Hiking is an activity that many people enjoy but hiking in boots that are poorly made or don’t fit correctly can lead to a very uncomfortable experience. In order to get the most out of your hiking experience, it’s important to get top-rated hiking boots.
Choosing the best hiking boots though can be difficult though as there are a lot of different features that are important in terms of what separates one boot from the next. Durability and comfort are key but also the likes of traction and stability are very important too.
In this guide, we will show you all the best products that are out there on the market with our hiking reviews but we will also explain all the key features of a hiking boot and how they relate to you. Once you’ve read through this guide, you’ll know exactly what you’re looking for.
How To Choose A Pair Of Hiking Boots – Buying Guide
Durability is one of the most important features when it comes to boots for hiking as they take a lot of punishment due to the rough terrain that they are going to be traveling over and also the amount of pressure on the seams that they are taking while going over different angles.
They are a product which should be able to last you for many years, even when used often with their quality construction and materials. With these boots, often a compromise needs to be made between durability and weight, as the more material that you add in order to make it durable, the heavier the shoe is going to be.
The best manufacturers are able to find this balance and still produce a quality shoe that is going to last for a very long time while not being too heavy. Durability is a hard quality to define in a new shoe which is why user reviews are important to be able to see what people have been saying that have been using the product for a long time.
The best hiking boots will still be able to rank very highly in durability but if this is going to be the most important feature for you then it might be a good idea to look for a more bulky shoe that will have more material throughout it.
One of the biggest qualities of a durable shoe is to have it fully made of leather which is a tried and trusted method with all types of shoes. Having leather on the upper is a good way to make it last for even a longer time when compared to more synthetic materials which can cut in and peel over time.
The amount of durability that you need can depend on the type of activity that you will be planning on doing. If you are going to be using them for light trail use then the durability isn’t going to be much of an issue as they won’t be taking as much punishment and can afford to be a lot lighter. If they are going to be having heavy use of mixed terrain then a heavier boot would be required.
Thankfully all the products that we have looked at in this guide rank very highly in durability which is a hallmark of a high-quality manufacturer. Getting a cheap shoe can not only mean having a lack of durability but it will fail in other areas too. In order to have the best hiking experience, it’s always the best idea to get a quality boot.
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If a hiking boot is uncomfortable then it makes it completely useless and you would probably be better just staying indoors. Having a pair of poor boots can create many problems with your feet and overall it can stop you from being able to enjoy your time outdoors and you don’t want to spoil the experience.
If you have a boot that is poorly fitted around the toe then this might cause blisters which will start to become very painful. If you plan to hike on consecutive days then you will often find that it becomes too painful. Not having enough cushioning on the footbed will also mean that your feet are sore which can make the hike uncomfortable.
There are other aspects that can make for a comfortable boot too and it’s important to look out for those features. The importance of this can depend slightly from person to person as some people have feet which are much more prone to soreness and blistering but everyone still wants to have a comfortable boot on their feet.
In the past, boots often had to be sworn in for a long time due to the stiff leather that they had inside of them. For the most part, these still leathers have been replaced in most boots so the same amount of wearing it isn’t required but it’s still a good idea to wear them in slightly, just to ensure that your first hike is going to be a comfortable one.
One of the keys to a comfortable boot is for the sole of the shoe to match that of your foot. There should be no pressure points that press in against your feet and the toes should have enough room at the front of the shoe in order for them to freely move around without rubbing together.
With boots for hiking, it’s also important for not just your foot be comfortable but also your ankle too as this will need a lot of support when you are hiking. Having additional padding in this area will help to give you a very high level of overall comfort and make it feel as though your foot is locked into your boot to avoid any unwanted movement.
Some people need more ankle support than others so this can also be a matter of individual preference. It also depends on what terrain you are going over as more difficult terrain will require a higher level of comfort and easier terrain.
