Here's our Choosing And Fitting Hiking Boots Guide because we know that the right boots can make the difference between having a great time on the trail and limping home with blisters, determined never to leave the car behind again. Our Choosing And Fitting Hiking Boots Guide keeps in mind that there is no single pair that's best for everyone- your ideal hiking boots will depend on the kind of walking you want to do, the shape of your feet, and even your body weight.
Let's look at materials first. Hiking boots can be made with a leather upper or a synthetic one. Leather is heavier than fabric, but it's usually tougher and will last much longer. That's one advantage. The second reason to choose a full leather walking boot is waterproofing. In order to keep water out, some hiking boots have a waterproof lining. That keeps your feet from getting wet from the outside, but like wearing a waterproof jacket in the heat, it also makes you sweat. If you suffer from hot, sweaty feet after a long walk, leather walking boots are probably the best choice. Kept waxed, they are just as waterproof but a lot more breathable and cooler to wear.
The next thing to consider is stiffness of sole. Some hiking boots can almost be bent in a circle while others have completely rigid soles. For casual, short distance walking on easy ground, a more flexible sole is more comfortable, but as the ground gets rocky and steep, a stiffer sole makes scrambling and climbing easier.
A stiff sole also provides extra support. If you're hiking long distances with a heavy pack on your back, you'll want a relatively stiff boot. That goes double for bigger people- the taller and heavier you are, the more pressure there will be on your feet and the more benefit you'll get from a stiff sole. Stiff boots are also better for winter walkers. Crampons for snow and ice can be fitted more easily to rigid boots than flexible ones.
Fit is just as important as the type of boot you choose. Whether you buy online or in a store, try a new pair of hiking boots out around the house before taking them outside. Do the laundry in them, walk up and down stairs in them, and stay on your feet for at least an hour or two. If they don't fit perfectly or make your feet hot and uncomfortable, send them back immediately and try a different size or a different model. A hiking boot that is too small will bruise your toes when you walk downhill. Test this by walking downstairs or down a slope. If your toes hit the front of the boot, it's not the one for you.
Shoes and boots can be too narrow as well as too short. If there is a distinct line in the fabric or leather across the top of your toes or pressure on the side of the little toe, these are signs you need a wider boot. Remember that everyone's feet swell over the course of the day so it's better to try out hiking boots in the afternoon than in the morning. Some people find a difference of up to half a size.
Hiking boots that are too big will feel clumsy and heavy. When laced up, you should be able to gently wriggle a finger down the back (between your heel and the boot), but no more than that. Excessive movement inside the boot is also a sign that it's too big, and this is a leading cause of blisters. Nobody needs to suffer from blisters- if you have trouble with them, try a new pair of boots and make sure they fit really well before going for your next hike.
Jess Spate is a long distance hiker, rock climber, and outdoor sports enthusiast. She works for Appalachian Outdoors- a company that sells a range of hiking boots for men, women, and children.
June 25, 2011 12:56 PM | Guides