How to Choose Hiking Boots

How to Choose Hiking Boots

When it’s time to hit the trails, having the right hiking footwear will have a big effect on your comfort level. All of the different options can make shopping for boots a little daunting — especially when it comes to new hikers. Need some help getting started? Follow the steps below on how to choose hiking boots.

  1. First, narrow down your options. Nearly all hiking footwear can be divided into four categories. Hiking shoes (a.k.a. trail shoes) are low-profile, lightweight and ideal for short hikes on easy terrain. Light hiking boots offer a little more ankle support and shock absorption, making them ideal for longer hikes and moderately rugged terrain. Backpacking boots are heavy-duty leather hiking boots that provide excellent support over long distances and challenging terrain. Mountaineering boots are tall for maximum ankle support, heavier, tougher and specially designed for extreme alpine terrain.
  2. Next, decide if you want regular hiking boots or waterproof hiking boots. Only planning to hike in mild conditions? Regular boots should be adequate. However, if there’s a possibility of wet and/or snowy conditions, consider choosing boots with a waterproof breathable membrane, such as Gore-Tex®, Select DRY (by Merrell) or Dri-Tec (by Hi Tec).
  3. Finally, choose a size. In most cases, you should buy your normal shoe size. If you plan on hiking in colder climates with heavyweight wool socks, go up half a size or even a full size. For more info on footwear sizing and measuring your feet, check out our Shoe Sizing Guide.

Hiking Boot Tips

  • Break-in time varies, depending on the type of footwear you choose. Hiking boots made of nylon, split-grain leather and/or suede should only require minimal break-in time. Full-grain leather boots will take longer to break in, but will also last longer.
  • To get the most longevity from your boots and help protect your feet from the elements, treat your hiking footwear with a DWR (durable water repellent) treatment. This will help prevent rain, mud and snow from penetrating the fabric or leather. Even waterproof boots should be treated to prevent the exterior material from getting saturated with water (waterproof inserts like Gore-Tex® are almost always on the inside of the boot).
  • Don’t be shy about customizing. Most hiking boots have removable insoles. If you have very high or very flat arches, replacement insoles may help you achieve a better fit and support.

Check out our Hiking Guides for even more tips and information.