The Best Hiking & Backpacking Boots Reviewed
Looking for Hiking Boots or Shoes? Take a look at the best hiking boots of 2016-17, including pros & cons plus what to be aware of before buying them online or in a store.
Hiking and backpacking is an incredible way to see the world and all the wild delights of Mother Nature (and keep fit while doing it). Any experienced hiker will tell you that the number one piece of equipment worth investing in is your boots: it’s even more important to get these right than even your backpack, as they have a profound impact on your health and happiness.
We’re talking about an investment of your time, not just your wallet: taking the time to find a boot that is going to serve you well, in the long run, is well worth the extra effort it takes on your part. A pair of good hiking boots should last for years, so choose the right pair for your needs: your ambitions (a day or a month at a time?); conditions (lava in the Hawaiian summer, or winter in Norway?), and especially for your unique feet.
- Vasque Skywalk
- Durable construction
- Salomon Quest 4D
- GORE-TEX waterproof
- Zamberlan 996 Viox
- Full grain leather upper
Instead of slogging through hundreds of products online, take a look at our expert researched, comprehensive Top 10 list including the best hiking boots and shoes out there today. Following our reviews, you’ll find a full glossary of all the features and components reviewed, and a guide to getting the best fit for your feet as well as how to choose the right hiking boots for your plans.
10 Best Hiking & Backpacking Boots
Vasque Skywalk GTX
Give yourself a good two weeks to really wear these in, and no boot will ever feel as comfortable. The midsole provides stability and the deep lugs in the outsole will take care of any sharp rocks in your path. The Skywalks are much stiffer around the ankle than many other models, but as such, they provide outstanding roll-protection and durability.
- Rough-out real full-grain leather
- Timeless design
- Tough-as-nails sole
- Classical lacing system with D-rings
- Three widths available to suit every foot
- Upgraded thermoplastic shank in the midsole provides great stability at a fraction of the weight (the original Skywalk shank was steel)
- Fantastic value – close to being the cheapest hiking boot on this list with some of the best features and most consistently good reviews
- The leather upper and ankle cuff are stiffer than on other brands, and if you plan to wear these immediately on a long hike, with thin socks, that could be a problem
Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX
- Gore-Tex waterproofing
- Tough and strong, yet reasonably light at 2 lbs. 13 oz.
- Awesome grip and stability from Salomon’s Contagrip outsole (rivals Vibram)
- Upgraded lacing system is an improvement on the original 4D
- A snug, supportive fit that might not suit hikers with wide feet
- Not ideal for heavily loaded backpacking – the midsole is light and flexible and ideally suited to light and midweight hiking, but not anything over 35 lbs
Columbia Men's Newton Ridge Plus Ii Waterproof Hiking Boot
Constructed from a durable and robust leather which is ideal for the many different weather conditions and environments which this high performing hiking boot will encounter.
We found the boot performs well at keeping water out through its excellent water proof seal system which is securely designed into the boot. The boot allows a very good level of breath- ability and we noted that the combination of enabling breath-ability while keeping out water performs and balances really well.
The arch area features a supportive shank which lends great stability, flexibility in the boot is reactive in that when you need flexibility the boot performs but when you want less flexibility the boot also delivers.
Seriously good grip is provided through the built in durable out-sole from Omni, we liked the ability for this high performing sole with regards to it evacuating wet clinging mud.
Walking in these boots on different surfaces, the performance remains very good,
The sole is soft and durable, on really rough surfaces the feeling has been nice and smooth, used on snow the boot gives a good level of stability.
The warmth factor is impressive, trudging through snow and yet still nice warm feet, importantly, no entry by water. Compared to previous tested boots, these feel light and the soles shed any attempts from mud to cling on.
The sole is very soft, it is smooth when you walk on rough surface and very stable on snow. I wore them at below zero and was still warm.
The big test came while hiking and stepping into an ankle deep puddle of very cold water, the boot kept the water out.
For breaking in the boots they do need a few days but no over the top discomfort or blisters while going through the breaking in process.
Durable Rubber sole
Mid-sole-high energy return, really good comfort, lightweight. (TechLite)
Sealed Seams for water proofing.
Other boot construction materials proving water proofing, Mesh tongue, Lace system-D Ring.
Shaft system measuring 5" from the arch area
A sensible investment for hikers looking for a boot which will provide performance.
Durable sole and overall construction
Some hikers would like to see a wider version of the boot.
Garmont Tower Trek
- Vibram Winkler outsole with block lugs on toe and heel, deep chevron grooves in midfoot to slough off dirt and mud
- Shape cuts through snow nicely
- Gore-Tex upper keeps out the rain
- Excellent protection against abrasive wear and tear
- Crazy light for the amount of support and protection you get: 1.6 lb.
