Looking for a new pair of top-performing hiking boots? Try one of these six boots for the happiest feet ever.
Spring is walking time, whether you’ve chosen to hike to your favorite lake or get out on trails that finally are snow-free. Here are six boots that will coddle your heel and arches while performing admirably on a wide variety of trails. And if your favorite boots are looking a little tired, keep reading for tips to improve your fit and increase the life of your boots.
6 Great Choices
Instead of choosing footwear from a long list of companies, we zeroed in on three of the world’s leading bootmakers. Just two boots were picked from each manufacturer—one for lighter use and one for moderate use. All the boots feature waterproof liners and waterproof construction. While most are based on new, cutting-edge designs, there are a couple of classics that continue to stand the test of time.
In addition, these three companies feature excellent customer service to ensure any boot mentioned below is worth your hard-earned coin.
Taking its DNA from the original Mountain Lite, the 600 model uses soft suede leather uppers and is less than half the weight of its cousin. The underside features a Thermoplastic urethane heel frame for support and stability, and all-new Vibram SPE midsoles for rebound, comfort and support. On the bottom, a Vibram Fuga outsole uses the proprietary Megagrip compound for traction on wet and dry surfaces.
If you prefer leather and want a lighter boot, this is it.
Sizing: 7.5-12, 13, 14, 15; medium width only.
Full grain, one-piece leather, with a classic stitched-down Vibram sole are Mountain Lite hallmarks—this is old school in the best way. These boots have been in the Danner line for more than three decades for good reasons: great support, outstanding durability, and they can be repaired.
You will need a few days of break-in time, plus you should treat the leather at least once a year. Made in the USA and, for a nominal fee, Danner will rebuild them for you.
Sizing: 6.5-12,13; medium and wide widths.
Quick Tip: Three Rules of Fit
While many products are great to purchase online, boots are the one item we highly recommend you try on at your local retailers, so you can compare different brands and sizes. Here are basics rules to consider every time you slip on a new boot:
1. Try them on during the afternoon. Most humans’ foot size conservatively increases by at least a half size as the day wears on.
2. Try different brands. Fit can be dramatically different from one brand to another. (Sizing can even vary within the same company’s products.) Never assume a size 10 will fit just because you have “always” bought 10s.
3. Find the perfect boot? Buy two. Although the manufacturers we listed have offered some models for a decade or more, many manufacturers change their designs every two or three seasons. Never assume your favorite boots will be around in two years.
The Drifter weighs a mere 15 ounces for a size 9, the lightest boot in Irish Setter’s history and the lightest boot in our group. This low-cut trail boot is well suited for day hikes with a light backpack.
The lacing provides a tailored fit around the upper of the foot, while the generously padded tongue is so comfortable they are ideal for urban walking on concrete or attacking moderately rocky trials.
These boots require no break-in time and for most applications you’ll forget you have them on.
Sizing: 8-12, 13, 14; medium and wide widths.
Irish Setter introduced the Ravine only two years ago and the model has been so popular the company continues to expand its lineup. For most hikers, this boot will be slip-it-on-and-go. The excellent lacing system stays locked, enabling the wearer to customize the upper quickly for a perfect fit.
Using super-durable fabrics, the boot has an armored toe, and an upper made of suede leather and hardwearing nylon fabric. The top has generous padding at the ankle; a dual-density midsole offers impressive shock abortion and stability. There’s additional torsion control to help with uneven surfaces and the soles are grippy as hell. This boot will not disappoint.
Sizing: 8-11.5, 12, 13, 14, medium width; 8-11.5, wide.
This boot is light and delivers the classic Lowa support via the proprietary Mono Wrap midsole. The boots are at home in hard conditions and offer good durability with a mix of suede leather and nylon. With little to no break-in time required, the Sesto is a great choice for moderate day hikes with a lighter pack. The Multicross Evo soles are sticky, performing well in slick conditions. This boot is highly capable and comfortable right out of the box.
Sizing: 7.5-12, 13, 14, narrow or wide widths.
The Renegade GTX is one of the first molded-sole leather hiking boots to meet rigorous standards set by hunters and hikers worldwide. These are reasonably light boots offering serious support with Lowa’s Mono Wrap midsole. The insoles are infused with gel yet are supportive enough to carry a medium pack. The Vibram soles offer great performance in gravel, rock and dirt. The boots have been in the Lowa line for nearly a decade—a testament to their popularity.
Sizing: 7.5-12, 13, 14, 15, 16; narrow or wide.
Once you’ve chosen a pair boots, there are some footwear fundamentals to help you maximize mileage and comfort. Let’s start with socks.
The rules of socks are simple: They must be clean, and in good condition. Translated, that means you should not be able to see through them and if they are too thin or have holes, buy new ones. Worn socks greatly compromise the performance of any boot. If you haven’t bought socks in a year or more, buy them now!
Farm to Feet makes some of the best socks on the planet. Made in the USA, you can even trade them in if you tear or wear a hole in them. Smartwool also offers an extensive line of high-performance hiking socks for men and women.
If your old footwear originally cost less than $125, chances are the insoles are crying for an upgrade. Another reason to add some under support is if you have higher arches. High-grade insoles can even breathe extra life into a pair of older boots while adding improved support and comfort to a worn footbed.
These insoles from Superfeet will spoil you.
It is surprisingly difficult to find decent laces in the retail world. I keep an extra pair in my primary pack and another pair in my vehicle. When you order laces, make sure they’re long enough.
The Old Kook offers great laces—strong enough to start a lawn mower and I have yet to break a pair of Old Kooks
4. Staying Waterproof.
All of the boots chosen for this review have a separate waterproof bootie inserted into the construction of the inner layer. Originally designed by Danner more than 30 years ago and later adapted by Gore, this inner sock method has proven to be both functional and durable.
There is a limit to the lifespan of the waterproof bootie, however, and over a few seasons they may begin to leak. There are several methods that can bring the boots back to their former glory.
Atsko Snow Seal, has been around since the 1960s. For leather waterproofing and care, I have found no better product. The same company makes exterior water proofing for fabric-based boots as well. There’s a wealth of waterproofing tech info on the Atsko web site. Another excellent source for waterproofing and boot-care products is Nikwax.
Follow the rules, pick a high-quality pair of boots and take care of them. There’s no reason any of these boots can’t last several seasons and a few may even last a decade.
About the Author: Peter B. Mathiesen has hunted, guided and fished in 12 different countries on four continents. As a full-time journalist since 1995, he frequently writes about gear, automotive, travel, fly fishing, wilderness construction, and the shooting sports.
Over the years he has been a contributing editor on the mastheads of Field & Stream, Bassmaster, and Outdoor Life Magazine. In addition, he has written for American Hunter and Rifleman, In Fisherman, Fly Rod & Reel, Popular Mechanics, Shot Business, and Range 360, His most recent book, Tales of The Alaska State Troopers is available on Amazon.
You can connect with Peter on Facebook.