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How to Buy a Great Pair of Hiking Boots

Whether you’re a dayhiker conquering local hills or a hardcore wilderness backpacker, your most important piece of gear is the same — and it might be the item you’ve put the least thought into buying: your boots.

The wrong hiking footwear can send a backcountry adventure downhill fast. Take your first steps on your next successful adventure with these buying tips and one of these top-performing shoes and boots.

SALOMON SPEEDCROSS J SHOES

The low-cut SALOMON SPEEDCROSS J SHOES ($75, salomon.com) are lightweight, comfortable and grippy. Non-waterproof mesh uppers provide exceptional breathability on the hottest days. Features like a molded midsole and one-pull lacing deliver sneaker-like fit and comfort. The toe cap protects feet from inevitable bashing on rocks and helps the shoes endure many days of playground use, and the outsole sticks to everything from steep slabs to rocky trails. While they’re not waterproof, they will dry very quickly. Best for day hiking and everyday wear. 6.3 oz.

HIKING BOOTS OR HIKING SHOES?

Plain sneakers or trail-running shoes are fine for an occasional hike but will not provide the support, traction, protection, durability or comfort of good hikers.

If you’re planning to do multi-day hiking and backpacking, or trail activities in cold or wet weather, you’ll want sturdier hiking shoes or boots with extra ankle support and possibly waterproof protection.

KEEN KIDS’ TARGHEE WATERPROOF LOW-CUT SHOES

Modeled on the popular adult shoes, the KEEN KIDS’ TARGHEE WATERPROOF LOW-CUT SHOES ($53, keenfootwear.com) are built for hard use. The membrane keeps feet dry. The one-pull lacing system snugs easily and tightly around your feet, and the padded tongue, collar and heel cradle your foot comfortably. Uppers made of leather and synthetic textiles with a mesh lining are durable and breathable. Bonus: These shoes use leather sourced from tanneries that minimize chemical use. 9.7 oz.

HOW MUCH SHOULD HIKING BOOTS COST?

How much should you spend? It depends on what features you want. The price tag rises with a waterproof-breathable membrane like Gore-Tex, leather uppers and a beefy toe bumper to improve durability, an outsole designed for good traction in varied terrain or simply a sturdier design. It’s worth it to pay for these features if you’ll be hiking frequently in wet environments or on rugged trails.

Since you’re probably growing out of your shoes quickly, durability might be less important. Odds are, you’ll grow out of them long before you’ll wear them out. So cheaper entry-level shoes and boots might be good enough. Also look for clearance sales at local shops and online deals. When you see a really good sale, think about planning ahead and buying for the next size you’ll need.

Some troops have a shoe/boot bin or hand-me-down program. Donate a pair of boots you’ve outgrown, and grab a pair that fits. And if your troop doesn’t have a boot bin, start one! (Remember: A new set of $20 insoles can really freshen up a pair of used boots.)

ADIDAS TERREX MID GTX KID’S HIKING BOOT

Looking for a light, comfortable, well-fitting boot at a good value for everything from day hikes to introductory backpacking trips? Check out the ADIDAS TERREX MID GTX KID’S HIKING BOOT ($110, adidas.com). Armored with tough nylon ripstop uppers and a molded toe cap, these mid-cuts are built for rugged trails. The Gore-Tex membrane provides top-notch waterproofing. One-pull lacing makes them easy to put on and take off. The lugged outsole grips dry and wet ground. 7.8 oz.

HOW TO FIT A HIKING BOOT

Fit varies greatly between brands. Buy boots at a store where they know how to measure your feet. When trying on shoes and boots, make sure you’re wearing the type of socks you’ll be hiking in. The heel should be snug with enough wiggle room for your toes up front. Kick the floor — your toes shouldn’t hit the end. Try on different brands and walk around in them in the store. Spend at least 10 minutes test driving them. It might time to get a good fit, but never as long as it takes to limp painfully for miles down a trail.

If you buy online, try them inside your house, because once you’ve worn new shoes outside you usually can’t return them.

If you’re planning to do winter hiking, look for extra toe room for thicker socks and better foot circulation.

BREAK IN YOUR BOOTS

While your new boots or shoes might feel comfortable right out of the box, it’s not a good idea to wear brand-new shoes on a long hike without breaking them in first — unless, of course, you like painful blisters! So start by wearing your new shoes to school, around the house, anywhere you can. The more time you spend in them ahead of time, the better off you’ll be on the trail. This is especially important with new leather boots.

L.L. BEAN KIDS’ WATERPROOF TRAIL MODEL HIKERS

The first rule of shopping for gear at a good value: Look for a brand with a longstanding reputation. The mid-cut L.L. BEAN KIDS’ WATERPROOF TRAIL MODEL HIKERS ($59, llbean.com) have a lace-up closure for a fit that conforms to the foot, a waterproof-breathable membrane and uppers that marry waterproof suede with breathable polyester mesh for durability while keeping your feet dry. L.L. Bean’s EVA midsole provides comfort while the versatile Trail Trac outsole grips just about any type of terrain you step on. 1 lb. 11 oz.

WATERPROOF BOOTS?

