How to Buy Proper Hiking Boots

How to Buy Proper Hiking Boots
Buying proper hiking boots is a highly subjective affair. Only you can decide which boots feel best on your feet. With that said, most day hikers will prefer relatively light boots or might even find themselves walking in sturdy, lightweight shoes. Moderate backpackers will tend to go for somewhat supportive boots, a bit heavier than those a day hiker might opt for, and long-haul backpackers will often prefer to use boots so sturdy their soles are nearly rigid.


Difficulty: Easy

Step 1
Decide in advance whether you're going to use the books most while day hiking, on short backpacking outings on easy to moderate terrain, or long, extended backpacking trips over relatively severe terrain. This will determine your priorities on a number of boot features.
Step 2
Ask a boot salesperson to measure both of your feet with a Brannock device, the sliding metal scale you might be used to seeing in shoe and boot stores. One of your feet might be slightly larger than the other. If that's the case, try on boots sized to fit the larger of your feet.
Step 3
Pick out a few different pairs of boots to try on. This is when you can shop for a variety of features, including waterproof and breathable uppers (critically important to some, not so important to others), plastic, nylon or steel shanks and plates to make the boot sole stiffer and more supportive, and low- to high-cut ankles. Typically, the more severe the terrain you're going to hike on, the more ankle support you want; this means a higher-cut upper.
Step 4
Check the seams on the boot uppers to make sure they are securely stitched or cemented; if there are any signs of loose or untidy seams, don't buy the boots. Also note the number of seams; the fewer the seams, the less you need to worry about a boot blowout on the trail.
Step 5
Put the boots on and lace them up as if you were going hiking right then. Tromp around the store for a while. If the retailer offers any uneven surfaces for you to walk on--a few rocks piled together, stairs or even a wheelchair ramp in a pinch--take full advantage of them, walking uphill and downhill. If your toes come into contact with the front of the boot when you go downhill, you might get blisters while hiking. Try a slightly larger, or different shaped, boot.
Step 6
Pay attention to whether the boots pinch, rub or cause friction on any part of your foot as you walk around. Don't let yourself be convinced that the boots will feel better once they're broken in. If they pinch now, they're almost certain to pinch every time you wear them. Also, pay attention to whether each boot is loose enough that your foot can move around inside of it--bad--or snug enough to move with your foot--good--yet not so tight it pinches your toes.
Step 7
Keep trying boots on until you've found one or two favorites, then decide which (if there's more than one) feels best on your feet. Boot buying is a subjective process--only you know what feels best--so you might find that your hiking footwear preference changes over time.

Tips & Warnings

Wear the socks you're most likely to use while hiking when you visit the boot store. Also, make sure to visit the boot store in the afternoon or evening, when your feet will be at their most swollen after a full day's activities.

Article Written By Marie Mulrooney

Marie Mulrooney has written professionally since 2001. Her diverse background includes numerous outdoor pursuits, personal training and linguistics. She studied mathematics and contributes regularly to various online publications. Mulrooney's print publication credits include national magazines, poetry awards and long-lived columns about local outdoor adventures.

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