There are also other factors that can be a determining factor in what makes a product comfortable and one of those is the balance which is played between being waterproof and breathable. While advancements have been made, the more waterproofing a shoe has then the less breathable it is going to be.
Both of these factors play an important role in comfort. You don’t want your feet to get wet but at the same time, you don’t want them to get too warm and humid as that will often be uncomfortable too. The best hiking boots are able to strike a balance with some having more mesh around them than others. If waterproofing is going to be a key issue for you then you are able to sacrifice a bit of breathability in order to ensure that your feet stay dry.
These features are going to be important in the overall comfort of your hiking boot and it’s important to look for these when it comes to your buying decision. If you don’t have a comfortable boot then you are going to have trouble being able to enjoy yourself while you are out on a hike.
The weight of your shoe is going to be important but a balance does have to be made between the materials that you need to use and the durability too. While it may seem like you should always look for the lightest boot that you can, this isn’t always going to be the right thing to do as there are other factors that can come into play.
Other key features that are a part of what makes a good boot can add weight to the product but you still don’t want them to be too heavy otherwise it will soon put too much strain on your leg muscles and they can quickly become sore from constantly having to pick up those heavy boots from the ground.
The additional weight that can come is usually added to boots which are better from more strenuous and challenging activities such as hiking over uneven ground and climbing. If this is you then you will need more traction from your shoe to be able to have that additional grip and more support around the ankle which will be able to cope with the twist and turns. More materials also mean that you will have a higher level of durability too.
This doesn’t mean that you should be happy to just accept a heavy boot though but if you are looking for those additional levels of support and comfort then you should expect there to be a few more hundreds of grams of weight on there which will still make it light enough to be able to freely walk around.
On the other hand, If you are going to be going on light hikes then that additional level of support wouldn’t really be required and therefore you can afford to look for something a bit lighter which will be able to be easier for your feet. It’s always an important aspect to consider though but light boots can still offer a very high level of performance.
In terms of how to make your buying decision, the weight of the boot should actually be quite low down on your list. It’s best to look at all the other key features that are on the boot and make sure that they are going to be right for you and your needs. Once you have looked at the key features, then it’s a good time to then compare the weights and see which product will be lighter.
One key feature which is an important difference between boots to any other type of product is that they are able to offer your foot a high level of stability. It will be able to not only give you a high level of comfort but it will also prevent you from having any injuries while you are out there hiking.
The stability of a boot is determined by a few various factors including the sole, the support around the ankle, and also the height of the boot too. These can obviously add to the weight of the product and as is often the case there is a tradeoff between various different features depending on what is going to be the most important to you.
This is another factor on which the importance of the feature depends on the type of terrain that you are going to be traveling over. The rougher the terrain that you are climbing over, the more you will need the additional support and a more rigid boot. If you are traveling over the light ground then having more flexibility would probably be a better choice.
In terms of that stability, there are a few different ways that can be added to a boot with the most obvious being one which a piece of rigid material which will be slotted between the midsole and the outsole which is often known as a shank. This can often be hard plastic or steel inserts which will be able can range from just being under the arch to the full length of the boot.
Some other shoes will have more height to the boot in order to offer a level of stability while still being flexible enough to be more comfortable for simple hikes. The importance of this stability will increase with the technical difficulties if the hike which important to bear in mind before you decide to buy a hiking boot, as you want to make sure that it fits your purpose.
Another aspect which has an important role in the stability of the shoe is the size of the sole as a wider sole will help to prevent any rolling that might happen over your ankle as the sole will have a wider base in order to be able to grip on to whatever surface that you are hiking over. This helps to give you more stability and help to prevent any injuries.
Some people are more naturally prone to roll their ankles than over so the importance of the stability can often be impacted by how much protection your ankle needs. The most important consideration here though is the difficulty of the terrain that you are going to be hiking over. If you are going over rough terrain then the constant slight twisting of your ankle can cause fatigue and therefore you want a boot that is going to help to keep your foot even.
