Hiking is one of the most popular outdoor activities around, and for good reason. When you combine the beauty of nature with the health benefits of exercise, it is easy to see why so many people do it on a regular basis. And those who do know just how important their boots are for this ancient activity.
The wrong pair of boots can turn a leisurely hike into a miserable experience very quickly. Avoid the blisters and use this guide to find the best pair of hiking boots for your needs.
- Best Hiking Boots
- Best Hiking Shoes
- Best Mountaineering Boots
- Best Backpacking Boots
- Best Waterproof Hiking Boots
- Best Leather Hiking Boots
- Best Synthetic Hiking Boots
- Best Kid’s Hiking Boots
- Best Hiking Boots for Wide Feet
- Hiking Boot Structure
- Types of Hiking Boots
- What to Look for when Buying Hiking Boots
- How to Find Proper Fit
- Choosing the Boot
This boot is midcut so it has adequate ankle support. It is made of leather and has a waterproof membrane that protects the feet from getting wet. It is very flexible hence it mimics natural feet movement.
For Women: Ahnu Women’s Sugarpine Hiking Boot
If you want hiking boots that do not compromise on aesthetics, this is the boot for you. It comes in a variety of vibrant colors to suit every woman’s taste. More importantly, it provides sufficient support by incorporating a TPU stability heel clip in its design. A Vibram outsole with lugs allows for gripping of all surfaces. Comfort is not compromised either. It has toe caps made of rubber. Its tongue and scree collar are well cushioned with soft padding. It is also waterproofed. The materials used to make it are light and allow for breathing.
Best Hiking Shoes
For Men: Adidas Outdoor AX2 Hiking Shoe
Adidas has endeavored to make this boot more comfortable by incorporating a sock liner. Its footbed can be removed and replaced when damaged. A synthetic mesh covering the upper makes this shoe waterproof. The mesh also allows circulation gives its breathability. The rubber soles are made water-resistant by addition of a lining on them. The treads are deep enough to grip soft surfaces. It does not have enough support to allow for heavy loads and intense hikes. It is especially suited for light hikes with little or no loads.
For Women: Merell Women’s Azura Hiking Shoe
Light, comfortable and water resistant are the words that accurately describe this shoe. A mesh keeps debris out and allows movement of air within. It is lined with comfortable foam, which is recycled making this shoe eco-friendly.
This is a mountaineering boot that provides support that is sufficient to ply the steepest mountain. It supports use of crampons and has rear locks that allow for climbing. The lacing system uses the Ribs Technology, which allows for equal transfer of tension to all parts of the foot. This technology eliminates pressure points and ensures that the boot fits well. The sole has more than sufficient tractions to grip the surface firmly. Comfort is not spared in this boot’s design as they have cushioned insoles that are both soft and aerated.
For Women: Scarpa Fuego Mountaineering Boot
The upper is hardy to offer maximum protection for the foot. In addition, a gusseted tongue adds more protection and is doubled to enhance its fit. It is durable due to the sturdy construction. Its classic style gives it an elegant look.
Best Backpacking Boots
This boot is designed for intense hiking. Its upper is made of hardy leather that is waterproof and comfortable. Its comfort is further enhanced by a dual density EVA insole as well as foam cushioning. The boot is durable. With intense hiking and good aftercare, it will provide good support for about five years.
Sturdy, comfortable and lightweight are the three key features of this boot. It has a strong chassis that does not let sharp objects pass through. The inner part is cushioned to provide comfort.
Best Waterproof Hiking Boots
If you want a boot that is both versatile and comfortable, this is the right choice for you. It is made of high grade leather, which makes it very sturdy and durable. It is oiled to make it waterproof. It is very light hence can be used for both day-hiking and multi-day hiking. Its length is high enough to provide ankle support, but not too high that it causes discomfort. Customers who reviewed it liked its durability most. With moderate hiking, this boot can serve the customer well for about four years.
