Exploring the great outdoors and protecting your feet from the natural elements is possible with the right pair of hiking boots. When trekking through different rugged terrain including: mud, dirt, snow, and rocks, you need durable and comfortable footwear that lasts.
Factors to Consider
Do you plan on going through rocky or muddy terrain? It’s important to consider what type of environment your hiking boots will encounter. The type of terrain can affect the boot’s longevity and durability.
For example, if you’ll be walking on hard surfaces like asphalt or concrete, a lightweight, trail running shoe can be enough. For casual hiking through big open spaces or stable and even surfaces, lightweight shoes are comfortable and reduce fatigue.
However, if you’re trekking through mud, rocks, roots or steep terrain, you need a more durable hiking boot that protects your feet from sprains and other injuries. Look for a stiff outsole for increased stability, a high-cut design for ankle protection, excellent traction, and supportive cushioning.
How much gear you are hauling can also influence the type of hiking shoes you need. For lighter loads, light and flexible shoes can provide the perfect level of comfort and support. For heavier loads, you need tougher shoes that provide additional stability and support.
Longer hiking distances are tougher on the body and require solid support for your foot. Long hikes usually require heavy gear. This means you need extra support and stability from your hiking boot. Look for mid-sole, ankle, and heel support in your hiking footwear.
Lighter footwear is good for shorter distances or if you want to preserve your energy with a lighter load. Compared to lugging a heavier boot, lightweight boots can be more comfortable and not wear you down as much.
What type of weather do you plan to hike in? Will it be hot, dry, humid, icy? This can determine if you need breathable or waterproof footwear. If you are going through water, decide whether you need a boot that dries quickly or one that resists water better.
Consider how often you hit the trails, your previous hiking experience, and the terrain you plan to hike on. Determining your fitness level can help you choose the hiking boots that will meet your needs. Do you need ankle support for hardcore trails or more ankle freedom for casual hikes?
Parts of a Hiking Boot
Hiking boots come in different styles and sizes, giving you many options to suit your hiking needs. Understanding the different parts of a hiking boot allows you to create a wish list of quality hiking boot features you need for your adventure.
Hiking Boot Uppers
The upper of a hiking boot is the part covering the ankle and foot. Uppers can be made from many different materials, offering varying levels of support, water resistance, weight, and breathability. We’ll go into the benefits of each material later on.
Hiking Boot Midsoles
A midsole is the layer of the hiking boot found between the insole and the outsole. Its cushioned support provides shock resistance in unstable terrain and is a major factor in the boot’s rigidity. Stiff hiking boots can protect your feet from the unforgiving terrain, requiring the utmost stability and comfort.
Most hiking shoe midsoles are made with ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) and polyurethane. EVA is the more cushioned, lightweight, and budget-friendly option. EVA thickness can vary by hiking boot. Polyurethane has a firmer feel, good for mountaineering and backpacking boots.
Hiking Boot Underfoot Support
Hiking boot shanks are thin, supportive inserts found between the boot’s midsole and outsole. Shanks provide stability on rugged terrain, and rigidity for greater load-bearing support. Shanks can cover anywhere from half to the entire midsole length.
Hiking boot plates, similar to shanks, offer additional protection. Plates are added between the midsole and outsole and below the shank, if present. They are designed to protect your feet from sharp stones, roots, and other sharp objects that can injure your feet.
Hiking Boot Outsole
All hiking boot outsoles are made of rubber, which can contain additives such as carbon to improve its firmness in mountaineering and backpacking boots. Stiff outsoles provide greater durability, but can feel slippery when you go off trail.
Lugs are the bumps on the bottom of the outsole that provide traction. Deep and thick lugs are common in mountaineering and backpacking boots to get a better grip on the outdoor terrain. Widely spaced lugs also provide excellent traction and get rid of mud better than other lug patterns.
Some outsoles have heel brakes built around the heel section, providing better traction and grip. This feature can be helpful when you’re going down a steep decline.
