How To Find A Good Pair Of Hiking Boots – A Guide To Help You On Your Way

Your Guide to Buying Excellent Hiking Boots

Using your casual sneakers, pumps or formal shoes for hiking mountains and long distances is akin to having a death wish.

It is not advisable to wear and walk with something not designed for hiking.

That is why there are boots especially made for hiking, which make the wearer comfortable no matter how far and how steep the terrain he or she is traveling on.

But here’s the catch:

How do you know which is the right hiking boot to wear?

When you are trying to find the perfect hiking boots for yourself, what really matters is that it matches the form of your foot and that you feel comfortable wearing it.

But the true test of wearing the durability and quality of the boots is not in the store, but when you are using them during one of your (hopefully!) many hiking trips.

Features of High Quality Hiking Boots (Materials)

outdoorsSplit-grain – most of the time this feature is paired with nylon mesh or nylon in order to have a light weight boot and it also offers breathable comfort. The name of the feature means that the boot splits its rough, inner part of its crowhide from its smooth exterior. The number one benefit you can get from this feature is that it comes cheap. Its downside, because of its cheapness, is the reduction of water resistance and the abrasion, although you will find other boots that are made for hiking, which also offer waterproof liners.

Full-grain – this feature means the boot has excellent abrasion resistance and durability, and it also has a good water resistant ability. This feature is mostly added to backpacking boots as it is designed to withstand rugged terrains, heavy loads and extended trips. This feature makes these boot’s weight heavy compared to the split-grain feature. A good, time to break-in is needed before going with extended trip.


Synthetic
– this is a common feature present in all modern boots. This uses lighter materials compared to leather, they break quickly, dry quicker, and are cheaper. The disadvantage is it wears quickly or it simply starts falling apart after a couple of hikes.

Vegan – a kind of boot that are environmentally friendly; does not use any kind of byproducts or ingredients made from animals.

pairsWaterproof – boots that are labeled with this feature contain uppers that are designed to have breathable membranes or materials, in order to keep the feet dry under wet weather conditions. The downside of this feature is its reduced breathability of the membrane, which may promote sweating of the feet during summer days.

Insulated – A number of mountaineering boots are designed with synthetic insulation to keep the feet warm when using the boots during the winter season, especially at glaciers and snow.

Various Footwear Types

You may think that all shoes are designed for a single purpose: to keep the feet off the ground and protect them against the harmful terrain. But there are different materials made for shoes, and of course, those materials have their own functions. There are certain materials that thrive in certain conditions, but will easily deteriorate when used in other weather conditions. There are also those designed to withstand heavy loads, while others for lighter ones.

Mountaineering boots – boots with a lot of weight, these has stiff modules designed to accept the crampons intended to travel over glaciers; and accommodate loads that are extra heavy. These boots are very durable, supportive and tough.

Backpacking boots – these boots are designed specifically for heavier loads for trips consisting of multiple days with not too many breaks, especially if the target terrain is somewhere in the backcountry. These are supportive and durable and they have stiffer midsoles compared to the lighter boots and shoes. They are suited for both off-trail and on-trail travel.

grassHiking boots – available in this type are from mid-range to high-cut ones that are designed for a weekend backpacking or day hikes, in which hikers only carry lighter loads. These boots feel flexible and they require only a little time to break-in. But unlike the aforementioned types, this type lacks durability and support on boots for heavy duty backpacking.

Hiking shoes – these are low-cut models that have flexible modules, perfect for any kind of day hiking. A lot of backpackers that only carry a minimal load with them can choose trail-running shoes of this type, which are designed for long-distance travels.

