The 20 Best Hiking Boots for Men and Women (2019 Review)

Ask a Marine or experienced hiker what their most vital piece of non-firearm related gear is and one answer that will come up often is boots.

Take my word for it, if you don’t invest in a pair of high-quality boots, your feet and joints will likely pay the price down the road (or trail in this case). I’ve seen guys not be able to walk for literally days after hikes because their feet were so torn up.

Don’t let that worry you, though, hiking is a ton of fun so long as you have the right gear.

Hikers wearing hiking boots

Through the process of trekking thousands of miles and developing hundreds of blisters, I learned most of the information I’m going to share with you in this guide the hard way.

In this guide, we’ll discuss everything you should know before pulling the trigger on a pair of boots, including proper fit, how to choose the right style, materials, features, waterproofing, breathability, support mechanisms, lacing systems, and of course, what I think are the best hiking boots for men and women.

The most common mistake I see people make when shopping for boots is selecting the wrong boot for their intended use. New hikers often think they need a heavy duty boot when in reality they would be better served by a trail runner or mid-range trekker.

If you want to learn more about boot features, styles, proper fitting, materials, soles, and other boot functions, use the navigation menu below to jump straight to the buying guide section of the page.

Hiking Boot Reviews

Now, to set the bar straight before we get started, I know that most of our readers aren’t service members trekking through the unforgiving mountains of Afghanistan, so we’ll cover the best boots for hiking across several categories for activities that civilians are more likely to use.

Still, the same basic rules apply within hiking boots as they do in combat and tactical boots. Comfort, durability, grip, and weight are the most primary factors behind any boots buying decision!

In this section, I will give you my biased opinions on which boots are the best. As mentioned several times throughout this guide, no one can tell you which boots are perfect for you. This is simply my opinion and reviews of the boots I believe work well for me! No online reviews will take the place of someone well studied!

A little pro tip, I’d recommend going to the store and trying on several pairs of boots, then reverting back to this guide to make sure they check all the boxes, then finding what you like on Amazon and buying them that way. You’ll get Amazon’s great return services and you’ll likely find them much cheaper on Amazon than most sporting goods stores!

As a final note before we bust into some reviews, expect to spend some money. Cheap boots are garbage boots and can quickly go from a good deal to a bad liability. Investing in a quality pair of hiking boots is infinitely more valuable than trying to save a few bucks by buying junk as it’ll save your feet, your back, your experience, and your sanity. Remember, buying the wrong boots doesn’t give you any excuses on the trail as the trail doesn’t care!

Here Are the Best Hiking Boots of 2019 (Arranged by Boot Type)

First Up: Long Range Adventurers

These are for our risk-taking adrenaline junkies willing to push the boundaries of both their physical and mental capabilities. Most people likely won’t need long range boots, but if your backpack contains everything you need to survive for weeks on end, you’ll need boots ready to carry that weight and the burden of constant nonstop torture.

Boots in this category are going to emphasize features above weight factors and include high levels of ankle and arch support, stiffer midsoles to create stability for those heavy packs of gear, and top tier durability engineering. These are built to last and carry you the furthest, but typically sacrifice weight and comfort to do so. At the end of the day, though, carrying on despite comfort is what’s important here. If you’re going the distance, you know you’ll face adversity and discomfort and what’s more important is reliability and durability to keep those legs moving no matter the conditions.

1. Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX

Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX

My review: These are an utter and complete package for even the most rugged and daring hikers alive. The second generation of the Quest 4D’s pulled all the stops and offered us the best of the best. They’re so good I don’t even know where to start! The Contagrip sole is one of the highest rated soles around and when paired with the Salomon 4D advanced chassis, you really feel the comfort among ruggedness. They are expensive and they are a little heavy at 640 grams, but these were made to go the distance and handle whatever you throw at them.

Where to get them: You can find the Solomon Quest for Men here and for women here.

Key Features:

  • Contagrip outsole
  • 4D advanced chassis system that offers weight stability from all angles
  • Some of the highest quality nubuck leather boots ever to hit the market

2. Lowa Renegade GTX

Lowa Renegade GTX

My review: The slovakians know hiking and that really shows with this brand throughout its entire series. The Renegade is a long range favorite due to its lightweight platform offering a plethora of great features. It’s everything you need without the extra goodies weighing you down. The Vibram Vialta is an excellent grip and perfect for long range treks because it offers stiffness and shock absorption. It all comes together with a MONOWRAP support frame, which is really what sets these boots apart from the competition. It’s tough to really describe how incredible these boots are and since they aren’t priced to break the bank, I highly suggest you give them an honest go!

Key Features:

  • Virbram Vialta grip system
  • Naturally water repellent nubuck leather construction with Gore-Tex midsole insert
  • Cordura flexible ankle band

3. La Sportiva Makalu

La Sportiva Makalu

My review: Another mountaineering selection, the Makalu checks all the boxes and more and comes with crampon compatibility. I mentioned before that we wouldn’t talk too much about alpine specific boots, but these are an incredible option for those of you walking the border between basic mountaineering and alpine-like trails. Buying these gives you some wiggle room in what you’ll be prepared for and with an excellent level of build quality, these are guaranteed to take a beating and keep on going.