- All these features come at a price – these are the most expensive boots on the list
Keen Targhee II Mid Hiking Boots
Note: Keen recommends ordering half a size bigger than your usual boot size (read more about this below in the ‘How to ensure you hiking boots fit’ section).
- Waterproof and fairly breathable (uses Keen.Dry material)
- A tough upper with good roll protection
- Reasonably light (1.14 – 2.3 lb.)
- Not the most secure grip for rougher trails – the Targhee Mid is definitely a rung below the Salomon Quest in terms of stability
Lowa Renegade GTX Mid
- Water-proof (Gore-Tex)
- Very comfortable
- Quick to wear in
- Good support for lightweight backpackers
- Hardcore hikers find they need to replace their Renegades less than two years apart
The North Face Ultra Fastpack II Mid GTX
The sole is not especially thick, but still, offers decent protection, and the multidirectional tread works well at keeping out dirt and mud.
- Among the lightest in its class (1 lb 12 oz)
- Flexible and breathable
- Waterproof (yep, we know it doesn’t look like it, but it has a Gore-Tex membrane)
- Comfortable collar that keeps out trail debris
- Full rubber toe stabilizes and keeps you from feeling rocks in the path
- The thin, hard Vibram sole offers surprisingly good protection
- Sole doesn’t perform very well in wet conditions compared to the other boots reviewed on this list
- The uppers don’t deflect mud too well
Timberland WHITE LEDGE Water Proof Hiking boot.
The boot collar is well padded with cushion factor for comfort and protection around the ankles, clever shoe tech in the form of perforations which ensure air flow and ventilation for the boot, the d-ring system makes the lacing up for the boots very secure.
Wearing these boots all day even in very challenging hiking situations we still feel our feet are dry and comfortable.
The boot comes with removable dual dense mid-soles from EVA, the performance for grip is very satisfactory and the grip factor is delivered through motion efficient rubber lugs fitted to the sole.
This is a solid performance boot which weighs in at a light one pound and three ounces.
A very comfortable and protective boot which serves purpose on virtually any type of hiking terrain, on hot days your feet will stay reasonably cool and in cold winter warmth and comfort are retained.
The level of water proofing is out standing and means that you can hike confidently in wet or snowy environments and you will not be distracted by the discomfort of wet feet.
For grip, the sole sports lugs which grip and hold the ground but less likely to pick up and carry wet mud, we particularly liked the perforation system which gives good air ventilation and still ensure the boots stay waterproof.
The boots are made in a good range of solid colors to suit all tastes.
Strong robust durable sole.
Good performance lugs for grip
Oiled finish to the leather
Ankle collar padded
Dual density foot-bed can be taken out or replaced
A smart investment for a high performing hiking boot.
Boot collar is padded
Very good grip
Built from durable quality leather
Can be used for any terrain
Protective for the foot
Built in ventilation tech
Durable and robust
No notable cons so far
Oboz Scapegoat Mid
For hikers looking for something higher, heftier, and waterproof, Oboz offers the Beartooth boot.
Although they feel like a lightweight comfort hiking shoe, they are much stiffer and structured on the outside, meaning they need a little longer to break in than most mid-height hikers
- Super light at 1lb
- Strong grip against rocky mountain paths
- Outstanding breathability
- Dry quickly
- Designed in Montana, USA
- Not waterproof (and don’t claim to be)
Vasque Inhaler 2
The mesh overlay keeps mud and snow from caking the boot, making them especially lightweight. If you want a light, flexible hiking boot that performs just as well in the wet as the dry, we recommend the Vasque inhaler over the popular North Face Ultra Fastpack II Mid GTX.
Despite the waterproof liner, the construction of this boot allows it to be quite breathable for long, hot hikes too.
- Water-resistant (Gore-Tex liner)
- Strong grip against mud and slippery-when-wet surfaces
- Deflect dirt and mud well, making them last longer
- Bouncy and agile to hike in
- Fairly lightweight at 1 lb. 14 oz.
- A bit more expensive than competitive models with similar features
10 Affordable Hiking Boots
When it comes to hiking, one of the most critical items that you need in your kit is a great pair of hiking boots. Unfortunately for many people finding a pair that they can afford can sometimes be a difficult task. Thankfully it’s not an impossible one. Here is a list of a few of our favorite great yet affordable hiking boots. Feel free to take a look and see if you can find any inspiration for your next pair.
Timberland euro hiker
These hiking boots come in a wide range of sizes, and most people found that they fit pretty much how the expected them to fit. However, about 20% of the time, customers found the footwear to be a little on the larger size.
These boots are made with a high-quality leather upper, and a natural rubber sole. The ankle area sports a padded collar, and the laces are kept firmly in place with D-ring lacing hardware.
