Before you set out looking for a new pair of hiking boots you need to think about where you are going to be hiking. The terrain you will be traveling on, the length of your hikes, and how much you intend to carry are all important to know when selecting a pair of boots. Once you have a good idea of where you will be hiking you can head into the store to try different hiking boots on. Remember to wear the socks that you plan to hike in for trying on and bring any insoles you wear with you. If you are going to be backpacking it doesn’t hurt to also bring your bag loaded up so you can feel the boots with all the weight on.
Types of Hiking Boots
Flexible right away, light hikers rarely need any break in time. They are lightweight and often can double as a pair of trail runners. Great for day hiking and those seasoned ultralight backpackers heading out on their long-distance journeys.
If you are a hiker that wants to do some overnight or weekend backpacking trips this is the category you will want to start looking in. These boots tend to be more in the mid to high cut range providing more support and protection for the ankles. You may need some break in time with them, but they still have a fairly flexible midsole.
Durability and support are the name of the game for backpacking boots. They are built to carry heavy loads for multiple days. Due to their stiffer midsole that may include shanks or plates, backpacking boots generally require some break in time before you head out on your week long adventure.
Mountaineering boots are burly, heavy, and have a stiff midsole. They are built for winter conditions and to be able to accommodate crampons for travel on ice.
Low – The height of a sneaker, low cut boots are meant for fast and light travel. They are good for hiking along well maintained trails where you don’t have to worry about debris kicking up.
Medium – Becoming the most popular height for hikers, the mid cut boot comes just over your ankle to provide a little extra support and keep out pesky debris.
High – High cut boots provide the most ankle support and protect from debris. If you are constantly on rough trails or carrying a lot of weight this is where you want to start looking.
Full-grain leather – If you are looking for the best cut of leather then you want full-grain. It is durable, abrasion, and water resistant. You will need break in time to get this leather soft and formed to your foot. It is often found in backpacking boots.
Split-grain leather – As the name implies the leather is split to take away some of the rougher parts that might have scrapes or scares on them. It is not as durable as full-grain leather, but it is cheaper and usually paired with nylon mesh to make the boots lighter weight.
Nubuck – Nubuck is a top-grain leather that has been sanded or buffed down. This gives it a softer, velvety feel compared to full-grain leather while still providing durability.
Synthetics – Often times in boots this will be the nylon or polyester material. These materials are much lighter in weight than a leather, dry quicker, and require little to no break in time.
Waterproof liner – A liner sewn into a boot is what makes it waterproof, not what’s on the outside. These liners, such as Gore-Tex, are waterproof and breathable. If you look inside your boot you can usually see the liner if it has one. Since the boot itself isn’t waterproof you may want to consider applying Nikwax Waterproofing to the outside to increase the water repellency.
EVA Midsole – Compression molded ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) is used in the midsole to provide cushioning and light weight support.
Polyurethane Midsole – Polyurethane, like EVA, is used in the midsole for support. It is stronger and stiffer than EVA so it will last longer making it good for backpacking and mountaineering boots.
Shank Insert – Used for support, shanks are placed between the midsole and outsole of a boot. Varying from 3-5mm in thickness and made of a lightweight nylon or TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane), shanks can vary in size from the full length of the boot to just part of the boot.
Plate Insert – Found between the midsole and outsole, plates are a a thin, slightly flexible insert added to protect the feet from the force of stepping on rocks and roots.
You can buy an amazing pair of hiking boots, but if they don’t fit you won’t be happy. Make sure that you have room for your toes to wiggle when you are trying the boots on. This will give your foot room to swell throughout the hike. You also don’t want your foot to be moving side to side in your boot. Not all foot types feet in every boot. Try a few on and walk around the store. Consider also trying on a pair of after market insoles, such as Superfeet, if you are having a hard time matching the volume of your boot to your foot. Just remember, Comfort is King!