They come with a fairly aggressive Virbram grip and a full steel shank that, while sacrificing a little comfort, provides for excellent support and grip in unstable conditions. These are boots for those of you pushing your limits and exceeding what regular boots would be capable of and offer a perfect platform for heavy backpacking trips.

Key Features:

  • Full steel shank and high quality leather construction and additional toe protection
  • Crampon compatible
  • EZ rollerball lace up system makes lacing adjustments on the go very easy

4. Danner Explorer 650

Danner Explorer 650

My review: These are killer boots at an excellent price. Danner is a brand that never disappoints and the 650s are at a price point where they are affordable to most while making a name for themselves in the long range capable category. Not only do they have a beautiful classic look, they pair this design with an incredibly balanced Vibram Megagrip system in a superlight boot platform. These are excellent for long trips and heavy packs and will stand the test of time. These are not insulated, so i’d recommend them for warm weather over cold weather, however, if you keep moving, they perform fairly well in chilly temperatures too.

Key Features:

  • Vibram Megagrip system
  • Flat laces with Gore-Tex midsole liner adding to the incredible water resistance these boots have

5. Kenetrek Mountain Extreme 1000

Kenetrek Mountain Extreme 1000

My review: By far the best full size cold weather boots on the list, the Kenetrek Mountain Extremes have a very heavy reputation and rightfully so. Have you ever been to Italy? You’d be hard pressed to find an outdoor area that isn’t a constant uphill battle! Kenetrek is an Italian brand created by people who have spent their entire lives roaming the mountainous regions of Italy and that really shows here.

The 1000 stands for the 1000 gram insulation “thinsulate” system they’ve got going on here. This is so good that I actually recommend the 400 series if you don’t plan on hiking through sub-zero temperatures for long durations. The home brewed K-Talon outsole by Kenetrek is something new and not found on any other brand. This particular grip appears to be incredibly aggressive but its still easy to maneuver on hard and flat surfaces as well.

Kenetrek made sure to focus on every little detail. All the metal hardware is forged and corrosion resistant. These boots, although certainly priced accordingly, are built to last even through the most rugged and extreme conditions. They are constructed completely of high quality nubuck leather and come equipped with a very thick and durable rubber toe cap.

As a final feature note, they’ve developed their own Gore-Tex and named it Wind-Tex, which I thought was kind of funny, but hey, it works well and keeps your toes nice and dry, so long as they aren’t soaked in sweat due to how well insulated these boots really are!

Key Features:

  • 1000 Gram thinsulate insulation system
  • Proprietary K-Talon grip system
  • Incredible water resistance due to the nubuck leather construction and Kenetrek proprietary Wind-Tex waterproofing technology

Next Up: Mid Range Trekkers

Built for the multi-day backpacking enthusiasts, boots developed for mid-range (2-5 day hikes) are typically created with a sacrificial middle ground in mind. They aren’t as flexible and as light as their short distance variants as they’re more stiff to offer a higher level of durability and firmness for long hikes but they’re not nearly as heavy as a long-range set of boots.

Most people reading this will likely fall into this category or below. These are built for the backpackers and campers that are willing to step outside of their comfort zone without risking their health. These will offer a decent level of ankle support and typically come with a lot of features such as waterproofing, weather oriented breathability, incredible off road-gripping capabilities and extended levels of durability.

6. Mishmi Takin Kameng Mid Event

Mishmi Takin Kameng Mid Event

My review: An interesting name and fantastic offering out of Europe, the Mishmi Takin Kameng packs a lot in a seemingly simple design. These particular boots have won some interesting awards including the Best Backpacking Boots by Men’s Health. It’s completely waterproof due to its high-quality suede construction and permeable eVent technology.

Key Features:

  • Water-resistant suede with eVent waterproofing technology
  • Vibram Megagrip rubber outsole offering great traction in wet conditions
  • Ortholite footbed cushion

7. Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator Mid

Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator Mid

My review: These full-grain leather boots are absolutely remarkable, but they are a bit pricey. Hey, you get what you pay for though, and no doubt Danner produces value underneath that price tag. Since the whole boot is single piece full-grain leather, its naturally waterproof, which leaves a bit to be desired in terms of breathability, but its not horrible. The ortholite footbed is ultra comfortable, far more comfortable than most full-grain leather boots I’ve tried.

There isn’t much special in terms of innovative technology or crazy features. The money is in the clean design and high quality manufacturing. There’s just something indescribable about top tier handcrafted leather boots that just tickles me pink.

Key Features:

  • EVA contoured footbed with Merrell M select Fit.ECO+ proprietary technology
  • Bellows utilized to ventilate the shoe with every step
  • An incredibly cushy sole that provides both comfort and stability for short-range trekking

8. KEEN Targhee II Mid

KEEN Targhee II Mid

My review: Keen is a USA brand with a pretty outstanding reputation for being rugged and an overall great value. These have been in just about every sporting goods store I’ve ever visited and its no wonder why they have over 2000 reviews on Amazon. They aren’t the lightest or the cheapest but I think they’re a great trade-off between weight, price, and functionality. They feel tough and perform fantastically, even in extreme terrain. I wouldn’t recommend these for extremely long treks but anything under “advanced” should be no problem for these boots.

