Best Hiking Boots – a Complete Buyer’s Guide

If you prefer your hiking experience to be blister and pain free then it’s important to invest in a decent pair of footwear. The best hiking boots on the market have become quite technical in their construction and you’re unlikely to find a one-size-fits-all solution.

The good news though is that if you choose the best hiking shoe for the specific kind of hiking you’ll be doing, then those built-in bits of shoe technology really come to the fore.

Our hiking boots reviews below list some of the top rated hiking shoes and boots.

choosing the best hiking boots

Salomon Men’s Quest 4D 2 GTX Hiking Boot

At a Glance:

  • High quality midweight hiking boot
  • Reasonably light at only 2 lb. 13 oz.
  • Waterproof with Gore-Tex protection
  • Excellent stability and comfort
  • Soles offer great grip
  • Price – you get what you pay for!
These are great all-round hiking boots that offer the stability and support you get from a solidly built hiking boot without the excess weight.

The uppers are made from a mix of suede leather and nylon mesh and are very durable. The abrasion resistant lining combines with the Gore-Tex to give you a shoe that breathes well, is waterproof and dries quickly.

We like the quality lacing system and the lace anchors on the ankles make it easy to get a snug fit. While the uppers are attractive, it’s the chassis that sets this boot apart from the rest.

The molded EVA insole borrows technology from running shoes to give good stability and cushioning in a lightweight hiking boot. We’d wear them “as is” because there’s no need to swap out the insoles for something like SuperFeet.

These boots require little to no breaking in and feel comfy right from the start.

Asolo Men’s Fugitive Gtx Hiking Boots

At a Glance:

  • Solidly built heavyweight hiking boots
  • Waterproof breathable (Gore-Tex)
  • Very durable uppers
  • A little heavy at just over 3 pounds
If you need a hiking boot that will survive the toughest trails while carrying a heavy pack then these are a great option.

Both the mid and outsoles are thick and offer excellent isolation from anything underfoot. The upper is made from 1.8mm suede and high tenacity nylon fabric with a well-protected rubber toecap.

All of this combines to produce a seriously tough shoe but you pay the price in the weight department. These boots are really comfortable but they are designed for heavyweight hiking so be prepared for a stiff sole.

If you’re on a long ascent with a heavy pack you’ll be grateful for that extra support though. These heavy-duty hiking boots will last for ages but you’ll need a lighter pair for your day hikes.

KEEN Men’s Targhee II Hiking Shoe

At a Glance:

  • Great lightweight hiking shoe
  • Waterproof (Keen.Dry)
  • Light – weighs only 2lbs 3oz.
  • Footbed offers good arch support
  • Mid range price
  • Soles wear quickly so these won’t survive tough trails
This is a great shoe for lightweight hiking and is attractive enough to wear as an everyday casual or work shoe.

The proprietary Keen.Dry waterproof tech does a good job of keeping the water out while offering good breathability. The soles offer decent grip but the shoe doesn’t have the kind of stability that you get from the more expensive hiking boots.

They’re great for light hiking but if you’re hiking with a heavy pack you’re going to want a shoe with more support. That being said, for this budget-friendly price you get a very comfortable hiking shoe with quality leather uppers.

If you’re looking for some protection from rolling your ankle but aren’t keen on a boot then the mid-ankle support that the Targhee offers is ideal.

Salomon Men’s X Ultra Mid 2 GTX Multifunctional Hiking Boot

At a Glance:

  • Ideal for fast, lightweight hiking
  • Really light at only 2lbs
  • Waterproof (Gore-Tex)
  • Mid range price
  • Soles are a little thin so you’re going to feel the trail if you’re wearing a heavy pack
Just by looking at these boots you can tell that they’ve been built for speed. It’s as if they took a trail running shoe and turned it into a hiking boot.

These are the lightest hiking boots we reviewed and were extremely flexible. If you’re packing light and moving fast then these are the boots you want to be wearing. In spite of the lightweight design, you still get reasonable ankle support and good toe protection.

The soles offer reasonable grip (we prefer Vibram) but the reduced weight means that they don’t offer the kind of underfoot protection that you get from the heavier boots.

These mid boots have a great snug fit and are comfortable straight out of the box. If you wear thicker hiking socks then we’d go a half size up.

Columbia Men’s Newton Ridge Plus II Waterproof Hiking Boot

At a Glance:

  • Good budget lightweight hiking boot
  • Durable construction – PU coated leather, suede, mesh and metal
  • Seam-sealed construction – fully waterproof
  • Very comfortable with good cushioning from the midsole
  • Very light (2 lbs) in spite of all the leather
  • Price
  • Not enough ankle support
These leather hiking boots are a great option if you’re looking for a quality boot at a budget-friendly price. It’s well put together with mostly PU coated leather and suede which gives it a premium look and feel.

The seam-sealed construction offers really good waterproof performance but the mostly leather construction doesn’t breathe well. This makes them ideally suited for hiking in cooler temperatures.

