Your boots will make or break your hiking trip - they're the difference between blisters and bliss, between enduring a hike and enjoying it.
Buying the right hiking boot is a matchmaking process dependent on the terrain, the weather, and - most importantly - your foot. Our dedicated gearheads have racked their brains to bring you everything you need to know before you buy.
We'll cover three key sections:
There are four components of a hiking boot: the uppers, the outsoles, the midsoles and the insoles.
Hiking boot uppers
Hiking boot uppers protect and support the foot with an all-round snug fit. They should be repellant/ waterproof, but also avoid the build-up of moisture around your feet - a key cause of blisters. No material can do everything, so the weight, durability, support, breathability and water resistance of your uppers will depend on your preferences and priorities.
In short: leather has historically been seen as more durable and supportive but harder to break-in, while synthetic boots were lighter and easy to break-in, but not as durable and supportive.
Waterproof membranes: Waterproof boots will feature uppers constructed with waterproof membranes such as Gore-Tex® or eVent®. These remain breathable, but not to the same extent as most non-waterproof shoes.
All outsoles are constructed from rubber, but it is mixed with other components to give different degrees of 'stickiness' (more grip but less durable) or 'hardness' (less grip but more durable). All outsoles will have traction bumps - called lugs - constructed out of high-friction rubber to provide more grip. The deeper and thicker the lugs, the more traction you'll have.
Hiking boot midsoles
The midsole sits between the outsole and insole, and its function is to provide the correct amount of flex. Stiffening the boot protects the foot from the uneven and uncomfortable pressure placed on the foot from irregular surfaces. However, more flex allows the foot to behave more naturally.
The most common midsole material is EVA and Polyurethane
These can be complemented by shanks and plates, which fit in between the midsole and the outsole to provide further stiffening from uneven surfaces.
Hiking boot insole
Insoles provide a cushioned bed so the foot does not sit straight on the hard outsole. They are designed to maximize comfort and support, and can be interchanged to complement the shape of your foot.
Hiking shoes: low-cut shoes with flexible midsoles are great for day hiking on well-trodden paths. They allow for the foot to move freely and often prioritise breathability so are suitable for warm weather and high excursion activities.
Day hiking boots: mid- to high-cuts boots that are usually sturdy and watertight but also remain flexible and require little breaking-in. These are appropriate for steeper inclines, muddy paths or short backpacking trips.
Backpacking boots: high-cut boots with stiff midsoles that are durable and waterproof. These are necessary for multiday hiking across irregular terrains with heavier loads.
Finding your 'golden slipper' will always be difficult with so many options to choose from - especially considering that it can be a hefty investment. We hope that reading this guide has helped to arm you with a little more knowledge so you feel confident that you're making the right decision in your purchase. Good luck!