What to Consider When Buying Hiking Boots
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With so many hiking boots on the market, it can be hard to know which pair is right for you. That’s why we’ve broken down everything you need to consider before making a purchase, plus sharing some of the best hiking boots for women and men.
Types of Hiking Boots
The first step to find the right pair of hiking boots is to consider what hikes you’ll do most often. Will you be doing day hikes in a dry climate, or backpacking in a wet climate? These details will factor into what hiking boots you should get. Here’s a quick breakdown of the different types:
Hiking boots: Durable, abrasion- and water-resistant shoes that are designed for navigating trails with rocks, roots, and other obstacles.
Backpacking boots: These boots are designed to carry heavier loads on multi-day trips in the backcountry. Most have a high cut that wraps above the ankles for support, and have stiffer midsoles.
Trail runners: Lightweight running shoes that are designed to grip rugged terrain, and have a stiffer construction than regular running shoes. These are popular with long distance hikers who don’t want the bulk of a traditional hiking boot.
Approach shoes: Approach shoes, while originally made for climbers, are starting to become more popular among hikers. Their soles are made of the same rubber as climbing shoes, which makes them especially grippy on rock. Approach shoes are intended for technical scrambles.
Mountaineering shoes: These boots are characterized by full-grain leather uppers, minimal seams, excellent traction, and sometimes a bit of insulation. They rise well above the ankle and are compatible with crampons. If you’re planning to walk on a glacier, these are the boots you need.
The Right Fit of Hiking Boots
Hiking boots should fit snugly everywhere, but they shouldn’t be tight—make sure you have room to move your toes. Your feet can swell during hiking, so try boots on at the end of the day when your feet will be more swollen like they will be when you exercise. Be sure to try them with h the socks you plan to wear.
Ignore size numbers and choose a boot that feels right for your foot size, and works with the thickness of the sock you plan to wear. This may mean you buy a pair one size larger than your norm. You’ll want some extra space in the front for when you hike downhill and your toes move forward into the front of the boot.
If you’re feeling any tender points on the heel or ball of your foot during hiking, pain in the arch, or persistent heel slip, it’s likely worth swapping out the footbed of your hiking boot for a custom one. Outdoor shops can offer custom molded footbeds, or you can buy some less expensive over-the-counter ones.
If you have wide feet, try out Keen or Oboz, which are known for being wider hiking boots.
Non-waterproof vs. Waterproof Hiking Boots
The waterproofing debate is an age-old classic among hikers, and often you’ll find people swearing by one or the other. What it really comes down to is personal preference and the climate you live in.
Waterproof hiking boots provide warmth and protection from the elements, but are also heavier and less breathable than non-waterproof hiking boots. While they keep water out, they’ll take longer to dry if they do eventually get wet. If you live in a wet climate or plan to hike in the snow, odds are you’ll want waterproof boots to keep your feet warm and prevent trench foot. If you live in a dry climate or are planning to mostly do day hikes, you’ll likely want non-waterproof boots that will wick away sweat and be less cumbersome.
Low-top vs. High-top Hiking Boots
Yet another debate! Low-cut models of hiking boots with flexible midsoles are lightweight, ideal for speed, and make scrambling easier. High-cut models will offer the most support and protection from sticks or other debris on the trail. However, they’re heavier and more difficult to maneuver in. If you have any worries about ankle support, or are a newer hiker, opt for a high-top boot. As you find your balance and develop your hiking muscles, you can transition into a low-cut boot that will allow you to move more freely.
The Best Hiking Boots for Women
According to Outdoor Gear Lab, the best overall hiking boot was the Salomon X Ultra Mid 3 GTX for its versatility and breathability. This author prefers the Keen Targhee III Mid, as they run wide, and are super comfortable. They don’t have the most ankle support, though. If support is what you’re looking for, consider the HOKA One One Kaha.
The Best Hiking Boots for Men
According to Outdoor Gear Lab, the best overall hiking boot for men was the Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX. These boots are on the heavier side, though, so consider the Salomon X Ultra Mid 3 GTX for a lighter option. Outdoor Gear Lab also noted that the best for scrambling was the Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX and the best for comfort was the HOKA ONE ONE Kaha.
Socks Matter When Hiking!
When selecting your hiking boots, make sure you’re also selecting the right socks. Avoid cotton socks as they retain moisture and can cause blisters. Instead, choose a merino wool sock or synthetic sock that will wick moisture from your feet. Smartwool and Darn Tough are great hiking sock brands. Whatever thickness you select, make sure that’s what you wear when trying on hiking boots.
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