Hi-Tec is designed for use in soggy condition. It is constructed with waterproofed materials. It’s lacing system and straps are rust-proof so they will not be affected by water. The collar is padded for extra protection and it has a sockliner added for comfort.
For Men: KEEN Men’s Koven Mid WP Hiking Boot
KEEN uses high quality leather that is durable. It is pretreated to prevent penetration of water. It has toe caps that protect toes. Its most unique feature is the contoured innersoles that are designed to adjust to the shape of the foot.
It is made out of full grain leather that is treated. The outsole is totally lugged to provide excellent grip. The outer part is covered with mesh that allows it to breath and keeps the interior aerated.
Best Synthetic Hiking Boots
It is made of Gore-Tex, a synthetic material that offers aeration and is waterproof.
For Women: Merrell Women’s Moab Waterproof Hiking Shoe
It is made of suede. The suede is covered with mesh to provide aeration.
Best Kid’s Hiking Boots
For Boys: Hi- Tec Hillside WP JR Hiking Boot
It is constructed from suede that is waterproof. The inner part houses a sock liner that is cushioned to keep the kid’s feet comfortable. The sockliner can be removed. It is durable due to the sturdy build.
For Girls: Merrell Capra Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot
It has a waterproof membrane and a removable footbed. These two features keep foot odor at bay.
This is designed to fit the wide-footed man. It also has breathability and a lining for moisture wicking.
Wide feet women don’t have to contend with men’s boots anymore. This boot offers a snug fit for every wide foot.
Hiking Boot Structure
Just like all shoes, every hiking boot has an upper part. This section is designed to enclose your foot. Its main function is to protect the foot, absorb shock and any moisture. It should be made of a material that is strong enough to offer adequate protection yet absorptive enough to prevent wetness. Leather would be the best material for optimum functionality. Some synthetic materials also work well. The fit should be suited for the specific foot to ensure maximum comfort. If it is too tight, it will pinch and cause blisters. One that is too wide will slide off as you are hiking.
Soles make the outer bottom part of the hiking boot. Their function is to cushion the foot against the force from the ground. It gives the wearer a good grip on the surface. A firm grip cannot be accomplished without adequate friction. An effective sole increases contact on soft surfaces to prevent slipping. Soles must have an adequate amount of tracing. The material must be flexible enough to accommodate normal walking movements. It must be firm enough to offer protection to the soles of the foot. Rubber would be the best material for this type of functionality.
Lacing and laces
Lacing mechanisms and laces ensure that the shoe remains firmly on the foot. Without these, shoes easily slip off when one is hiking. Lacing mechanisms are many. They include eyelets, D-rings, hooks, webbings, and combo. Eyelets are holes that are enclosed with metal. The metal ensures that the hole does not get bigger as the lace is pulled and tagged. D-rings are eyelets shaped like the letter D. Their shape gives more room for the lace. The metal around the ring is large so it can press on the hiker’s foot. Hooks have space for the lace to go in and out. Once the lace is well tied, the hook is clasped together to prevent its movement. Hooks are uncommon, therefore, may be difficult to maneuver. Webbing mechanisms have no metal. The metal reinforcement is replaced with strong fabric. They apply less pressure to the wearer’s foot. Combo features a mixture of all the three mechanisms. Laces are mostly made of nylon and are as long as the shoe.
The tongue is the movable part of the boot’s upper. It allows the wearer to put the foot in the boot without much struggle. A gusset connects the upper to the tongue. Apart from connecting the upper to the tongue, gussets prevent entry of dirt into the boot. The tongue can only be securely in place if the laces are well tightened.
Lining and padding
The lining is responsible for extra comfort. It prevents contact of the foot directly with the upper. Such contact may introduce pressure points, which decrease comfort. Hiker boots padded with foam offer greatest comfort. Foam is the material used to make your mattress. It gives the shoe a plush feeling. It also absorbs and redirects moisture. If you suffer from excessive sweating on your feet, the foam would be the best kind of padding for you. Leather padding is also used though it has a lower ability to absorb moisture and offers less plushness than foam.