Crampons are an essential piece of gear used to make it easier to move through snow and ice. Crampons are a rigid frame with metal spikes that connect to your mountaineering boots and provide additional traction on frozen terrain.
Crampon frames can be made from steel, stainless steel, or aluminum. Steel is good for mountaineering, providing durability for icy and steep terrain. Stainless steel is corrosion resistant. Aluminum is a lightweight option that is good for ski mountaineering.
Vertically-oriented frames were popular in the past, but aren’t as common today. Horizontally oriented frames, made from steel or aluminum, lay flat, allowing you to be closer to the ground than vertical frames. This makes them more stable and better able to shed snow.
The type of hiking shoe you own will determine the type of crampon you use. For example, lightweight hiking boots will require lightweight, strap-on crampons. A stiff crampon won’t be compatible with a boot with flexible soles.
Eyelets are used to hold the shoelaces in place. Punched eyelets are the most common and can be reinforced with metal. D-rings are able to clamp down on the tied laced to keep them in place.
Speed hooks, also known as “hooked eyelets” or just “hooks”, allow you to lace up quicker than other eyelet types. However, laces can slip from the hook, making them the least secure eyelet. In addition, the hooks can get caught on objects and break off.
Webbing is another type of lacing system that use fabric loops to adjust the laces. Webbing can reduce chaffing when compared to other eyelet types, but they aren’t as durable and can experience a lot of wear and tear in rough terrain.
Some hiking boots feature a combination of these eyelet types. For example, hooks can be used for the top few eyelets and D-rings and webbing for the area where the tongue connects to the rest of the upper.
A hiking boot’s rand is the strip of rubber covering the lower part of the upper where it connects with the sole. The rand can cover just the toe box to protect your toes from bruises and injuries or go around the entire boot to provide a barrier against abrasion and help seal up the boots for water repellency.
Hiking socks should be considered alongside hiking boots to ensure they are compatible. Consider the height, cushioning, fabric, and fit of hiking socks before buying.
No-show socks can work with trail running and hiking shoes. Ankle socks are good for low to mid-cut boots. Crew socks are the perfect choice for hiking. Knee-high socks are the preferred option for mountaineering.
Heavy cushioning may be a necessity for long hikes with rough terrain and cold temperatures. Light cushioning can work for warmer weather.
Wool is the best-selling hiking sock material because it’s able to regulate temperature and keep your feet dry and cool while providing cushioning. Other sock materials include polyester, nylon, silk, and spandex.
Even if your hiking boots are waterproof, dirt, rocks, and water can still make it through. Gaiters are used to cover the exposed areas of your footwear, so you are completely protected from the elements. Hiking gaiters are breathable and lightweight and can even offer waterproof protection.
Types of Hiking Boots
Trail Running Shoes
Many people often wonder if trail runners are a good alternative for hiking boots or shoes. The answer is yes! Trail running shoes are designed for running on hiking trails. Compared to regular running shoes, trail running shoes have better grip, support, breathability, and protection.
While trail runners aren’t as supportive or durable as hiking boots, they can be a good addition to your hiking footwear wardrobe for certain occasions. Having both trail runners and hiking boots gives you the versatility to hike in nearly any terrain.
Light Hiking Boots
Lightweight hiking boots, also known as hiking shoes, are the ideal choice for everyday and casual hiking. Some long-distance backpackers prefer this lightweight style. If you’re debating whether to go with hiking shoes or boots, go with hiking shoes for most environments, except the most rugged terrain.
If you’re trekking through rocky terrain or snow, mountaineering boots can get you through with comfort and style. These boots are designed to support a lot of weight while maintaining stability and can handle the toughest terrain.
Backpacking footwear is designed for different types of outdoor terrain. Whether you’re going on or off the trail for several days, these boots are for you. They have a rigid sole, which offers excellent durability and support throughout your journey.
Hiking Boot Materials
For serious hikers, full-grain leather provides the ultimate durability and protection. When going through the unforgiving outdoor terrain, full-grain leather has got you covered. However, it is not as breathable or lightweight as other materials.
