Buying Hiking Boots

One of the best investments a hiker can ever make is in the selection of good boots. From the negative side, nothing (short of a catastrophic accident) can make a hike go bad as easily as a bad pair of boots. On the positive side, good boots give you the support, comfort and traction you need to conquer any hike.

A long hike puts enormous stress on your feet and ankles. That stress is transmitted upward to the legs and has an effect on your back and entire body. It isn’t just a matter of whether you get a blister. You need a solid base.

Therefore, support is paramount. A good boot provides the added stiffness and ‘springiness’ that your foot and ankle need. You want to be able to press off the ground, boulders and other surfaces in a sure way. You need to have confidence that your boots will support you. Without it, sore feet or even twisted ankles are almost guaranteed.

Though specialized materials are used in all modern boots, leather is still a big component of better boots. It’s tough, water-resistant (when treated) and has good stiffness, moisture and thermal properties.

The word ‘comfort’ has the ring of luxury about it. But, in hiking, comfort isn’t a luxury, it’s essential. You need to continue walking without producing blisters or chafing. You need to be able to spend long hours in them without moisture build-up or excessive heat or cold.

Get boots that feel right for your foot. Size is only the starting point. You need to spend the time and money to get something that feels good the minute you put them on. Though boots, like shoes, will wear in, if they don’t feel right immediately they rarely will later.

But keep in mind that good hiking boots are not shoes. You should expect them to feel stiff and give little on the outer sole and around the ankle. That’s part of how they do what they are designed to do.

You’ll be scrambling over wet rocks, slippery gravel, flaking hills and muddy trails. While no boot can eliminate all problems, boots do differ in their ability to help. Some are little better than tennis shoes. Others approach nail-studded ice boots.

Well-designed hiking boots will have a variety of materials and geometries that minimize slippage on wet rocks and maximize sticking power on flaking hill grades. Vibram lugs with some kind of tread are a minimum. They look almost like car tires, but are a more plastic, less rubbery kind of material.

You want to get a gusseted tongue to help keep gravel and dirt out of the boot. Also, look for materials (treated leather, rubber, special composites) that are water-resistant. Wet boots lead to foot problems. Gore-Tex is a common ingredient these days because of its excellent thermal properties. Look for it.

Other factors depend on what kind of hiking you plan to do. If you get serious, you’ll almost certainly have more than one pair. That’s ok, good hiking boots will last for years. Even at $125-$200 or more per pair, you’re getting a good deal. Think of how much you spend on shoes in two to five years.

If you hike over rough terrain you’ll probably want something relatively high laced. You want to get support above your ankle. How much higher depends on your style, but make sure you get plenty of support.

Always test boots using socks that closely match what you will use. Thick, moisture-wicking, cotton or blend are perfect. You can’t tell what the results will be if you try them on with casual or even sports socks.

There are a dozen major manufacturers and they all have good and less good boots. Shop around and read reviews. They’re often written by people who have tried many over many years. Happy hunting!

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