Choosing the right hiking boots or hiking shoes is one of the most important parts of setting off on a grand hiking adventure. Having a shoe with the proper function, fit and features will vastly improve your experience while trekking through tough terrain.
What are the qualities you need in this boot or shoe?
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What type of terrain will I be traveling through, and what kind of weather might I encounter? Rocky? Wet? Variable?
- What type of load will I be carrying most of the time? Are you going on day adventures with a light backpack, or will you be carrying a 45-pound load? Do you need something that can handle a bit of everything?
- What are my physical needs in footwear? Are you prone to rolling your ankles? Are you more comfortable in a heavier but sturdier shoe? Do you need a shoe that breathes well because your feet perspire a lot?
Choose a Boot that Matches Your Adventure
Once you answer these questions, the vast selection of boot and shoe choices online or in store might still feel overwhelming. That’s OK. Just remember, outdoor footwear can be broken down into four categories. In the order of most supportive to least supportive, those categories are as follows:
- Mountaineering boots
- Backpacking boots
- Hiking shoes
- Trail runners
Mountaineering boots: These heavy-duty hiking boots are designed for extended hiking and trekking on everything from well-groomed trails in good weather to completely off-trail conditions in more extreme weather. Mountaineering boots are stiff, heavy, well insulated, waterproof and crampon compatible. They are used to navigate glaciers, climb ice or ascend snowy peaks.
Backpacking boots: These are known for being durable and providing solid support on a wide range of trail conditions. Backpacking boots are the best option for those handling a multitude of different terrains, from day trips to multiday excursions—particularly when carrying loaded packs. These boots tend to be waterproof, but this comes at the cost of compromised breathability. When you think of a high-cut hiking boot, this is the boot you’re thinking of.
Hiking shoes: For the avid recreational hiker, hiking shoes offer good support and greater comfort on shorter trips and treks. While they don’t offer the same level of support as backpacking or mountaineering boots, they’re usually lighter. A slight compromise to durability allows you to be more agile over variable terrain. They also tend to breathe better, which makes them a great option for warmer weather hiking, but they can come in waterproof varieties as well.
Trail running shoes: For the fast-moving traveler, trail runners offer unparalleled weight savings, breathability and comfort—but at a huge compromise to support. These shoes are typically best suited for travelers who are very experienced in the outdoors and who understand the limitations of the footwear well.
Note that some styles also have low-, mid-, and high-cut options. Here’s what you need to know:
Low-cut: This style usually only goes as high as your ankle, which means lighter weight and more breathability. It also means less ankle support and protection from puddles and trail debris, such as rocks, sticks, thorns and more. This cut is better for more recreational hikers who stick to maintained trails.
Mid-cut and high-cut: Hiking boots with higher cuts offer increased protection and support. This also means heavier boots that will typically be warmer and less breathable. These cuts are more suitable for a wider variety of terrain.
Finding the Proper Fit
Once you’ve considered these questions, the best advice is to stop by a local specialty retailer to try on several pairs of boots and shoes that might suit your needs. If you find better deals online, see if the store will price match, but whatever you do, don’t compromise on fit—even if it means spending a few extra dollars.