The Dedicated Hiker: The Ultimate Guide On Hiking Boots 

 August 8, 2020

By  Tricia Hale

Hiking is a long yet fulfilling adventure. And the quality of your hiking experience will depend on the boots you bring with you. While you can go for a cheap pair of boots, you'll want to have something that can withstand the terrain and keep your feet comfortable at the same time. 

So we've made this guide to help you get a better grasp on the mechanics behind hiking boots. Thus, you'll have a better knowledge of what to expect when you're out shopping for a pair. Without further adieu, let's begin!

What Are Hiking Boots?

Hiking boots are footwear that is designed to protect your ankles and feet from outdoor activities like hiking. They are the most essential component of hiking gear because their durability and quality will determine your ability to walk through long distances without experiencing injuries.

Hiking boots are reasonably stiff and have excellent ankle support. And when looking for hiking boots, you need to decide on which one works the best for you. Most hiking boots are designed for specific outdoor activities such as hunting, climbing, mountaineering, and climbing.

What Make Them Unique?

Remember, you're not shopping around for your average pair of tennis shoes. Hiking boots are built for support, tread, and works for extreme conditions such as mud. Here's a more in-depth explanation of hiking boot features that make it unique. 


Tread is the most important feature when looking for hiking footwear. This will allow your shoes to grip onto uneven surfaces and walk on downhill slopes without slippage. 

If you plan on walking on a light trail, then light tread boots are an option. But for more aggressive hiking, you'll want heavier boots with a higher tread rating. Regardless of the terrain, make sure the tread of the boot can withstand the trail so that you can hike through the path with minimal issues. 

Stiffness and Support

Hiking shoes provide added rigidity and support for extensive hiking trails. If you're using a backpack while hiking, you'll want a pair of boots that have stiffer midsoles and more ankle coverage. 

If your ankles get injured easily, the boot will need more ankle support. For daily hikes with limited or no weight, using a light trail shoe is a great idea. They are higher up your ankle than traditional shoes but have durable midsoles to help adapt to rough terrain. 

Mud and Steams

Consistent exposure to water when hiking needs to be considered when buying a pair of hiking boots. Some hiking boots have a waterproof lining which allows you to walk through steams or mud without becoming soaked. 

There are other outdoor shoes created out of mesh material that allows water to flow in the shoe but dry off quickly. Make sure you plan and get boots to help withstand the elements if your designated hiking trail has muds, steams. Etc.


For most professional hikers, your shoe's weight is an essential factor when getting hiking boots. That's why most veteran hikers use lightweight hiking boots. Others prefer leather hiking boots because they're more durable, and can last for several years or more due to their durability. 

Using heavy hiking boots can result in more energy demands and oxygen consumption, which can hinder your performance. However, they provide more stability and support on the trail, especially if you’re carrying a heavy backpack. 

The goal is to reduce the shoe's weight without sacrificing protection, performance, and other vital characteristics. Generally, the shoe weight should be carefully evaluated in comparison to other factors. 


Cushioning is your shoe's ability to resist shock when you're walking. Most manufacturers use shock absorption and cushioning interchangeably. 

The human body can sense damaging motions that cause pain and discomfort. Boots with poor cushioning ratings are a great predictor in foot pain. But how does it work in a practical setting? Cushioning functions by increasing the duration of the impact. As a result, this reduces the shock transmitted to your musculoskeletal system. 

When walking, the ground force is about 1.25x your body weight. And when running, these levels can reach 2-3 times your body weight. Thus, using midsole conditioning can either dampen or attenuate forces that are acting on your body during usage. 

Today, polyurethane and EVA are the most commonly used materials for midsole hiking boots. Polyurethane reduces compression, while EVA decreases shearing and shock absorption. Polyurethane is more expensive, but it can withstand more than EVA material. 

Most boots use either PU or EVA. However, some boots use a combination of both materials. They will place the EVA in the front and polyurethane on the rearfoot for more impact absorption and compression resistance. 

Types of Hunting Boots

Select your hunting boots based on what you expect to carry and the terrain. However, because of the added toll of carrying extra loads and long trails, we suggest you get the lightest boots you can get away with. 

For example, wearing off-trail boots is too much for a backpacker who goes on weekend trails and short trips. Here are the most common styles available. 


When you're traveling light and going on a simple path, trail boots are the best option. Their combination of split-leather or fabric/leather construction usually means it has multiple seams. So using a breathable/weatherproof is a good option, and you'll need waterproofing or Gore-Tex socks when hiking on intensive trails. 

Trail boots have more stability, more traction, and stiffer soles than standard boots. However, some will say they aren't suitable on rocky or slippery terrain. Use low-cut ankle gaiters to keep your feet protected when using trail boots. 


If aggressive day hiking or light backpacking is your thing, then use Rough-trail boots. Made from leather/fabric combinations or in split-grain leather, some will have breathable/waterproof liners, while others are ventilated for extreme desert conditions. 

