2 most important things to consider when buying hiking boots

December 15, 2014

How your feet feel after a day spent on the hiking trail can mean the difference between loving or hating the sport. Here’s how to choose the right hiking boots.

2 most important things to consider when buying hiking boots

'Tis the season

As summer turns to fall, people gravitate toward hiking as a way to seize the last of the warm days. Follow these tips to find the right boots and make the most of the end of the balmy weather.

What matters most when choosing boots

Whatever the conditions on the ground — wet, slippery, hot, rocky and/or muddy — your boots are the first line of protection between your feet and the terrain.

They act as insulators against extremes in temperature and as shock absorbers on hard surfaces. There are two main things you should look for:

1. Type: Find a type of hiking boot that will match the type of hiking you plan to do.

2. Fit: Pick a boot fit that’s comfortable for your feet and provides support.

1. Types of hiking boots

There are four main types of boots, each suited for specific activities.

Light hiking shoes

Resembling heavy-duty running shoes, these low-cut shoes with flexible midsoles are excellent for day hiking.

  • Many ultralight backpackers wear this type on long-distance hiking trips.
  • Most hikers say that one pound on your foot equals five on your back. This basically means it's best to keep the weight off your feet by wearing light shoes whenever possible.

Hiking boots

These mid- or high-cut models are intended for day hikes or weekend backpacking trips with light loads.

  • They often flex easily and require a short break-in time, but they lack the support and durability of stout backpacking boots.

Backpacking boots

These boots are designed to carry heavier loads on multi-day trips when you travel deep into the backcountry.

  • Durable and supportive, with stiffer midsoles than lighter footwear, they are suitable for on- or off-trail travel.

Mountaineering boots

These weightier boots with stiff midsoles are designed to accommodate heavy loads and accept crampons for glacier travel.

  • Mountaineering boots are tough, supportive and durable, and usually used by the most experienced of hikers and climbers.

2. Finding the best fit of boot

When trying on boots, put on the exact socks you plan to wear on the trail:

  • Polyester liner socks that wick away moisture are great, as well as an outer pair of heavy-weave wool or synthetic socks for cushioning.
  • Try boots on at the end of the day when your feet are more swollen, so you can see how they’ll fit when you actually use them.

You should never wear cotton socks—even if you're only trying on new boots. Why? Because cotton will absorb water and perspiration and hold it next to your skin when you hike on the trail.

  • If you hike with wet feet and the temperature drops below freezing, you risk getting frostbite. A good sock system and hiking boot reduce that possibility.

How should new boots feel?

When you try them on new boots should feel snug, but comfortable, so you can still wiggle your toes.

  • Most hiking boots won't feel as instantly comfortable as sneakers, but they shouldn't pinch, cause hot spots or constrict circulation.
  • They should fit securely around your ankle and instep.
  • When trying on boots, try walking down an incline. Your feet shouldn't slide forward and your toenails shouldn't scrape against the front of the boot.
  • If your foot slides forward, the boot could be too wide. If the back of your heel moves around, you might need to lace up your boots more tightly.

Whatever your needs, physical abilities or travel plans, knowing how to pick the right hiking boots will always mean happier feet at the end of the trail! Ask your local sporting goods retailer for more advice if you're still unsure.

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
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