How To Choose Hiking Boots

Last Updated on December 5, 2020 by Bruce

You’ve picked the date, which trail you want to tackle, and who you are going with. Backpack loaded up, walking stick in hand; you look down and notice your dungy old sneakers on your feet. We are going to want to upgrade. With so many options for hiking boots, it can feel overwhelming. You don’t want to get the top of the line boot for just a nature walk. On the other hand, buying non-water resistant boots seems irresponsible if you’re crossing some small streams.  Like Goldie Locks, let’s choose a hiking boot that is “Jussttttt Right”.

Light Hiking Shoes:

Looking for comfort and most of the same protection? No need to get the bulky boots, you can pick up a pair of light hiking shoes. These aren’t even classified as boots, since they are low cut and almost look just like a normal shoe. Long journeys will be a cinch (if you are carrying a light load) with these type of shoes. Just be aware, you will not have the same stability if you had a normal boot. Light hiking shoes are not suitable for challenging hikes and rugged terrain.

Hiking Boots:

The hiking boot offers more protection than the light hiking shoe. With mid and high cut options, these boots give more support for the ankles and added protection. Added loads on your back make these ideal for increased stability on the rougher terrain.  If your hike has steep terrain or if you’re carrying a heavier load, I suggest looking into a high cut boot that is usually found in the backpacking boots section.

Backpacking Boots:

For those long journeys over just about any terrain, backpacking boots are your boot of choice. Being highly durable and offering maximum support, there is a downside. These boots usually take longer to break-in.

Types of Boot Cut

Low Cut: A well-travelled trail will usually not have too much debris. If this is the case, wearing low cut, will not be a problem, considering protection for our ankles will not be needed. Also, loads less than 5 pounds will not need the extra stability you would find in the higher cut options.

Mid Cut: With added ankle protection, this will allow you to move through debris easily. You may carry a moderate load on your back with this type of cut. These are great for 3-4 day trips on trails that aren’t as well maintained.

High Cut: Tough terrain and heavy loads make this cut ideal for your boot. It may take a while to break them in, but with the added support and protection, it’s well worth it for those long travels.

Boot Materials

Nubuck Leather: durable leather that has been buffed to have the same type of look as suede. Nubuck leather has the ability to resist water and scuffs. Although being pretty flexible, still allow time to break in these types of boots.

Split Grain Leather: By splitting away the rougher inner part of the cowhide from the smoother exterior, you find yourself with cheaper leather. This process sacrifices resistance to both water and abrasion. Split grain leather is usually putting together with nylon or nylon mesh to give the boot more comfort. Usually a boot with split-grain leather needs to have a waterproof liner with it.

Full Grain Leather: Highly Resistant to abrasion and water. Durability is great, which makes these types of boots great for longer trips, rough terrain, or carrying a heavy load. Downside is the boot is heavier and not very breathable.

Synthetics: This category is constructed of mostly polyester, nylon and “synthetic leather.” These are nice and cheap, and you are getting exactly what you pay for. Buying these types of boots may have you wanting a new pair after a few hikes considering they wear out very quickly.

Being Waterproof

Having your boots water-resistant is a big deal. Wet boots make for a tougher journey, and we don’t want socks soaked in water.

Waterproof Linings: The outside of the boot is made up of a different material than these linings. When the nylon or split-grain leather doesn’t do its job, these waterproof linings (i.e. Gore-Tex) are the backup.

Waterproof Leather: A properly constructed boot made of full-grained leather will be treated topically to resist moisture. Make sure to check the seams for loose threads or missing stitches, for this will defeat the purpose of becoming waterproof.

Waterproof Construction: Is the boot seam-sealed or has specialized stitching? These techniques are used to add maximum water resistance.

Putting it all together: Does it fit?

  • Test the boot out with the same socks you would be wearing for your hike
  • Your foot should fit nicely inside the boot. A little bit of wriggle room is ideal. Test this out by flexing your foot forward and wiggling your toes. These motions should not be restricted and be comfortable.
  • The heel of your foot should not slip up. Any type of slippage will cause friction and blisters.
  • Make sure to test different lacing techniques, socks, and insoles to optimize your boot.
  • Break-in that boot before you bring it out in the field.

Check out our Best Hiking Shoes Buying Guide