Knowing how to buy a pair of hiking boots is just as important as knowing when to wear them. Both of these things are very crucial in helping you stay safe, healthy, and able to have as much fun as you possibly can!
Hiking boots are the most heavy duty of all ‘shoes’ that you will see out on the trails. Hiking boots have their very own specific purposes for use which make them very desirable in certain conditions. They are not great in all conditions, however!
Sometimes you will find that hiking boots are not the best option for you. That is what this buying guide is designed for. We are going to help you figure out how, when, where, and why you should wear hiking boots.
Each of these are equally important! And once you determine whether or not hiking boots are what you need, we will take a look at the features that they have that make them unique for your use.
After that, we will take look at some of the top hiking boots on the market right now, and we will rank and review them to help you give you a starting point on your search!
Boot Buying Guide: Not an Exact Science
Selecting a pair of hiking boots isn’t always easy. You must keep that in mind from the very beginning. Shoes and boots aren’t just all about color. That is something that’s nice to look at and have, but it’s not everything.
You have to do your due diligence to make sure you are selecting something with substance and style, rather than choosing something that has style over substance. One of the big tips that we suggest is to get to a store and try some on.
You will be very thankful that you at least tried some on in the store to try and get an idea of how well they fit and how well they walk. Chances are if they aren’t supportive enough there, they surely won’t be out on the trail!
You can always go back to the internet later on to check and see if prices are cheaper or to buy something a little bit different.
But it’s greatly encouraged that you get out there in person and try some on first, unless you plan to buy a pair for the second (or whatever number) time you’ve bought that specific pair.
Why Hiking Boots?
Perhaps the most important question that we have to answer here is why you need to wear hiking boots in the first place. There are a number of different types of shoes that you will see people using for hiking.
Each has its own merits and demerits for you. Some do very well for one purpose, and others will not do so well at it. Some people wear sandals. Some wear running shoes. Some will wear boots or even trail running shoes.
Other people wear what is called by most as “hiking shoes.” Each has their own pluses and minuses, but let’s look at exactly what the hiking boot itself is all about.
Hiking boots are the most heavy duty option that you will encounter. They are designed to help you in the very harshest of climates. Hiking boots are more expensive than the other types of hiking footwear, because of this.
This shouldn’t deter you, though, if you are truly looking to get the most out of your experience and will be using them properly. In the older days, hiking boots would have been your only option to use when hiking.
But nowadays, things have changed to allow you to have other options for getting out there on your hike. Instead, you now have a chance to have something that will much better suit you and whatever you’re doing on a daily basis.
Hiking boots are going to protect you the most on the coldest and most wet days imaginable. This is due to the fact that they are generally made from one whole piece of material. This means that they are very difficult to penetrate for the weather.
This is a great thing if you are someone that is a very serious hiker, and you just can’t do with being slowed down all too much.
Another thing that hiking boots do very well is to give you great tread and traction. There are other options out there for hiking footwear that do give you traction, but they also don’t have the same qualities to go along with the traction on offer from boots.
So, you have to keep that in mind when deciding what you need and want!
Hiking boots are also great because they give you great support. When we talk about support with shoes, we just mean that they help protect you. Boots offer the absolute most protection than you can find out there in the hiking genre of shoes.
Hiking boots do this because they have high ankles, which will protect your ankles. On top of this, they are also very good at locking your feet and ankles into place.
This will help you even further to keep from falling, and it will help in case you do happen to slip or fall as well.
Another big advantage that hiking boots bring is that they will help keep your feet feeling as good as possible. Remember that proper hiking socks also play a big role in your foot temperature and comfort levels.
If you are going on a long hike, this is the option for you as you are going to have a lot better protection because of the sum of all of the parts above and more. Boots are much heavier, which means they can give you more protection.
In the world of shoes, the less the weight you have the less protection you will find to have. This is simply not the case with boots, as there is plenty of protection.
To go right along with the last point, hiking boots are great for those that are going to be carrying quite a large backpack. If you’re on a long journey, you know you will need a lot more supplies than someone that is on a short trek.