Footbeds refer to the inner part of the boot where the soles of the foot rest. It is the most important part of the boot. It offers protection against direct contact with the ground. It is normally shaped like the average foot sole. They can be custom-shaped for people with foot problems. The material for footbeds should be absorptive and should allow for breathing. A removable footbed allows the user to replace it when damaged thus allowing the shoe to last long. It also promotes ease of cleaning. These insoles should be thick enough so that the wearer does not feel the ground or the shanks built into the sole.
This is a structure designed to protect Achilles tendon and foot from damage. It provides extra cushioning for these areas. If designed correctly, it will prevent chaffing that is common for seasoned hikers. They are common in high boots.
For hikers who frequent snowy and icy trails, extra friction is required to provide maximum grip. Crampon connections serve this purpose. They provide traction on such trails thus provide ease of movement.
This is the object that gives your sole structure. It can be made of metal or plastic and is usually inserted within the sole just below the footbed. The longer the shank, the stiffer the boot becomes. Metal shanks are the most common. Plastic shanks tend to break easily.
Types of Hiking Boots
Hiking boots are designed for long hikes. They are designed to offer maximum support and comfort for the wearer. Typically, they are long enough to cover the ankle region. This protects the heel from chaffing and supports the ankle preventing sprains. Their soles are made of rubber and have treads to enhance support. Shanks incorporated within the sole are long to make the boot very stiff. The upper is made of hardy material like leather. The material makes them durable, but may not allow for breathing. They are typically very heavy due to an added layer of waterproof material. This shoe is ideal for highly intense hikes where lots of luggage is carried. They also work well in all terrains.
Backpacking boots are sturdier and heavier than hiking boots. They are designed for those looking to carry huge loads when hiking. They are suitable for loads heavier than fifty pounds. The upper is constructed with high-grade leather while the sole is made of tough rubber with a high number of treads. Backpacking boots are best for intense backpacking for hours or days. They may be too heavy thus retard movement for light backpacking with little or no loads.
Mountaineering boots are designed for walking on mountains and hills. They are insulated to protect the foot from the cold mountain environment. Insulation is achieved by making them taller than other boots and by adding extra layers. They are hardy to withstand the rough terrain. This makes them durable. Most mountains have ice or snow. Mountaineering boots must grip the ice firmly, or the hiker will skid. Extra grip is provided by attaching crampon connection to the boot. The soles are stiff to increase protection to the feet from rocks and hard surfaces beneath. Stiffness is achieved by incorporating very long shanks in the soles. The downside of these boots is that they can be quite costly.
This is the best type of shoe for rock climbing or hiking on rocky terrain. Rocks are slippery. Hikers normally have to remove their boots to navigate such approaches to prevent slipping. These shoes offer excellent grip. Their soles are made of sticky rubber. The stickiness allows the treads to overcome the rock’s slipperiness. Unlike typical climbing shoes, these have lugs that can grip soft and hard surfaces thus can be used for walking. The sole is longer than that of other shoes. It curves upward at the toe section and curves around the heel area. This extension provides extra comfort when tackling long steep approaches. The rest of the shoe is designed like the typical trail running shoes, which ensure maximum comfort and lightness. They also offer greater breathability. They are not very durable so that you will replace these often.
A few years ago, a study claimed that traditional running shoes negatively affect natural foot movements and blamed them for injuries encountered by runners. Designers rushed to create the perfect shoe that mimics man’s bare foot. Bare foot shoes were birthed as a result. These shoes have been adopted by hikers. They have thin soles to protect the foot sole from direct contact with the ground. They offer little protection against sharp objects however so can only be used on smooth well beaten trails. Barefoot shoes are very light. They have a very low cut so rarely provide adequate support for heel and ankle. They can be used for very light hiking where no loads are carried. They have caps for fitting individual toes. Getting the right fit may be a challenge for hikers with abnormal toe lengths. These shoes are suitable for light hikers who want to have a feel of the ground beneath their feet.