With proper care and maintenance, these hiking boots provide great protection against water, slush, and snow. The thick rubber sole protects your feet from sharp objects on the ground, and the reinforced toe guard makes is hard to do any significant damage to the toe area.
If sized correctly, this boot is superb at offering support for your feet, arches, ankles and honestly the rest of the body as well. They are flexible enough to move with you and strong enough to give you the firm support you need, especially in the weaker ankle area.
While not the cheapest pair of hiking boots on this list, the overall price is more than reasonable considering that these boots have been known to power through just about any situation. Most customers found that these hiking boots last for quite a few years with proper care and maintenance.
If you enjoy the classic hiking boot design and demand quality at a very reasonable price, these boots from Timberland may be your best bet. Designed with the backpacker and avid hiker in mind, their durability and comfort is hard to match at this price.
Offers great protection from the elements
Many different sizes to choose from
A little on the expensive side
Nevados men's talus
These boots come in a fair range of sizes, and most people that fall into the average size ranges will have absolutely no problem finding a pair that fits them. The majority of the time they were shown to be true to their intended size, with the boots running slightly large on a rare occasion.
These boots consist of a lightweight canvas material upper portion that allows for superior breathability. The sole is comprised of a rubber material, and the laces are held in place through reinforced grommets and hook and eye closures.
These hiking boots won’t offer too much protection from the water or snow, as the canvas material can only offer limited protection by its very nature. The reinforced toe guard and heel area allow for great protection from sharper objects, and the rubber sole tread provides a great deal of overall traction and control. In addition, the tongue of the boots is padded, which adds to the overall comfort and protection in the upper portions.
These hiking boots are of a mid-rise design, so while the offer moderate support for the ankle area, they aren’t the perfect choice, especially for those with weaker joints in that area. They do feature a removable contoured insole that helps to keep the foot in proper position, and allows for a more snug and supportive fit.
One of the areas where these boots from Nevados excels is the price. It is extremely affordable, and can easily become your go-to hiking shoe for years to come, especially in drier, hotter climbs.
If you’re looking for a lightweight, dependable, and fairly comfortable hiking boot to use during those hot and dry hikes these canvas hiking boots from Nevados are a great choice.
Comfortable to wear
Good selection of sizes
- Doesn’t offer water resistance or water proofing
These boots were shown to be true to size a little more than half the time, and ran a bit on the small size, so customers would be well advised to consider going one size larger than what they normally need. However, the extensive lacing system allows for finite adjustment that helps to provide for a snug and supportive fit overall.
These boots are created using genuine leather materials with suede accents and high strength waxed cotton laces that are held firmly in place with a reinforced D-ring lacing system. The sole of the boot consists of a synthetic rubber material that is designed for superior traction and no-skid mark outsole.
As long as you have the patience to lace up these calf high boots, you won’t have much to worry about in the way of protection from the elements. Designed specifically to be waterproof, these boots also offer a moderate amount of protection against animals, insect bites and sharp rocks or debris. While we wouldn’t suggest going toe to toe with a snake or a beat in these boots, you’d have a better chance than most.
These calf high boots offer a fantastic amount of support for most people, provided that they are laced up correctly to get a snug yet flexible fit. One potential problem area is the back heel and ankle area, which on rare occasion has been known to allow a little more play than necessary, especially if too large a boot is purchased.
These are perhaps one of the most expensive cheap hiking boots we’ve seen, but we decided to include them on this list simply because of the overall value and staying power that they have shown.
If you have a tendency to turn your ankle while hiking and worry about getting the support you need, these hiking boots by Chaco should definitely be on your list of potential boot saviors. While they may be a tad on the expensive side of affordable, given what they offer, they may well be worth the price.
Offers excellent support
Protection from small animal and insect bites
On the expensive side of affordable
May run a bit small
Khombu leather ravine
These boots are offered in a limited number of sizes, but most customers find them to be well fitting. They do, however, have a tendency to run a little small on rare occasion.
The upper portions of these hiking boots are made of genuine leather with 3M Thinsulate insulation. The soles are made of synthetic rubber.
When it comes to protection from the elements, these boots from Khombu are hard to beat. The leather uppers and soles are sealed together to be truly waterproof, and there is little chance of water, snow or sleet making their way inside. While we would have liked to see a little stronger outsole, overall this boot isn’t that bad when it comes to protection from rocks and small debris.
These boots offer a decent amount of support for a mid-rise boot, hugging the foot at the ankle and instep area. The soles are contoured in such a way to offer great arch support as well.
These are perhaps one of the most affordable choices on this list, especially if you take into account the superior protection from the elements.
If you need a pair of hiking boots that don't have a whole lot of frills, but still can go the distance, a great choice to consider is these boots from Khombu. While we would have liked to see stronger soles and more size options, overall this is a very affordable and quality choice.
