A Buying Guide to Hiking Boots



If you’ve always been adventurous or prefer long hikes over luxurious hotels, you will definitely need a good pair of hiking boots. In fact, you may already have one, and just want a spare which looks more stylish and feels a lot more comfortable.

Regardless of the reasons, if you’re planning to purchase hiking or trekking boots, you will need to gather some crucial information and consider some important factors. You need to understand the different types of hiking boots, boot cut, materials, construction and other important things. This buying guide will explain all these factors in detail.

Types of Hiking Boots

Most of the industry experts have divided these boots into four different categories. These have been discussed below.

Light Hiking Shoes - These shoes look quite similar to running shoes. They’re low-cut with very flexible midsoles. They can be an excellent choice if you prefer day hiking. In fact, many light backpackers prefer wearing these shoes on long-distance hikes. According to a theory, one pound of weight on your foot equals about five pounds on the back. Although there’s no proof for this theory, maybe this the reason why traveling light is always a better idea.

Standard Hiking Shoes or Boots - These are high-cut or mid-cut boots which are more suitable for weekend backpacking or day hikes with light weight. These boots are also flexible, but require sufficient amount of rest on the journey. They are not very durable and lack support.

Backpacking Boots - These boots have been specifically designed to carry a lot of weight on multi day journeys deep into the forests or backcountry. Backpacking boots are very supportive and durable. They have stiff midsoles which make them feel quite heavy. Thus, these boots are not suitable for off-trail or on-trail travel.

Mountaineering Boots - These boots have stiff midsoles and feel very heavy. Mountaineering boots are specifically designed to accommodate very heavy weights and feel comfortable during glacier travels. These boots are very supportive, tough and durable.

Boot Cut

Depending on the cut, hiking boots are divided into three categories. These include :

Low-Cut Shoes

These boots are perfect for lightweight travel. However, they offer much less roll resistance for your ankles. They also leave your feet vulnerable to debris from sand, grit and mud. These shoes are suitable for well-maintained trails with light loads.

Mid-Cut Shoes

As the name suggests, these shoes perfectly wrap around ankles. They also offer some protection against debris. They can be a good choice for short multi day trips with average loads.

High-Cut Boots - High cut hiking boots can provide much better ankle support and balance on irregular terrain or trails. If you’re the kind of hiker who regularly carries over 30 pounds of loads on off-trail hikes, these boots will be a much better choice. Before a long journey, you should take some time to get used to them.

Boot Materials and Construction

A better understand of the different materials to make boots and construction procedures will help you make an informed choice. You’ll know if you’re buying high-quality boots or not.

Upper Sole Materials

Full-Grain Leather - This is a perfect material for manufacturing hiking boots. It offers abrasion resistance and durability. In addition to this, it is also water resistant. Full-grain leather is commonly used in backpacking boots which are manufactured for long trips, rugged terrain and heavy loads. These shoes are not very breathable or light. Before you go on a long trip, you will need a lot of break-in time.

Split-Grain Leather - Split-grain leather is usually mixed with nylon mesh or nylon to produce more breathable, lightweight and comfortable shoes. Reduced cost is one major benefit of this material. However, it is less resistant to abrasion and water. But many high quality hiking boots made from split-grain leather feature effective waterproof liners.

Nubuck Leather - This is full-grain leather which resembles suede. It is water and abrasion resistant. This material is also very durable and lasts a long time. Nubuck leather is flexible. However, it still requires good break-in time before you go hiking.

Synthetics - Most of the modern hiking boots are made from nylon, polyester and synthetic leather. This material is much lighter than leather and breaks-in quickly. It also dries faster and costs less. However, synthetic leather wears off very quickly. Mostly, this is because of additional stitching on the outside of the hiking boots.

Waterproof Linings - There are many hiking boots which feature waterproof linings. They are constructed with breathable and waterproof membranes. This material can keep your feet completely dry in wet conditions. However, since these shoes have a thick waterproof membrane, they are not very breathable. Thus, your feet may feel dry and warm during summer season.

Midsole Materials

The primary purpose of midsole is to provide more cushioning and protect your feet from shock. The material chosen for a shoe’s midsole defines its stiffness. Usually, EVA or Ethylene Vinyl Acetate is used for constructing midsoles. At times, Polyurethane is also used. EVA is less expensive, lighter and provides better cushioning. On the other hand, Polyurethane is more durable, firmer and commonly found in long mountaineering and backpacking boots.


Outsole on every hiking boot is made from rubber. In fact, Vibram rubber is the most popular brand for manufacturing outsoles for hiking boots. Many manufacturers add additives like carbon to mountaineering and backpacking boots. This ensures a lot more hardness. Hard outsoles are always more durable. However, they feel a bit slick if you tend to go off-trail.

Fit & Comfort - Most Important Factors

Last but not the least, you need to consider fit and comfort while choosing hiking boots. Most of the time, these are interrelated with each other. A good hiking boot will fulfill three underlying criteria :

Length - When you’re wearing your shoes, your toes should easily wiggle.

Width - While walking or hiking, your feet should never slide around inside the boots. They should also not be compressed from side to side.

Volume - Your feet should properly fit inside the interior of the boot.

These were some of the most important factors you need to consider while buying hiking boots. These days, you can easily shop online. You can choose from a lot of different options at affordable prices. Just make sure you choose a reputed dealer.


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