These boots check all the boxes without breaking the bank. You’ll get a top class arch support, stability shank, waterproof capability, and an aggressive lug pattern that is still somewhat usable on normal surfaces an exceeds expectations in harsh conditions.

Key Features:

  • 100% waterproof nubuck leather construction
  • Ghillie lacing that allows for a very comfortable fit and tight adjustments
  • Aggressive 4mm multi directional lug pattern that's still usable in everyday surfaces

9. Danner Mountain 600

Danner Mountain 600

My review: These full-grain leather boots are absolutely remarkable, but they are a bit pricey. Hey, you get what you pay for though, and no doubt Danner produces value underneath that price tag. Since the whole boot is single piece full-grain leather, its naturally waterproof, which leaves a bit to be desired in terms of breathability, but its not horrible. The ortholite footbed is ultra comfortable, far more comfortable than most full-grain leather boots I’ve tried.

There isn’t much special in terms of innovative technology or crazy features. The money is in the clean design and high quality manufacturing. There’s just something indescribable about top tier handcrafted leather boots that just tickles me pink.

Key Features:

  • Aggressive 4mm multi directional lug pattern that's still usable in everyday surfaces
  • 100% waterproof
  • Vibram Fuga Outsole with megagrip, usable for both wet and dry conditions

10. Salewa Mountain Trainer Mids

Salewa Mountain Trainer Mids

My review: Something with a little different flavor for this list is the Mountain Trainer series by Salewa. Available in three different colors, these are fantastic starter boots for mid range hiking that turns ugly and requires a bit more might and grip in sticky situations. Still, i’m not sure they’d be the best option for extreme distances and serious alpine treks, but they are more than suitable for what most people would find themselves in.

These boots are constructed of leather and of course, this offers a lot of natural water resistance, but Salewa went ahead and added Gore-Tex technology to the mix, ensuring these babies are professional water repellers. It gets better, as these boots come equipped with the Virbram WrapThread outsoles, which are highly aggressive and offer incredible stability on unstable wash outs and low level alpine hiking.

As a special little bonus, they’re giving away HDO Sport knit caps on Amazon with every purchase of a set of boots!

Key Features:

  • Vibram WrapThread grip
  • Abrasion resistant suede leather construction and Gore-Tex waterproofing
  • Mid level flex collar for added stability without sacrificing ankle mobility

11. Vasque Talus UltraDry Trek

Vasque Talus UltraDry Trek

My review: These are a prime example of what to look for in mid range and even short range hiking boots. To me, the Vasque Talus boots offer one of the best in class middle grounds between comfort and rugged ability. These are built with leather and offer the Talus proprietary UltraDry technology for a fairly advanced water resistance level. That combined with a very comfortable but well supported EVA midsole creates a very formidable foot marriage for anything less than professional level trekking.

Key Features:

  • Leather construction combined with the Talus UltraDry system
  • Athletically inspired EVA midsole that sits comfortably between light and durable
  • Speed lacing system

12. Vasque Breeze III GTX

Vasque Breeze III GTX

My review: Another fantastic submission from one of my most recommended brands, Vasque, the Breeze III boots are excellent short to mid range boots that offer incredible breathability without sacrificing much on the stability and durability factors. These won’t carry you cross country but for anything less, they’re excellent boots. Dual-density EVA midsoles make these some of the most comfortable mid range boots on the market today that are under $200.

Key Features:

  • Dual-density EVA midsoles with air pods for extra cushion and impact resistance
  • Waterproof nubuck leather and Gore-Tex technology
  • Virbram Contact Grip system offering great grip on a wide variety of surfaces

13. Timberland Chocorua Trail Mids

Timberland Chocorua Trail Mids

My review: A lot of us recognize Timberland for their fashionable boots more so than their rugged capabilities but make no mistake, Timberland has something to offer on both sides of the spectrum and has long been a favorite brand of mine. These waterproof enabled boots offer that rough streetwear look while offering excellent trail stability with their high quality EVA midsoles. They even include removable and customizable footbeds!

Key Features:

  • Leather waterproofing properties
  • Removable anti muscle fatigue footbeds on top of high quality EVA midsoles
  • High quality leather construction

14. Eddie Bauer Cairn Mids

Eddie Bauer Cairn Mids

My review: These are a huge favorite among comfort-first seekers and it’s very obvious that Eddie Bauer paid extra attention to the little things. Although I don’t recommend week long trips in them, these hold up just fine for mid range treks and offer a ton of comfort features. A nylon shank runs through the middle of boot offering great stability without sacrificing any comfort. A gusseted tongue that doesn’t move around but also doesn’t squeeze the top of your foot is a huge plus. Their InsoFit EVA footbed offers incredible cushioning that fairs extremely well for single or double day hikes and the MidLite EVA midsole is simply icing on the top in terms of comfort.

