How to Choose Hiking Shoes and Boots

What’s a good hiking boot for me?

That depends on the kind of hiking you’ll be doing — the terrain and distance you’ll typically cover and the amount of protection from the elements you’ll need. For most light hiking on smooth trails, you’re likely to be happiest with a pair of what’s called “day hikers,” a slightly more rugged version of the sneakers you wear for running or walking. For longer trips, uneven trails, or hikes that require you to carry extra weight on your back, you’re better off with a higher, stiffer boot containing a hard plastic or steel shank. This keeps the boot from twisting and gives your feet and ankles more stability. Lightweight boots constructed of nylon or other synthetics are generally fine for short backpacking trips or long day hikes.

Does it matter what brand I buy or how much I pay?

As a general rule, you get the durability you pay for. But more important than brand or price is finding a shoe that fits comfortably and has the features you want. If you’ll be getting your feet wet from time to time, for instance, look for a boot that keeps water out and dries quickly; one made of Gore-Tex is usually the best choice. If you’re going to hike a lot of slick or rocky trails, choose a boot with a stiff sole and a deep Vibram tread, which grips well on slippery surfaces.

How can I be sure of a good fit?

Make sure you don’t buy shoes or boots that are too short, so that your toes run into the front of the boots, or too big, so that you get blisters. Look for a pair that fits snugly but still allows some wiggle room for your toes. These tips can help:

  • Go shopping late in the day or after you’ve walked a considerable distance; that’s when your feet are most likely to be swollen, the way they’ll be after a few miles on the trail.
  • Wear the same socks while trying on shoes or boots that you plan to wear while hiking.
  • Don’t get caught up in numerical sizes. These differ greatly from manufacturer to manufacturer and even from style to style within the same company’s line. It’s not unusual for hiking shoes to run a full size larger than dress shoes, for example.
  • Put a boot on, but don’t lace it up. Stand up and tap the toe of the boot on the ground to slide your feet all the way to the front. If you can just fit your finger down the back of the boot behind your heel, it’s probably a good length.
  • Lace the boot up and walk around (on an incline, if possible), then stand on the balls of your feet. Make sure your foot doesn’t move around too much and your heel doesn’t slip. If it does, you’re likely to get blisters when you’re out on the trail.
  • Walk down an incline or kick at the ground to see whether your toes jam against the front of the boot. If they do, don’t buy it.
  • If you wear orthotics, such as insole supports, take them along when you shop. Make sure you can remove the insoles of the boots you choose and replace them with your own.

Once you’ve taken your new boots home, be careful to break them in before heading out on a big hike. You can do this by wearing them around the neighborhood for a week or two.

How often do I need to replace my boots?

It’s time for new hiking boots or shoes when your current ones show noticeable signs of wear — when the tread on the soles is smooth, the seams are coming apart, or the padded lining has worn out. If shoes or boots that have always been dry and comfy suddenly start letting in water or causing blisters, buy new ones.


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