The traction of a boot is going to be very important as it is with any food product. With boots though it’s going to be even more important as you are going to be traveling over ground which sometime might not have the greatest level of grip, therefore it’s important that your footwear is able to cope with that.
The traction of the sole also plays an important role in the stability of the boot. If you are able to have a high level of grip on the sole then it will prevent your foot from slipping and therefore rolling over. This will be able to prevent you from injury and allow you to happily continue to go about your hike.
One of the best manufacturers of rubber outsoles is Vibram who is seen as one of the best producers of this part of the shoe and a lot of companies will be able to outsource their work to them in order for their boots to have a high level of traction. A lot of companies do that as the traction is that important in regards to the overall quality of the shoe.
One key marker of what separates the traction of the shoes is the size of the lugs which are on the bottom of the boot which will be different from one boot to the next. The lugs are the individual pieces of rubber which will be designed in such a way to offer plenty of grip in all directions so your feet can have a grip at all times.
If you’re going to be traveling through mud or more difficult terrain then it’s important that you have lugs which are large as these will work in much the same way as the treat on a tire will as they will be able to clear the water or debris and make sure that your boot can find the sold surface in order to grip onto it effectively.
The importance of this, again, depends on the type of hiking that you will be doing as if you are only planning on taking easy routes then the lug size on the bottom of the boot isn’t going to be quite as important as it is if you are planning on going on climbs which are going to have a high degree of technical difficulty.
Traction though is still going to be important in whatever type of hiking you will be doing. You want the rubber that is on the bottom of the sole to be made from the highest quality of material so that your feet will be prevented from slipping while you are out there. While Vibram is a great brand when it comes to the making of outsole rubber, there are other companies that also make a quality product, and checking the user reviews is important.
All the different aspects of a hiking boot add up to the overall fit of the product and you want to make sure that they are giving you what you are looking for in the right areas. Many people have different types of feet and this needs to be catered for when you are looking into buying a hiking boot.
You will be taking thousands of steps on any individual hike and with each one there will be a level of pressure that is imparted on the boot from all different directions and if it is unable to cope then it could end up being very uncomfortable or you might find that they wear out far too quickly.
A few markers for a good comfortable shoe is that there should be very little wriggle room around the instep or the heel of the boot. If there is then it’s likely that you need to change your size otherwise it will rub and move around when it shouldn’t be doing.
If the boot is too heavy for your feet then it’s also likely that you will quickly get leg fatigue which can cause considerable strain on your calf muscles. If your boot weighs significantly more than your usual pair of shoes then you may well find that it is too uncomfortable and it could well make for a miserable day of hiking.
The lacing can play an important role in the fit of the shoe as obviously this is what will help keep your feet tightly in your boot. There are different types of the lacing system and you want to ensure that not only can it be tightening effectively but also that it won’t become loose either. This not only is affected by the lacing system on the boot but also the laces themselves.
If it is the laces then it’s pretty easy to buy high-quality laces so solve the problem. There are simpler single-pull designs but these aren’t able to offer you the same level of support as other options. Other designs are more aggressive and able to give you a stronger hold on your boot. This includes features such as locking hooks which will be on the end of the ankle and keep the whole boot tight to your foot.
The overall fit of the boot is of vital performance and it’s where you see the biggest difference in the quality of the product. All of the boots that we have featured on our list are all made from very well-known manufacturers which are known for their great fit and the overall design of the footwear.
Upper – The upper of footwear is the fabric that will be on the top of the shoe and connect it to the rest of the product. This is vitally important as it connects to the key features which can determine the overall quality of the rest of the shoe. This affects the durability, water-resistance, and also the ability for the boot to be breathable.
Quite often with these boots, they will be made from a mix of materials as they will want the durability of the leather but also the breathability that other materials can bring. Having less leather on an upper will also negatively affect the waterproofing of the boot so there often has to be a balance between what is going to be more important.