The lightweight midsole, tongue and padded collar all contribute to a very comfortable fit but the ankle support isn’t great. If you’re on a budget and want a shoe that works for a moderate day hike as well as an everyday work shoe then these are great.

If you’re hitting tougher trails for longer hikes then you’ll need to spend a little more and go for the Targhee.

Lowa Men’s Renegade GTX Mid Hiking Boot

At a Glance:

  • Solid choice for a midweight hiking boot
  • Vibram sole offers great grip and isolation
  • Waterproof (Gore-Tex)
  • Very light for a midweight boot (2lbs 7oz.)
  • Not very durable
If you’re looking for the closest thing to an all-round hiking boot then the Lowa Renegade is hard to beat.

You get the underfoot isolation and stability that you get from heavyweight boots but with the low weight of a lightweight boot. To achieve the lower weight they’ve used thinner leather which does impact the durability.

These are extremely comfortable shoes though and the thinner leather means that there’s very little break-in required so they’re ready to go straight out of the box.

The thinner leather upper also means that while you get decent waterproof performance it still breathes a little better than a thicker leather boot.

If you want a boot that is fairly rigid but light then this is a great option.

KEEN Men’s Liberty Ridge Hiking Boot

At a Glance:

  • Very durable heavyweight hiking boot
  • Full-grain all leather upper offers high durability
  • Waterproof with Keen.Dry breathable membrane
  • Removable dual-density footbed
  • Tongue pad discolors socks after a day’s wear

The midsole has a full length shank but still offer some flex from the toes to the arch with the rest of the sole feeling fairly rigid.

This is a very comfortable shoe with a toe box that offers plenty of room to wider feet. The overall fit of the shoe runs a little snug so you may need to go up a half size. The construction is top quality and the fact that they’ve gone for all leather uppers means these boots will last for ages.

In spite of the rugged build, they only require 2 or 3 miles to break-in and then feel far more comfortable than their rugged appearance suggests.

The Keen.Dry membrane does offer some breathability but these leather boots are more suited for cool and wet environments than hiking in warm weather.

Vasque Men’s Breeze 2.0 Gore-Tex Waterproof Hiking Boot

At a Glance:

  • Quality leather lightweight boot at a midrange price
  • Great breathability for a leather boot
  • Reflective piping for improved visibility
  • Vibram outsole offers excellent grip
  • Sturdy construction but lightweight (2 lbs)
  • A little narrow in the toe box
The Breeze in the title is a nod to the fact that these boots offer one of the better breathability performances we’ve seen from a leather boot.

The integrated mesh panels are key to achieving good breathability but if you do any bushwhacking they do tend to accumulate burrs. Some hiking boots we’ve seen have had issues with brittle shoe lace clasps at the top of the boot so we were happy to see that Vasque have used sturdy clasps with rivets that go all the way through the leather.

These boots were comfy pretty much out of the box but they may be a little narrow in the toe box if your feet are wide up front.

Merrell Men’s Moab 2 Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot

At a Glance:

  • Very comfortable lightweight hiking boot
  • Really light (2.4 lbs)
  • Vibram sole offers great grip
  • Solid option if you’re on a bit of a budget
  • Highly breathable
  • Would have preferred more leather and less mesh for better durability
Merrell say that the “Moab” in the name stands for Mother Of All Boots. If by that they mean that like mom, these make you feel comfy, are very supportive and keep going no matter what then they’ve got it spot on.

As we’ve come to expect from Merrell these are very comfy and need little to no breaking in. If you have high arches then you’ll especially appreciate the great arch support the midsole offers.

The Vibram outer sole has good grip and performs well in rugged and irregular terrain. The construction isn’t as durable as some of the more expensive shoes we’ve reviewed but it’s a great hiking / everyday shoe for the price.

Columbia Men’s North Plains II Hiking Shoe

At a Glance:

  • Great shoe for fast lightweight hiking
  • Excellent support from midsole
  • Scratch resistant rubber toe cap
  • Omni-Grip sole offers great grip for rock hopping
  • Feet stay cool hours into hike
  • Not as waterproof as we’d like
Columbia have used their patented Techlite midsole to create a hiking shoe that has excellent cushioning with high energy return. This means that even after a long time on the trail you keep getting great support without having your feet bottom out and feeling what’s under the sole.

These shoes have great flex and are great for covering ground in a hurry. The mix of quality leather with mesh and fabric offers good durability while maintaining the lightweight nature and breathability.

The construction incorporates a seam-sealed membrane bootie so your feet will keep fairly dry even if you briefly hit a stream or two. Just don’t expect too much in the way of waterproof performance.

How to choose hiking boots

Choosing the right hiking boot comes down to the material, weight and comfort of the shoe. The material and weight of the shoe dictates the construction and features you’re going to get and the optimal choice comes down to the type of activity you’ll be engaging in.