Full-grain is more durable because it isn’t as vulnerable to abrasion as other materials. Leather is the go-to material for backpacking boots, designed for multi-day treks, rough terrain, and heavy gear.
Split-grain leather, made with leather and synthetics, provides excellent breathability and is lightweight. However, it doesn’t protect against water or abrasion like full-grain leather. It’s also less durable than full-grain leather.
Split-grain leather is made by removing the top grain of the hide and using the corium, the inner part of the hide that connects to subcutaneous fat and muscle tissue. Because of this, it’s cheaper than full-grain.
Nubuck leather is essentially full-grain leather that has been sanded and buffed to produce a smooth texture, similar to suede but more protective. Nubuck leather is durable and water- and abrasion-resistant.
Polyester and nylon are common hiking boot materials. Compared to leather, they’re easier to break in, lighter, and quick to dry. However, they are not as water resistant as leather.
If you don’t want to go with leather or animal ingredients, there are many different vegan-friendly options. Check out the Lowa Ferrox Pro GTX Mid or Lowa Innox Pro GTX Mid hiking boots for a vegan alternative.
Waterproof materials on the uppers such as Gore-Tex or eVent are designed to prevent your feet from getting wet. However, waterproof boots aren’t as breathable compared to shoes that aren’t waterproof that provide mesh for better airflow.
Some mountaineering boots include thin and warm synthetic insulation when hiking through snow, rain, mud, and frozen terrain.
Hiking Boot Cut
For casual hiking, low-cut boots offer proper traction and support without being too heavy. This cut is perfect for properly maintained trails because of the lack of ankle protection in this style.
Mid-cuts boots provide greater ankle balance and support compared to low-cut options. In addition, mid-cut boots protect more of your foot from the natural elements.
High-cut boots provide the greatest level of ankle support and balance. Go with this option if you are a hardcore hiker who likes to go off trail in rocky and uneven terrain.
How to Find the Perfect Fit
Choosing hiking footwear requires attention to detail and patience. A hiking boot has to fit just right to provide the proper level of support, mobility, and comfort. If not, you risk getting blisters, an ankle sprain, a bone fracture, or worse.
Shopping in-store is the safest bet when it comes to selecting the perfect hiking boot. If you can’t shop in-store, check to see if an online retailer offers free shipping on returns.
How should hiking boots fit? Get it right the first time with these fitting tips:
- Know your boot size: At Baker’s Boots, we help you measure your foot’s width, length, and arch length, as well as foot volume. We also provide resources to help you measure at home.
- Try boots on at the end of the day: Feet swell during the day and become their biggest size toward the end. Trying hiking boots on later in the day ensures your boots never feel tight.
- Size up: If your feet fall between two sizes, always go for the bigger size, half- or full-size works. You don’t want to risk getting a pair that’s too constricting.
- Wear hiking socks: Whatever socks you wear for hiking, bring them along to ensure your boot fits well even with those specific socks.
- Lace them up: A major part of a boot’s comfort and support level is the way you lace the shoes. A good lacing technique can help you avoid blisters and improve breathability. If possible, ask a sales associate for help trying on different lacing techniques.
- Give your toes some space: A proper fitting hiking boot gives your toes plenty of freedom to wiggle around. Boots should never feel tight when you’re just standing. On the trail, your feet will swell, so you need that extra space to give them breathing room.
- Keep your foot secured: Your feet shouldn’t have too much space, enough to move them around freely. If your boot slides from one side to the other, it’s too wide. However, there should be a small space at the back of the boot to protect your Achilles tendon from blisters. Your heel shouldn’t rise more than ¼” inch.
- Move up and down a ramp: Recreate going up a hill and test to see if your toes bunch up against the toe box when walking downhill. When walking uphill, check to see if your heel rubs too much against the back of the boot.
- Consider insoles: Insoles, also known as footbeds, can be purchased separately to enhance support and comfort.
- Break in your boots: Don’t wait until the last minute to buy your hiking boots. You need time to break them in, so they conform better to your feet. The break-in periods vary by the boot’s material. Full-grain leather takes longer to break in than other materials.