The nylon materials that can be found on boots are often found on boots which are the lower end of the price scale. One of the biggest advantages of nylon is that it is highly breathable so your feet will feel light and it will stop them from getting damp which can be a contributing factor when it comes to blisters. The disadvantage is that they often lack the durability of other products but this sacrifice also means that they are a lot lighter. This also makes them less waterproof but can be treated in order to give them more resistance. While this can be an ideal material in some circumstances, it’s not ideal for more technical hiking.
Nubuck and suede leather is a material that is often found on mid-range boots and is ones that have a decent level of performance. More traditional leather options are more rigid than nubuck leather and will be softer to the touch and lighter too. The thinner construction of the leather will mean that it is lighter which will take away from the durability of the product. Despite that, it’s more durable than nylon which makes it a good mid-range boot. There are a few other advantages to nubuck leather though as it will also be a higher level of breathability and also it’s finished means that any scuff marks don’t show as much.
Full-grain leather is the material that you often find on the higher range boots and also the ones which are designed to do more technical climbs. This material will make the boots tougher than other materials but also a lot tougher which means that they will be able to withstand a higher level of punishment. The downside to this type of material is that it is not as breathable and light as other types of boot. If you are looking to do more challenging hikes and climbs and need a boot that is going to be able to cope, then you’ll need to look at it being made from full-grain leather.
Midsole – Hiking will put a lot of pressure on your feet, especially if you are carrying a backpack as it will place additional weight and pressure on your footwear. This is why you need a great midsole that will be able to act as a shock absorber between the outsole and the insole. The size of this midsole can be different from one product to the next but it is generally made from two materials, EVA foam or PU.
EVA is the material that you will see on most products and is generally seen on the lighter type of boot. It is a soft material and will help to reduce the impact which will be found in your feel and the middle of your foot. The material can be stiffer though depending on the way it is constructed and it’s better for longer hikes that it is a bit more stable as this will give you added stability. A very soft EVA midsole is able to break down over time so it is better for books with lighter use.
PU is short for polyurethane and is ideal for tough hiking and heavier impacts than EVA will be able to handle. It is stiffer than EVA which sounds like a disadvantage but it will be able to last longer and deal with a heavy load. They will also keep their shape for much longer and be more durable in the process. This is generally a more expensive material than EVA so it is found on the higher-end products.
Tongue – The tongue of the material will depend on the make-up of the overall shoe and will be either leather or mesh depending on how waterproof the boot is going to be. It can also be a mixture of both too as the leather will be able to give more durability and waterproofing while the mesh will give you more breathability. Your preference will depend on your preference.
Insole – In terms of the overall fit of any piece of footwear often the insole won’t be a good fit as it doesn’t match up to the natural shape of your foot. Some insoles will be a lot better than others and the best hiking boots will continue to be comfortable. If your feet have specific needs then it is a good idea to look for a product that has a removable insole so you would be able to replace it with an insole that is going to be perfectly suited to your foot. Your insole is obviously an important part of your shoe so getting it right is very important.
Outsole – The outsole of the shoe is vitally important but this is more or less going to always made from the same material which is rubber. The difference in quality from one product to the next though can be large so it’s important to get a quality product so you can be confident that it’s going to give you the amount of traction that you will be looking for.
The toe box is an important part of the boot as it’s pretty much certain that you are going to stub your toe at some point and you want to make sure that it isn’t going to be painful. This is where you need a thick piece of rubber at the end of the boot in order to protect yourself. The toe is one place though their material may be taken from in order to save weight so if you want a high level of protection then you need to make sure the boot has this.
If you are going to be in more challenging terrain then this is going to be more important as the impacts with your toe are going to be more likely and also it will be more dangerous. This is part of the overall protection that your boot needs to offer you with the other features that it is going to have as well.