Superior protection from the elements
Outsole not as strong as we would like
Wolverine blackledge LX
These boots come in a wide array of sizes, and were shown to be true to size about 60% of the time. Unfortunately, they were shown to be a bit small about 40% of the time, so it might be worth considering buying a half size or size larger than what you need.
These hiking boots are made with genuine leather material, a waterproof yet breathable membrane lining, and a hard protective rubber sole. The midsole and foot bed area are comprised of a lightweight molded ethylene vinyl acetate material.
Both the leather and the hard rubber sole will easily protect the hiker from most weather conditions, and can be considered waterproof as well. The boot tongue is also cushioned and can easily protect the upper portion of the foot from scrapes, burrs, and other forest hazards.
In addition to the mid-ankle height and overall shoe fit, these hiking boots from Wolverine also feature a nylon shank for increased arch support.
These hiking boots are moderately priced, ranging between the cost of a nice dinner date and a trip to the movies for a family of four. While not the cheapest hiking boot we’ve ever seen, it certainly can easily fit into most family budgets.
If you’re looking for a lightweight, all around great hiking boot at a very reasonable price, the Blackledge LX Waterproof Mid Ankle Hiker is certainly one to consider. It offers great protection and lightweight comfort, despite the potential sizing issues.
Lightweight and comfortable to wear
Easily protects feet from trail debris
May run a bit small
These hiking boots are available in the average women’s sizes, and a good portion of the customers found them to be slightly on the larger size. They have a slightly more boxy design, and have a bit more room in the toe box area.
These boots are made from lightweight synthetic leather and a nylon mesh material. The soles are fashioned out of hardened synthetic rubber material that offers great traction and control
While these boots are not water proof, they do offer some protection from the elements, and a moderate amount of protection from general hiking hazards. While we wouldn’t necessarily recommend these boots for hiking through hazardous terrain, for what most people encounter on their hiking adventures they are more than adequate.
These mid-ankle boots provide a fair amount of support in most situations and when they fit correctly provide great ankle and arch support overall.
These are some of the most affordable hiking boots that we’ve seen in a while. In most cases the cost of a dinner at a casual restaurant will more than cover the cost of these boots. Plus the overall quality and dependability mean that this investment will last for quite a few years.
While not suited for more extreme hiking adventures, these boots from Fila are more than capable of offering the support and protection that the average hiker needs. They do have a tendency to run a bit large, so ordering a half-size smaller may be a prudent choice when ordering.
Offers great protection and support
May run a bit large
Boxy toe area may be uncomfortable for some
The majority of customers found these shoes to be very close to the size that they were expecting, with about 30% saying that it was either slightly larger or slightly smaller than a perfect fit. They are also available in sizes smaller than average, so if you have smaller feet, these hiking boots may be worth a second look.
These boots are made from a combination of leather and breathable fabric material, and a rubber outsole that provides great overall traction.
As long as these boots aren’t submerged, they do offer a high amount of protection from water and the elements; walking through a few puddles here and there won’t make your feet wet. However, we wouldn’t suggest walking through a streambed and expecting to come out completely dry on the other side. The hardened rubber sole provides not only great traction and stability control, but also protection from normal rocks and debris found on the hiking trail.
Overall these boots offer adequate support for most situations. The compression molded EVA midsole and steel shank add a good deal of stability while moving over rougher terrain, and the back of the shoe and upper portions have a nice balance between rigidity and flexibility to maintain a great overall support system.
While not the least expensive on this list, these boots from Hi-Tec are more than capable of fitting into most budgets as a regular investment. They cost well under $100, and have been shown to last for quite a number of years.
These boots from Hi-Tec can easily serve most hikers quite well on their more casual hikes and outdoor adventures. While they can run a bit large or small depending on the boot, and are not waterproof once completely submerged, these boots work quite well in most natural environments.
Lightweight and comfortable
Steel shank and compression molded mid-sole offer great support
Sizing not always consistent
Eastland rainier rubber
Most men found these boots to be very close to the size that they were expecting, with only a small percentage of about 13% finding them to be slightly on the smaller size. The toe box and instep area provided just enough room for natural toe and foot positioning, while the ankle and heel area were often a very snug fit that became more flexible with time.
These boots feature a genuine leather upper portion with a synthetic rubber sole. The grommets for the shoe laces are metallic in nature, and can easily help to prevent lace fraying or breakage.
In addition to being essentially waterproof unless they are submerged, these boots also offer a fair amount of protection where you need it most. The toe and heel area both have reinforced areas for added shielding, and the synthetic rubber sole is thicker and more able to withstand punctures and tears. In addition, the padded tongue and upper leather portions make it easy to keep out small pebbles, sticks and insects.