Get boots with a membrane to keep your feet dry if you often hike in wet conditions. Waterproof membranes like Gore-Tex, eVent and others usually do a good job of keeping the water out (think: stream crossings, heavy rains).

If you’re a fair-weather hiker, footwear without a membrane is far more breathable, keeping your feet cool on hot days

OBOZ BRIDGER MID WATERPROOF

If you’re stepping into adult sizes and need a tough, comfortable, well-fitting boot at a good value, try on the OBOZ BRIDGER MID WATERPROOF ($180, obozfootwear.com). A single-density midsole and forefoot plate deliver solid support and protection underfoot. The widely spaced multidirectional lugs give reassuring traction on rocks, packed and loose dirt, and scree. Leather uppers and a rubber toe bumper stand up to hard use. Oboz is known for its nice fit, including a roomy toe box, and the brand’s unusually well-cushioned insole. 2 lbs. 6 oz.

TRACTION

Often overlooked is the outsole design, which determines how well your boots grip the ground. Look for deep, widely spaced lugs for mud, scree, loose dirt and snow. Smaller multidirectional lugs are common in lighter shoes for varied terrain, while a smoother grippy patch under the toes helps shoes stick when scrambling over rocks.

TIMBERLAND JUNIOR MT. MADDSEN WATERPROOF HIKING BOOTS

Get the quality of an adult boot packed into a smaller package in the TIMBERLAND JUNIOR MT. MADDSEN WATERPROOF HIKING BOOTS ($80, timberland.com). These rugged hikers boast many of the same features of the adult versions: good support and cushioning for full days on the trail, a waterproof-breathable membrane, secure lacing for a snug fit, premium full-grain waterproof leather uppers, and outsole lugs that bite into any surface and are aligned with the foot’s pressure points to maximize traction. 1 lb. 8 oz.

LEATHER VS. SYNTHETIC HIKING BOOTS

Usually less expensive and lighter, synthetic uppers vary significantly but can offer a versatile combination of durability and breathability. More expensive leather uppers are often more durable and conform to your feet, improving the fit. Either type may be paired with a membrane.

CARING FOR YOUR HIKING BOOTS

Always clean your boots after every hike. If you have leather hiking boots, apply a leather treatment like Nikwax every once in a while to keep them waterproof and prevent cracking and drying out. Never dry wet boots by the campfire. The heat will damage the soles and weaken the glue that holds them together. To dry them out, just remove the insoles and stuff your boots with newspaper.

60 Comments on How to Buy a Great Pair of Hiking Boots

  1. Hi!
    I love the way you explain the “point” very well. Your content is full of information and can’t wait to dig it into utilizing the resources you provided. I was actually writing a blog on “Hiking for Beginner – The Most Common Questions” and thanks for your point of view help me to find some key points to focus on.

  2. Regardless of where you’re going, your boots will last longer if you pick up your feet. That way you can get less expensive boots that will be comfortable and last longer.

  3. What’s the price range for hiking boots

  4. One of your magazines from a couple of months ago had a coupon code for a discount for Salomon. I can’t find it. What is the URL for that? Thanks!

  5. PackTroopCrewMom // April 19, 2017 at 7:36 am // Reply

    We’re on our third pair of the LL Bean boots. Lots of muddy trails and both of the first two pairs were like new when we donated them to the Troop bin. Can’t beat that durability and comfort for $50.

  6. Zombie apocalypse // March 25, 2015 at 8:26 pm // Reply

    I want to get a pair of boots. I have never bought any . What is the best brand.

    • There is no “best brand”. Hiking boots can differ greatly, even from the same manufacturer. A boot that may be great for one person may be terrible for another. My best advice is to visit a reputable outdoor store such as REI, EMS, or Cabellas and work with someone to find a boot that fits you physically and fits your budget.

  7. The best way to test boots is to use them all day for a week even if you are sitting. The top of the boot will rub more often as well as other non typical pressure points thus showing you problems that would come out far down the trail. Usually working with the lacing will fix these problems if not try a different insert.

  8. Just received as a gift, Solomon GX trail hiking mid-top boots. Really nice, a lot different from my “loved” Timberlands. These are as light and about the same price but are fast drying and have flared out soles for lower chance of ankle twisting on the Philmont trails.
    Looking forward to using these this summer; breaking them in right now … very comfortable. My size 12’s weigh 20 oz. for the pair, crazy light!

  9. “Sorting the Best Hiking Boots and Shoes. For every Hiker Alike”

  10. I am inspired

  11. I have kodiak boots that I got for 30 dollars at Costco. They work great and haven’t worn out tremendously over multiple 2-3 hour hikes. I would recommend them as they are waterproof, comfortable, and durable.

  12. Get a pair that could double as snow boots. Just put on some wool socks before yoou play in the snow.

    • Good idea. I purchased some Lacrosse boots (galoshes not boot boots) that I used for about three years, in the summer for tromping around in the mud, and in the the winter for my regular snow boots. They were fantastic and never got snow in them.

  13. The hiking boots are really unique.

  14. Somebody from my church who was in the military gave
    me a pair leather army boots once

  15. you are my inspiration , I own few blogs and sometimes run out from to brand : (.

