How to Choose Hiking Boots

How to Choose Hiking Boots - Merrell, fabric walking boots
How to Choose Hiking Boots

Choosing hiking boots is part personal taste, part use, and part sizing. With this little guide I hope to offer a little advice on how to choose hiking boots, from someone who has been wearing them on and off for decades.

How to choose hiking boots

There are lots of things to think about when considering how to choose hiking boots. These are the basics:

  • Type of Boot
  • Material used
  • Season rating
  • Fitting
  • Lacing
  • Socks

How to choose hiking boots in detail

Seems simple, right? But it is, actually, a little complex when you dive deeper in, so below is a breakdown of these factors.

Much of your decision will come down to the use you will be putting the boot through. A simple walk around the local streets will probably require a different boot to one you plan on hiking in the mountains with. Although you may find that it suits you to wear the same shoe or boot for all walking (I do).

My real advice would be to visit a decent, reputable, outdoors shop, and discuss the requirements with them, they’ll know which boots are right for which activities and be able to measure your feet thoroughly. After all it isn’t just length that matters in a hiking boot, width, stiffness, and believe it or not volume, also matter.

The below is a guide, not gospel.

Type of Boot

When it comes to how to choose a hiking boot possibly the most important step is to decide what use the boot will be put to. Lowland hiking, dog walking, gentle rambles will warrant a softer shoe. If you plan on scrambling mountains, or rocky passes then you will require a stiffer boot to offer more support to your feet and ankles. If you plan on fell running, then you aren’t going to want a heavy boot, but a light weight shoe.

A good shop will be able to guide you to which boot suits which need. Different manufacturers will make lots of types of shoe, so there will be one that fits your need.

High Cut Mid Cut or Low Cut

A High cut boot will offer much more support, but less flexibility. A Mid Cut boot will offer support but also flexibility. A Low cut boot is a shoe! These offer no real ankle support but are very flexible, and light weight.

High Leather boots like the Hi-Tec Altitude
High Leather boots like the Hi-Tec Altitude

Material used

Do you want a light weight boot? Are you after something warm and waterproof? Will you be trail running or just walking? As with the boot type, the material you choose will likely differ depending on activity, time of year etc.

A light weight shoe will be made of fabric, possibly Gore-tex or some such water proof, breathable fabric. And these can be great shoes, personally I prefer a heavier leather boot, I find them easier to clean, and they stay waterproof better. The downside of a leather boot is breathability is much reduced.

Gore-tex hiking shoes like these Salomon X Ultra 2 GTX
Gore-tex hiking shoes like these Salomon X Ultra 2 GTX
Which Material?
LeatherFabric
ProConProCon
Weather proofCost moreBreathableNeed regular waterproofing
Easy to cleanHeavierLight weightTougher to clean
Tougher against abrasionsLess breathableLower costNot so tough
Long lastingTakes longer to break inQuick to break inNot so good against elements

The material used in the sole will also be a factor, as mentioned above the use will dictate the stiffness, which will in turn affect the material used.

Season Rating

Believe it or not some boots come with different season ratings. Like sleeping bags, these ratings are a guide to how well they are suited to different times of year. It isn’t something I have personally come across much, but seems to be an indication rather than a hard and fast rule.

Fitting

Fitting of a walking boot is important, in fact it is so important that I am writing another post purely on that element of choosing a walking boot. I’ll link to it here once it is up. But my best advice here is to go to a decent, reputable, outdoors retailer, and talk with them. It is best to do this later in the day, as your feet will be more swollen, and wearing the socks you are planning on wearing to walk.

Leather shoes like the Mammut Summit GTX
Leather shoes like the Mammut Summit GTX

Lacing

Believe it or not, how you lace up your boots will affect how they fit. Rather than go into much more detail here, you can read about the different lacing techniques at: Backpacking.com

Using different lacing patterns can greatly help your feet feel better.

Socks

Although not technically the boots socks are important too. There are so many different types or combinations of walking sock that what you wear will affect how tight, or loose, your boots are. Thick winter socks, double layered “blister” socks, even 2 pairs of socks will all bulk out the foot area. This is why you should always try boots on with the socks you plan to wear.



I hope this post will go some way to show how to choose a hiking boot. But if in doubt a decent retailer (preferably one with experienced staff) should be able to hep you out.

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How to Choose Hiking Boots - A guide to choosing the right walking boots or shoes for your hiking adventures
How to Choose Hiking Boots
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8 Comments

  • Shannon

    I love the pros and cons chart you made, very helpful! For me, it was all about comfort and mid cut. I really wanted waterproof too, but comfort was more important. I wear Merrells and they are by far my favorite hiking boots! Thanks for the helpful information!

    • Ashley Beolens

      As you can see from the pics I have 4 pairs, of varying types, you could call me indecisive 🙂 The leather Hi-Tec ones I could walk for days and not struggle, but they are heavy. Te Merrells and Salomon are both light and great for summer.

  • Krystall

    Great tips! All boots are definitely not equal, the ones I was using in CA don’t have nearly enough support for the trails I’m hiking now in OR. I’m going to have to grab a new pair soon, so I’ll keep this in mind!

  • Julianne Thompson

    Great advice! The first pair of hiking boots I bought were purchased online and I realized then how important it is to go in and try a lot of different boots on before purchasing. I’m glad you mentioned which ones were better for summer hiking because I will need to get some for summer hikes.

    • Ashley Beolens

      It can be so tricky choosing the right boots, I must admit to being lucky in the most part with boots, although I once had a pair that rubbed my ankles so much there would be a hard swollen lump after a days walking

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