4 Important Qualities When Choosing the Right Hiking Boots
Hiking can be an outstanding way to edify your body, mind, and spirit – and we’re very fortunate to have plenty of great locations in our region to explore.
Having the right boots for your needs will not only make your hikes more comfortable but greatly reduce your chances of having to deal with problems like heel pain and blisters when you get back home.
Here are some things you should always be paying attention to when searching for your next pair of hiking boots or shoes.
General Footwear Type
Just as there are different shoes for a variety of sports, there are different types of hiking boots for different hiking needs.
While the selection might seem dizzying at first – especially to a beginner – don’t worry. You can put most footwear into three general types:
- Hiking Shoes. These tend to look most like standard, day-to-day shoes. They have a low cut and a flexible midsole, making them a good general choice for day hiking or hikes with very light loads.
- Day Hiking Boots. These models tend to have a mid-cut or high cut for added ankle support, but still flex relatively easily. They are mainly intended for day hikes or short backpacking trips with lighter loads.
- Backpacking Boots. These are the shoes made for the long hauls. They typically have high cuts for the best ankle support, possess stiff midsoles compared to the previous types of footwear, and are suitable for multiple days bearing heavier backpacking loads over different types of terrain.
Your general hiking style should determine what type of shoe you gravitate toward. That can then serve as the foundation for further choices.
Material matters. A lot. It can make a significant difference between whether your feet are comfortable through your trek, or hot, soaked, and irritated.
The best material for your hiking boots again depends on your general hiking needs.
- Synthetic Materials. Polyester and nylon tend to be the primary fibers used here, but others may also be included. Synthetics are typically designed to feel lighter and breathe easier. However, they do not tend to be very water-resistant. If your hikes involve walking through streams or in generally wet conditions, this may not be the choice for you.
- Full-grain leather. This material is built for durability and water resistance. Many boots built for ruggedness and durability will be full-grain leather. These benefits come at a cost of a higher weight and lower breathability, however. It will take longer to break these boots in, and your feet may get stuffy in them.
- Split-grain Leather. It’s called “split-grain” because the rougher grain of the leather is separated off, leaving the smoother material. This material “splits” the difference, providing better breathability but lower durability compared to full-grain leather. It is often combined with some synthetic elements as well.
You will likely find hiking boots with other specialty materials as well, including extra waterproofing protections and even shoes that contain no animal-based materials whatsoever. They are well worth looking into based on your needs and desires, and a trained store associate can provide you further information on them.
The midsole is the layer of the shoe that lies between the insole and the outsole. It’s where you will tend to find the most cushioning and shock absorption for the bottom of your foot.
Instinct might tell you to go for the highest amounts of cushioning and flexibility possible, but that will not always be the best choice.
When the terrain is rough and uneven, a stiffer midsole can help keep your foot from contorting against every odd angle it steps on, ultimately providing greater comfort. If you know your paths are relatively smooth and flat, though, the extra cushioning and flexibility can be to your benefit.
The most common insole materials you are likely to see are EVA and polyurethane. EVA tends to be used for lighter weight and added cushioning, while polyurethane is a firmer option.
How They Fit
Just because you have selected all the components you feel are best for your hiking needs doesn’t necessarily mean you have the perfect pair of hiking shoes or boots in your hands. The proof comes in actually putting them on!
How the footwear fits and feels will be the ultimate deciders on whether you actually should take it out on a hike. This means spending time in the shoes before you go out on any excursions. Taking a brand new pair of shoes out on anything longer than a short walk can be a big mistake!
The best time to try on your shoes is toward the end of the day when gravity and activity tend to make our feet swell to their largest sizes. If possible wear socks you intend to use for hiking and install any custom orthotic inserts you may have.
Here are a few good general tests to perform when trying on just about any type of shoes – not just hiking boots:
- Feel for space in the toe box. You should not feel like your toes are being squished or crammed from any side.
- Check for slipping of the heel, or your heel lifting out of the shoe as you walk. You want a snug fit to avoid friction, blisters, and instability. However, you do not want such a tight fit that it impedes circulation or leads to “hot spots” in certain areas.
- Test different inclines, if possible. Go up and downstairs. The more variations you can test the boots out on, the better.
Factors such as how you lace your shoes can influence their fit, so do not hesitate to discuss options with an associate. Ultimately, however, you should never try to “force” a pair of hiking boots to work for you if they don’t. This may increase the risk of injury.
The Foot and Ankle Help You Need for Happy Hiking!
If foot or ankle issues get in the way of your treks – whether caused by your shoes or anything else – call to schedule an appointment with us to get to the root of the problem. The sooner we can determine what’s going on and provide appropriate treatment, the sooner you get back on the trails.