Key Features:

  • Incredible comfort levels achieved by using a comfortable MidLite EVA midsole and InsoFit EVA footbed
  • Full leather construction that offers a decent level of water resistance
  • Aggressive lug pattern with the Vibram XS Trek system

Short Distance Day Hikers

These boots still maintain that rugged outdoor appearance while implementing a lightweight platform. To cut weight, these boots typically have thinner overall bodies and a low-cut height. The midsole will offer a lot more flexibility than that of the longer distance variants to ensure maximum comfort. Since you won’t be wearing them for longer than a day at a time, weight and mobility will take priority over long duration comfort and rugged durability.

If you’re not loading up a pack with everything you need to survive for a multi-day off the grid adventure, you likely won’t need anything above this level. Buying boots that are overdeveloped for your activity level will just weigh you down and likely cost you more money than you needed to spend!

15. Columbia Ridge Plus II

Columbia Ridge Plus II

My review: I don’t usually buy or enjoy lifestyle brands like Columbia or North Face as I feel they are more centered on the “I want to look outdoorsy” instead of actually being rugged and well designed. With that said, however, I actually got to use these boots on two occasions and both times I was pleasantly surprised. They’re much heavier than most other boots I’d put into this category, but they’re also constructed of real leather and completely waterproof. They don’t breath well, but they’re not even a hundred bucks and could easily offer 5 or more years of durable usage even in tough conditions.

If you want strong and basic on a budget, these are perfect. They don’t have a bunch of fancy technology, but they are what works and that is pure leather construction that is tried and true. The rubber grips are also noticeably great on steep elevation while still being usable in your everyday life.

Key Features:

  • Tried and true leather durability and waterproofing
  • A good midsection between extreme off-road grip and everyday usage
  • Incredibly tough for a very competitive price

16. Merrell MOAB 2 Ventilator Short

Merrell MOAB 2 Ventilator Short

My review: I know I know, these are like the most reviewed boots ever and you came here to see some cool unheard of stuff that makes you stand out, right? I’m just kidding, these are the most reviewed for a good reason. They’re incredibly affordable for the incredible value they provide and like most people, these are the first short range hiking boots I ever owned that I actually enjoyed using from the get-go. There’s really nothing to dislike about them and everything to put into the pro’s section, so this review may sound a bit biased, however, I truly believe these are among the best starter choices. They have excellent grip with 5mm lugs, nice weight support with arch shank, bellows to consistently push air out of the shoe which increases its breathability and still manage to stay relatively lightweight.

Ahh, I finally realized a con that is worth mentioning. Since the sole is extra plush and super comfortable, these are horrible for medium to long distance. Yeah, I know, they’re in the short range category, but I figured I’d mention that just in case. I also didn’t love them on steep inclines either due to the same reason.

There is a waterproof version available for a few more ounces, but you know what my take is on those!

Key Features:

  • Bellows to ventilate the shoe with every step
  • An incredibly cushy sole that provides both comfort and stability for short-range trekking
  • Both non-waterproof and waterproof versions available in both male or female platforms

17. Salomon XA Pro 3D

Salomon XA Pro 3D

My review: Salomon again! Yes, and many more times to come, and rightfully so. The XA Pro is a perfect balance between short and medium ranged boots. These are excellent and actually come in a mid form factor, which just raises the height of the ankle area a tad bit so check those out if you’d prefer that.

As always, they come in super light while still managing to offer all the latest and greatest boot technology. This particular one comes with Gore-Tex and that coveted Salomon quick lace feature we all know and love. This boot comes with a 3D chassis, which means your body weight is supported on each and every side of the boot, creating incredible stability even on rough uneven terrain. The Contragrip outsole is one of my favorites because although it does offer a decent grip on tough trails, its still usable on the pavement and other hard surfaces as well.

Key Features:

  • Contragrip makes these usable for more than just rough terrain
  • QuickLace system makes quick adjustments easy and accurate
  • 3D Chassis supports body weight from all angles, creating a very stable platform and is covered in Gore-Tex technology

Next Up: Trail Runners

Not exactly what you think of when you hear hiking boots, trail runners would actually suffice for more than a lot of people think. For those of you hiking without packs through scenic routes or have the physicality of a tough single day run through the woods in mind, these will fair just fine. Trail running boots are purpose-built to be the lightest form factor possible while maintaining a much higher level of ruggedness and grip than your traditional running shoe. In short, these are simply much more badass running shoes built for the trail instead of pavement!

These offer a few benefits in terms of footwear that traditional boots do not. First, you can still find them in waterproofed models, however, if you opt for the lightest platform possible, you’ll get a set of shoes that dry out much faster than boots. There aren’t many full-size boots that can dry out in a day, but trail runners certainly excel in this category. Aside from that, these are the best shoes to use in tandem with everyday life. As a matter of fact, I’ve been seeing tons of people wear trail runners simply because they find them comfortable and the style more favorable than regular tennis shoes!

