How To Choose Hiking Boots

How to Choose Hiking Boots and Find Your Perfect Fit

Get ready to hit the trails! Learn how to choose hiking boots that offer comfort, protection, and performance for your hiking needs.

Imagine this: you're out in the wilderness, surrounded by stunning vistas and the fresh scent of pine needles. You're feeling invincible - that is until you feel an uncomfortable pinch in your foot.

Yup, you've made the classic mistake of choosing the wrong hiking boots. But don't worry! This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know about how to choose the right hiking boots for your outdoor adventures.

Instant Insight: Choosing the perfect hiking boots involves considering factors such as cut, fit, material, and tread. The boots should be comfortable, offer room for toe movement, and be tried on later in the day when feet have swelled for an accurate fit. Key features to look for include good support, traction, and grip on various surfaces.

Understanding the Basics

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty details, let's get familiar with the basics. What are hiking boots? Why do you even need them?

close up of hiking boots

What are Hiking Boots?

Hiking boots are specialized footwear designed specifically for walking in outdoor environments. They're not your everyday sneakers or your fancy dress shoes.

These boots are built to withstand rough terrains, provide ankle support, and offer superior grip on slippery surfaces. Think of them as your trusty companions that help you navigate the great outdoors with confidence.

For example, ever tried climbing a steep, rocky hill in your everyday shoes? If you have, you probably know it's not the most secure or comfortable experience. That's where hiking boots come into play!

Why are Hiking Boots Important?

So, why should you invest in a good pair of hiking boots? Well, there are several reasons.

  • Comfort: Hiking boots are designed to provide optimal support for your feet and ankles, reducing the risk of injuries. Imagine spending hours walking on uneven terrain - without proper support, your feet would be screaming for relief!
  • Protection: When hiking, your feet are exposed to all sorts of hazards - sharp rocks, thorns, snake bites, and even the cold. A robust pair of hiking boots acts as a protective shield, keeping your feet safe and sound.
  • Performance: With their excellent traction and stability, hiking boots can drastically improve your hiking experience. They can help you climb steeper hills, cross streams, and navigate slippery trails with ease.

But beware - not wearing appropriate hiking boots can put you at risk. You could end up with painful blisters, sprained ankles, or in worst-case scenarios, serious injuries.

So, investing in the right pair of boots is crucial for a safe and enjoyable hiking experience.

Types of Hiking Boots

After understanding the basics of hiking boots, let's delve into the various types available.

Each type of boot has its unique features, benefits, and ideal usage scenarios. From light hiking shoes to heavy-duty mountaineering boots, we've got you covered!

Light Hiking Shoes

hiking shoes with mountain backdrop

If you enjoy leisurely strolls in the park or easygoing hikes, a lightweight hiking shoe is the ideal choice. These shoes are essentially reinforced versions of your regular running shoes and are sometimes referred to as trail runners.

Not only do they provide the necessary durability, but they also offer the comfort and versatility needed for your outdoor adventures.

Features and Benefits

  • Light hiking shoes are designed with flexibility and comfort in mind.
  • They typically feature breathable materials for maximum ventilation and are lightweight, which makes them perfect for long walks without causing foot fatigue.
  • Plus, they usually come with good traction to handle varied terrain.

Situations Where They Are Most Suitable

  • Think of light hiking shoes as your go-to for day hikes, casual outdoor activities, or even some off-road running.
  • They're best suited for well-established trails with relatively smooth surfaces and modest inclines.
  • Remember, though, these aren't ideal for carrying heavy loads or navigating rough, rocky terrains.
  • If you're a lightweight backpacker, these shoes are also ideal for enhancing speed and increasing distance covered.

Mid to High-Cut Boots

For those who need more support and protection, mid to high-cut boots are the way to go.

girl walking on log in mid height boots

Features and Benefits

  • These boots are characterized by their higher cuts, providing excellent ankle support and better balance on uneven surfaces.
  • They're often waterproof or at least water-resistant, which means you can confidently step into shallow streams or endure rainy weather.
  • The sturdier construction also offers increased durability and protection against rocks, roots, and other trail obstacles.

Ideal Situations for These Boots

  • Mid to high-cut boots are perfect for moderate to difficult terrains, multi-day hikes, and when carrying heavier backpacks.
  • These boots are best suited for extended backpacking trips on maintained trails like the Pacific Crest Trail.

Mountaineering Boots

For the most challenging terrains and conditions, mountaineering boots are your ultimate choice.

hiking boot against mountain backdrop

Features and Benefits

  • Mountaineering boots are built like tanks.
  • They offer the highest level of protection with stiff soles for stability on rocky terrains and full waterproofing for snowy or wet conditions.
  • They're highly insulated to keep your feet warm in cold climates, and many models are compatible with crampons for ice climbing.