So, you will need something to make sure that your legs, ankles, and feet stay as nice and relaxed as possible. It would do no good to be hurting after just a short part of your journey!
Other Types of Hiking Footwear
Here are a few examples of other types of footwear that can be found used by people that hike. Each will have some of their possible advantages and disadvantages on there as well!
Running shoes, or tennis shoes, aren’t specialized for hiking. But they are lightweight, easy to find for anyone, and they are great for places that are dry and well-maintained. They are not great for places with no trail or longer journeys.
trail running shoes are a step above running shoes. These are specifically for people that either like to do cross-country-type stuff or for hikers who like to run a bit.
These types of shoes have a little bit more built-in traction to them, but they are still lightweight. However, they don’t offer much in the way of support and protection, so it’s best to be as discerning as possible when you look for purpose-built shoes.
Hiking shoes are the great middleman of the hiking footwear world. Hiking shoes offer a reasonable amount of protection while also being decently light in weight. This is something that many find very desirable.
This type is best for those that are on maintained paths for shorter distances, or even for those hikers that are very experienced and have developed strong muscles.
Chances are you would like to have at least two of the options of hiking footwear. After all, you have some really good advantages in each category. But hiking boots are our topic today, so we are going to discuss them further.
Remember, you are looking for something that will support you no matter where you go with hiking boots. You might be climbing up things without a trail.
You’re not going to be able to accomplish many things with a simple pair of shoes, no matter how strong you are. You’re going to want a good pair of hiking boots to give you added confidence and allow you to get through the day unharmed and in good shape.
If you are someone that hikes a lot, it’s very reasonable to have a couple of different options. Maybe a pair of boots for when you go on long, slow hikes.
Remember you can move a lot faster when you know you’re only going to be doing something for a very short period of time. But you can’t do that nearly as effectively when you are moving over a long stretch of time and space.
So, boots give you the best protection for that and the best comfort as well over a long stretch.
It’s also reasonable for a hiker to have some other type of shoe, too, though. Maybe you just want to do an hour or two hike.
You won’t need a large pack or anything, so you can easily just go and get your hiking shoes and find a good, well-lit trail for you during the summer. No problem whatsoever!
Components of Hiking Boots
There are three main things to look at when examining a hiking boot: the upper, the midsole, and the outer sole (or outsole). Let’s look at a few things for each one to help you select what you might need!
As with any shoe, ‘upper’ refers to the top part of the boot that can be seen by you. Typically, most people refer to the part above the shoes as the upper, but it also extends all the way around.
This place is a crucial place, and there are few different materials that can be used to make the upper, most of which are derived from leather.
Full grain leather is your answer if you are looking for something that has great durability and can hold up against hard surfaces. This type could never be labeled as “light,” and they do not breathe very well.
Breathability isn’t really much of a factor with boots, but it’s certainly not with a kind that has full-grain leather used to construct it. This type is best used for long hikes, as well as being great on terrain that isn’t the best.
This type does take some breaking in, so be advised of that.
Split grain leather is a combination of full-grain leather and some other type of material. This helps make the boots cheaper, but it also makes them a little less durable.
In addition to this, this type is going to be more breathable for those that will need them to air out better. Because they are breathable, though, they do let in water easier and don’t hold up as well to abrasive surfaces.
This is still a good choice, but it’s worth knowing that there are some disadvantages to it.
Nubuck leather is very similar to full-grain leather. It’s basically full-grain leather that’s been made to look like suede. This type is also very durable, like the full-grain leather you see.
It does well against letting water in and getting scratched up too badly as well. This type can be a little more flexible and can feel better on the foot, but they still take time to break-in.
Synthetics refer to any man-made material that can be used to replace a natural material. Synthetics are used all of the time, in all kinds of fields, to replace leather. They are used because they are cheaper and can be more flexible as well.
They are also much lighter. But keep in mind that the lighter the boot, the less protection you will have. You may find a synthetic boot that is just perfect for you, but they won’t be as protective as full leather would be.