18. Altra AFM Lone Peak 4

Altra AFM Lone Peak 4

My review: Oh boy, are these things light and breezy! If you want something to navigate trails quickly and nimbly at a good price, these are your go-to trail runners. Breathable and grippy, these are perfect for a day or two trip. Something that really stood out to me about these particular trail runners was the plethora of awesome features. Traditionally, trail runners are just tennis shoes with extra grip slapped on the bottom, but not these. The Altra Lone Peak 4’s come with a very advanced hard rubber grip that I found to be one of the best performing grips on loose rocks and washed out trail sections. Furthermore, the center of the shoe has a hardened section that adds protection from sharp stones and sticks, making these perfect for tearing through trails without worry.

Key Features:

  • Extremely light at only 10.6 ounces
  • MacTrac rubber grip system
  • Centralized StoneGuard system offering top tier trail running protection

19. Salomon Speedcross 4

Salomon Speedcross 4

My review: The Salomon line is widely recognized as a top tier footwear supplier since 1947 purpose-built for serious hikers and the Speedcross 4 certainly helps to uphold this standard. Not only are these my favorite design in terms of appearance, but these also offer the best ankle support of any trail runner I’ve ever tested. Yes, I do personally own these and I do use them often! I will admit, I almost prefer the grip of the Altra Lone Peak 4 in dry situations, but the Speedcross 4 blow it away in wet conditions. Other than that, this shoe is better in every way. I feel as though they fit more snugly and offer much more support overall. The quick lace system makes fine-tuning a breeze and these shoes fit better than pretty much anything I’ve ever worn. These also offer a water-resistant mesh, which honestly, kind of works, but only kind of. Can’t expect much from trail runners in the water department, though, which is fine!

They’re sexy, they’re lightweight, they’re tough, and they’re reasonably priced. Tough to beat and even tougher to destroy (believe me, I’ve tried).

There are actually two versions. The GTX version simply stands for GTX and adds about 30 grams of weight for increased waterproofing. Up to you, but I chose the none GTX version and I’m happy with its performance. It’s lighter and more breathable. If it rains hard, the GTX version is going to be soaked on the inside anyways.

Key Features:

  • Water-resistant mesh material construction
  • Extremely precise foothold grip and quicklase system
  • Extremely lightweight at a measly 10.5 ounces

20. Arc’teryx Norvan VT

Arc teryx Norvan VT

My review: For those of you who prefer function over lightweight, the Norvan VT packs a massive punch. Despite sacrificing lightweight design, these trail runners are especially useful for steep and technical terrain and offer a huge amount of foot stability and ruggedness that isn’t found in many other trail runners. Something that really stuck out to me was how the lacing system extends all the way down the full length of the shoe. For me, it’s incredibly difficult to find the sweet spot between too wide or too narrow, but with these trail runners, I’m able to buy a size on the large side and then adjust them up tightly over the entirety of my foot. For the most part, I’d recommend these for really tough trails and terrain. The grip is almost too much for normal everyday terrain but they do excel especially well in snow! That’s not surprising, I guess, considering the HQ for Arc’teryx is in North Vancouver!

Like the Salomon, there is a Gore-Tex model that adds a bit of weight but increases the waterproofing capabilities drastically. For me, I’m still sticking with the base model but have at it if you wish, both are very solid trail runner platforms.

Key Features:

  • These weigh 21.5 oz, which is a little more than my other recommended trail runners
  • One of the best performing trail runners in the snow, offered in Gore-Tex or none Gore-Tex
  • A full-length all-encompassing lacing system that makes for full shoe adjustments

Buying Guide

Additional Types of Boots

Hiking boots come in a few different flavors that all kind of fit in their own activity categories. For some people, boots may not even be necessary. Buying boots that are made for activities much more difficult and/or strenuous than you need are going to result in a waste of money and added unnecessary weight. In this guide, I’ll give you a rundown of what to look for, my personal experience with boots across a wide range of situations, and then we’ll try to cover boots in the following categories:

Crampons

Sorry extreme alpinists, we won’t discuss crampons much in this article as I believe an entire guide should be devoted to them instead, however, in a nutshell, crampons are the cool spikey things that hang out or attach to the boot for arctic navigation. These provide traction on the ice where rubber grips fail to do so and could potentially save your life. You can buy boots purpose-built for crampons and you can also find boots that have the ability for crampon compatibility. Some boots featured in this article may be crampon compatible but we won’t discuss these much further as most people reading this likely won’t need them.

Since I don’t know much about crampons, you may be better off reading from a guide such as the one found here if you plan to do extreme mountaineering, snow-covered slope trekking, frozen waterfalls, or glacier trekking.

First and Foremost: Fit and Comfort

No matter how expensive they are, what cutting edge technology they embrace, how sick they look, or what features they contain, a bad fit is a bad boot. Now, I do realize that I am helping you find good deals online, which is kind of counterintuitive since you can’t ever tell if a boot fits well or not without first trying it on, but you’ll just have to use your own personal judgment on this one.