These hiking boots provide adequate support overall without being too heavy. The overall fit provides firm yet flexible support, and most hikers find them to be able to help prevent ankle instability.
These hiking boots are moderately priced, and can easily fit into most budgets. They cost about the same as a night out of drinking, or a new business casual outfit for work.
While these boots are nothing extraordinary, when it comes to protection of your feet in the wilderness, they certainly are well suited for the job. Since 1955 Eastland has built a reputation for making dependable footwear that is designed to go the distance, and these hiking boots are no exception.
Great overall protection
Sizes can run a bit small
Fila Shifter Synthetic
The overall majority of customers found these boots to essentially fit like a glove, with only about 10% indicating that they were a little too small for comfort.
These hiking boots are made entirely of synthetic materials, consisting of a breathable lining and cushioned foot bed, a durable rubber outsole and a tough tear resistant synthetic upper portion.
While not completely waterproof, these boots do offer a great deal of water resistance and resistance from tears and punctures from rocks, sticks and animals.
Overall these boots provide a fair amount of support through a good fit and flexible yet firm materials and great stability and traction in the outsole area.
These boots are moderately priced, and can more than easily fit into most budgets, even those with more restrictions than most. They range in price between the cost of a nice dinner out and a cost of a nice sports outing.
While these boots may not be anything too special to look at, the overall comfort and protection they offer will make most hikers take notice. These hiking boots are not only affordable, they are designed to go the distance, no matter what the terrain may be.
Comfortable to wear
Offers great protection
May run a bit small
Most people found this hiking boot to be a great fit overall, with only about 18% indicating that it was a little too small or large for their liking. The boot also comes in a fair range of available sizes, so finding one that fits you well shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
These boots are made primarily out of leather suede and nylon mesh material with a hard rubber sole, and moisture wicking mesh linings for added comfort. There is also a nylon shank and the boots feature both a removable cushioned foot bed and insole for added comfort and customization.
The upper portion of the boot provides great overall protection from inclement weather, and while we wouldn’t suggest standing in submerged water for a prolonged period of time the occasional dunk through a puddle wouldn’t be a problem.
The included nylon shanks and overall great fit provide a good deal of support for the ankle and foot, giving the hiker a wealth of ways to keep trekking as they see fit.
These high quality boots are a bit more expensive than some on this list, but they are designed to last for quite a few years and therefore should be considered an investment in your outdoor activities. In most cases, they will cost about the same as an expensive dinner and a movie.
Although these boots may be last on our list, they are by no means inferior. Wolverine boots are known for their rugged dependability and overall comfort, and these Fulton Boots are certainly no exception.
Great overall protection from the elements
Sizing isn’t exact
The Criteria We Used When Choosing The Best Overall Hiking Boots
With any luck, your feet will be what’s in contact with the ground the most during your hike. Keeping your balance and stride can mean the difference between injury and having a great time in the great outdoors. In order to make sure that everything runs smoothly, a hiker needs to have well-fitting hiking boots. If a pair of boots doesn’t fit well, it can lead to painful blisters, unstable footing, and significant wear and tear on the feet and body as a whole.
In order for a pair of hiking boots to fit well there are a few criteria that need to be met. First, there shouldn’t be too much wiggle room around the heel or instep area. If the heels can move back and forth within the boot then that means that it isn’t providing the support that you need, especially in the ankle area. Second, the boot shouldn’t feel heavy when you’re taking a step. Footwear that has too much weight can lead to a significant amount of fatigue, which can also lead to mistakes that can cause injury. And last, but certainly not least, you should be able to adjust your boot easily to accommodate for minor changes in foot size while still maintaining a snug fit.
The boots presented on this list are perhaps some of the best options available on the market today in part because so much attention is given to the overall fit and feel of the boots. While you won’t find a perfect fit for every hiker or for every hiking situation, these do come as close as you can get at a very affordable price.
Another aspect of hiking footwear that got serious consideration from us, was what materials went into the making of the boots. Often the materials used will dictate a number of characteristics that every hiker should consider when buying a pair of hiking boots. The materials used can dictate how much protection your feet will have. They can also indicate how heavy the hiking boot will be. And, of course the materials used are essential to proper fit, comfort, and overall durability.
The boots presented here in this list have a fairly wide range of materials used, both synthetic and natural in composition. Some materials, such as leather provide breathable protection from the elements, while others, like a nylon mesh, allow for great ventilation in and around the feet area.
In a very real sense, the best hiking boots, no matter the price should be designed to do one thing: protect your feet and ankles from undo stress. These stresses can include everything from rain and snow to colder temperatures and slippery rocks. Common things encountered on a hike, such as animals, roots and fallen leaves can also provide sources of stress to your feet.