When to Use These Boots

  • These boots are designed for the toughest of hikes, winter trekking, high-altitude expeditions, and ice climbing.
  • They're meant for serious hikers facing off with Mother Nature's harshest conditions.
  • Be warned though, their heavy-duty construction means they're also the heaviest type of hiking boots.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Hiking Boots

Now that we've covered the different types of hiking boots, let's move on to some crucial factors you should consider when choosing your perfect pair.

man holding hiking boot

Fit and Comfort

The importance of proper fit cannot be overstated. A badly fitting boot can turn your dream hike into a nightmare filled with blisters and foot pain. Remember, you'll be wearing these boots for hours on end, so comfort is key!


The material of your boots can impact their breathability, water resistance, and durability. Common materials include leather, synthetic, and waterproof membranes like Gore-Tex.

Each type of material has its own set of benefits:

1. Synthetics: These include polyester, nylon, and synthetic leather. They are popular because:

  • They're lighter than traditional leather.
  • They break in more quickly.
  • They dry faster when wet.
  • However, they may not be as durable as leather over time.

2. Leather: There are different types of leather hiking boots:

  • Full-Grain Leather: It's very durable and great for rugged terrain. It's also water-resistant. But it's heavier and takes longer to break in.
  • Split-Grain Leather: This is often combined with synthetics. It's lighter and more breathable but less water-resistant.
  • Nubuck Leather: It's durable and water-resistant like full-grain leather, but it's more flexible. However, it also needs time to break in.

3. Waterproof Materials: Many boots feature waterproof membranes like Gore-Tex or eVent. They keep your feet dry in wet conditions while still allowing some breathability.

4. Insoles Materials: The comfort of your boot largely depends on the insole. Materials can range from fiberboard, foam, nylon, to leather. The right insole provides good support and cushioning for your foot.

Boot Cut

The cut of a boot refers to how high it extends on your ankle.

  • Low-cut boots are lightweight and suitable for easy trails.
  • Mid-cut boots offer more ankle support and are great for moderate hikes.
  • High-cut boots provide maximum stability and are ideal for challenging terrains and heavy backpacking.


Traction is all about how well your boots grip the ground.

  • Look for boots with deep, multidirectional lugs (the bumps on the outsole) for the best traction.
  • Also, a heel brake (a distinct heel zone separate from the forefoot and arch) can reduce the chances of sliding during steep descents.


If you're likely to encounter rain or cross streams during your hike, waterproof boots are a godsend. However, keep in mind that waterproof footwear tends to be less breathable, which might make your feet sweaty in hot weather.


While it's tempting to go for the lightest, most comfortable boots, don't forget to consider durability. More durable boots may be heavier and less comfortable initially, but they'll last longer and provide better protection.

Remember, the best hiking boots are a balance of comfort, durability, and appropriate features for your specific hiking needs.

Trying and Buying Hiking Boots

Now that we've covered the types of hiking boots and what to consider when choosing them, let's move on to the exciting part - trying and buying your new pair!

Best Time to Buy Hiking Boots

The best time to buy hiking boots is during the off-season, which is typically in the winter for summer hiking boots and summer for winter boots.

Retailers often offer discounts during these times to clear out their inventory. Another good time is during major sales events like Black Friday or end-of-the-year sales.

Local outdoor stores are great because you can try on the boots and get expert advice. However, online retailers often have a wider selection and may offer better deals. Just ensure you check their return policy before purchasing.

Trying On Boots

woman trying on hiking boots

Finding the right hiking boots is like finding a new best friend for your feet. Here are some tips to help you pick the perfect pair:

1. Wear Hiking Socks: Always wear the same socks you'll use for hiking. It helps you get a feel for the real fit.

2. Try On Boots in the Afternoon: Feet tend to swell throughout the day. So, try on boots later in the day for a more accurate fit.

3. Walk around: Don’t just stand there! Walk around the store, climb stairs if available, or find an inclined surface to walk on. This will give you a better idea of how the boots feel during actual use.

4. Take Your Time: Finding the right boots is not a race. Take your time to ensure they feel comfortable and snug, but not tight.

5. Check for Toe Room: Your toes should have plenty of room to wiggle, but your heel should stay in place when you walk.

6. Carry a Backpack: If possible, try walking around with a loaded backpack. It'll mimic the conditions on the trail.

7. Break-In Time: New boots may feel a bit stiff at first. They'll become more comfortable as they mold to your feet. But remember, pain is not normal. If they hurt, you may need a different pair.

Choosing the right hiking boots can make your outdoor adventures so much better. So take your time and find the perfect pair. Your feet will thank you!

Breaking In Your New Boots

close up of women's hiking shoes

You just bought a shiny new pair of hiking boots. They look great, but they might be a bit stiff. Don't worry, it's normal! Here's how to get them trail-ready.

