In order to feed your soul with an ample amount of adventure beyond the city bubble, you’ll need the right protection for your soles. The ideal pair of hiking boots will help you claw forward on the trail, even in harsh weather or rough terrain. It can be a long and winding road toward getting the right pair of boots, as there is a sea of choices, but we’re here to help in the matchmaking process.
The perfect pair of hiking boots is out there for your fearless feet, but you need to know what works the best for your feet and the types of trails you’ll be tackling. We’re here to make sure you know how to buy hiking boots that meet your feet’s criteria because not every quality pair of boots is going to be right for you. We’ll go over the types of hiking boots available, what defines quality construction, and how you can ensure a flawless fit.
Hiking is an activity that provides you with a solid workout while helping you take a vacation from the ever-growing digital world. You can unplug for a few hours or even a weekend to connect with nature and really absorb the artistic beauty of the outdoors. Before we get into how you can track down the best pair of hiking boots, we just want to remind you to buddy-up on the trails. You may have all the best gear in the world, but the safest way to hike is with a group. Make sure you know your route and take the proper precautions to deal with the sometimes unpredictable elements of the wild.
Types Of Hiking Boots
Not All Boots Are Made The Same
Not all hiking boots are created equal, so we’ll break down the most common types of hiking boots you’ll find on your search for the best. In general, you’ll want to look for a comfortable pair with stability, warmth, durability, and water-resistance. However, different models will address different terrain, so let’s take a look at your options so you can slip into boots that match your activity level.
Day Hiking Boots
Not everyone has the skills or time to go on long endurance-testing backpacking adventures. and if that’s the case for you, day hiking boots will be the best fit. Boots under this category are quintessential for short hiking trips and are usually mid-to high-cut variants. These types of boots work best when you have a light load and they’re flexible, so you don’t need to break them in as much as other boots. However, they aren’t as resilient as some hiking or backpacking boots. If you’re mostly going to be hiking quick trails in reasonably fair weather, you can save some money by grabbing a pair of day hiking boots.
Constructed for heavy loads, these boots are meant for multi-day trips. They’ll hold up well in adventures deep into the backcountry where you’ll feel like you’ve entered a dimension portal to a time long since passed. Backpacking boots will have a high-cut, wrapping around your ankles for maximum support to help you brave the dangerous parts of the trail. They are sturdy and supportive with rugged midsoles perfect for any trail, but will still perform well off-trail. Boots under this category are designed for much longer trips and more challenging locations.
Similar to switching up your tires for off-roading, you’ll need to upgrade your footwear for off-trail hiking to tackle long, jaggy journeys. Off-trail boots are typically built with ankle support, full-grain leather, and superior sole stability. They are constructed to offer ample protection for your soles, but they’re still flexible enough when short strides are needed for rough terrain. They require a long break-in time, but they are definitely ready to log some extensive mileage. Usually, this type of footwear will have excellent waterproofing and minimal seams.
Boots for mountaineering will feature advanced traction and insulation. They’ll be constructed with full-grain leather uppers and minimal seams. These boots will not be ideal for full-stride hiking because they’ll feel a little too rigid for comfort. If you happen to pick up a pair of mountaineering boots, make sure you log in some miles to break them in at a steady pace, unless you enjoy getting blisters on your first day of a long trip.
What To Look For
Boots are the most important gear for a hiker, so quality construction is paramount. Wearing poorly designed boots will make you feel like you’re walking on punji sticks, so the price tag shouldn’t be a determining factor. When it comes to choosing the best pair of hiking boots for your feet, you should ignore flashy features and rely on trusted brands more as a guide than gospel because even if the boots are made well, they may not be the best fit for your feet.
Uppers encompass all the material covering your feet from the bottom shafts all the way to the outsoles and need to offer more than style to survive the sinewy trails in the wild. Exceptional uppers are constructed from the following types of leather: full-grain, split-grain, synthetics, or nubuck.
Full-grain leather is hardwearing and has exceptional abrasion and water-resistance. Split-grain leather is combined with nylon to create lightweight uppers with fantastic breathability, however, it’s not as rugged as full-grain. Nubuck leather is full-grain leather which has been burnished to create a texture similar to suede, increasing its flexibility. And synthetic leather, made from materials such as polyester and nylon, is what’s found in modern boots. Synthetics are lighter and dry faster but will show wear and tear quickly, which isn’t bad if you want your boots to tell the story of your adventures.
Reliable uppers should also be waterproof. Breathable, waterproof membranes like ‘Gore-Tex’ and ‘eVent’ are key ingredients in the recipe for a rugged pair of hiking boots. Nobody likes wet, soggy socks, so waterproof membranes will keep your feet dry and happy so you can focus on the trail. If you’re picking up a pair of boots for mountaineering, make sure their uppers have some type of synthetic insulation to keep your feet from freezing up like ice cubes.
Mother Nature creates beautiful trails, but they can also be unforgiving, as they’re sprinkled with jagged rocks and bumpy land with sometimes jarring level changes. Thankfully, the midsoles, which determine the rigidity of the footwear, provide cushioning to protect your feet from shock. Although stiff boots may sound uncomfortable, they’re actually ideal for craggy, uneven terrain because they’ll keep your feet from contorting painfully to every rock on your route.
One of the most common quality midsoles you can look out for in the construction of hiking boots is EVA (ethyl vinyl acetate). This foam layer will protect your feet when they strike the trail, as its construction follows the foot line. EVA provides a more comfy feel and it’s a lighter variation of a midsole, making them exceptional for shorter hikes.