They do break in much easier than most other types of boots, though, and they dry faster than most others. However, they don’t hold up as well!
There are other things that are closely related to uppers’ components as well. For example, you can find hiking boots that are made for Vegans.
This type of boot is cognizant of those folks by not using any animal parts whatsoever, so if that’s something you are looking for they are present! Also, some boots do come with added insulation.
Typically this is found in boots for mountaineers, but you may be able to find them in hiking boots as well. They usually use synthetics to boost the warmth in the inside of the boot. Lastly, you can find boots that have seals from water.
These boots are meant to keep your feet dry in all conditions. Remember, if you wear boots like this in the summertime, you will get beyond warm!
The midsole of the shoe, or boot, in this instance, is the part of the boot that is going to cushion you and give you the comfort part of the equation.
This is the inside of the boot, which is a very important part for keeping your safe and comfortable throughout your hike. The midsole determines how much shock is absorbed or not.
Depending on the length of the hike, you might want to go with one type over the other. With a hiking boot, you’re going to want something that is stiff.
Stiffness in a hiking boot is best because you are likely to be dealing with rocky terrain, loose trees, stumps, and uneven terrain. You will want something that’s going to hold up well. There are two great choices here:
this is the softer of the two choices, but it can still hold up well enough for you in most instances. This type is very cozy, lighter in weight, and is also less expensive.
This only makes sense given all that we know! Depending on the designers’ intentions, they can put more or less in certain areas to give you a better cushion.
this type is firmer than EVA, it’s going to be more durable as a result. If you’re big into using a backpack and going to be on a very long journey, this is likely the kind you will want to go within a midsole.
The outsoles of the boot are the bottom part that most people don’t see or care to look at very often. Most of the time, though, this is the part of the shoe, or boot, that makes or breaks the whole thing.
You can’t depend on something that doesn’t work, after all! You want to look for boots that have good ‘lugs’ on them. Lugs are just grips that help give you traction. Think of them as being similar to cleats in that regard!
They’re just a part that is built into the shoe to help improve your performance, stability, and comfort all at the same time. The deeper and thicker they are, the better they are for those that will be traveling long distances with backpacks.
Finding the Right Fit
Before we get to the reviews, we need to talk about figuring out how to get the right fit. Remember, it’s hard to get your perfect fit while looking at the computer screen! So sometimes, it’s very helpful to get to a store and just try something on to help you in your search.
- The first thing is to find your size. This should be a basic jumping-off point. Once you have this, you can move on.
- Another idea is to always try on any shoes, or boots, at the end of your day. In theory, your feet and ankles will be their most swollen then due to the activity you’ve gone through. This will simulate how they will feel on your feet as you walk and move throughout a long day. Sometimes, you will have a pair that feels completely different at the store and on the trail. So this goes a long way to preventing that. But if you can’t go at the end of the day to try them on, try to do some exercise first to help simulate that.
- If you need orthotics, you need to be sure to look and see if the boot has the capability of adding them in. Some will have the ability to, some will not. This is something that can be very useful to do while at an actual store.
- Always break your boots in before trying to use them! This should be a no-brainer, but all too many people forget this. Not all boots are going to be able to just be worn immediately. These things are being asked to do so much already, so don’t be alarmed if you don’t have just the perfect amount of comfort right off the bat!
Best Hiking Boot Reviews
the number one boot on our list is a very popular boot that comes at the higher end of the price spectrum. But it has a ton of great things to make it worth your while! The big thing is that it’s made from full-grain leather.
But to go beyond that, it’s been sealed with Gore-tex membrane to help waterproof it. This also means it is fairly breathable as well because Gore-tex is a very high-quality product.
This is a mid-high boot, so it won’t come up quite as high as some boots would. It comes in three colors, each of which are decent looking if not just a little plain.
- Classic, rugged look
- Gore-Tex waterproofing
- Mid-ankle protection for more comfort
- High price
- Has a short toe bed
at number two is another mid boot, but this one is designed for the ladies! The Targhee from KEEN is a moderately priced boot, and it comes in a number of colors to choose from.
