When asked about the three most important things to look for when picking the right hiking boot for you, Wesley Trimble, expert hiker from the American Hiking Society said, “1. Fit, 2. Fit, and 3. Fit. It is of the utmost importance and everything else comes in at a distant second.” Fit also means taking into account whether you have wide or narrow feet. The next key factor to consider is the intended use of the boot. Hiking boots are great because of their durability, ankle support, and because they’re more effective at keeping your feet dry than most every day footwear, but when picking one, consumers should factor in how much weight they will be packing and the type of terrain they will be hiking, to get the most out of these benefits.
According to Trimble, for on-trail day hikes, most people should consider a trail shoe or a mid-top hiking boot. A lightweight and flexible boot can help minimize muscle fatigue. To put that in context, a one pound boot is equivalent to five pounds of weight carried in a pack and allows a more natural gait. For people hiking with forty-plus pounds of gear or hiking in very rugged or steep off-trail terrain, a more supportive and stiffer boot might be a good idea.
Finally, because not all boots are created equal, it’s important to select key features to meet your specific needs. One of the biggest features to consider upfront is waterproof versus breathability. According to Wimble, one of the most common misconceptions is that waterproof boots are better. They are great to have for specific situations but not as great as many people may think. Once feet get wet from sweat, or if water comes in the top of the boot from rain or a water crossing, your feet will stay wet longer than if you use a breathable non-waterproof boot. Once water gets inside of a boot with a waterproof membrane, evaporation becomes dramatically reduced in comparison to a non-waterproof, well-ventilated boot.
When fitting your boots, his tips are…
- Try boots on in the afternoon, ideally after bring on your feet for a few hours. Feet naturally swell throughout the day, so it’s important to try shoes on when your feet are at their largest state.
- If you can’t decide between two sizes, always opt for the slightly larger size.
- Have a thumbs width between your longest toe and the front of the boot. (Most quality retailers will have an incline board to test fit.)
- Pay attention to your heel when walking around. If your heel slips when walking, it’s a sign the shoes might be too large or the heel shape isn’t right for your feet.
- Notice if you feel any rubbing or tight-fitting sections in the boot. They should feel supportive but not restrictive in any way.
If you have wider feet…
There are three main dimensions to shoe width: the toe box, the mid-foot, and the heel, says Wimble. He recommends footwear with a wide toe box because when we walk our toes naturally splay with each step and as toes extend, they provide added stability. Wimble’s top picks for wider hiking boots are:
1. Altra Running Lone Peak Hiker, $140
If you’re looking for a boot that is rugged enough to take on the trails, comfy enough to wear about the town, and stylish enough to strut off a runway, Altra has got you covered. This versatile hiking boot is lightweight, but still features a soft, padded sole and strong grips on the base.
Shop now: Altra Running Lone Peak Hiker, $140
This new arrival from Merrell is the perfect sneaker plus boot combo. Designed in partnership with @UnlikelyHikers, a diverse and inclusive Instagram community that features the underrepresented outdoorsy folk in all that they do, these boots are flexible, waterproof, and the bellows tongue is made to keep debris at bay. (No dirty sock problems to worry about here.) Erika Derylo, the Senior Marketing Manager at Merrell Performance, stresses the importance of finding boots with rubber soles like these, over foam ones like with running shoes to avoid slippage.
Shop now: Merrell Zion Mid Waterproof X Unlikely Hikers Wide Width Boot, $160
3. Keen Ridge Flex Waterproof Boot, $170
These boots are made for the long hike. Keen took the trusted fit of their iconic Targhee hiker and paired it with their new KEEN.BELLOWS FLEX technology that requires 60 percent less energy to bend, to reduce the energy each step takes. The durable high-rise fit also increases ankle stability, control, and support.
Shop now: Keen Ridge Flex Waterproof Boot, $170
If you have narrow feet…
Generally speaking, if you have narrower feet, European boot brands will suit your needs best. Wimble recommends:
1. La Sportiva Nucleo High II GTX Boot, $199
For support that is still majorly breathable, this boot from La Sportiva is a great mid-duty waterproof hiker and backpacking boot option. Featuring their award-winning Gore-Tex Surround technology, it is the perfect combination of durability, protection, style, and comfort.
Shop now: La Sportiva Nucleo High II GTX Boot, $199
2. Lowa Explorer GTX Mid Boot, $240
Made in Germany, these boots tick every box. They feature odor protection, a lace-up design with floating, webbed eyelets to maintain foot movement, durability, support, and a padded tongue and collar to keep your foot in place and blister-free during longer treks.
Shop now: Lowa Explorer GTX Mid Boot, $240
3. Salomon Quest 4 Gore-Tex, $230
The new ADV-C 4D technology in this boot helps guide the foot and provides extra support around the heel, targeting sensitive articulations and reducing muscle fatigue for long lasting comfort even on the roughest terrain. The supportive frame respects the natural flexion of your foot, so the boot doesn’t feel too heavy while you climb.
Shop now: Salomon Quest 4 Gore-Tex, $230
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