After a long winter with plenty of snow across Europe, it’s finally time for hiking season to kick off. One of the things that makes the biggest difference for your enjoyment during a long hike is having a pair of good quality, properly fitting hiking boots. So today we’re going to be covering some tips for buying hiking boots.
Tips For Buying Hiking Boots
Hiking boots can be your best friend or your worst enemy. When they fit well you can hike for miles. When they don’t it, can ruin your trip. Choosing the right pair for you can be a challenge when there are so many different options available, so here are some top tips to help you find your perfect match.
Hiking boots come in many different shapes and styles depending on the types of hiking that you are planning to do. So first, let’s look at the different types on offer:
As the name suggests, these are shoes as opposed to boots, i.e. they don’t have ankle support. A lighter alternative to boots, they are best suited for shorter hikes on even terrain.
Approach shoes are usually a hybrid between a hiking and a climbing shoe. They are often a little more durable than a hiking shoe, with a harder rubber sole and toe band which offers more grip on uneven terrain.
Within the term “hiking boots” you’ve got lightweight day hiking boots or more rugged backpacker boots and everything in-between. Lightweight hiking boots give you more support around the ankles than hiking shoes, and they are generally softer and fairly flexible. Backpacker boots are usually a little more sturdy and designed for multi-day trips. These types of boots often range from mid to high-rise and are designed for all kinds of trails. The higher ankle support helps to prevent twisted ankles on uneven terrain.
The most robust boots, but also the heaviest boots on the market are mountaineering boots. These boots are much stiffer and burlier than your average hiking boots. They are designed for challenging terrain such as hiking over glaciers, through snow or rocky terrain. Whilst they are the sturdiest boots on the market, for shorter hikes you might find them a bit too heavy. They are also the most expensive!
Materials & Features
All of these types of shoes come with a variety of different features and are made from different materials. Knowing what kinds of hiking you’re going to be doing will not only help you to pick the right kind of shoe, but also to know what sorts of features you’re looking for.
You might be surprised to know that not all hiking boots are waterproof, and even the ones that are can be waterproofed to different levels. Firstly it comes down to the materials used and the construction of the boot. From different types of leather to synthetic options, there are a few different ways in which boots are waterproofed. Sometimes the material itself is waterproofed (primarily leather) but if you see features such as Gore-Tex®, this is a type of waterproof membrane within the shoe. Extra waterproofing features you might see include waterproof sealing of the seams or a rubber rand that runs around the outside of the boot to protect from high water.
Some features you may need from a hiking boot, such as crampon compatibility can be the deciding factor on whether to chose one boot above another. But being in the market for a new pair of boots myself, I’ve noticed that there are so many new features on offer. Maybe it’s a marketing ploy, or perhaps they really work. From customisable insoles, padded heel support or a system for independent upper and lower lacing, there are countless features being offered to tempt you to choose one brand over another. Whilst some of them might seem to have some great added benefits, remember that people have hiked happily without these features for years, so they shouldn’t be the main reason for choosing one boot over another.
The Most Important Factor Is….
Even with all the newest features on the market, if a boot doesn’t fit properly it can really ruin your day. And your feet.
I know because I’ve made that mistake myself. I found a great pair of boots with amazing features on sale. I thought they were an ok fit in the shop, but in all honesty, I was pretty blinded by the price to really pay attention to the fit. Fast-forward to a day hiking and some steep downhill sections. By the end of the day, I could barely walk and one of my toenails has been black for 4 months and counting.
So how do you know if a boot fits well? Firstly, I wholeheartedly recommend avoiding online shopping and going into a specialist shop and trying on as many different brands as you can. As with all shoes, different brands fit differently. Some come up smaller, some are more suited to narrower feet. The only way you are going to find out which ones fit you the best is by trying them on.
Good outdoor shoe retailers often have a ramp-like structure with different surfaces that allow you to test the boots walking up and downhill on different terrain. Once you have the shoes on your feet, there are a few things to look at:
How does the length feel on your foot? What about if you are walking downhill? Many people forget that when you walk downhill, your foot can move further forward in the boot. Make sure your toes don’t touch the end of the boot when your foot is flat, because if they do, as soon as you start to walk downhill, your toes will press against the front. And take it from me, that really hurts after 10 minutes of going downhill! If you’re in any doubt, or unsure between two sizes, some experts recommend taking the larger size. When your feet start to warm up on a hike, it’s quite normal for them to swell a little, so having a bit of room for this can make things much more comfortable.
Width is also important when trying boots. Your heel should be held in place and shouldn’t move around too much. If your heel lifts or your moves around as you walk, there’s a chance to boots may be too wide and this can lead to blisters.
Don’t be afraid to explore the options of customising your boots further, such as adding insoles to a boot if you think you need a little extra support or trying a different type of sock that might prevent rubbing. And once you’ve decided which boots are the right ones for you, make sure to break them in before heading out on your first big hike!