As local communities continue to update Covid-19 regulations, local destinations for outdoor recreation may be closed. Please visit official websites for the latest information.

How to Buy Your First Pair of Hiking Boots

It's all about the right footwear. 

By Trent Jonas

How to Buy Your First Pair of Hiking Boots
Image Courtesy of Merrell

Footwear may be the single most important piece of hiking gear. If you're just starting to venture out onto the trails, there are a few things you'll want to think about before purchasing your first pair of hiking boots. What kind of conditions will you be hiking in? How often do you plan to hike? What style is most comfortable for your feet? Get your questions answered with these hiking boot tips for beginners.  

Think About the Kind of Hiking You Will Do

Clearly, if you’re an avid hiker, you don’t want to limit yourself to one particular type of terrain or region, but when you’re selecting hiking boots, think practically and determine how and where you will use your boots most frequently. Are you a day hiker or do you take several multi-day trips each season? Do you head out of town into rocky crags and foothills, or hit nearby urban trails? Or maybe you prefer the solitude of a dirt trail in the deep woods and are drawn to such settings on a regular basis.

Day hikers will likely prefer hiking shoes or light trail boots, which are not as heavy and easier to slip on and off than other types of boots. Backpacking boots, of course, are best for those who spend several days on the trail at a time. They’re designed to handle all types of terrain and offer plenty of ankle support, durability, and cushioning for hiking while carrying a load. Finally, mountaineering boots are sturdy, designed to handle heavy loads, and can withstand the roughest types of terrain.

Low, Mid or High Cut?

The type of hiking you do most frequently—and the terrain on which you do it—should also dictate the cut of the boots you choose. If you’re mostly hiking on well-maintained trails or are particularly uncomfortable in boots that cover your ankles, a low-cut boot is for you. They offer plenty of comfort and foot support, but they do little for your ankles. If you do a lot of hiking in rocky terrain or on trails with a lot of obstacles, like tree roots, low-cut hiking boots may not be the right choice for you.

High-cut boots, on the other hand, offer maximum ankle support and the most protection for your feet. But they can also feel bulky or heavy and may be too much boot for the casual day hiker.

As you’ve likely surmised, mid-cut boots fall in between their high and low-cut brethren. They are lighter than a full boot and offer more support and stability than a low-cut boot. Mid-cut hiking boots are a good option for hikers who frequently head out into a variety of terrains. 

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by LOWA USA (@lowaboots)

Choose the Right Material

Another important consideration when selecting hiking boots is the material (or materials) they’re made from. If the areas where you hike tend to be wet or snowy, you may want to consider waterproof boots. This usually means boots made from full-grain leather or lined with a waterproof material like Gore-Tex. The downside of waterproof boots is that they tend to be less breathable, which can result in hot, uncomfortable feet and socks that are wet from perspiration rather than the hiking environment. 

Alternatively, synthetic and split-grain leather boots without liners tend to be much lighter and more breathable—and thus more comfortable in warmer environments—than waterproof boots. What you make up for in comfort, however, you lose in durability. You won’t find a boot that is absolutely perfect in every condition but look for a pair that best fits the conditions you hike in most frequently—and choose your socks wisely.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Merrell (@merrell)

Try and Test

It’s always better if you can try on new boots and test them out in the store. Some stores, like REI (https://www.rei.com), have testing areas with a variety of terrains that allow you to test how the hiking boots will feel under different conditions. Regardless of whether you buy your boots in person or online, though, always try them on for fit and return or exchange them if they’re not right—a poor-fitting hiking boot can cause a lot of trouble out on the trail. Before you head out and get them dirty, wear them around the house to make sure they get along with your feet and the fit remains proper of the course of several hours or a few days. Return or exchange them if they’re uncomfortable or if there’s something wrong with the fit.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Oboz (@obozfootwear)

As local communities continue to update Covid-19 regulations, local destinations for outdoor recreation may be closed. Please visit official websites for the latest information.

Subscribe for future Step Outside News!