Half-length shanks or tapered plastic midsoles give your boots enough rigidity to protect your feet against stony trails, yet still, provide good flex on the bottom of your feet. Some heavy-footed hikers like using these lightweight boots for backpacking in outbacks. But if you're looking for a rougher boot, then you need to trade up. 

Technical Scrambling

These are mid-height and low-cut hybrids with a good fit, anti-abrasion toe rands and sticky rubber soles. Designed for scrambling and light hiking, they will suffice for light backpacking. If you want to use gaiters to keep out sand, twigs, and gavel. 


Mountaineering boots are characterized by excellent traction, minimal seams, full-grain leather uppers, and some insulation. They accept crampons and rise above your ankle. With stiff nylon or full-length shanks that are comfortable and rigid for stride hiking. 

Still, on steep terrain, the stride is shorter, and you’ll reach the peak. Make sure the boots are broken in before attempting the mileage, you’ll get a lot of blisters. Look for minimal slippage, rubber bands and rockered soles for waterproofing and durability. 


You will appreciate the above-ankle support, rigid sole stability, and full-grain leather that off-trail hiking boots will provide. This is the recommended boot choice for heavy loads; these boots will protect your feet, yet flex at the balls of your feet during short trail lengths. 

High mileage hikers pummel the off-trail boots into softness but want a lengthy break-in time until the heel cup, and sole soften. Off-trail boots provide superior durability and waterproofing because of their minimal seams and all-leather construction. Some models will have a lip placed on the welt of the sole to use for rocky or snowy terrain.

Different Types of Outdoor Expeditions They Are Good For

Most outdoor expeditions are categorized based on their season. 

Winter Expeditions

In temperatures under -30°F, you'll want heavy insulated hiking boots with thick soles and multiple layers of cushioning. On average, you'll want insulation of 1,200g or higher to ensure that your feet stay warm against the cold weather

Summer Expeditions

These are hiking trails or hunting locations that are around 75°F or higher in temperature. You’ll want lightweight nylon hiking boots, as their material is flexible and can provide some breathability when traveling in the heat. 

What does it mean to break in hiking boots, and why is it important?

"Breaking in" your boots is a process used to wear boots that can mold to your body's feet. This will soften up the material, so the boots don't rub up uncomfortably against your feet. Breaking in your boots is the best way to ensure that they won't cause any discomfort when out on a trek or hike.

How to Break in Hiking Boots

Here’s a rule of thumb, the heavier the boot, the longer it takes to break in. The lighter your boots, the faster it will take to break in. 

If you get leather boots, expect to spend more time before breaking them in. Full-grain leather boots will take more time than fabric or suede boots because leather is stiffer. There isn't a way to "cheat" the process without making a negative impact on your shoes or your feet. 

Lightweight fabric boots are faster to break in than leather boots. So if you want hiking boots within a few hours, then you should consider using these as an option. 

Buy them in Advance

Get your hiking boots in advance.  You should wait at least a month before buying the right boots. Avoid buying boots for a weekend trail because it will be unlikely that it will end well. (Especially for your feet).

Flex the Sole

If the shoes are stiff during the break-in process, try to flex them using your hands. Doing so will help soften the footbed and the sole. Thick soles are usually the main problem for your feet while walking. 

Don't stay heavy-handed when flexing the sole because it will damage it. Doing squats when wearing boots will have the same result when softening stiff soles. 

Wear The Boots Around Your House

Initially, you need to wear your boots in your house. Make sure that you wear the socks you plan on using while hiking when you are wearing the shoes. Take a good 48 hours of wearing your boots while breaking them in your everyday activities. You'll start feeling them release and ease on your feet.

How important is the type of socks you wear with your boots?

You'll have to think about the fabric when getting socks for your hiking boots. Hiking socks are rarely made from one fabric but from a blend of materials that provide a balance of durability, fast-drying, and warmth.


Wool is famous because it provides cushioning and regulates temperature to prevent your feet from getting sweaty. Also, wool is microbial, so it reduces smell more than other fabrics. 

Modern-day socks are created out of merino wool, which is scratch-free in comparison to other rag-socks. Most of the wool socks using synthetic and wool materials for faster drying and increased durability. 


Most hiking socks have spandex included in it. Its elastic material keeps wrinkling and bunching to a minimum and helps the sock maintain its shape. 


Silk is lightweight and comfortable, but they aren't as durable as other options. This is occasionally used for stock liners for moisture-wicking. 


If you want high-end synthetic material, use polyester. Polyester dries quickly, wicks moisture, and insulated. They are blended with nylon or/ wool to make a combination of comfort, fast-drying, and warmth.


Nylon is another synthetic option that is sometimes used as the primary material. This helps improve drying times and adds durability. 

Try The Shoes Out

It’s easy to get lost in the whistles and bells of the boot and ignore its fit altogether. When trying on a pair of hiking boots, give them a size test or press test to ensure that they’re the best fit for you. 

Thanks to the need for toe stability and natural swelling, you'll have some wiggle room in the toe box. The boot needs to fit snugly on the bottom of your feet, while the heel stays in place. Floating heels are the leading cause for blisters, which you'll avoid by wearing a properly sized boot. 