The most ideal choice should offer at least a very similar level of protection for your feet as some of the most expensive brands on the market today. Thankfully, the boots presented here do just that in a number of ways. The outer shells of these boots often provide protection from the weather, or at least allow you to resist its effects quite well. The soles of the shoes protect you from sharp objects on the ground such as rocks and sticks, and the heavy duty upper portions can often protect you from minor animal bites.
Another characteristic that should be considered is the amount of support that the boot provides. While it is related to the overall fit and protection offered, it is somewhat different. The quality of the support provided is dependent not only on the materials used to create the boot, but also on the quality of the workmanship as well. A supportive boot will not necessarily have ridged sides, or a hard sole. Rather the boot will be able to easily move with the foot and ankle, essentially acting as an extension to your body. The materials will have the ability to bend and shift as needed to offer support where it is needed the most.
In the past, the “support” in hiking boots meant heavy ridged soles and stiff sides. Thankfully with the advent of new materials and techniques, this is simply no longer the case. Lighter materials, designed to be both strong and flexible allow for ample support without weighing down the boots and causing more fatigue for the hiker.
And finally, no review of affordable hikers would be complete, without looking at the overall price of the boots themselves. While these boots are all priced under $100, it’s important to remember that this doesn’t necessarily mean they are of a lower quality. Indeed, some of these boots are close to being on par, or in some cases better than more expensive brands. The trick, of course, is to focus on the overall quality of the materials, and workmanship, rather than the price tag.
This is the main part of your boot: the outer fabric from your sole to the top of the boot. In a traditional hiking boot this was leather all the way, but now most hiking boots have a composite of materials that strike an optimum balance of the boot’s durability, water resistance, breathability, style, and weight.
Here are the benefits of each of the main materials you’ll find in hiking boot uppers:
What type of leather are you looking at? Full-grain, split-grain or nubuck?
Full-grain uppers have excellent overall durability and resistance to scuffs and scratches. They are quite water resistant, but not as light or breathable as other materials, including other leather types. Full-grain leather is often used in hiking boots designed for long treks, heavy backpacks, and variable terrain. If the boots you choose are full-grain leather, make sure to break them in on several short hikes before setting out on a long journey.
Split-grain is often cheaper and is often combined with nylon mesh to make lightweight, breathable hiking boots. It’s naturally less waterproof than full-grain, though many boots that use split-grain have waterproof liners as well.
Nubuck is essentially full-grain leather buffed until it looks and behaves like suede. It has most of the durability and water resistance of full-grain but more flexibility.
Synthetic uppers, made from polyester, nylon, and PVC ‘synthetic leather’ or ‘pleather’are found in most modern hiking boots. These materials are lighter, dry quickly, wear in faster, and are less expensive than leather. Synthetic uppers are usually vegan (though some uppers can be composed of a mix of synthetic and leather sections). Synthetic uppers also tend to show wear a little sooner, even if their overall lifespan is the same.
Boots that claim to be waterproof have uppers that include waterproof membranes (like Gore-Tex® and eVent®). Even the best waterproofing materials are not as breathable as the mesh found on regular road/running shoes, so you’re looking at some extra sweating in your boots on hot summer hikes.
Some hiking boots in the northern US and UK, but especially in Canada and Northern Europe, feature woolen, sheepskin or synthetic insulation to keep your feet toasty warm while trekking through tundra and snow-covered forest trails.
Some hiking boots are constructed without any materials that come from animals or their products (Eg. Leather and wool). For some brands, this is deliberate and a point of pride: you can easily spot the vegan label. Many more boots are vegan than those that claim it; you just have to do a bit more digging to see whether they qualify. If after reading the materials/construction list you’re still unsure, do a quick online search with ‘vegan’ and the brand name.
The job of the midsole is to provide cushioning and prevent impacts from sending their shock through to your feet. For hiking boots, as well as cycling shoes, stiff midsoles are actually a good thing. If you’re treading over a lot of rough ground or any type of uneven surfaces, a stiff boot is actually so much more comfortable.
I once hiked a mile along a dry riverbed full of smooth football-sized stones in my Vibram Five-Fingers, and although they were amazingly comfortable and hadn’t needed any break in, I really regretted them during that leg of the hike. The Five-Fingers have enough tread that I didn’t feel all the sharp gravel or bracken in other parts of the trip, but they were so flexible that my feet wrapped around every stone on this riverbed, and over time that hurts your arches.
Most hiking boot midsoles are made from polyurethane or EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate). Polyurethane tends to be stiffer and harder wearing, while EVA is lighter, softer and cheaper. Manufacturers can create a varied density of EVA throughout the sole, providing more stiffness in some areas and more flexibility in others.
