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Hiking Boots Buyer’s Guide

Find the right hiking boots for your next hiking or backpacking trip.

Having the right pair of hiking boots can make or break a trip in the great outdoors. Boots can be too loose, too tight, too heavy, too thin…the list goes on. Different trails, terrain and gear all require different footwear. Be comfortable on the trails (and off) with the right pair of hiking boots.

Before you start shopping for hiking boots, it’s important to figure out what kind of hiking you’ll be doing. Are you going on a day hike? Maybe you’re going for a weekend backpacking trip. Or maybe you’re even braving rocky or snowy terrain. Plan ahead and research your future terrain. You also have to think about the gear you’ll be carrying. The more gear you’re carrying, the more support you’ll need from your boots. We break down the different types of hiking boots to choose from.

Types of Hiking Boots

Hiking Boots Buyer's Guide
Your next outdoor adventure can be a success with the right pair of hiking boots.

Trail Shoes

Trail shoes are low-cut, and perfect for a day hike on well-maintained terrain. They’re meant for hiking on paths or trails in dry climates. You’ll have enough support to comfortably carry a day pack.

Hiking Boots

If you want more ankle support, look for mid- or high-cut hiking boots. They’re great for day hikes or even a weekend of backpacking if you’re carrying a light load. However, they won’t provide the same support as an all-out backpacking boot.

Backpacking Boots

Backpacking boots are made to help you carry heavy loads of camping gear in rougher terrain. Many backpacking boots have high-cut wrap around your ankles, giving you maximum support. The high cut will also help protect your ankles from rocks and protruding limbs. These boots are durable, giving you the option to go off the hiking trail with ease.

Mountaineering Boots

Mountaineering boots are meant for mountain climbing. They have a stiff sole and are sturdy, giving you a supportive boot that will help keep you safe on unpredictable terrain. You’ll want to add crampons to your boots for a better grip if you’ll be encountering glaciers or hard-packed snow.

Finding the Right Fit

Once you’ve figured out which kind of hiking boots you’ll need, it’s time to figure out the right fit. Wear the hiking socks you’ll be wearing on the trails. Moisture-wicking polyester, synthetic wool or real wool are all good choices.  It’s a good idea to try on boots late in the day, when your feet are more swollen.

Your boots should fit snug around your ankles and instep. However, you still want to be able to move your toes. If your boots constrict circulation or pinch, they’re too small. Walk around in them, and if possible, try to walk up and down an incline to get the real feel of a trail. If your feet slide forward, the boots are too wide.

New boots won’t fit as comfortably as regular shoes. You’ll need to take time to break them in.

Breaking in Your Hiking Boots

Before you head out on your big expedition, break in your boots at home. Wear them around the house or even wear them on a few short hikes. Leather boots in particular will take longer to break in. Once they’re broken in, you’ll need to take care of them. You can make your hiking boots last longer by cleaning and waterproofing them regularly. Leather boots should be treated with mink oil or another leather treatment to keep them from drying out.


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