Like the Timberland pair, this pair has a waterproof membrane that is breathable as well. That should help a little on warmer days if you are required to wear them.
They do have a toe cap to help protect your toes from kicking random things. The midsole is made from EVA, so you can expect to have great comfort with this boot and for it be a little cozy compared to some others.
- Breathability is good
- Comfortable to wear
- Waterproof despite having breathable properties
- Now made in China
- A little expensive
Coming in at a very premium price and with a number of actual colors and styles for a chance is this boot from Salomon. It’s great that they have some actual colors to have a little bit of fun with for a change!
This pair also has Gore-Tex built in, which should be expected for the price that they require. They are also made from leather, have a toecap to protect your toes, and they have great deep lugs to help provide you traction.
In addition to all of this, this pair has an EVA footbed that can be removed if you’d like to replace it with something. But if not you still will have great comfort!
- Lots of colors and styles
- Has Gore-Tex
- Great traction
- Quite a bit expensive
- A little slippery when on ice or in the wet
This Moab boot from Merrell comes at a moderate price range and offers 13 different colorways! It doesn’t protect all the way up the ankles like some, but it will provide you a little more freedom that way!
This shoe is great for ventilation, and it’s a great one for those warmer days where you need something that is heavy duty enough to allow you to carry a pack for miles at a time. This is where this pair sets itself apart.
The footbed that is built into it forms to your foot to give you added comfort as well as increasing the amount of stability that you have. The outsole has a great, ‘sticky Vibram” TC5+ sole to give you increased traction.
It has a bit of a protective, rubber toecap at the end, but nothing as pronounced as other in this category.
- Good price
- Great for warmer days
- Nice amount of traction
- 4.6 out of 5.0 – star rating
- They run a little large
It’s unfortunate that Ahnu doesn’t offer men’s boots! They have so many colors and designs here that it’s pretty cool to see. They also are at a fairly moderate price, so you can look good and feel good for a good price.
This is definitely a high top in that it will protect way up your ankles. This will lock them in place more, so you will have protection and less freedom as a result of that.
The lugs are made in such a way that they essentially clean themselves due to their design. The insole is made from EVA, which will give you great comfort.
- Lots of nice colors to choose from
- Good price
- High ankle protection
- They run a little small
- A little slippery
This selection might only have NINE color choices, but they still look good despite being nowhere near as flashy as the Sugarpines were. Wait, did I just say NINE colorways? Yup! That’s about 8 more choices than I actually need!
This is a very moderately priced boot, and one that is almost totally made out of leather.
Breathability won’t be great with these, but they will do well for you on cooler days for sure. They are waterproof and full grain leather, so they are rugged and prepared for quite the journey with an EVA insole as well.
- Nice understated look
- Good price
- Good for cool days
- Not for people with wide people
- Will take time to break in
Full disclosure here. These look radically different. But shoes and boots are far from just being about looks. This pair is a mid to possibly low ankle protection, but they will give increased freedom and comfort.
The design is a bit off-putting as well, but if you can get past that they fully leather. This means they will help you out on cool days, and they will allow you to be comfortable with the padded collar and tongue that it has.
They are great against water, provided you don’t immerse yourself as well!
- Good price
- Comfortable and freeing
- Good against water
- Insoles do not come out
- Not very much to look at
Sportconsumer’s Pick for Quality, Value and Customer Satisfaction
Final Thoughts & Recommendations
Finding the right pair of boots can seem like a really daunting task at first glance. Maybe you didn’t know what kind of hiking shoe you needed, or that there was a big difference in the types, in fact!
But after breaking everything down and looking at things individually, we can get a better grasp on what is required. After looking at the buying guide, you should be able to know what you are looking for and what to expect.
You can then look through the reviews and find something that will specifically fit your needs better! Buying a pair of hiking boots doesn’t have to be nearly as hard as climbing on a long journey!