Before we get started, it’s important to note what measurements you may want to have on hand when shopping for boots. Most stores that sell outdoor gear and/or footwear will have staff and tools to help you take measurements, even if you don’t buy from them. Important measurements include your foot’s overall length, width, arch length, arch lift, and foot volume. Foot volume may require someone specially trained, which can be found at stores like REI or specialty hiking outlets.

My main piece of advice, though, when considering fit, is to go big or go home. No, I’m not talking about how much you spend or how much you plan to trek, I’m talking about buying a size that is slightly more than what you need. A size too small is an utter deal breaker. There is nothing you can do about a boot that is too small. On the flip side, a boot that’s just a tad too large is an easy fix. Wear thicker socks and voila, crisis averted.

A second note on going big, keep in mind that after several miles of stomping, your feet will start to swell. The cells in your muscles will begin holding on to more water and oxygen to provide a constant flow of nutrient-rich blood and your feet will be among the most affected on long treks. Your feet can easily exceed a “perfect fit” and before you know it, a perfect day on the trail turns into a nightmare just as you reach that point of no return. Don’t be a sucker, go big and take off layers of socks as the trip progresses. And no, you can’t effectively stretch modern boots.

Pro tip: If you’re shopping for boots after a long day, trying on boots after you’ve been standing for a while may better reflect your true size than trying on boots after sitting or sleeping for a while as your feet may have swollen a bit like they would during a hike.

Pro tip #2: This is probably obvious, but just to make sure no one forgets, consider your orthotic mechanisms and/or aftermarket insoles if you have them as they will greatly change how the boot fits and what size you may need.

Speaking of fit, the size could be right but the structure could be wrong. Watch out for especially narrow or wide platforms and plan ahead. Have your feet measured professionally and ensure you’re buying the right size within the size. Many manufacturers nowadays realize that even though someone can be a 12, the same as their identical twin brother, their feet may have a completely different muscular and skeletal structure. Just basing your decision off the number on the box will not suffice for a perfect fit!

Other fit related discussion points include arch support, heel-to-toe drop, and ankle support. All of these are going to be completely dependant on you and you alone. Just because your battle buddy loves a certain set of boots doesn’t mean you will too. For me, it took about four different pairs of boots to figure out what I liked and unfortunately, due to break in (which we’ll discuss later), it’s pretty hard to tell if its a good fit even if you try them on in the store. I don’t want to have to tell you this, but I think it’s important to note. You will likely waste money on boots you end up not liking and that’s just part of the process. Sorry, but hey, you have to pay for comfort!

Let’s back up and talk about that heel-to-toe drop thing I mentioned before. Basically, this is how much material separates your foot from the ground and in most footwear, the difference between your heel to the ground can be different than the distance between your toes to the ground. Think about your running shoes, do they have a cushy pad in the back lifting your heel off the ground while your toes ride on a thin piece of rubber? In running, this may be beneficial, but in long hikes, this can lead to uneven foot fatigue. A lot of hikers prefer a zero drop, which means the toe and the heel are both the same distance from the ground which provides for a very even contact with the ground and weight distribution. Again, this is another personal preference thing that you may just have to find out on your own, but I mention this because it’s important to be aware and monitor how you feel with different heel-to-toe drop ratings.

Material Components

Get ready for some serious reading (if you care) about what your boots are made of! Yes, the materials each portion of your boot are made of certainly do make a difference in price, durability, comfort, breathability, and weight. What the boot is made of will also impact its water resistance and its ability to dry once wet. The three primary components we’ll cover are the boot upper, boot midsole, and the boot outsole.

Boot Upper Component

This includes everything you see when you slap those bad boys on your feet and look down at them. The part that wraps around your ankle, the top piece that may or may not protect you from heavy objects, where your laces call home, etc.

Full-grain leather is probably one of the most popular upper component materials and offers a high level of durability due to its natural water resistance and abrasion resistance. This material will be offered more widely in the longer range boots as they provide them with the ruggedness needed but sacrifice lightness, breathability, and require a heavy break-in period.

Nubuck leather is a special type of full-grain leather that has been industrially treated to resemble suede. It’s far more flexible and comfortable than traditional leather while maintaining leathers natural ability to repel water. A break in period is still required, however, most people seem to think nubuck leather requires less stress to break in properly.

Split-grain leather is just fancy terminology for a combination of leather and a second or perhaps even third material. The very terminology “split-grain” means the tough part of the leather is stripped away and replaced with another material. Manufacturers have been testing combinations for a long time to find a good middle ground between durability, weight, and breathability. So far, it seems that a leather liner in tandem with a mesh or nylon woven platform is the most cost effective and highest performing middle ground so far.

Synthetics such as nylon, nylon mesh, polyester, and synthetic leathers greatly reduce the cost to manufacture boots at the sacrifice of durability and water resistance. These are typically much lighter than leather components, though, and require very little, sometimes none at all, break-in periods.

For our environmentally conscious outdoor enthusiasts, you can purchase vegan boots! These are simply boots created without the use of any animal ingredients such as leather.