Midsoles (Support)

Modules are a part of the shoe that provides cushion to the feet, making the wearer comfortable. They also act as a buffer of the feet against shock, and it also determines the stiffness of the boot. Stiff boots may sound like a really bad idea, but they are a perfect partner for very long hikes on terrains that are steep and rocky. They provide greater stability and comfort. Having stiff midsoles, or stiff boots will prevent your foot from wrapping around every tree root or rock you step onto, which will eventually cause you to wear out your feet pretty quickly. The most common materials for modules are the ethylene vinyl acetate or EVA and the polyurethane. The former is packed with more cushion, cheaper and lighter in weight. Many midsoles utilize a variety of densities of the EVA material in order to offer firmer support in place needed most such as the forefoot. The latter is generally more durable and firmer, commonly used in mountaineering and extended backpacking types of boots designed for hiking.

Outsoles (Traction)

outsideAll of the boots’ outsoles utilize the rubber material, and the popular brand name associated with this part is the Vibram rubber. There are extra additives in order to boost the hardness of mountaineering or the backpacking types of boots, such as carbon. If the outsoles are harder, it means that the durability of the boot has increased, but also increases the possibility of slipping off the trail. Other considerations for outsoles include the following:

Heel brake – this pertains to the heel zone, which is distinct from the arch and the forefoot. This material reduces the possibility of sliding off when going through steep descents.

Lug pattern – the lugs are bumps that provide traction for the outsole. Thicker and deeper lugs are utilized for mountaineering and backpacking boots in order to provide more grip. Lugs with wider space provide good traction and can shake off the mud easily.

Support Components

Plates – inserts that are semi-flexible and thin, which are positioned between the outsole and midsole of the boot, just below its shank, if it is included. It protects the feet against bruises by uneven rocks or roots.

Shanks – about 3 to 5 mm thick, this insert are placed between the outsole and the midsole of the boot, which adds to the stiffness of the load-bearing midsole. They come in various sizes, in which some of it covers the whole length of its midsole.

Crampon Compatibility (Climbing)

walkingThis is important for safety and performance. The type of boots will always tell the wearer the options they have when it comes to systems on crampon binding.

Step-in – this features a wire bail, in which it holds the place of the toe while the boot’s heel lever is attached to the crampon, which is then attached to the heel of the boot. This attachment process is the most precise and the simplest, but can only be done on specific boots. To use the step-in binding, the boots will need at least rigid soles measuring 3/8 inches welt or the groove of the toe and heel. The step-in crampons are usually compatible with the heavy duty boots’ type such as the mountaineering ones. But they are not suitable for lightweight types, including hiking and backpacking boots.

Hybrid – this kind of crampon system is a blend of step-in and strap-on. It features both toe strap and heel lever, and require that the boot that has a stiff sole and welt or heel grove in order to hold its heel lever in place. Its toe strap does not need any welt for safety fit. Hybrid systems go very easily and quickly, and they are compatible with almost any mountaineering boots (lightweight) and a couple of backpacking boots, but not so much with hiker’s boots.

Strap-on – systems that has webbing straps made of nylon which secures its crampons to the boots. This system takes a long process of attaching, but the beauty of this system lies in that any boot can be applied to it.

Boot Rands (Protection)

This can be found on boots that are breathable or waterproof, which has a wide rubber wrap that surrounds the boot, or often just the toe in some models. The upper part of it meets the midsole. This provides more defense against wetness from mucky and wet trails. It also provides protection against abrasion and rocks.

Boot Cut (Support)

High-cut boots – best for heavy loads, like 40 pounds or more; compatible with hiking off-trail. This kind enhances the ankle and balance support on rough terrains and trails.

Mid-cut boots – recommended for shorter trips carrying moderate loads.

Low-cut shoes – recommended for maintaining trails and light or ultralight loads. This offer lesser roll-resistance for the ankles and leaves the feet more vulnerable to mud, sand, grit or scree.

