If you’ve ever been 5 miles from the trailhead with painful blisters, or even a sprained ankle, you will appreciate how much your hiking enjoyment rests literally on your feet. The selection of the correct hiking boots can be the difference between a great experience and a disaster. The choice of the right pair of boots can add considerably to your comfort and personal safety, especially in rugged or difficult terrain.
Before you start comparing the many brands and styles of hiking boot, consider the type of terrain and your style of hiking. Do you take extended treks through the mountains or just stroll through the local park or greenbelt?
Select a boot based on the most difficult terrain you will encounter. Do you carry a heavy pack? The heavier the pack the sturdier boot you will need. Are you an all-weather hiker? Do you need a lightweight breathable fabric or a heaver waterproof material?
Modern hiking boots do not weigh as much as older styles. Lightweight high-tech materials have replaced the metal shanks used in older boots and modern fabrics offer many advantages.
A lightweight boot can still offer plenty of support and be a lot easier on the feet over less rugged trails. Many of today’s top quality lightweight hiking boots offer a Gore-Tex® liner that helps keep water out while still allowing your feet to breathe.
All-leather boots provide more support than the leather and fabric styles and they are easier to waterproof. They lend themselves to rocky terrain but they are heaver and less flexible. In my experience, leather boots will outlast the lighter styles, partly due to the heavier construction but also due to the fact that they have less seams which are always the weak point in any boot.
Have your feet properly measured and wear the type and thickness of sock you will be wearing on the trail when trying on boots. Boots should fit snugly but not too tightly. Remember they will become more comfortable with wear.
Make sure they fit and provide support around your ankle and instep. You will need good ankle support, especially when carrying a pack. Hiking boots will never feel as comfortable as that old favorite pair of sneakers, but if you develop blisters or have pressure points, then you need a different boot.
Look for boots with foam padding around the ankle and tongue for comfort. Removable inserts will help to fine-tune for a perfect fit.
Once you’ve found the perfect pair of hiking boots, be sure to break them in slowly. Start with short walks around the neighborhood and progress to 3 or 4 hour hikes before that week long hiking vacation.