Unlike most outdoor activities, going on a hike doesn’t require a lot of specialized gear or training. Sure, you can load a backpack full of equipment if you’d like, but really all you need is a good pair of boots to keep your feet comfortable out on the trail.
Finding a pair of hiking shoes that are right for you has gotten more difficult in recent years, however, thanks in no small part to the sheer number of options that are now available. Not only are there hiking boots made for practically every type of environment imaginable, many of them are made from sophisticated fabrics and materials and feature high-tech soles and a host of unusual design elements that may or may not be important to the person buying them.
If you’re in the market for a new pair of hiking boots, we have some tips that can help you sort through all of these different options and pick the ones that are best suited for your particular needs.
Buy Shoes That Match Your Style of Hiking
The first thing you need to think about when selecting new boots is the type of hiking that you plan to be doing in them. This will be crucial in the long run for keeping your feet healthy and comfortable while out on the trail. For instance, if you’ll mainly be making short day hikes on clearly marked and easily accessible routes, you can get away with wearing a much lighter boot than someone who will be backpacking through high alpine settings for several days at a time.
Just like with most other outdoor sports, having the right footwear is key. Hikers strike a fine balance between the weight of their shoes and the amount of protection they provide. Shorter hikes mean lighter shoes but less protection, whereas longer, more challenging treks require boots that are more substantial. Understanding your own specific needs will make it easier to identify the shoes that work best for you and will ultimately lead to you being better prepared for the trail.
Boots vs. Shoes
Generally speaking, hiking footwear comes in two different styles, shoes and boots. Hiking shoes typically are low-cut, lighter in weight, and have more flexible soles. This makes them better suited for day hikes or light backpacking duty when ankle support isn’t necessarily a major concern. They are popular with hikers who like to travel a little faster or who feel confined in a more robust boot.
Hiking boots, on the other hand, tend to weigh more, but provide higher levels of protection for both the ankles and feet. They feature mid- and high-cut designs and soles that range from flexible to very rigid, depending on the terrain that they’re intended to be used on, the duration of the hike, and how much your pack will weigh. Backpackers and mountaineers will want something with a more rigid sole, whereas those walking shorter distances will forego such levels of protection in favor of a more comfortable fit.
Which of these styles works best for you is completely a matter of personal preference, but it is important to understand their strengths and weaknesses when deciding which type of footwear will best address your needs.
If the Shoe Fits…
Finding just the right fit is an important part of selecting a good hiking shoe. Obviously, you want to find one that feels comfortable on your feet and provides plenty of support, but there are other important factors to consider too.
For instance, you’ll want a shoe that has plenty of room in the toe box so your foot isn’t smashing into the front of the boot while you’re walking. You’ll also want to be sure that a boot fits snugly, but not so much that it is uncomfortable to the point of potentially cutting off circulation. On the other hand, the shoes shouldn’t be so loose that it feels like your foot is sliding around inside them either. That’s a good way to develop blisters, which will quickly ruin any hike.
When trying on hiking boots, be sure to wear the same type of socks that you would use on a typical hike. This will help you to get a better idea of how the shoes fit and understand how they’ll perform. You don’t want any surprises when you set out to wear them on the trail for the first time, which is when you’re most likely to discover problems.
Don’t Spend Too Little or Too Much
One of the other important factors to consider when buying hiking boots is how much you want to spend. Although there are now many footwear options to choose from, the price range between the high and low ends is also as wide as it has ever been. These days it is possible to find hiking shoes for as little as $30, as well as boots that cost hundreds.
You’ll want to avoid those cheaper options as much as possible, because they don’t tend to be very durable and won’t offer the level of support that you’ll typically need either. On the other hand, expensive high-end boots will definitely be plenty rugged and durable with great traction and support, but spending money on that type of shoe would be overkill for most of us. Unless you routinely venture into extreme environments, you’ll get better value from footwear that more closely aligns with the type of hiking that you do.
The bottom line is that you should spend a little extra money on a good pair of boots that will last you a long time, but don’t get lured into dropping a lot of cash on footwear that you simply don’t need. Also, stick to name brands that are well known and trusted. In the long run, you’ll be much happier with your purchase.