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Ultimate guide to hiking boots

Over the past decade, the variety of hiking boots and shoes has exploded as designs become increasingly specialised. Here's a guide that outlines your choices and will help you narrow down what you'll need to find the perfect pair.

A hiking boot sole is made out of three: the insole, midsole and outsole.

Outsole :The bottom of your boots. It is a thick, rubber sole. All-terrain footwear will have dense outsoles with treads, providing a good grip on slippery surfaces. If you need better support, are going on a multi-day trip or on trails with unstable and slippery surfaces you want bigger treads.

Midsole: It is the layer that you can see if you take out the insole. It is placed between the outsole and insole and helps to absorb the shock when walking on hard or rocky terrain. In hiking boots, they will often be attached to a steel piece called the shank. This provides extra sturdiness. Light, flexible hiking boots or trail boots won’t have that.

Insole: Insole is a soft, cushioned part of the shoe that you see when you look inside and feel directly when sliding in the shoe. It can be removed to replace one that suits your shape of the foot better. If you are a regular hiker make sure to check if you need any arch support, so you can find the best insole for your feet. If you have the wrong arch support (too high or collapsed) can cause problems and pain when you are hiking, so do some research beforehand.

How to choose the right hiking boots

To choose your best-hiking boots depends upon where you're going for your hike. What kind of climate, length, terrain.

  • Climate and weather: this will play a large factor for your boots. If you are gonna hike in cold, wet weather (rain, snow, wetland) you would need waterproof boots for mountain hiking. If you are going for a trip in a hot and humid climate you’ll most likely need mesh boots with good ventilation.
  • Length of your hike: if you are going for a one day hike with no challenging terrain trail running shoes will be fine. If you are planning a multi-day trip with a lot of rocky trails ahead you should consider some sturdier boots with a little ankle support.
  • Terrain: will you be hiking on flat ground, or a will it go up and down and you might have an unstable ground. Some boots have rigid soles (like mountaineering boots), others won’t (like trail shoes) so will be unstable on rocky terrain.

The right feeling

  1. Always try shoes at the end of the day when your foot is largest and slightly swollen.
  2. Know your size. Measure your foot with a special device in a shoe shop.
  3. If you need special insoles, bring them with you to the shop so you can see if they fit into the boot.
  4. Wear the socks that you would wear on a hike.
  5. Wear the pants you most likely wear. To see if they fit with your shoes (not because of the style but because of eventually problems (like unpleasant pressure points)
  6. There should be enough space to slightly wiggle your toes.
  7. Walk around the store. Feel if they are too tight or loose. You don’t want your heel lift when hiking. But you don’t want a squeezed foot either.
  8. If you order online, the best would be to order shoes you already had before and not a new brand/shoe.

4 different types of hiking boots

You will find 4 major hiking boot categories: Trail runners, Trail Shoes with low ankle, Lightweight backpacking boots and Mountaineering Boots.

1. Trail runners

Trail runners are the lightest hiking shoes with least support.

If you don’t need much ankle support and don’t like to wear heavy boots this is a good option for you. Many long-distance hikes wear trail runners because they are very lightweight. They are very versatile but they don’t give you a lot of support when carrying a bigger, heavier backpack or when walking on hard surfaces. They are perfect if you are hiking in a hot climate if you like lightweight shoes if you don’t want or don’t have the time to break them in. Trail runners are not a long-lasting shoe, they will wear down quicker and you need to buy new ones, they don’t have great support or stability.

2. Trail shoes with low ankle

Trail hike shoes are mostly a combination of leather and fabric. They breathe well and help keep your feet dry. If you are hiking shorter distances/1 day hikes, carry light, walk on flat trails and don’t need ankle support this is a great shoe for you. More stability than a trail runner and will last you longer.

3. Lightweight backpacking boots

If you need boots that are suitable for all kinds of terrain you should look into backpacking boots. They will have more ankle support for stability, you can find waterproof ones, more midsole cushion and these are more durable than trail runners. Lightweight backpacking boots are great if you are hiking through a variety of terrains (rocky, muddy, steep) if you are going on a multi-day trip if you are carrying a heavy backpack and need more support for your ankles. They are also great if you are a beginner and are up to take on more challenging hikes.

4. Mountaineering Boots

Mountaineering boots are the most sturdy, durable and heavy boots.
You would only need those if you are trekking up rugged peaks.
It is possible to attach extra features (crampons, spikes) to go on icy winter hikes. Remember that you would need a few weeks to break them in to feel comfortable. If you don’t go extreme mountain climbing trips, you are better off to choose backpacking boots or trail shoes.

How to maintain hiking shoes

There is no better way to ruin a good pair of shoes or reduce their life by not maintaining your gear. The process is simple.

Keep dry – The most important part of keeping your shoes in top shape is to keep them dry. If they get wet, always air them out. Never store in enclosed space if wet/moist.
Unlace when not in use – Get into the habit of unlacing your shoes to remove them. You want the laces to preserve the fit and not get into the habit of just pulling your shoes off and trying to smash your foot in. Take the time to loosen up the laces and let them breathe. When you put them on, tighten them back up.
Foot powder – reduce smell/fungus potential. Foot powder can help reduce smell, keep them dry and remove the risk of athletes’ feet and other fungal issues.
Leather treatment – treat and maintain leather – condition leather boots to keep them soft, supple and in top shape. Re-treat periodically and after intense use. Follow manufacturer recommendations. Some may already be pre-treated or sealed and not need further treatment.
Store flat in airy, dry, moderate temperature – Don’t just pile your gear into a box and leave it in a hot attic. If you’re no longer using them – recycle, share or give them away vs storing them where the materials will break down and potential for damage increases.

Thanks for checking out our comprehensive guide to hiking shoes! Please let us know your experiences with your perfect hiking boots and share this with your fellow hikers!

Created : Dec 8, 2020 09:06am
Last updated : Jul 3, 2022 05:51am