What are the best hiking shoes? Which ones are right for you, and how will you know? It’s pretty intimidating to stand in the outdoors store and look at the selection of hiking boots that are available. They all look virtually the same from the outside.
If you’re in the market for a new pair of hiking shoes, it’s important to know what to look for. What features matter, what features don’t, and what features are a matter of personal preference? We’re going to cover all of that quickly and easily.
Because, if you know what to look for, it’s actually quite simple to pick the best pair of hiking shoes. And it will make a big difference for miles to come.
Different hikes, different types
The most important thing to know about picking a pair of hiking shoes is that each different pair is designed for a certain type of hiking. For short, day hikes, you usually aren’t carrying as much weight or going as far. These shoes are usually designed to be more mobile and less bulky.
However, if you’re going to be spending days or even weeks in the backcountry, your pack will be much heavier, and consequently, your feet and ankles will be under much more stress. Backpacking boots designed for multi-day trekking with heavy packs are much bulkier and much stronger.
Amount of ankle support
The primary difference between these different types of boots is the amount of ankle support they provide. Hiking with a light daypack may be easy, but a heavy backpack can really put your ankles at risk.
Consider what types of hikes you tend to go on. If you’ve never gone overnight, then a lower top shoe should do just fine. If you are often out for days or even weeks at a time, you’re going to want a boot that laces up high and tight around your ankles.
Even if your ankles feel strong on day one, by the end of day three, they will be far looser, and prone to rolling and twisting. That may sound like only a minor injury, but a twisted ankle can be a serious emergency if you are days from help and a storm comes in.
If you are a person whose ankles are particularly prone to rolling or twisting, then you should opt for more ankle support, even if you don’t go for long hikes. They may weigh a little more, but they’ll keep you from getting injured.
The most important part of choosing a hiking shoe that is right for you is finding one that fits perfectly. And I really do mean perfectly. It should be a Cinderella story when you slip your foot into your new hiking shoes.
That’s because when you do hours of walking with a heavy pack on, any excess friction or movement in your boots will cause blisters. Again, that may seem like just a minor problem, but blisters can be serious enough to put you off your feet for days. There’s nothing worse than developing bad blisters and having days of hiking left to do.
So try on lots of boots in the style you want, lace them up tightly over the top of the type of socks you wear hiking. Then walk around the store for several minutes. As the boots warm up, do you feel your feet start to slide around? Remember that with use, the boots will stretch out just a little bit, so make sure they are nice and snug and that your toes touch, but aren’t curling.
If you’ve chosen the right style and you’ve found the right fit. There are a couple of other features to pay attention to. Check out the hardness of the rubber. Hard rubber does well for climbing on rocks, but won’t absorb as much shock for long days on the trail.
Are the laces easy to use and sturdily made? After all, your boots won’t do much good if you blow a lace two days from civilization.
The best hiking boots will be highly waterproof with sealed seams. Unfortunately, it’s hard to test this in the store.
Lastly, examine the stitching, leather, and other materials used. Do they look sturdy? If you can already see frayed stitches, chances are that you’re holding a low-quality boot.
If you’re still unsure, especially for more expensive pairs of hiking shoes, lookup customer reviews online. Amazon is a great place to find people’s feedback and opinions on all sorts of products. If lots of people have had a bad experience with the pair you’ve chosen, someone will have written about it.