Polyurethane midsoles are also an excellent choice for your feet but are better suited for longer more grueling hikes. These midsoles are rugged and more firm than others, allowing them to support your feet much better during longer journeys with heavier loads. Hiking boots with polyurethane midsoles would’ve been heaven for the hobbits in Lord of the Rings. Polyurethane and EVA are the two most common types of midsoles for hiking boots so if you don’t find them in the specs of a pair you’re eyeing, you’ll want to move on to the next option.
The connection between you and the Earth’s skin are the outsoles beneath your feet. Outsoles are constructed from rubber and can be made in diverse densities to meet the need of your feet and the terrain. Materials like carbon are occasionally added to the outsoles, especially for mountaineering boots, as a way of upgrading the level of hardness.
Outsoles will feature cleats or lugs protruding from the bottom to claw into the trail for superior grip. The lug pattern should be aggressive for superb traction, however, you shouldn’t invest in outsoles with a crowded lug pattern. Lugs that are spaced widely perform better on the trail since they still offer reliable traction while being able to shed mud without any issues.
The other important part of an outsole is the lug-less area referred to as the heel break, which is designed to give dependable stopping power when you’re going downhill on your route. Sliding during a steep descent can turn into a disaster rather quickly, so the heel brake can be a literal life-saver. A quality pair of hiking boots will definitely feature heel brakes, so if you pick up a pair without a defined heel zone, you’ll want to drop them immediately.
The Perfect Fit
For the Cinderella fit, you’ll want a pair of hiking boots that are snug, but not suffocating, with room for your toes to dance a little. Shopping for boots online is convenient, but we highly recommend going into a store to try them on in person. Remember, hiking boots are more about functionality over style, although you get points for finding a dapper pair. So, how do you find the “perfect fit” in your next hiking boots? Well, there’s plenty to ponder over while you try on boots and filter out the uncomfortable models to end up with the perfect match. Here are some vital tips to guide in landing on the exemplary model for your soles:
1. Wear the hiking socks you’ll be wearing when you hike or buy a pair of hiking socks to go along with the boots you’re trying on. Reminder: synthetic socks are best for hikes.
2. This may sound a little crazy, but measure your foot’s length, arch, and width for a favorable fit.
3. If possible, check out the “last” of the hiking boots, which is a 3D wooden or plastic mold used to construct the boots. When the “last” match the shape and volume of your foot, the boots will more than likely be a comfy fit.
4. Head to the store to try on hiking boots at the end of the day when your feet are a little swollen so you’ll avoid buying a pair that will feel small on the trail.
5. Take your time trying on the boots and walk around the store, walk up and down stairs or on an inclined surface if there’s one nearby to assess the fit.
Hiking Boots To Consider
A Few Suggestions
There are several brands to take note of when you’re shopping for hiking boots and we’ve decided to highlight a few of them below. Of course, we still encourage you to go into a shop to try on the adventure boots, but you can use our selections as examples of quality footwear for the backcountry.
Danner Mountain 600 Enduroweave
Danner is known for making stylish boots with superior functionality and their 600 Enduroweave model is no exception. They’re made with ‘Vibram SPE’ midsoles constructed to be more durable than regular EVA, abrasion-resistant heels, and moisture-wicking air mesh linings. The boots also have carbon-washed textile uppers and adaptive lugs to help you trek through anything. You’ll be able to wear these boots for urban exploring and easily transition to the trail when you need to escape the digital city.
The North Face Ultra Fastpack III
We’re sure you know the company and their reputation for making quality outdoor gear so it makes sense they’d have a solid pair of go-to hiking boots. The Ultra Fastpack III features a ‘TNF FastFoam’ midsole system capable of maximizing energy return so you can cover more ground at a quicker pace. The waterproof boots also have a TPU-coated woven mesh, Gore-Tex membranes, and Ortholite footbeds for lasting comfort on even the toughest trails. As usual, The North Face offers a lifetime guarantee for these hiking boots.
Salomon X Ultra 3
Salomon’s X Ultra 3 hiking boots are built with Gore-Tex, injected EVA, and Ortholite sock liners. They feature ‘Descent Control’ technology to help you with steep portions of a hike, ensuring you avoid taking a spill on tough descents. Thanks to the construction of these reliable hiking boots, you’ll be able to get a grip on the terrain even in wet conditions. They also have an advanced chassis enclosed with foam cushioning for superb comfort, connecting straight to the soles to help stabilize your heels.
Nike ACG Ruckel Ridge
Although most hiking boots don’t ooze style, the Nike ACG Ruckel Ridge boots are an exception. They feature 4D fit mesh uppers, a speed-lacing system, and pressure-absorbing ‘Poron Foam.’ For amazing traction, the boots also feature a ‘GraveRockMoss’ system to ensure you have ample grip on the terrain. They also have a stretchable, high shock-absorbing foam not found in common hiking boots. Nike came up with the perfect mix of substance and visual flair.
La Sportiva Pyramid GTX
Getting their start manufacturing boots for farmers, lumberjacks, and Italian WWII soldiers, La Sportiva knows a thing or two about crafting rugged footwear. These hiking boots feature the quality construction for which La Sportiva is known, as they’re made with 360° Gore-Tex, ‘Vibram XS’ trek outsoles, and perforated nubuck leather. To upgrade breathability and comfort, they use ‘Nano Cell’ technology for effective aeration channels in the footbeds and midsoles for unrivaled comfort.
The Ultimate Guide To Learning How To Hike
Now that you have the most critical gear squared away for your adventure, it’s time to learn about the do’s and don’ts of hiking. Check out our guide to learning how to hike before you tackle your next trail.