  16. Make sure they fit right. Comfort, comfort, comfort. If something doesn’t feel right in the store, it will be torture on the trail. Wear the same socks or sock combination that you will wear hiking for fitting. I like fabric / leather combination uppers because they don’t take no time at all to break in.

  17. Captain Scout // January 31, 2013 at 9:15 pm // Reply

    Timberland boots, buy them for life.

  18. Merrell Chameleon Mid Waterproof Boots are super comfortable boots that I got at REI for $65. I used them on a week long backpacking trip (31 Miles) in Utah’s High Uintas Wilderness and they were very comfortable under a 30 pound pack.

  19. November-Now is a great time to buy hiking boots: season close outs. I can usually buy the boots I want at a 40-50% off discount. Great time to suggest to parents for a Christmas gift.

  20. I have the ones from Cabelas they work great if you have been to Quivira Scout Ranch the trails there are rough and these worked fine.

  21. keens are awesome

  22. i think that they all look pretty cool.

    • outdoorman55 // October 4, 2012 at 7:57 pm // Reply

      they may look cool, but do they fit you,are they durable,do they fit your style,or are they comfortable enough to walk for a long time?These are questions you need to ask yourself when buying any type of shoe,boot,or sandle.

      :)(: think twice about EVERYTHING!!!!!

  23. Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // August 29, 2012 at 10:14 pm // Reply

    I just got a new pair of Merrel heavy duty hikers.

  24. brahma hiking boots are very comfortable but they are a little heavy but i got used to them and they are cheap bought mine at walmart on sale for about 10 bucks or so

  25. No boot is ever waterproof. The brand “Snow Seal” is the best waterproofer there is for LEATHER.

    • I agree. Been using it for years and have never had a problem. Good call MT scout.

    • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // October 12, 2012 at 12:31 pm // Reply

      Well actually as long as the boot says WATER-PROOF they should be water proof enough to last a while. As for Rewater proofing them I use good ol’ mink oil.

      • I used to use mink oil, a lot. Only problem is if you plan on keeping the same boots for more than 5 years, mink oil breaks down the boots glue seals and stitching where as Snow Seal does not. Mink oil is also a scent product meaning animals are attracted to it. Not a good thing for wilderness camping. It’s a-number-one for soccer shoes though.

      • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // November 26, 2012 at 2:06 pm //

        Hmmmmmm… is that personal experance or just internet hype?

  26. Timberland’s are great and very universal because they are very light in weight.

  27. Delta Force // May 3, 2012 at 12:36 pm // Reply

    Oakley “HellBound” Para-boots are what I used and they saved my feet on more then one occasion.

    • Wow I wish I had enough money that I could waist it on boots too. Anyways I have a really nice pair of Timberlands now. why spend $600 on boots when you can get a perfectly good pair for a few bucks?? sounds like overkill to me.

      • Delta Force // June 5, 2012 at 10:17 am //

        Ha-Ha good one. But you cant get a good pair for just a few bucks. and for your information they where ISSUED to me so I did not buy them, the government did. My boots had to be bullet resistant as i was a Para rescue-man for 8 years in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now I use light weight Merrel’s when scouting with the boys and when hunting.

    • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // August 29, 2012 at 10:17 pm // Reply

      @ delta. Your boots sound really tough but I could never afford them and I dont think any other scout could afford it either. Thank you for preserving my freedom though!

  28. On the Contrary // April 21, 2012 at 9:11 am // Reply

    I bought a Pair of Steel toe Combats at my friendly neighborhood Military Surplus store , if you have a big foot ( Im size 10 and a half) then go to a surplus store , i got these for like 20$ and wore then for 3 years and they still fit.

  29. Trail Monkey // March 30, 2012 at 6:13 pm // Reply

    I just bought a pair of Timberland woodland boots that weigh about the same as my tennies; very nice. Cost was $90.00. Just a suggestion.

  30. Delta Force // March 1, 2012 at 12:34 pm // Reply

    Paratrooper combat boots are the best.

  31. I love sports, I love nature, I love the Vibram Five Fingers!

  32. I bought some imitation boots and they work perfectly!

  33. I was looking for combat boots, ya know jungle or military style.

    • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // October 13, 2011 at 2:14 pm // Reply

      I hope you have a lot of $$$ because combat boots cost up to $700!! the cheapest I have found them is $400! good luck with that!

    • I bought some Zamberlan leather boots back in 1995 and they’ve lasted more than 20 years on my feet.
      It’s the sole that, after 20 years, got too thin.
      If you take good care of them, the leather lasts forever.
      Best boots I ever had!

  34. the ones from cabela look nice

  35. legoman88 // July 7, 2011 at 6:18 pm // Reply

    KEEN hiking boots are even better!!!

  36. Is the L.L Bean all Leather

  37. My Hi-Tec are the best!!!!!!!!!

  38. I think that they look pretty cool. The first one from Cabela’s have great quality.

  39. Mr sharp blade // April 23, 2011 at 7:08 pm // Reply

    I love my boots!

  40. THEY LOOK HORABLE. I/M ONLY TEN I COULDNT EVEN FIT IN THEM

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