If you are the adventurous type, you probably don’t always hike on prepared trails. When on such hikes you might encounter wet areas. Water shoes have an in-built mechanism that prevents entry of water into the shoe. These shoes have mesh that act as a barrier to water. Their soles are hard, to protect the foot from sharp objects, and to provide maximum support. They lack ankle and heel support. These shoes are great as an alternative pair to be worn only when navigating wet terrain. They may not be comfortable enough for wearing for long hours.
Hiking sandals are hiking shoes whose upper are spaced. The space allows for extra ventilation. Hikers often get hot when hiking and have to remove their shoes. Hiking sandals solve this problem by promoting movement of air within them. They are therefore suitable for hiking in the summer. They are also very light. However the spaces allow entry of debris, which may cause discomfort to the wearer. Water may also get in. If the terrain is wet and full of debris, the sandal will not be ideal. Durability could also be an issue. Hiking sandals are perfect for changing into during periods of rest.
Trail running shoes
These shoes are designed for jogging not hiking. However, their lightness and simplicity in design has seen many a hiker adopt them for hiking. Their soles are made of soft rubber to accommodate natural foot movements. Their uppers are made of synthetic material that is both absorptive and adequately ventilated. Most are waterproof. The shoes protect toes from strain, but do not offer much protection for ankles and Achilles since they are low cut. They also offer minimal support. Hence, they are only suitable for runs and short hikes on smooth terrains.
Hiking shoes offer the flexibility of the trail running shoe combined with the support of the hiking boot. Most are low cut hence, offer little protection and support for the ankle. Their soles are made of rubber like those of the hiking boots, which allow them to grip hard and soft surfaces firmly. Treading is a common feature of these soles. A full-length shank provides for extra support. The upper has toe caps to support toes. They may be waterproof or not. These shoes are great for moderate hiking with minimal loads.
What to Look for when Buying Hiking Boots
Comfort is a matter of preference. Some people like boots that have a soft feel, others hard. At the very least, the boot should be of the right fit. Those who prefer soft textures will benefit from foam linings. Tongue gussets should be firm enough to prevent entry of unwanted material into the shoe. These may harm the wearer. Trying out the boot and walking around in it for ten minutes is the only way to know if the boot is comfortable for you.
The length determines how much support the ankle and heel will get. It also determines how warm the boot will be. Long boots that go past the ankles offer maximum support and protection for heel and ankle. They are also warm. However, the longer the boot the more uncomfortable it is to hike. The added length makes the boot heavier. Longer boots are harder to break in. One may need to wear them for several days before they can feel comfortable in them. The height also determines the boot’s functionality. Longer boots are made for hiking in rough terrain and for hikers who carry heavy loads. Low cut shoes are good for short hikes on smooth prepared trails.
Hiking footwear is expensive. They should be able to last long otherwise the hiker will waste money continuously replacing them. From the onset, the buyer should get durable footwear. To determine a boot’s durability look at its seams. Are they double? Are they few? Few double seams make the most long-lasting shoes. Leather is the most durable material for boots, but some synthetic materials are also long-lasting. The connection between the sole and the upper will indicate if the sole is durable, same as the lug of sole and stiffness of upper. Read online reviews about different boots. Users who have had them for a reasonable amount of time will usually share their experiences online and this can give a buyer valuable insight.
The shoe’s stability determines how well it will grip the surface it comes in contact with. A few factors promote stability. These include the shanks, the treading and the type of sole. Treads should be as deep as possible. Ideally, they should be 40 percent of the thickness of the sole. The sole should be firm. When fingernails are pressed into the sole an indentation should occur. It should bounce back in a few seconds. If the nail makes a cut into it, then the sole is too soft. Shank determines how stiff the shoe is. Long shanks offer mores stiffness. To test for stiffness, the buyer should attempt to twist the upper at the toe region. If it twists than the stiffness is not ideal. Some people will find that boots that are too stiff inhibit their movement. It is important that you try the boots out before they buy them.