Ankles (Support)

dannerPicking the correct pair of boots is absolutely essential for your hiking trips. If you pick the wrong pair, you are going to suffer because of it. There is nothing worse than having foot pain while on a many mile long walking trip. There are plenty of reasons why you could accidentally pick the wrong boots for yourself. Some will not be the right type or the right size. Others will simply be poorly made. Buying a pair of good boots for hiking is worth investing in. Because if you are cheap on this, you might end up with boots that will quickly fall apart and you’ll just have wasted your money. It is not that hard to do your research to find out which hiking boots provide good ankle support, so that you can rest assured that your hard earned cash will not go to waste. I have written down a couple of tips for you that are going to help you select the best boots for yourself.

I have recently taken a liking to real leather shoes. So when you’re out shopping for leather, make sure not to get duped by imitation leather. Imitation stuff is cheaper. So for that reason, it has become a very popular material with manufacturers to make boots from. A lot of people can simply not tell the difference by having a look at a pair of (imitation) leather boots. Some of them can’t even tell the difference when touching them. The fact of the matter is that you would do well to learn the difference. Because imitation leather does not last nearly as long as real leather does. If you can’t feel the difference, check the product tag to see if the leather is indeed real.

meindlAlso think about the clasps on a good pair of boots. Some ankle support boots will have a zipper at the side of them. Yet others are going to have clasps that completely wrap around the top as well as the front. When you are trying on your boots, make sure to get a feel for where your body weight naturally falls within these shoes. It is always best if your weight naturally rests on solid leather. You do not want it resting on the clasp buckles, nor do you want it resting on the zipper seams. If your body weight rests on the wrong parts of a hiking boot, then this is going to cause more wear and tear on them than strictly necessary.

Since you are buying boots that have to support your ankles, also be sure to check if they do, indeed, give you a lot of support for your ankles. You will also need support for your arches, by the way. If you are planning on wearing them infrequently, you could potentially be okay with having less support. After all, you won’t be straining the boots all day, every day. But let’s say you go hiking on the weekend, then this would be a reason to go for support big time anyway. If you are going to be wearing them very frequently, you will definitely want to choose a pair of boots that give you a lot of support. You will just have to try shoes on to see how you like them. That might be harder when you are buying online, so make sure you can return them.

Shoes vs Boots

Whichever the best pair of ankle support hiking boots (or shoes) is for you, will depend on many things. It helps to know the difference between shoes and boots. It is going to make it easier on you to make your choice. You might even want to go for sandals, although not many people do that.

When you are going hiking, your boots are going to be the very most important part of your backpacking equipment. So let’s dive into the essentials to see if we can’t teach you what you really need to know.

Shoes

Shoes are always lightweight footwear that will usually give you good support around your ankles. They are most suitable for walking on a groomed trail. They also don’t really require a lot of breaking in. The reason for this is simple. Shoes are usually very flexible and they are low cut, which is why they give you a lot of freedom of motion. Shoes can still you give you good support around the ankles, though.

Hiking shoes are, most of the time, made of leather and other lightweight fabrics. It will still help to check if they are also waterproof. At the least they have to be water resistant. You also need to keep in mind what the main usage for the shoes is going to look like. Hiking footwear isn’t just for hiking anymore. If you look closely, many people walking around town are wearing hiking shoes, simply because they look pretty darn good. It’s a fashion statement these days. However, some of these fashion hiking shoes aren’t going to give you the support you require when you are going hiking. If you are going hiking, keep looking for shoes that give you support. Fashion comes second in a hike.

Boots

ankleIf you are looking for a pair of good hiking boots, then you will have to look for boots that offer you lots of ankle support, flexibility, water resistance, comfort and durability all in one.

Roughtly speaking, there are two kinds of boots. There are the midweight ones and the heavyweight ones.

When you are looking at midweight boots, then you are looking at what is currently considered the most popular choice. These can be worn on pretty rough hiking trails. Naturally, they can also be worn on maintained trails. Midweight boots are heavier than shoes. But they will also offer greater support for your foot as well as your ankle. Especially your ankle, because midweights go around the ankle bone. Naturally, this also means that they will be slightly less flexible than shoes. They also require a bit of breaking in.