All hiking shoes and boots have rubber outsoles. All outsoles have grooves in their tread to increase traction and slip-resistance, and to make the soles bouncier, transferring less of the general impact of walking up through your feet. Backpacking and mountain hiking boots also have ‘lugs’-bumps that extend outwards increasing your grip on the trail even further. Widely spaced lugs shed caked-in mud easier.
Other Factors Worth Considering When Deciding On The Best Pair For You
To help you choose which hiking boot is best for you from this list, we’ve put together a few key considerations. These factors shine a light on how to choose boots that are built for ice and snow, or adapt your favorite hikers to be ice-proof; how to get to know your feet and why sizing matters; what happens when you’re feet aren’t stock-standard average, or if you’ve had injuries; and how often you should replace your hiking boots.
What Type Of Terrain Will You Encounter?
It is important to consider what type of outdoor terrain you will be coming across on your hike. If you mostly stick to well-worn trails through the woods, and don’t usually travel cross-country through the undergrowth, on snow or on ice, then trail running shoes offer a great compromise on sturdiness and comfort.
If you’re choosing hiking boots for a winter trip to Norway, on the other hand, make sure you read reviews from hikers who are used to that terrain and climate. One slick Norwegian start-up has developed not only a range of shoes designed to keep you on your feet in the slipperiest of conditions, but also a range of pull-on spikes that can be easily pulled over your favorite hiking boots (or even dress shoes).
Are they waterproof ?
As we’ve shown elsewhere, finding great waterproof performance no longer means you’re stuck with stiff heavy leather boots. Whereas earlier waterproof fabrics had a tendency to lock moisture inside as well –increasing the tendency for your feet being uncomfortable pruny and for your socks to rot- waterproof materials are getting much more breathable and mold-resistant. Well-respected brands and materials (such as GoreTex) have earned their popularity because they really are worth twice as much as their imitators.
High-tech materials aren’t necessarily synthetic though: some brands are experimenting with new ways to weave cotton and bamboo to provide impressive results, and in this case, it’s the weave and the production that are high tech, while the fabric retains all its wonderful natural qualities.
We wanted to ensure that our selections for the best hiking boots were capable of keeping your feet comfortable and dry while sloshing through icy puddles or trekking through rain for days at a time. For frequent or long-distance hikers, breathability is really important to keep your feet healthy and your spirits high in all conditions.
Get To Know Your Feet
If you have an average, neutral foot type, you’re lucky! Most hiking boots and shoes base their models on your needs. If you have wide feet, narrow feet, soft/low arches or very high arches, previous foot, ankle or knee injuries, hip problems, thrombosis, a tendency to swell, bunions, or a latex allergy, then you’re going to need to select your hiking boots more carefully. Read the reviews to get an idea of what you’re after –which brands and styles appeal as well as what conditions you’re planning for- and then visit an outdoor footwear specialist in person. They fit shoes all day long, and they’ll have a good idea of which brands and models are the best choice for your unique needs.
Of all the various types of hiking equipment, your boots should be your number one investment. High-quality hiking shoes shouldn’t be viewed as a luxury: they are an investment in your health. When you’re choosing a lantern or a t-shirt you’re choosing something based on style, comfort and durability, but honestly, any t-shirt will cover your back and any lantern will light your way. Hiking boots are different.
A good pair will last you for years (depending on how often you hike) and can make a huge difference to your health and happiness while you’re hiking, but also over the long term, even when you’re off the trail. To take care of your feet and posture, it’s worth investing in a pair with quality materials; a sturdy, reliable design; and a form that really fits your unique foot size, shape and any special needs.
How to make sure your hiking boots fit
Novices frequently overlook the variability in shapes and fit between brands. Spend some time figuring out what size you need whenever you try on a brand you haven’t worn before – the exact fit of each size does change from brand to brand. Keep in mind that you want a little more extra room than what you might choose for the shoes you wear to walk around the city.
Wear your hiking socks
Your everyday dress/work socks are probably a bit thinner than the socks you’ll wear to go hiking, unless you’re an arborist or a snake catcher or in some similarly adventurous profession! Most outdoor gear stores have a few pairs of clean thick socks on hand to lend out if you forget to bring some with you.
What is Your Physical Condition?
When it comes to improving your physical health, there are few activities that can measure up to hiking. Not only are you breathing fresh air, and enjoying the outdoors, but you’re also likely traveling over a few different types of terrain, adding to a great aerobic workout. However, like any other type of exercise, you need to have the proper equipment to make sure that your body performs at its optimal level. The model you choose is no exception.
If your overall physical condition is relatively weak, or you don’t have a great deal of leg strength, the last thing you want to do is choose a boot that is heavier than you can handle. While having extra support and protection that a heavier boot can provide can be beneficial, it’s only as effective as your ability to wear them without being fatigued. A good rule of thumb is to try the boots on and try to do six high knees with them. If you’re experience labored breathing after the sixth one, the boots are probably too heavy for you.