The weight of the boot determines the ease of walking. Heavy boots can slow your movement. However, boots with good support are made of tough rubber and extra layers that may add to the weight. Light weight boots may not offer this type of support. The ideal boot strikes a delicate balance between having adequate structures for support and having minimal weight.
The level of warmth that is appropriate depends on the kind of hiking activity that the user will participate in as well as the weather. If one is going to hike in the summer or in a hot area, the boot shouldn’t be warm. On the other hand, if they are hiking in the winter or in the mountainous regions, the boot should be very warm. Boot warmth depends on the material used to construct it, its height and the number of layers it has. Tall boots are warmer than short ones. Insulated layers increase the boots warmth. The best kind of insulation would be wool felt. Other synthetic materials like Primaloft also offer enough warmth. For summer hiking, hiking sandals would be the best option as they wouldn’t trap heat.
Boots should not allow entry of water. Water may cause discomfort and health issues for the wearer. Water resistance largely depends on the type of materials that are used to make the boot. Pretreated leather uppers do not allow water to seep in, same to treated rubber soles. Treatment is done using special waterproofing compounds during manufacture. Inner linings should also be treated. For increased resistance such as in water shoes, meshing is added to the upper. The mesh is an effective barrier to water. The seaming technique determines how water proof the shoe will be. Poorly done stitches will allow water in even if treatment is applied. Seams should be few and the stitching should be double.
Hiking boots should fit the wearer snugly. They shouldn’t be tight neither should they be too loose. They should give the toes enough room to move about comfortably. Ill-fitting shoes are uncomfortable and may cause the user much pain.
The type of terrain determines the kind of boot that is suitable. Rough terrains require greater support so hiker boots or backpacking boots are the most suitable. Approach shoes do well on rocky terrain. Tail running shoes and barefoot shoes work well with well beaten trails. Wet area requires use of water shoes. Buyers must identify the terrain they will be hiking on before selecting a pair. If the terrain is unknown, hiking shoes can be selected. They have enough support for moderately difficult terrains and are light enough for light hiking.
A high load requires a shoe with greater support. For loads greater than fifty pounds, backpacking boots will be the best. Loads between twenty and fifty pounds are adequately supported with hiking boots or hiking shoes. Anything below twenty pounds is considered light and can be supported by trail running shoes. Bare foot shoes should be worn when the hiker is carrying no loads or loads of negligible weight.
The toe is responsible for gripping surfaces. They should be accommodated comfortably in the shoe. The toes need extra protection since they do most of surface gripping. Good boots have toe caps for toe protection. People with unnatural toe lengths need to get boots with slightly more space for wiggling the toes.
Lacing systems affect the shoes durability and how fast the foot. Eyelets are the best lacing mechanisms. They have a locking mechanism that allows the wearer to fasten the lower part of the boot while loosening the collar or vice versa. The eyelet may make the heel cup tighter. The mechanism is adjustable, which makes it suitable for almost any hiker.
Weight should be spread evenly on your foot. If too much pressure is exerted on either lateral side of the foot, there will be twisting when non-smooth surfaces are stepped on. Tall boots offer enough lateral stiffness.
Pressure should be exerted at the toe and the heel equally. If the shoe supports the heel and not the toe, bending will occur and vice versa. This will cause straining and aching to one part of the foot. Support should be the same at both ends of the sole.
The arch of the foot absorbs all the pressure from above and below the foot. It must be adequately supported. Arch support is provided by the shank. It should be curved at the middle to absorb maximum pressure. People with flat heels need more arch support since they do not have the natural arch. Pressure from flat feet is referred upwards to the ankles and knees and this may cause problems in the long run. Flat-footed people will need a boot in which the shank is more curved. Look out for boots labeled motion resistant as this will usually offer more arch support.