The downside to getting a pair of new boots is that they require breaking in and this might give you blisters. If you want to prevent blisters, then you can do this by complimenting your boots with high quality hiking socks. This way, you will hardly ever develop blisters. Especially if you stay active frequently, in the long run, without any long breaks between hikes.

There are also very heavy, high cut hiking boots. These are meant for the absolute roughest of trails. They are much heavier than either shoes or midweights. They are also of technical design. Heavy duty hiking footwear is going to give you maximum water resistance, durability, support (for ankles as well as feet andknees), shock absorbency, etc. They have a lot of support, so they are going to be even stiffer than midweights. It goes without saying that they also require the most breaking in.

Having a good understanding of the difference that there are between all this hiking footwear (boots and shoes), then you will be able to make a much better decision than you would have if you had not known all of this.

The Importance Of Good Support

palladium pampaThese days, the noble sport of hiking is gaining much popularity. As soon as the sun starts coming through, people like to take a hike throughout nature and take in all the gorgeous scenery that our country has to offer. Montana, Utah and Colorado are among the most popular states for taking excellent hikes. But the fact of the matter is that almost every state has hiking trails. And almost every other country in the world has them, too. Some dare to wander off into the mountains without having packed a proper amount of gear. If you are going to take anything with you, then please let it be a good hiking shoe. Because this will make all the difference in the quality of your hike.

If you are going to be hitting a rough trail without good shoes, you are going to come back with a twisted ankle. Or two, if you’re unlucky. But there is no need for any of these kinds of injuries. You can prevent ankle problems by buying good shoes that will give you the support you need for rough hiking trails. A good pair of boots are definitely going to be the most important item in your entire inventory when you are going for a hike. You will have to protect your feet, your ankles, as well as your knees if you are dead serious about hiking for miles and living to see the next hike.

There are many different kinds of boots that you can choose from. A very standard boot is the day hiking boot. These standard boots are very good for your ankles, because they provide great support. You will not get a rolled ankle in one of these. They also have very good traction, which means you won’t be slipping over a smooth rock any time soon. They are also fairly light. But if you want to hit the roughest trails for many days in a row, then you will require something heavier than a regular day boot. Heavier boots are, by definition, heavier. But that’s alright, because the support is more important. You can easily take a bit of extra weight on your feet. It’s a trade off. And for multi day hikes, you absolutely require the extra support to prevent serious and long lasting injury.

cheapHeavyweight boots for multi day hikes, are also referred to as backpacking boots. This kind of footwear is highly durable. Because of the fact that they are higher cut, they will always be heavier than midweights. By default, they are also totally waterproof. And you’ll be glad for it, because the longer your trail is, the greater the chance of you encountering a puddle somewhere. You will get the most incredibly support from backpacking boots. Not only are these kinds of boots very well suited for long and rough trails… you also see mountain climbers make use of these kinds of boots. Since they require extreme durability, they will almost always be made of real leather.

There is a difference between shoes and boots, when it comes to hiking, trailing, trekking and backpacking. Some manufacturers have the nerve to market their shoes as ‘hiking shoes’. But trust me when I tell you that these shoes will not be good enough to wear on an actual hike. Many of these shoes are purely a fashion statement. Know the difference between the wannabe shoes and the real deal shoes. The most important thing is the support for your ankles. Shoes can never give a whole lot of support around the ankles, because they are low cut. They will usually only have thicker and more durable soles. Boots, however, are higher cut by definition. They wrap around the ankle to cover it, protect it and support it. So whenever you are going on a hike, whether it be an easy, small one or a tough, big one… be sure to get a decent pair of ankle support boots!

Which Boots For Which Locations?

Pricing

zionThe above named locations all have one thing in common… they’ve got some pretty rough terrain and you are going to need some darn good trekking boots if you want to make it to the end of the trail. Hiking is a very rough sport and you will have to invest in good footwear. Good hiking shoes start at the $100 mark. You can easily buy hiking footwear below that, but good quality will never drop below the $50 price point. Matter of fact… if you’re looking at $50 boots, then don’t expect too much. Well… that’s not entirely true, because you can realistically expect that you’ll have to replace them after about a month. When you are going to buy a trekking boot that costs anywhere between $50 and $100, you are going to have okay quality. Anything above that has a much higher chance of lasting a decent time.