Hiking Boot Care and Maintenance
Hiking boots are meant to last years and stand up against rough environments, but they still require care to maintain high performance. Cleaning and maintaining your hiking boots can extend their longevity.
When cleaning your hiking boots, remove the laces and brush off dirt and other debris with a soft-bristle brush. For hard-to-remove mud, a hard-bristle brush will do. For a deep clean, use a boot cleaner to remove the dirt and mud. Do not use a heat source to dry the boots. Instead, air dry them or use a fan.
The type of cleaner, conditioner, or treatment you use depends on the type of leather material your boots are made of. Conditioners made for full-grain leathers can also replenish the shoe’s water repellent finish. Rough leathers don’t require conditioning. Follow the application instructions for your leather treatment.
Hiking boots with a GORE-TEX membrane or other waterproof membrane does not require treatment like leather. All you need to do is clean the material.
Hiking Boots – Our Favorites
No matter your style or hiking needs, there’s a perfect hiking boot for you. Here are a few of our favorites from the online shop:
Lowa Renegade GTX Mid or Lo
You can’t get much better than the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid and Lo Boots in terms of comfort and fit, available in mid and low-cut options. The Lo’s feature a Derby-cut styling pairs well with any hiking attire. Lowa’s DuraPU Monowrap frame provides the ultimate stability and underfoot support.
The nubuck leather upper is refined and rugged all at once, providing you with durable footwear for whatever comes your way. Vibram Evo soles give you the perfect amount of traction and grip to prevent slips and falls.
Don’t overlook the Oboz Bridger mid-cut option if you’re an experienced hiker. It offers excellent support and one of the shortest break-in periods we’ve seen in hiking boots. The boot’s slightly higher volume is narrow in the heel to prevent slippage and blisters.
The spacious forefoot and toe box gives your toes plenty of room. The waterproof, nubuck leather features a supportive, external heel counter and toe cap. The B-DRY waterproof membrane and water-repellent finish provide the ultimate moisture protection.
The proprietary open insole is composed of three different densities of EVA foam, low density EVA pods, medium density EVA throughout, and high density EVA sculpted arch and heel cup.
The Granite Peak midsole is designed for maximum support and protection, and features cushioning EVA and a TPU chassis that increases torsional stability. The Granite Peak outsole’s deep, trail-gripping lugs provide excellent traction and the ability to shed mud easily.
Zamberlan Vioz GTX
One of our best-selling hiking boots is the Zamberlan Vioz GTX, ideal for backpacking in rugged and steep terrain. These leather boots are made from Hydrobloc, full-grain leather uppers and Vibram 3D outsoles, providing great grip with ridged, central lugs, and a forward rocker for smooth treks up a mountain.
An accentuated heel provides optimal breaking when going downhill, even when carrying a heavy load. The Vioz hiking boots are available in standard and wide-fit sizes.
Hanwag Makra Combi GTX
Tackle any mountainside with the lightweight Hanwag Makra Combi GTX alpine boots. Whether you’re going across rocks or glaciers, these boots feature a robust thread pattern that provides superb traction and grip. Its premium suede and Cordura upper can handle just about any outdoor terrain. The GORE-TEX lining ensures your feet remain warm and dry.
Crispi Summit GTX
For your backpacking adventures, the Crispi Summit GTX boots give you a lightweight option that still protects your feet from rugged terrain. The upper, made from water-repellent suede is lined with GORE-TEX Performance Lining for the ultimate waterproof protection.
Crispi uses a differentiated structure and removable Crispi Air Mesh on the insole for maximum breathability and comfort. The Vibram midsole is shock absorbent and the outsole is made from VIbram Super-Grip for excellent traction.
Shop Baker’s Boots
No matter the terrain or your skill level, Baker’s Boots carries the right hiking boots for you. Shop from our wide selection of durable and stylish hiking footwear, so you can find a pair that matches your hiking wardrobe and provides the ultimate outdoor protection.