Seasoned hikers have stronger cuff muscles and tendons therefore can get away with doing rough terrains on low cut trail running shoes. If you are just starting out, then your muscles are not well developed. Hence, you will require more ankle support. Proper hiking boots will be best for those who are new at hiking.
How to Find Proper Fit
Hiking boots are not like the normal shoe. They are made slightly longer to allow for more space for wiggling the toes when going downhill. Your normal shoe size may not be appropriate boot size for you. The only way of getting the right pair is to fit the shoe yourself at the store. The following are tips that will help you get the perfect boot.
Before you go to the store
- Find out reputable outdoor gear stores in your neighborhood. These stores are likely to have higher quality hiking boots than the normal shoe stores. The salesperson is most likely a hiking enthusiast, so they will know a lot about boots. You need guidance from an experienced salesperson. Select a store with a good return policy. If the boot doesn’t fit after you buy, you should be able to make an exchange without much hustle.
- Get proper socks, preferably the ones you will wear when hiking. Woolen socks or some types of synthetic socks absorb moisture and are the best. Cotton socks do not absorb moisture well; avoid them. Put these on preferably in doubles before trying on the shoe. Socks take up some boot space so they may affect the fit.
- Wait until afternoon. The size of the foot changes with change in temperature. The hottest time of the day is usually in the afternoon. The feet are largest at this time. Walk around for ten minutes before going to the store.
- Ensure you have enough time to try on a variety of boots. If you rush, you may be stuck with an ill-fitting boot.
Choosing the Boot
You want to ensure that the boot has enough ankle and sole support even before trying them on.
Sole support test
You should have slightly long finger nails for this. Try to make an imprint with your nail. There should an indent, which will bounce back in a few seconds. If your fingernail makes a cut, then the sole is too soft.
Attempt to bend the sole forwards and backwards. Sole bending should be non-existent or minimal in a proper boot. If it bends upto half its length, do not try it on. Move to the next one.
Ankle and toe support tests
Carry the boot with the heel on your palm. Attempt to twist the toe region. It should not twist. Attempt to twist the ankle region. This shouldn’t twist as well.
Trying the boot on
These are the factors you should look out for when you put on the boot:
Test for space
Put on the boot. Do not tie the laces. Push your foot in the boot until it reaches the forward most part of the boot. Attempt to slip one finger in the boot at the ankle region. If it is able to slip through, then the boot has enough room. It will not be too tight. If you can slip more than one finger vertically, then the boot is too large. It may slip off your foot when hiking.
This test is subjective. Here, you determine how the shoe feels. Put on the boot with your socks on. Assess if it feels too tight at the front, back or sides. Now remove the socks and repeat the same process. The toes should not feel pinched; neither should the rest of the foot feel jammed. In case you experience tightness, ask for another boot.
Walk and Incline test
Now that you have selected the shoe that feels right and has adequate room, it is time to try walking in them. Look at the boot’s upper as you walk. Does it crease or does it stay static? Can you comfortably walk in them? New boot uppers will be a bit static. Regardless, they should bend a little to allow the foot to move naturally. Is your heel sliding uncomfortably in the heel region? The boot could be too big. Try another one. Pace around the store for at least ten minutes before you decide to make that purchase. Do not rush to choose. Remember boots are expensive; you wouldn’t want to waste time and money.
Many hiking slopes are inclined. Good outdoor gear shops have boards or a test area that mimic the incline of a slope. Ask the salesperson to show you the area. Try walking down the incline. Your toes will move to the forward-most part of the boot. However, they should not feel squeezed at the front.
Now walk up the board. Your heel should not feel jammed at the back of the boot. If it feels jammed, try a slightly bigger size.
If you carry out all these tests properly in no hurry, you will get the perfect pair of boots.