How to Find the Best Hiking Boots For You

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Finding the right pair of hiking boots is largely a process of matchmaking and elimination.

Get it right and you’ll feel like no terrain can stop you. Get it wrong and you’ll be walking around for miles in an uncomfortable pair of boots that don’t do what they’re supposed to.

Comfortable hiking boots (like all shoes) should fit your feet properly and “match your hiking ambitions”. Depending on what you’re planning on doing (e.g. mountaineering, going on short hikes, etc.) different types of boots will suit your needs better than others.

Hiking boots

The Different Types of Hiking Boots

In general, there are 4 main categories of hiking footwear:

Hiking Shoes – These could almost be mistaken for running shoes, such is their appearance. Hiking shoes are typically small, light and are made for daytime hiking. The feeling of freedom from wearing shoes like this is great (as it almost feels like you’re walking barefoot at times), but they can become uncomfortable on long walks as they can rub (especially if you’re not wearing socks) and it’s easy to get stones in them.

Hiking Boots – These boots have a mid-to-high cut and are designed for day-long hikes when carrying a light load. They are more flexible than backpacking boots (thus requiring less break-in time), but conversely they don’t have the same level of durability or support.

Backpacking Boots – These are similar to hiking boots but are designed for longer trips and carrying heavier loads. They are stiffer, heavier and more durable than typical hiking boots.

Mountaineering Boots – These are for the real explorers out there who need to carry heavy loads across large distances. Most mountaineering boots are also made to work in tandem with crampons (spike shoes).

Note that although I have outlined 4 main categories here, a lot of hiking footwear will fall into multiple categories (instead of just one) – these are just outlines to give you some idea of the kind of boots you’ll need.

Boot Cuts – The Differences

When people talk about the ‘cut’ of a boot, what do they mean?

Low Cut – Great for walking on flat roads and maintained trails. Nice and lightweight, although the low cut means that debris (stones, sand, etc.) can easily enter the shoe.

Mid Cut – A higher cut provides more protection from debris and better ankle support.

High Cut – Great for walking over tough and irregular terrain with heavy loads. The main downsides of them are the weight and the time it takes to break them in (making them uncomfortable and stiff for a while).

People often ask what the best cut is. As you may have guessed there is no one best cut – it all depends on where you’re hiking (and for how long). Remember – the best hiking boots for you are simply the ones that meet your requirements.

How to Buy Hiking Boots

Shopping In Person
Take some time to find a store near you where you’ll be able to try on a few different pairs of hiking boots and receive advice from the sales staff.

Low cut hiking bootThe best time to go is often when the store is least busy (i.e. not the weekends).

Be sure to wear hiking socks (or the socks you’re planning on wearing with the boots) for the best assessment.

When trying to find the best hiking boots for you, it’s a good idea to think about the kind terrain you’ll be walking on, the weight of your backpack and the kind of weather you’re expecting (i.e. whether you’ll need waterproof hiking boots or not).

When trying on hiking boots, try to find somewhere where you can walk up and down stairs and on uneven surfaces (as you would when out hiking). Some stores actually contain an area of artificial rocky terrain especially for this.

Even after you’ve found (and bought) a pair of comfortable hiking boot that fit your feet as they should, it’s best just to wear them around the house for an hour – just to be sure they feel right. Wearing them around your house means that they won’t get dirty so you can still take them back if need be.

Buying Hiking Boots Online
Shopping for hiking boots online can be a great way to do things as you can get some high quality boots at low prices. The problem with buying online, though, is that you don’t get to try your hiking boots on before buying them.

Knowing your correct shoe size (by having it measured in a shoe shop) will help you to buy footwear that’s the right size.

In addition to this, if you’ve worn a particular brand of hiking boots before (and liked them), it’s probably best to stick to that brand, as most shoe companies are consistent in how they size and make their shoes.

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