If you want boots that last longer than a few hiking trips, then you will have to spend more than $100. But that’s okay, because you will actually be cheaper off this way. You see, $100 might be twice as expensive as $50 boots, but they also last more than double than what the $50 ones will have cost you. If you are a newcomer to the sport, it’s perfectly alright for you to start out with a pair of cheap, budget hiking shoes. You can use these to go on your first hike and then you can determine whether or not you like hiking and then you’ll find out if this sport is for you or not. You simply have to take in mind that your budget boots aren’t going to last for a very long time. When you have done a couple of hikes with them, you will already see the first signs of wear and tear. This will not be the case with higher quality and higher priced camping boots.

All Features In One

yellowstoneBefore you go off and find the best backpacking boots for Nepal, Pacific Crest, Philmont, the Rainforest, Scotland, Costa Rica, Zion National Park, Arizona, Europe, South East Asia, Everest Base Camp, or whichever location you could possibly imagine… keep in mind that you are likely to not revisit the same trail and / or trekking location over and over again. It will likely be another trail every single time that you decide to take a hike. And let’s face it… in this economy, you are probably not going to buy a new pair of boots from Amazon for every hike that you are going to undertake. You will have to be smart about your hard earned money. You can’t be throwing dollars around like peanuts. You are going to want to invest in a single, super decent pair of hiking shoes if you are dead serious about visiting all of the trekking trails that I have mentioned so far. And that pair is going to have to be able to take you from beginning to end on whichever trail it is that you are going to go onto.

yosemiteSo what are the best trekking boots for the Inca Trail, Amazon Jungle, Kauai, Ireland, Hawaii, Machu Picchu, Milford Track, Patagonia, Pacific Northwest, La Pera and a whole bunch of other locations? Well… all of these locations are known to be rocky, wet, slippery or dangerous in any other way. Some of these even have very steep climbs, which may only be attempted by well trained hikers. If you are a newcomer to the sport of hiking, then you are going to have to be really careful with selecting your trail. If you choose a trail that is too strenuous right off the bat, then you are going to become disappointed with your results. And if there is anything that you don’t want to do, it is to discourage yourself because then you are likely not going to attempt another hike.

Next to the trails and hiking locations named above, you might also be wondering what are the best camping boots for Kilimanjaro, Central America, Colorado, Camino de Santiago and other long distances? The truth is, there isn’t any particular type of boot to match any type of location. Most trails have very different terrains from one fragment of the trail to the next fragment. And not only is there inherently lots of variations in trail terrains, it also depends on which season you are choosing in order to go hiking. If you are going hiking in winter, then naturally you are going to have a tougher time than if you were to visit the exact same trail in the summer season.

Seasons / Climates

nepalNaturally, when you are going for a hike in the winter, you are going to have to make sure that the boots you will buy are waterproof. These days, pretty much all trekking boots are sold as waterproof, but that does not mean that they are all equal. Some of them will have a higher resistance to water than others. It also matters whether you are going for a low cut, mid cut or high cut backpacking boot. The lower cut your footwear is, the easier it is going to become for water to get it. But low cut boots will also give your ankle the most flexibility. Some people like this for when they are climbing rocks and stuff. But low cut boots are not the best backpackings boots for weak ankles, for the simple reason that they do not give your ankle a whole lot of support. The higher cut the boot is, the more support you will have for your ankles. And the mid cut boots are attempting to fill the void that is called the golden mean.