Where will You Be Hiking?
It’s also a good idea to consider where your hiking adventures will take you when choosing your next pair of hiking boots. Depending on the overall terrain, you might want a boot that is truly waterproof, one that features a mid-rise height, or even something more like an athletic shoe in the look and feel. If you’re not sure about what to buy in regards to hiking boots, consider this – the more rugged the terrain, the more overall support and protection you’re going to need. That being said, it’s important to remember that you’ll need protection and support on the easier trails as well – just not quite as much.
If you hope to do any serious mountain hiking, or maybe some adventurous backpacking through Northern Europe in winter, adding crampons to your boots may become necessary. When shopping in-store, check whether the boots you’re looking at are crampon compatible. When shopping online, you may be able to filter your search results by crampon compatibility.
Top Tip: Try on boots at the end of the day
Many experienced hikers and backpackers have noticed that feet swell after a few hours on the trail or carrying a pack around city pavement. This swelling typically adds half to a full shoe size (American sizes) to what makes a comfortable pair. Your feet tend to swell a little toward the end of the day, and trying on boots then will help you avoid buying a pair that is too small.
Q: When is it time to replace my old pair?
A: Standard boots with flat or basic soles should be repaired sooner rather than later: a worn sole can be replaced, but after a while, a worn sole leads to cracks around the sides of the leather upper, and once that happens it’s too late, and the sole can’t be replaced. All of the hiking boot in this review, however, have high-tech soles, and you’re going to be putting them through so much strain and flex and dusty/muddy conditions. Even an expert repair job is never going to bring a pair of hiking boots back to its original level of safety and resilience. So how often do you need to replace your hiking boots?
About every 500 – 600 miles, as a rule. Proper care can stretch that out a little, and alternating between two pairs of hiking boots can stretch it out further. If you can comfortably carry the weight of two pairs, then switching between them from one day to the next can extend the life of your boots. This allows the inners (which usually absorb a fair bit of moisture throughout a days’ hike) to dry out fully. The midsole also gets a break from impact and flex, and you’ll be more likely to pick stones etc. out of your tread. This prevents those stones from acting like chisels or nails next time you stand on something pointy, and driving up into the material of the sole.
Remember that support is just as important than comfort, and if you wear your hiking boots all the time, you may not notice them getting less stable and less firm. If in doubt, get a new pair: you can always alternate them with your old favorite pair of comfortable hiking shoes.
Q: Should I Consider an insole
A: What do you do when the model of your dreams has every feature you could possibly want, and a great style to match, but no arch support? Luckily insoles exist. Check out this review, written by a physiotherapist, on the best insoles for boots.
Knowing your feet will help you make an educated decision, but the best way to be sure is to go through a local outdoor footwear specialist. They have years of experience and specialized equipment to work out exactly what size you need. There’s no substitute for this advice from someone who knows which hiking shoes cater to wider feet, which hiking shoes are the best to support people with high arches, and so on.
Q: What Style of Boot Do I Really Need?
A: There are about as many different styles of models as there are hikers who enjoy them. Determining the type of boot you need often depends not only on your personal preferences as far as color and comfort is concerned, but also on the style of hiking you enjoy most. Are you more of a weekend warrior, someone who sticks to the paved trail in your local forest preserve? Then something like a low-rise hiking boot with a responsive rubber sole may be more than enough.
Or perhaps you’d rather explore a little more off the beaten path, following deer trails. In that case, a mid-rise hiking boot that offers a little more horizontal ankle support may be more in order. And finally, if you see yourself trekking over rocks, into rivers, or even scaling through dense and rugged forested terrain, your boot should be able to match your enthusiasm with rugged dependability and superior protection from the elements.
Whether you’re searching for a hiking boot to help you conquer the Appalachian trail or simply to work around in your backyard, finding one that is affordable can be a challenge. While not every product on this list can be afforded by every person, you’ll sure to find a great pair that will fit your needs on this list.
Here are some sources that we used while conducting our research:
- Backpacker, The 16 Best Hiking Boots and Shoes of 2016, April 2016
- Outdoor Gear Lab, The Best Hiking Shoes for Men Review, May 2015
- Outside, The Best Hiking Shoes of 2016, May 2016
- Gear Patrol, The 20 Best Hiking Shoes of 2016, June 2016
- Rei Co-op, Hiking Boots: How to Choose, May 2016
- Switchback Travel, Best Hiking Boots of 2017, December 2016
- Switchback Travel, Best Lightweight Hiking Shoes of 2016, August 2016
- Gear Institute, Light Hiking Shoes (Low Cut), March 2015