterproofing done to them or contain Gore-tex. This will make a boot less breathable, as it is made to keep things out. So, take note of that. Will you be hiking somewhere wet or can you get away with less waterproofing? Your feet will thank you on hot summer days if you don’t need it.
Understanding Hiking Boot Midsoles
There are two main ingredients to hiking boot midsoles: ethylene vinyl acetate, or EVA for short, and polyurethane. The first is cheaper and provides a bit more cushion for your foot and arch. The latter is more durable but also is firmer, with less cushion. So, factor this in when figuring out how to choose hiking boots. In addition, if you have footbed inserts you like a lot, make sure to bring those along when trying on boots. You can perhaps go with a more durable polyurethane midsole and add in the cushion with an insert.
Picking Your Hiking Boot Tread and Outsole
If you know a lot about the terrain you’ll be hiking in, it may be worth putting some thought into the outsole of your hiking boot. Every boot’s sole will be made with some amount of rubber. They will have lugs, which are the bumps that provide tractions. The space in between helps to shed excess water, dirt, and debris. The smaller and less deep these spaces, generally the less traction you will have. The back portion of the outsole is considered the heal brake. A clearly distinct change of pattern here will help you going down steep descents. So, as you work through how to choose hiking boots, I can assure you that ninety-nine percent of hiking boots have a decent tread pattern. After all, isn’t stability one of the main reasons you’re getting these in the first place?
Trying on Hiking Boots
You’ve researched and now you’re ready. You step foot into the store and make your way to the shoe wall in the back. There’s so many to choose from, where do you start? Well, you’ve hopefully decided on the height of the shoe and how much cushion you want. Additionally, you should know your size. That being said, many people’s feet change slightly throughout the day. So, go shoe shopping at the end of the day when your foot is just a little swollen from walking you around. This will be much more similar to how they will feel hiking when your feet have been putting a lot of miles in. Lastly, bring the socks you would wear on the trail! These might be breathable and warm wool socks or a lighter, hiking specific sock. Either way, you’ll want to be wearing what you will be wearing on the trail.
Once you have a few boots that look good to you, go ahead and start lacing them up. Make sure to lace them up fully. Many shoe specialists can show you a few lacing tricks as well if you need extra support or extra room. While the shoe is on, make sure you are not being pinched, poked, or stuck in any way. You want enough room that your toes can breathe, but not so much you’re swimming in the boot. Go ahead and take a walk around the store. If needed, go outside and find an incline. Make sure that your toes don’t hit the front of the boot when going downhill. That gets old really fast on the trail - I promise. Hopefully, these tricks will help you narrow the selection down to just two or three hiking boots that fit you well.
If you’ve made it this far, you obviously care about how to choose hiking boots. Once you’ve found those pairs that you really like, break out your phone. Read a little bit about the company that makes the boots. Have they been making them for quite some time? What is their warranty like? Do others that have hiked long miles in them still think they’re comfortable? Do they have a great customer base like Oboz? All of these questions can start being answered with a simple search of the internet. I highly recommend reading reviews on hiking boots before you buy so you know what you’re getting into. The last thing you want is to spend over a hundred dollars on something that isn’t exactly what you need. So, research, research, research!
You’re ready to hit the trail, but first, you’ve had to figure out how to choose hiking boots.
Hopefully, this article has given you a healthy place to jumpstart your hiking boot search. While it can be stressful sorting through everything on the market these days, some hiking boots are better than others. So, take your time in this decision. This being said, getting the perfect boot is not the most important thing. This is just a piece of gear to help you get outside! So, even if you’re wearing your adventure sandals or running shoes for hike alone this weekend, that’s more than okay! We’d rather see you outside having fun than stressing over the perfect hiking boot. So, take your time and you will figure out the best hiking boot for you.
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