Boot Midsole

The midsole of your boot is where your foot lays and provides a buffer between you and the terrain you’re conquering. Midsoles come in different stiffness levels which will determine how comfortable the boot is versus how stable it will be. As a general rule of thumb, I’d recommend softer midsoles for short trips and stiffer midsoles for long trips.

Ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) is a cost-effective method in midsole creation on both ends of the stiffness spectrum. Since EVA is so versatile, you’ll need to choose wisely as the boot may be stiff or soft.

Polyurethane is primarily firm and provides a very nice stable platform for the foot to rest on. This material has proven to be a bit more durable than EVA as well, holding its shape better and providing the foot more stability when stepping on odd shaped things such as tree branches or rocks.

Boot Outsole

The outsole of your boot is what you see when you turn the boot over. Some people call this the grip, or simply the bottom of the boot. Whatever you want to call it, its whats protecting you from the harsh environment you’re hiking through and will determine if you slide or stay put when in sticky situations.

With outsoles, you’ll also see two pieces of hiking terminology. Lug pattern has to do with the orientation that the grip nubs are in and how they’re placed on the bottom of the boot. Heel brake is the portion of the bottom of the boot that is clearly designed to support your heel and greatly changes the tractional ability of your boots.

Outsoles come in one flavor: Rubber. That’s really all you get. Fancy long range boots might have carbon-based additives that increase the hardness but that’s really all you get to choose from. A harder outsole makes for a firmer and more stable platform and also boosts durability, but too hard and the outsole may feel slick and offer less grip.

Features and Functions to Consider

Finding the right boots, even if you know what category you’ll fall into is extremely difficult. There are so many factors at play that I simply cannot account for you such as your physiological makeup, your weight, your foot size, and shape, etc. Making matters worse, you may not want to buy a separate pair of boots for each and every activity you might partake in, so finding something that is good in one area and just decent in another may be on the forefront of your buying decision.

Aside from the YOU factor, there are also hundreds of different features, styles, and functions of boots in each category. Before spending your hard earned cash, and believe me, to get a good set of hiking boots you’ll be spending some serious coin, you first need to decide what’s most important to you and what you need the most. Let’s cover a few things to consider before you pull the trigger on your next set of boots!

Waterproofing

Probably the most pressing matter that most people ask for is waterproofing. Should you get it? Is it worth it? What exactly does waterproof mean? What’s Gore-Tex?

Before we get started, it’s important to note the difference between waterproof and water resistant. Waterproof is an incredibly hard thing to master and basically means that, no matter what, water cannot enter. Water resistance just means it has water repelling properties that may work in varying degrees. Almost everything you use, from technology to apparel, isn’t actually waterproof, its water resistant. Mostly everything dubbed waterproof is misleading marketing! For this article, though, “waterproof” will stand as a blanket term for products that have outstanding water resistance, just to keep things simple, just remember, there are no boots that are completely 100% waterproof forever.

Waterproof membranes enable special technology such as Gore-Tex or eVent to repel water at great efficiency so watch out for boots equipped with these as they seem to offer the most water repellency. These are essentially permeable synthetic fabrics that block water but allow air to pass through. Although they do work well, this technology greatly reduces the breathability of the boot. Aside from special waterproof membranes, all leather boots do a great job of resisting water and nowadays there are special sprays which work fairly well at resisting water on nearly all types of boots.

You can find my favorite waterproof spray here.

Waterproofing has several pros and cons. It sounds weird that having boots with the additional function of resisting water would have cons, but they certainly do and are definitely worth discussing.

First, the obvious pro is that a little splash here and there isn’t going to ruin your trip. Watch the water bead up and slide right off and in a few seconds, you’ll forget you ever had a little dip in that creek crossing. Waterproofing is also going to help keep your feet dry in the event it’s snowing. Your feet give off a ton of heat so its no wonder why snow clinging on to your boots starts to melt. As it melts, so long as you chose a waterproof set of boots, the water will run off and you’ll be fine.

Now, to the cons of waterproofing. First and probably the most obvious is the weight difference. Many manufacturers of boots nowadays are releasing both waterproof and non-waterproof boots within the same models. They look similar, but the materials used are different and the weight difference is very real. Waterproof boots, in my experience, have always been heavier than their non-water repelling brothers.

Now, some of the differences you may see will be just a few grams here and there, which likely won’t make much difference so long as you’re not tackling long distances or harsh elevation changes. Plan ahead and choose accordingly. When taking on that 4000m+ mountain trek, a few grams here and a few grams there adds up quickly and will certainly make the trip much more difficult. Many trekkers agree that weight around the ankles feels much heavier than weight on your back, so keep that in mind as well.

Another con to waterproofing is a rather large one and is the reason why I have opted to purchase non-water proof boots the last five or so times I’ve purchased new boots. On long trips during inclement weather, your waterproof boots are going to become wet on the inside regardless of what you do or how well they repel water. Humidity in the air is going to soak through, water runs down your legs and pants, water can splash up and over the rim, your feet are going to sweat, etc, and when those boots do get wet on the inside, they stay wet for the remainder of your trip. Waterproof boots are as good as keeping water out as they are at keeping water in. If you submerge them, your boots are going to stay wet longer than any other piece of gear you have and the longer they take to dry, the longer you’ll be carrying around that massive amount of extra weight.