This includes the level of stability that is in the shoe which will need to be there when you are traveling over rocks and branches which could challenge the stresses on your feet. One area of protection that a boot might need to give you is protected from the cold too, as there are some boots out there that will be able to give you an extra layer of insulation and help to keep your feet warm, even when the temperature drops.
That protection would be pointless without waterproofing as if that cold rain or snow gets into your boot then it will be pointless as it will be hard to ever warm up after that. If you are going to be on long hikes in colder climates then that makes the protection even more important. As well as this protection, you also want to make sure that the materials are going to be strong enough to be able to resist any scrapes and sharp objects that they might encounter.
The construction of the hiking boot is important and is about the overall quality of the product. This is not about just the materials that are used in the product but also the way that they are put together. Some manufactures have a much better standard of build quality than others.
In this list, we have seen a lot of well-known companies in the list which have built their reputation on a high level of quality so you are able to have greater peace of mind that you are going to get a boot that you are going to be happy with if you get it from a reputable source.
As we have seen already in this guide, there is often a trade-off when it comes to these materials as sometimes durability is sometimes sacrificed for various reasons whether that be due to cost or it could be that they want to make the shoe lighter. This can often mean that the construction of the boot might not last as long as others.
The quality of the construction is often important in relation to the type of hiking that you will be doing. If you are going to be doing much more challenging hiking then you are going to need to get a boot with much more durable construction. This is another area where looking at the user reviews is going to be very important as if there are any gripes on the construction of the material then you will soon be able to find out.
When it comes to hiking most boots that you are going to find will be able to offer you a certain level of waterproof protection but some are able to offer a lot more protection than others. Some of the best ways to protect your feet from the rain are to have a layer of Gore-Tex within the boots which will be able to give you waterproof protection.
One of the greatest features of this material though is its ability to breathable so you are able to get the waterproof protection without having to worry about your feet getting damp from the sweat. There are other companies that are able to offer a similar level of protection but not quite to the same standard.
A waterproof coating over the material will help to bead up any drop of water so that they will run off the shoe rather than soak into it, sometimes though it might be the best idea to have a hiking shoe which is going to be more breathable and therefore more comfortable to wear over a longer period of time.
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If you are going to only be hiking in circumstances where it is hot and dry then it will probably be a better idea to have a boot that doesn’t have a great level of waterproofing so that your feet can be a lot more comfortable than they otherwise would be. Even these lighter shoes though should be able to stay waterproof when walking through puddles and damp conditions.
If you’re looking for boots for hiking though then it’s likely that you are going to be looking for a decent level of waterproofing but this can often depend on your own personal preference. Some prefer to opt for lighter shoes that are going to dry quickly rather than heavy waterproof shoes which are going to take a long time to dry.
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The breathability of the boot links in with the waterproofing of the boot but you don’t have to completely sacrifice one for another as you are able to get a good level of protection with both. As we mentioned previously, there are products like Gore-Tex which are still able to give a level of breathability despite being waterproof.
There is an unfortunate decision that most people have to make at some point with many outdoor products, such as jackets, as the ability to keep water out often means also the same material is going to help keep the moisture trapped into the boot too.
If you’re the type of person whose feet sweat a lot then the ability for your boot to be breathable is going to be more important. The biggest factor in regards to this though is going to be the type of climate that you will most often be walking in. This should be a big factor in your buying decision for a number of different reasons, including breathability.
It could well be that you are a fair-weather hiker and will only ever head out there for smaller backpacking trips when the weather is good. If this is you then you will ideally want a hiking boot which has a high amount of breathability as that is going to be the most important aspect to you. If you are going to be doing something a lot more technical and walking through streams, for example, then waterproofing would be more important.
There are those though who would rank breathability over waterproofing and would rather be comfortable more of the time and have a boot with only a small amount of waterproofing but has a large amount of mesh. This is often a personal choice and one that you need to make before you decide to go out and buy a hiking boot.
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Q: When It’s The Right Time To Replace My Hiking Shoes?