You should always try on your hiking boots when wearing trail socks to get a grasp of its fit and comfort. When shopping for new boots, ask about lacing techniques, types of sock needed, and maintenance methods. All of these factors will contribute to the overall comfort and fit of your boots. 

When should you get new hiking boots?

Sometimes time is the best answer to this question. While hiking boots are durable, they will wear down through consistent usage. Here are five tips that will help you determine when you should get your new hiking boots. 

1. Visible compression lines on the midsole or a cracked midsole are a clear sign that your shoes have expired. A midsole with compression lines or cracked no longer offer the support or comfort that you need to hike for extended periods of time. 

2. If the outsoles have worn tread, then you should consider replacing them. Worn outsole tread is dangerous because you'll lose the traction needed to keep upright on all-terrain levels. 

3. If you have worn out ankle support/insoles, get your boots replaced immediately. Check the ankle collar for a loose fit or misshapen cushioning. When you lose more cushion and support, your hikes will become more uncomfortable. 

4. Loose eyelets are a problem that is easy to spot. If your shoe eyelets are used, then you won’t be able to lace the shoes, reducing their support and comfort along the trail. 

5. Do you notice any discomfort in your shoes that’s different than the initial quality of the boots? Joint pain, aching feet, back pain, and blisters are signs that the boots might be too worn out to be used on the next trail. While it’s number #5 on our reasons to replace boots, it’s the #1 reason why you should replace your hiking boots. 

What’s the mileage guidelines for hunting boots?

Quality hiking boots are expected to last around 500-1000 miles. While this is a huge range, the total mileage of the boots will depend on a few factors and hiking preferences. The standard height terrain, your weight, the maintenance needed, and the types of shoes are all factors that determine the lifespan of your boots. 

Use the Press Test

The press test is one of the quickest ways to gauge the quality of your hiking boots. It's easy, as its a simple two-step process that's easy to follow. 

1. Use your thumb to press the outsole of the boot. Press it hard enough to stimulate the compression and flexing the boot will experience when you're on a trail.

2. Look at the midsole as you look for compression lines and cracks. If your midsole has any wrinkles or small lines, then it's still in good shape and will provide support during your hike. If you see sharp compression lines, cracks, or no compression, then the midsole is unable to provide the shock absorption and support needed to hike the trail comfortably. 

Other Things to Consider

Here are some other things you should consider when trying on a pair of hiking boots. 


The midsole is the cushioning section of the shoe that protects your feet from shock and determines its fitness. Stiff boots might not sound like a good idea, but for extended trails on rocky, uneven terrain, they can provide better stability and comfort. 

Stiff boots wrap around every tree root or rock you’re walking on. The most commonly used materials for midsoles are polyurethane and EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate). 

  • EVA - EVA is the less expensive option and is lighter, and cushier. Midsoles have a varying range of EVA to give you support when it's needed (placed around the forefoot). 
  • Polyurethane- is durable and firmer, so it's used for mountaineering boots and backpacking equipment. 


All hiking boot outsoles use rubber. There are additives like carbon on mountaineering boots that boost its hardness. Having solid outsoles will increase its durability but might cause slick if you walk off the trail. 

  • Heel brake - The heel brake refers to the heel zone that's distinct from the arch and the forefoot. It reduces the chances of sliding off steep descents. 
  • Lug pattern - The lugs are the traction-adding bumps located on the outsole. Thicker lugs are used for mountaineering boots to enhance grip. Wide spaced lugs can shed mud faster and provide more traction. 

Why Should I Wear Hiking Boots?

Still wondering why you need to wear hiking boots on your next expedition? Here are 3 reasons why:

Ankle Support

Hiking boots provide more ankle support than the average sneaker. Excellent ankle support prevents your feet from obtaining blisters or from rubbing up against the material. Check the ankle support level of your boot to ensure it supports your movements. 

Surface Adaptation

What's the best thing about hiking boots? They can adapt to almost any environment! Whether its a blacktop road, snow, slickrock, or sand, the boots are made to grip and not slip off while you're walking. 

Surface adaptation is essential when selecting your first hiking boots. Test it out on the surface you'll be walking on. If it's unable to withstand, or it's causing unexpected slips, replace it for a heavier boot. 

Sand and Gravel Protection

When you're walking on small gravel or sand, you don't want it to get inside your boots. If it does, then you'll have to spend hours getting it out, which can stagnate your hunting experience. Functional hiking boots keep your body safe during these elements, as their material will deflect it off the boot. 


No matter the terrain, you'll want a boot that can adapt to the environment while keeping your secure and flexible. Once you get a comfortable pair of hiking boots, you'll find your hiking trips less exhausting and more exhilarating. 

To conclude, getting a better understanding of hiking boots will help you become a more informed shopper. However, knowledge of hiking boots is only half the battle. We invite you to look at our buying guide to see the best hunting boots on the market. 

Tricia Hale

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