  • Start Slow and Easy: Don't rush into a long, tough hike right away. Begin with short, easy walks around your neighborhood. This helps your boots adjust to your feet without causing blisters.
  • Wear the Right Socks: Always wear hiking socks when breaking in boots. These socks are thicker and provide extra padding. It also replicates what you'll be wearing on the trail.
  • Gradually Go Longer: As your boots start to feel more comfortable, extend your walks. Try hikes with varied terrain. This helps the boots mold to your feet better.
  • Listen to Your Feet: If you feel discomfort or pain, take a break. It's okay to give your feet some rest. Remember, breaking in boots takes time.
  • Keep Them Dry: If your boots get wet, let them dry naturally. Wet boots can lose their shape and become uncomfortable.
  • Use Boot Trees or a Last: These foot-shaped tools can help maintain the shape of your boots.

Your boots might feel stiff at first, but they will become more flexible and comfortable over time. If you experience severe discomfort or pain, it might mean the boots are not the right fit or style for you.

Remember, breaking in boots can take up to four weeks. But once they're broken in, you'll have a pair of trusty boots ready for any adventure! Happy hiking!

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it better to have hiking boots too big or too small?

When choosing hiking boots, it's preferable to opt for slightly larger sizes over smaller ones to avoid foot problems like blisters and toe pain. However, the ideal fit is snug and comfortable, as significantly larger boots can lead to instability and increase the risk of injuries.

What features should I look for in hiking boots?

When choosing hiking boots, look for features such as a sturdy and grippy outsole for traction, a comfortable and snug fit to prevent blisters, and materials that offer breathability and waterproofing for various weather conditions. Also, consider the boot's weight and ankle support depending on the type of hiking you plan to do.

What is the difference between trekking and hiking boots?

Trekking boots, also known as backpacking or mountaineering boots, are designed for longer multi-day trips carrying heavy loads, offering more support and durability than hiking boots.

On the other hand, hiking boots are lighter and more flexible, designed primarily for shorter day hikes with less weight, providing comfort and good traction but less ankle support.

Do you size up or down for hiking boots?

When selecting hiking boots, it is generally recommended to size up rather than down. Boots that are slightly larger can be adjusted for a better fit with thicker socks or insoles, while smaller boots can cause discomfort and foot problems.

Should hiking boots be tight at first?

Hiking boots should not be overly tight when first worn; instead, they should offer a snug fit that comfortably accommodates your foot without causing any discomfort. While a little breaking in is normal, boots that pinch or cause pain initially are likely too small and could lead to blisters or other foot problems on the trail.

How long does it take to break in hiking boots?

Breaking in hiking boots can take anywhere from one to four weeks, depending on the type of boots you have. Lighter hiking shoes may require less than a week or even no break-in period, while heavier, high-cut leather boots could require up to 100 miles of hiking over two weeks to break in properly.

Should hiking socks be thick or thin?

The thickness of your hiking socks should be determined by the fit of your boots and weather conditions. Generally, thicker socks provide more cushioning and warmth - great for colder climates and longer hikes, while thinner socks offer better breathability and are ideal for warmer climates or well-fitted boots.

Is it normal for new hiking boots to hurt?

While a slight discomfort due to the stiffness of new hiking boots can be expected, they should not cause pain. If your new boots are causing significant discomfort or pain, it's possible they're not the right fit or need more time to break in.

Final Thoughts

In the world of hiking today, there is a clear trend towards lightweight boots, with heavyweight boots becoming less common on trails.

As technology continues to make boots and backpacking gear more efficient in terms of weight, the demand for big and heavy boots is diminishing. This shift is driven by the desire for better comfort and agility while still ensuring the necessary support and durability for outdoor adventures.

Over the years, I have transitioned to lighter footwear like trail running shoes, recognizing that when choosing hiking footwear for myself it can be heavily influenced by the condition of my leg muscles, joints, feet, core, and back.

When these vital components are healthy and strong, they naturally provide exceptional support, eliminating the need for heavy backpacking boots.

However, if you have a pre-existing injury or condition, it is advisable to opt for more supportive boots. By prioritizing the well-being of our bodies, we can truly optimize our hiking experience.

Having said that, I do have a sturdy pair of hiking boots specifically designed for hunting, as I am aware that I will be venturing off the beaten path and traversing various rugged terrains all while carrying a moderately weighted pack.

As you venture into various hiking activities, you'll probably encounter different situations, each requiring a distinct type of footwear.

You're now equipped with all the knowledge you need to find your perfect pair of hiking boots. Remember, the right boots are ones that suit your hiking needs, fit well, and feel comfortable. So take your time, do your research, and don't settle until you find your ideal match.

We'd love to hear about your hiking boot-shopping experiences! Feel free to share your stories or ask any further questions in the comments section below.

We're here to help you make the best choice for your outdoor adventures. Happy hiking!

Happy Feet, Happy Wallet! 5 Best Hiking Boots Under $100
Not only will these boots keep your feet happy, but they’ll also save you money.