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What to Look for in Hiking Boots

You’ve decided to take up hiking, but don’t know what kind of boots or shoes to get. You know that if you are serious about this, you need to get a good pair of hiking boots, but how to choose them is a problem. This article will discuss what to look for in hiking boots, and other factors to take into consideration.

What to look for in hiking boots
How to choose hiking boots

How to Choose the Best Hiking Boots

Before you go out and buy just any pair of hiking boots, there are a number of considerations you should keep in mind. When it comes to what to look for in hiking boots, the following features will decide how comfortable your hike is and what kind of condition your feet will be in by the time you get back home.

The Hiking Boot’s Upper

Perhaps one of the most important things to look for when purchasing hiking boots is what the boot’s upper is made out of. Here you will have a variety of materials to choose from, and each one will have both benefits and drawbacks associated with it.

  • Full-grain leather is one of our very favorite choices for hiking boot uppers. Full-grain leather is super tough, has a high level of durability and abrasion resistance, and is usually totally waterproof. They are great for extended trips and brutal terrain. However, full-grain leather is not the lightest or most breathable option, so not the best for really hot days. They also require a fairly long break-in time, which can be an issue
  • Split-grain leather means that the upper of the hiking boot is made partially out of leather and is combined with other lighter materials, often nylon or nylon mesh. The benefit here is that they tend to be a bit softer, lighter, more breathable, and require less of a break in period. However, waterproofing and durability will take a bit of a hit here, so this is an option best for warmer and dry days
  • Nubuck leather is full-grain leather treated to look like suede. These are also very durable and tend to be waterproof, but it is definitely not the most breathable or lightweight option to go with
  • Special waterproof materials should be considered if you are going hiking during a time when you can expect a lot of rain to come down and mud to be on the ground. Looking for a hiking boot that features a special waterproof material for the upper is a big deal. You could look for something like Gore-Tex, which is specially designed just for this. However, keep in mind that due to being waterproof, these options are not very breathable, and might make your feet sweat, get hot, and cause blisters to form.
  • Synthetic materials can be found hiking boots nowadays and may include a variety of synthetic materials such as nylon, polyester, or some kind of faux leather. These options tend to be cheaper, lighter, and more cost effective than real leather options, plus they require less of a break in period too. However, the downside is that these materials are not nearly as durable as full blown leather.
  • On a side note, you want to consider if the interior of the shoe has some kind of insulation from the cold. If you are going hiking in cooler conditions, you will want a hiking boot that comes with some form of insulation.

The Hiking Boot’s Midsole

Another important consideration to keep in mind when buying hiking boots is what the midsole is made of. The midsole is an important component of any hiking shoe. The midsole is what provides your feet with a buffer from the ground, rocks, and rough terrain below. This is what helps to absorb the shock and impact of walking, and it protects the soles of your feet from whatever is below.

This also goes a long way in determining how stiff the boot in question is. A stiff boot might not sound like the most comfortable, which might be true in the short run, but in the long run, constantly feeling rocks on your soles is going to be much less comfortable.

Generally speaking, there are two main options which you can look for in midsole materials, and this includes EVA or ethylene vinyl acetate and polyurethane. Polyurethane is probably the better option to go with if you are looking for long term durability and if you are looking for something a bit firmer. On the other hand, an EVA midsole is going to be a bit better in terms of cushioning; it’s going to be less expensive, and it will be much lighter as well. It’s all about a mix of stability, durability, and shock absorption.

The Internal Support

The next thing which you want to consider when buying hiking boots is what the internal support of the boot is like. Internal support becomes increasingly important the longer the hiking trip is, and it is also very important if you plan on hiking on rough terrain. This is what provides your feet with stability and comfort, especially when it comes to supporting the arches of your feet and keeping them in the proper position while hiking for long hours.

Here you usually have two options to choose from, and these include either plates or shanks. Shanks are usually between 3 and 5 mm in thickness, and they are between the midsole and outsole of the boot. These help to add stiffness and are great in terms of load bearing.

Plates are a bit different; whereas shanks add a lot of support and weight bearing abilities, plates are more about providing your feet with an extra buffer from the rocks and elements below. It’s another consideration to keep in mind before you make a purchase. Personally, we like somewhat softer support which adds a lot of cushioning to the mix and helps to support your arches at the same time.

The Hiking Boot’s Outsole

Yet another thing to look for in a hiking boot has to do with the outsole. Simply put, you want an outsole that has a great traction pattern. Hiking often involves uneven and slippery surfaces, and the better the traction pattern is, the safer you will be and the more secure of a footing you will have. At the same time, you also want to look for an outsole that is highly durable and is not going to fall apart after a few hours of trekking.

One thing to look for here is a heel brake. Heel brakes are clearly defined heel sections of the shoe that are separate from the middle part of the outsole. It is a large and specially designed heel that will stop you from slipping on slippery surfaces, especially when it comes to a descent.

You can also go with a lug traction pattern, which are these small, clearly defined bumps which span the entirety of the outsole and are designed to provide good traction in all kinds of conditions. You are probably best off looking for a lug pattern and heel brake combination, especially if you are really serious about hiking long distances.

The Fit

The next thing to look for in a hiking boot is the fit. There is not too much to say here, but what you want to do is try the boot on; it is difficult to tell how well a boot will fit until you actually have it on your foot. Moreover, you want to consider the weather, especially in terms of the thickness of socks you plan on wearing. If it is going to be cold, it means having to wear thicker socks, and that means having to buy a hiking boot that runs slightly larger than what you are used to wearing.

Type of Hiking Boot

Finally, you want to consider whether you want a hiking boot or a backpacking boot. Hiking boots tend to be mid-cut, in the sense that they partially cover the ankles and tend to be a little on the lighter side, whereas as backpacking boots are usually high cut, cover the ankles, are a bit heavier, and more durable, so more or less, backpacking boots are like hiking boots on steroids.


There you have — everything you need to know about what to look for in your next pair of hiking boots. Enjoy your hike and stay safe!