So, should you get boots that are waterproof or not? I don’t know. I can’t give you a definite answer and hikers around the world will argue both sides, but I can tell you that I personally believe that for long trips it’s better to simply embrace the suck, let them get soaked, and then dry them out when you get the chance.

The extra weight and longer duration to dry are factors that push me away from waterproofed boots but hey, waterproofing certainly would have saved me from wet socks a time or two when a small splash was all I needed to repel. Its a tradeoff you’ll need to ponder on your own!

Breathability

You get one: Breathability or waterproof. No exceptions! Unfortunately, many hikers find this a tough choice to make and it is! Breathability is incredibly important as low levels of breathability will cause your feet to sweat significantly more, making the inside of your boot wet and rendering the waterproofing useless anyways! Breathable boots typically dry out faster and offer a much more comfortable experience during warm weather hikes.

If you’re planning on hiking in extremely low temperatures, having low breathability sounds like a positive because it’ll trap warm air in around your foot, right? Wrong, low breathability is also a negative in cold weather because, as mentioned before, sweat will happen whether its cold or warm and that sweat will have nowhere to go but sit inside your boot, sapping your body heat and potentially making your feet even colder.

But wait, there’s more! Low breathability traps sweat, yeah, we get it, but it gets so much worse from there. If moisture cannot leave the boot, your skin will be constantly exposed to extreme moisture levels, which leaves you open to blistering, which is a pretty good way to shorten your weekend!

Water Wicking

This is a rather small feature that’s been popping up more frequently lately. It works by adding a type of wick to the midsole design to pull moisture and water from inside the boot and up to better expose it to more air, allowing the boot to dry more efficiently. These wicks are usually some kind of nylon material and also work with sweat. I’ve found that some of these wicking systems are pure marketing mumblings, but some do seem to work rather well in that they seem to dry a bit faster than boots of similar construction but lacking a wicking function.

Internal Support Mechanisms

In an effort to create a more supportive design, boot makers have begun adding shanks and plates to the structure of their products. Not all boots have internal support mechanisms and some models may have a combination of the following supports or utilize both pieces of technology.

Shanks are 3-5mm thick inserts placed strategically between the boots midsole and outsole to increase stiffness in the most load bearing portions of the boot. Typically, you’ll either see full shank or half shank variations, which either cover the full length of the midsole or half, respectively.

Places are thin and flexible inserted in and under the same place shanks can be found, but instead of adding stiffing, these act as a protective buffer against uneven or sharp terrain, such as rocks or roots.

Lacing Systems       

This is a fun one as manufacturers are starting to get quite creative with the age-old method of lacing up our boots. Psssh, are you still using the bunny loop method, seriously? There are some pretty fascinating lacing systems available like the one on the Power Matic 200 GV, which implements a proprietary micro-pulley system to quickly tighten up on the go. This system is supposed to help you achieve the perfect level of snugness without having to redo your knots and experiment with lacing procedure.

I won’t go too much in depth here, but there are a lot of really neat lacing systems hitting the market today. Some are trash, making the shoes much more uncomfortable and actually cause additional wear and tear on the laces. Some are amazing, saving you time and aiding in on the fly adjustments. Most of these new systems are patented, so each brand will have something different. This means you’ll pretty much have to either test each of them out individually or take the word of online reviews to figure out which one will work best for you.

Break In Period

All boots regardless of the material require a break in period. This essentially means that the boot loosens up and starts to form fit your feet specifically. No one else can break them in for you, as the boots will need to be broken in by your specific feet. You’ll be spending lots of time together, you need to get to know your boots on an intimate level!

A poor fit is a poor fit and will not become any better after breaking them in. A size too small will not magically stretch to fit you and a size too narrow or wide will not form to your feet to create some perfect glove like feeling. Breaking boots in simply means you’re loosening up the leather and stitching and getting the sole to move about before taking it out and putting on some hard miles. It’s true, stiff boots will feel uncomfortable, but there is a very harsh difference between just being new and being wrong.

The time it takes to break in a pair of boots varies greatly and will mostly depend on the material. Tough leather boots are going to take much longer to form fit your feet than the other materials listed, while boots made up of mostly synthetics will take just a few hours. Those trail runners are awfully nice in this respect as they break in after just a couple miles walked in, kudos to them!

Before setting off on anything intensive, I highly recommend you to wear your boots while they’re still clean inside your house for a day or two. After that, take them outside and maybe wear them to work if you’re allowed to. Wearing them for a while before taking them on a serious hike will reveal any shortcomings in your buying decisions and will also help you to figure out the best way to lace up and what socks work best with your boots.

If you type breaking in boots on Google you’ll find a bunch of garbage about how you can freeze them and put them on, soak them and walk in them, etc to break them in faster. Egh. Don’t be a fool, these hardly work, if at all, and aren’t worth the extra wear and tear on both your boots and on your poor feet.

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