When it comes to boots the first part that should start to get worn would be sole, as it will obviously have a lot more contact than any other part of your boot. When it does get worn you have two choices as you can either get the sole replaced or you can decide to get a new hiking boot instead.
Once you start to see any other damage to the rest of the boot, then it’s time for them to be replaced. The highest-quality boots will be able to resist a lot of flexing and be able to cope with the normal stresses of hiking for a very long time.
While some guides will say that you should have a certain amount of mileage in mind before replacing your shoes, this is obviously very hard to judge. It can be the case though that you don’t notice the gradual deterioration in the shoe in the form of the boot getting less stable and firm.
In this regard then your shoes might need to be replaced without you really even knowing. It should be a good idea to get a new pair and wear them in anticipation of a future change. If you notice a big difference in quality, then it might be the best time to throw away your old pair.
Q: Should I Consider An Insole?
A boot could have all the features in the world perfectly blended together but the fact is that it wasn’t made for your foot. This means that it might be able to offer you a high level of comfort when compared to many other different types of footwear but it’s still not perfect for you.
For most people, this isn’t going to be an issue and you wouldn’t have to focus on the insole as all types of shoes are going to be able to fit you well and allow you to have the comfort that you are looking for. If this is you then there is little point in considering an insole as it would be a waste.
If you have any problem with your feet though then it’ very likely that you already know about it, this could be in the form of having a flat arch, a high arch, wide feet, or various other issues which people can have. It’s important therefore that you get a specialist insole for your feet. If you feel as though you might have developed a problem, then it’s important that you go and get it checked out.
Q: What Style Of Boot Do I Need?
The style of boot that you are looking for will generally depend on the type of hiking that you are going to be doing. As your hikes become more technical then you tend to need more material added to the boot in order to make it more durable with a higher level of support.
This means that the weight of the product is often determined by the amount of support that it is meant to give you. If you are going on simple hikes then you would be perfectly fine with a low-rise hiking boot whereas if you were planning on something a little more extreme, then you would need a boot with a very high ankle.
Like with a lot of these options it can also largely come down to personal preference and you may just wish to have a heavy shoe with a lot of support even if you are going to be doing something simple. If you are doing something more extreme though, that support is really required.
Q: Are Waterproof Boots Recommended?
No, not always, as this depends on your personal preferences and the type of hikes that you will be going on. If it’s going to be cold outside then it’s probably going to be the best idea as the extra waterproofing that you would get would outweigh and negatives of a lack of breathability.
If you are always going to be hiking in warmer conditions then it might be much less of an issue for you and you might choose to opt for a much lighter shoe as it offers more comfort and would be able to dry easily. Almost all boots are waterproof up to a point but how much you want is generally just up to you.
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In terms of getting the right boots for you, there is clearly a lot to consider. While the likes of getting the best hardshell jackets or having a great daypack might help to make your hiking experience a comfortable one, there is probably a no more important piece of equipment than a hiking boot.
It will be able to prevent you from getting blisters and sore feet while also giving your ankle a great level of support as well as stability for your whole foot. Having ill-fitting boots can make for a miserable experience and completely take away from the great time that you ought to be having.
There is clearly a lot to consider and hopefully this guide has done a good job of being able to explain all the important features that a boot can have, and how quite often a boot excelling in one feature can mean that it won’t excel in another, such as the balance between breathability and being waterproof.
You want to make sure that you are getting a boot which is going to match the circumstances that you are in and if you are planning on going on more technical climbs then you will need a heavier boot which is going to be able to offer you a lot of support and stability. Traction is also a key issue and you will want to ensure that the outsole is made from quality materials as well as all the other features which have been explained here.
Choosing the best hiking boots for you is an important decision to make. You need to look at the key features and decide which ones are going to be the most important to you and which ones you are happy to sacrifice in order to get the ideal compromise. Once you have made the right choice then you will be able to enjoy your hiking experience more than ever before.
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