Get the Boot that Fits: How to Shop for Hiking Boots

three person showing sneaners

A hiker cannot underestimate the importance of a good fit of a boot. What is a minor irritation at the beginning of a hike could be a major problem by the end — in extreme cases improper footwear could prevent a hiker from being able to hike back to the start of the trail.

What to Look For in a Hiking Boot

A good fitting boot must:

  • fit snugly around the heel. A loose fit at the back of the foot will result in blisters that could make hiking nearly impossible.
  • toes must be able to wiggle, but not slide.

When trying on boots:

  • walk around the store, get a good feel of how the boot feels.
  • try more than one pair, just to make sure the fit is right.
  • many good outdoors stores offer ramps to test the boots. Use them. Test walking downhill and make sure toes don’t slide forward.
  • boots should always be tried on with hiking socks.

Types of Hiking Boots

Knowing what type of boots to buy is key. Someone who is simply going for a day hike in the forest isn’t going to want the same type of boot as someone who plans on scaling a mountain. That said, someone who is planning on more advanced outdoor adventures will need to ensure they have the proper footwear purely for their safety.

There are three basic categories of hiking boot:

  1. Trail Shoes. These are excellent for day hikes, in dry terrain without a lot of rocks.
  2. Cross Hikers. These would be suitable for those who plan to encounter rockier terrain, steeper inclines or some light scrambling.
  3. Off-Trail/Mountaineering boots. Those who plan to hike in extremely rocky or snowy terrain will want to look for Mountaineering boots.

There are other types, such as hiking shoes (runners redesigned for a trail environment), or even sandals, but these generally fall into the first category.

Tips for Shopping for a Hiking Boot

Before you buy your boots, check with the store policy to ensure they accept returns if you find problems before taking the boots out on the trail. Prior to hitting the trail, wear the boots around the house and on errands (make sure to keep them clean!). If there are any problems, the boots should be returned immediately.

The material of the boot should also be considered. Unless serious mountaineering is planned, in which case leather is almost always a necessity, it might be a better option to go for boots made from a lighter material. They require less care, and of course, are less weight for the feet to carry.

If the salesperson doesn’t seem educated, find one who is. A boot needs to be a perfect fit, and someone experienced will know what measurements to take and what unique foot characteristics to take into consideration. A good boot purchase can be a pricey one and any regular hiker will want boots that last more than 5 years and that fit right.

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