Good Support

It doesn’t matter what you are looking for the best tramping boots for South Africa, Australia, John Muir, Kalalau, the Appalachian Trail or Kokoda… you are going to need decent footwear for pretty much all those locations. Because if you don’t have good trekking shoes on your feet, you are sure to end up with lots of blisters, and you might even develop a nasty case of plantar fasciitis. In case you do not know what this is… it is a very painful condition of the foot. It means that the plantar fascia tendon, which runs across the entire length of the foot, from heel to toes, is inflamed. This makes the tendon much thicker and also very painful. If you have ever had this condition, then you know what a nightmare it is to get out of bed in the morning and you dread having to take that first step.

incaIt can occur if you are putting too much of a strain on your feet for too long a time. This is why overweight people suffer from it more often than non overweight people do. But even for people who are not obese, it is still possible to develop plantar fasciitis. It runs in the family, so it is inheribable from your parents. Even if you are thin, you risk developing this condition if you are hiking too long and too insensely on bad footwear that does not give your feet the protection they require and deserve. You will want to prevent a lifetime of chronic foot pain. Nothing else in this world deserves being avoided like the black plague more than chronic foot conditions. You’ll literally regret it for the rest of your life if you do not take your foot health seriously.

More Tips on Hiking Boots

grand canyonThe most obvious tip of all is to know your foot size. Refer to online charts and see which of the size your feet belongs. This is highly recommended if you are going to buy a boot outside of your country. You have no means of measuring the actual boot. When you shop online, consider a brand you are already familiar with.

If you are purchasing through a boutique or department store, try it on and see if it fits. Normally, the feet will swell, so this make it a bad idea for you to buy small boots. You should also consider spending some time with the boots by strolling through the store, even if only for a while.

Wear socks you are familiar with. You can easily asses your feel and fit of your new footwear this way.

Bring along your orthotics if you wear them. They give impact fitting of your boot.

And lastly, consider the footbeds or aftermarket insoles. They enhance the fit, support and comfort of the boot.

In Summary

A good pair of boots is important for hikers of all skill levels. It does not matter whether you are a merely thinking about going on your first hike, or whether you’ve already done dozens and want more… you will be lost without the right type of footwear. When trodding the trails, you can’t afford to get lazy with your research.

I have suffered from buyer’s remorse on more occasions than one, and I want to prevent my fellow hiker folk from making these very same mistakes. For that reason, I have compiled the above guide. I hope the above guide will help you to find a good pair of hiking boots for your upcoming hiking adventure in the great outdoors!

Back to the Boot Bomb.

2 Comments

  1. HI– great site! Last spring I walked the Camino de Santiago in Teva Terra sandals… right foot wrapped witj kineosology and padded with a gel orthotic under the toes to protect for the morton’s neuroma/metatarsal pain. It was not a completely satisfactory solution (!) but I did manage to cover (or limp) close to 400 miles. The sandals allowed my foot to swell as the day went on, were adjustable (velcro straps), and had decent arch support. Next year I am going on another long walk and want to be better prepared. Let me say, I tried out 5 hiking shoes (Merrills Moabs, New Balance, etc.) before I went. None gave me the support I needed, or the toe box was too narrow, or… I am seeking other suggestions and solutions. I need a hiking shoe that gives arch support, roomy toe box, lift in the metatarsal area, good tread. Thanks.

    So. Ideas?

    • Hi Elizabeth,

      Thanks for the compliment!

      You may want to have a look at my women’s hiking boots page if you’re looking for a good boot. It’s the top 20 best hiking boots from the top 20 brands. I doubt you’ve tried them all. Make sure that the one you’re eyeing has a wide enough toe box!

      If it’s good support you want, you may want to try out Treadlabs insoles. They’re my all time favorites. So whichever boot you end up buying, make sure it has a removable insole.

      I also have a page on hiking sandals. These will allow your feet to swell, although you can’t put insoles in any of these.

      So it’s kind of a pick or choose situation!

      I also have an informational page up on Morton’s Neuroma. And then there’s this page where I review the best Morton’s Neuroma shoes.

      Does this help?

      Sincerely,

      Brian

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