Hiking boots are some of the most complicated pieces of footwear you can get, and it can be especially hard for less experienced hikers to know what to look for in a hiking shoe.
Even veteran backpackers can struggle with this type of question, as there are so many ways that different types of hiking footwear look and feel, making purchasing the right pair of hiking boots a massive challenge for nearly all hikers.
So, What Should I Look for in a Hiking Boot?
Thankfully, there are a few key things you can learn about hiking boots overall, as well as a few of the key differences you’ll find between each type and brand.
If you don’t know where to start and need to know what to look for in hiking boots, these are some quick questions that you might want to be answered, as they should help you pick the perfect product for your hiking needs, whether you’re going day hiking or night hiking.
- 1. How Many Hiking Boot Types Are There?
- 2. How Should Hiking Boots Fit?
- 3. What Material Is Best For Hiking Boots?
- 4. How Much Should Hiking Boots Cost?
- 5. What Are the Best Hiking Boot Brands?
- 6. How Heavy Should Hiking Boots Be?
- 7. Conclusion
1. How Many Hiking Boot Types Are There?
Before getting into some specific traits of hiking boots, it might help to understand the different types of hiking boots you’re most likely to find.
There isn’t a specific best type of hiking boot, however, knowing the ways that they can vary will help you find a hiking boot that fits your needs.
There are all kinds of details that could be mentioned with each hiking boot type, but these two classifications of hiking boots should help you understand how different hiking boots might look and function.
We have a more in-depth article on this topic if you want to learn more: The 5 Types of Hiking Boots that You Should Know
Lightweight vs. Reinforced
The first classification usually has to do with hiking boot weight and sturdiness, as more heavy-duty hiking boots will usually be quite thick and large.
This is because most traditional hiking boots are reinforced, usually through additional padding, rubber, and leather on areas like the toes and heel to give you better comfort. Most traditional hiking boots will be reinforced and provide better durability and safety when walking on rough trails.
(Hiker wearing Meindl shoes)
Lightweight boots, on the other hand, have less durability while being easier to lift thanks to thinner and more breathable material. Lightweight hiking boots are far less common. This is a trait that’s usually featured in a hiking shoe or a trail runner, rather than a hiking boot.
As a result, if you want a more effective hiking boot, you likely won’t want something that primarily prides itself on being lightweight.
Mid-cut vs. High-cut
The other notable way to define different hiking boots has to do with the height of the heel and of the top, which is another signifier of the weight and support a given shoe will have.
Higher cuts usually mean better stability, warmth, and comfort since they wrap around more of your foot. They also protect and support your ankle better. In fact, a proper high-cut boot is also referred to as a backpacking boot, while an average mid-cut boot is called a day-hiking boot.
There are also low-cut hiking shoes, but these don’t tend to be described as hiking boots since their heel is short enough to resemble a traditional street shoe.
Hiking shoes are still a great option if you want something more casual, but most hikers are better off going for a mid-cut or high-cut boot to avoid twisting their heels and so they can maintain balance on difficult trails and hills. Also, this way they can get more protection against cuts, abrasions, branches, etc.
Sources consulted: https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/hiking-boots.html
2. How Should Hiking Boots Fit?
Broadly speaking, hiking boots should be fairly snug, particularly compared to other types of shoes you may typically buy. You don’t want them to cut off blood flow, and it’s especially important to make sure you aren’t feeling like your toes need to bend uncomfortably.
However, as stated by Tread Labs, it’s important to make sure they pad around your foot and heel to give you ample support and comfort while not feeling spacious enough to irritate your foot.
This is also why you should be especially careful if you choose to order hiking boots online. Some products can be known to run a little big, and because you need them to fit snug, you may be taking a gamble on your size.
If you choose to order shoes online, always double-check the brand’s sizing charts to make sure you choose a size that’s snug but not constricting.
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3. What Material Is Best For Hiking Boots?
It’s relatively common for hiking boots to be made with a combination of leather and rubber, as both tend to be thick enough to prevent damage and remain sufficiently waterproof.
There are several other materials you can find that include durable full-grain leather, nylon-infused split-grain leather for breathability, and flexible nubuck leather, as well as synthetic vegan leathers, but each has its own strengths, and there is no objectively superior fabric or material.
(People wearing Lowa hiking boots)
This essentially will give your boots greater prevention from falling apart due to overuse while affording them a more secure degree of longevity and durability.
4. How Much Should Hiking Boots Cost?
Simply put, the cost of hiking boots can vary massively, but it’ll primarily depend on what style of boot you get and the brand you go with.
The best mid-cut boots are almost always going to be less expensive. They have a wide range of $60 to $200 based on the quality of the material. Popular brands will sell some products for around $150, but the more durable and heavily reinforced you get, the higher this price goes.
High-cut backpacking boots are usually going to be fairly more expensive. This is primarily because they have to fit more than just one shoe size, as they also need to fit well on the ankle to work effectively and feel comfortable.
This can lead to brands of all types, like Lowa and Meindl, landing anywhere between lows of $150 and highs of $450.
5. What Are the Best Hiking Boot Brands?
For the most part, there isn’t a singular best hiking boot brand, but there are definitely several great hiking boot brands to look out for.
Salomon and Merrell have already been mentioned as offering many great products with high quality and fair price points, and others like Salewa do great jobs of making some higher-end outdoor gear for mountain trails.
Nearly every brand has budget options, too, so you don’t usually need to avoid major brands if you can’t invest in a premium model.
(Unboxing a pair of Salomon hiking boots)
Alternately, there are also many brands that primarily specialize in running shoes and trail runners with great strengths that carry into their hiking boots, such as Hoka One One and La Sportiva.
These brands will provide some of the more breathable and lightweight options for boots, providing something quite unique among many other strong hiking boot brands.
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6. How Heavy Should Hiking Boots Be?
Technically speaking, there’s no rule that says your hiking boot has to be heavy for function. Greater weight may result in greater stability, but the weight that comes with hiking boots usually comes in the form of the materials rather than surplus weight.
Heavier boots usually just mean your material is of higher quality, but for the most part, most hiking boots should and will be a slight bit heavier than your normal street shoes.
Some hikers will also make a strong argument against overly heavy high-cut boots, unless you plan on hiking through snowy and dangerous environments.
This will be much more common with full-grain leather boots and high-cut models, meaning you won’t need to get the heaviest boots for most hiking adventures. Instead, your hiking boots should usually just be a bit heavier than whatever standard boots you’d get for regular walks.
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It’s incredibly easy to choose the wrong pair of hiking boots. Given their high price points, it’s easy to invest in one with the expectation of high quality and durability.
However, that won’t always be the case if you don’t properly do your research. Asking questions like these is extremely important, and you should always be willing to ask questions about any piece of outdoor gear you get.
When you manage to find the right pair, it’ll often be because you know what to look for in hiking boots, as knowing what makes a good hiking boot and what you need out of it will guide you to a better investment.
With the right hiking boots, you’ll feel the difference immediately.