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 How To Buy Hiking / Backpacking Boots
 

In this Guide

1 Light Hikers / Trekking / Multisport
2 Backpacking
3 Off-Trail
4 Mountaineering


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by Michael Hodgson

Every hiker needs a good boot. If you are planning to venture off the beaten path, tackle extreme conditions, or just spend the day hiking local trails, there's a boot to fit your style of adventure.

Here is a listing of the various categories of boots and their respective general features. Work with a specialty store salesperson to decide which model, amidst the array of design choices, will work best for your individual foot requirements.

Light Hikers / Trekking / Multisport

Boots in this category work as well in the mall as they do on easy to moderate terrain. These boots are great if you seek freedom of movement and comfort, and you're not planning to get too wild or carry anything more than a daypack. Look for the following features:

Salomon EXITMID GTX

Boots in this category work as well in the mall as they do on easy to moderate terrain. These boots are great if you seek freedom of movement and comfort, and you're not planning to get too wild or carry anything more than a daypack.

Look for the following features:

An ankle-high or low-top shoe/boot with flexible, well-cushioned soles and lateral stability.
 
A fabric/leather construction to keep the boot light and cool. Keep in mind that what you gain in flexibility and comfort you will lose in support and water resistance.
 
Quarter-length steel shanks for added support.


Backpacking

If your feet will see mostly groomed trails, you need more support because your foot must now bear the weight of both you and your 35-pound+ pack over sometimes variable terrain.

Asolo AFX 535 V

Although this category has been dominated by fabric/leather combinations in the past, the all-leather boot is making a strong comeback since all-leather often offers better fit possibilities, longer lasting wear, increased waterproofness, and, with improved boot construction technology, lighter weight.

Look for:

Rigid heel cups
 
Solid toe box
 
Quarter-length steel shanks for added support
 
Stiffer midsoles, quarter to half-length steel shanks for added torsional rigidity and lug soles. Still, despite all the additional features, the boot's flex at the ball of the foot remains relatively supple – key when walking long trail miles on the beaten path.


Off-Trail

If you are one who seeks to venture off the beaten path for days on end, often into rocky, snowy, wet, and trailless terrain, support, traction, foot protection, waterproofness, and durability become key concerns.

Off-trail boots typically have the following characteristics:

Soles with deep, high-traction treads/high friction rubber combinations and stiff above-the-ankle support.
 
Usually all-leather construction. Fewer seams in the construction and full-grain leather add to the durability and waterproofing capabilities of these boots.
 
Rubber rands around the midsoles add to the durability and weatherproofing capabilities.
 
Soles stiff enough to smooth out the rough bumps and jumps of off-trail trekking, flexible enough to be supportive, and comfortable enough to be practical for extended on- and off-trail wandering.


Mountaineering

Scarpa Inverno

You pack along crampons and an ice axe because you're heading onto a world of mixed snow, rock, and ice. Boots in this category must protect your feet, keep them dry and warm, offer superior traction on a wide variety of terrain, be amazingly durable, yet still be reasonably comfortable.

Intended for the world of rock and ice, these boots are heavy and sturdy and need an extended break-in period.

Soles are curved or "rockered" for trail comfort, yet stiff enough with a three-quarter to full-length steel shank for rigidity when climbing and wearing crampons.
 
Lug pattern is predominantly Vibram.
 
Full-grain leather with gussetted tongues or plastic shells are the materials du jour for the uppers.


About the author

Michael Hodgson, author of Camping for Dummies and The Day Hiker's Handbook, has written extensively about hiking, camping, paddling, climbing, and the gear you need to do it all. You can contact him at www.adventurenetwork.com.