The comfort you’ll achieve is determined by correct sizing and again, matching the shoe to the activity and terrain. In general you’ll be choosing between three main styles:

Hiking shoes

These are the kinds of shoes that trail runners or ultralight hikers will use. They’re lightweight with flexible midsoles.

They’re not particularly water resistant but they are highly breathable. These shoes have a low-cut design which offers less ankle support but allow for higher mobility.

Day hiking boots

These mid-weight boots are better suited to short to medium length trips where you’ll be carrying a light pack. They come with either a mid or high ankle and a midsole that is a little stiffer but still has good flex.

This results in more support for multiple angles that tougher terrain presents as well as support for the pack weight you’re carrying. These boots will often incorporate waterproof breathable inner membranes.

Backpacking boots

These heavier weight, high-cut boots are designed for rougher terrain and long distance backpacking with a heavy pack. They are mostly all-leather and are waterproof rather than just water resistant.

Most of the best boots in this category will have stiff Vibram soles offering more traction, stability and durability. The base of these outsoles are also wider than those found in lighter hiking shoes and boots. This results in better stability and weight distribution to transfer the heavier load you’re carrying.

Hiking boot categories

Hiking boot types are often referred to in terms of weight. This refers both to the actual weight of the shoe and the kind of construction and intended use of the shoe.

Lightweight

Typically low-cut shoe with a flexible, softer rubber sole. These are the kinds of shoes you pull on for a few hours of trail running or an ultralight day hike with only the bare essentials in your pack.

Midweight

These shoes will have either a mid or high-cut ankle support with a thicker, harder outer sole. The midsole is stiffer but still offers a good amount of flex. The overall support of the shoe offers good stability with a light to medium pack while still allowing for a fair degree of mobility.

Heavyweight

Thick, full-grain leather uppers with high density midsoles and thick, hard outsoles. These high-cut boots offer good ankle support. They’re designed to offer high durability and support needed when carrying heavy packs.
Before choosing a suitable hiking shoe you need to decide on the kind of hiking you’ll be doing. For the sake of simplicity this can be categorized as either lightweight, midweight and heavyweight hiking.

Hiking Boot Considerations

Weight

Being careful with your pack weight can be completely undone by wearing heavy hiking boots. Some hikers say that every pound of weight on your feet has the same effect as adding five pounds in your pack.

As a result weight on your feet will drain your energy 4-6 times quicker than weight on your back. Don’t cut corners by going for a light boot if you absolutely need that support but make sure that the features and weight are justified by the activity and terrain.

Going without waterproof membranes or shanks and plates can save a lot of weight and reduce fatigue significantly.

Hiking boots vs hiking shoes

As the cut of the boot gets higher it naturally offers more support to your ankle more support from twisting and bending. That’s great if you’re carrying a pack and you’re moving over uneven terrain.

If you’re trying to move quickly and you’re packing light then that extra ankle support can feel restrictive. Basically if you’re carrying a heavy pack or tend to roll your ankles then opt for a boot.

If you’re packing light and moving fast then go for a hiking shoe.

Stiffness and stability

A good hiking boot will do more than just shield the underside of your foot from the trail. You want it to support your ankle, the arch of your foot and provide a solid base for the rest of your frame, especially if you’re carrying a pack.

The stiffness and stability of the outsole, midsole, and ankle cuff are key to achieving this. The heavier your pack, the more stiffness, and stability you’re going to need.

That being said, an overly stiff shoe doesn’t make for comfortable walking. For lighter activity opt for a softer, more flexible shoe. If you want the best of both worlds then a midweight boot will give you the support you need while still offering some “give”.

Waterproofing

Hiking boots with all-leather uppers are going to be your only true waterproof options. Being able to block out any water comes at a price though. These shoes don’t breathe at all.

Hiking shoes that incorporate membranes like GoreTex or eVent are often referred to as “waterproof breathable”. What this actually means is that the shoe is water resistant, not waterproof, while still allowing a measure of breathability.

Breathability

This refers to the ability of the shoe to allow moist, warm air from the inside to escape to the outside of the shoe. Trapping heat and moisture inside your shoe can have your feet feel like they’re overheating, sweaty and uncomfortable in warm weather.

Also, once you take them off, your fellow hikers won’t want to sit near you. A shoe with a water-resistant membrane will offer some breathability but if you’re after a shoe that breathes really well in warmer temperatures it’s best to go for an all synthetic, lightweight shoe with plenty of mesh panels.

Lacing Systems

The way you lace your boots can have a big impact on how they fit and feel. While regular lacing will work for most cases, there are some techniques you can use for certain cases.

Alternate lacing systems can reduce pressure on the top of your foot, lock your heel more securely in the shoe, reduce cuff pressure or even accommodate narrow feet.

There are some good explanations of these lacing systems here. Whatever lacing system you settle on, it’s only as good as the laces and eyelets you use.

Replace laces that are showing signs of wear and check your eyelets for any signs of damage too. Don’t wait for an eyelet or lace to break before considering replacing it.

Hiking Boot upper materials

The material that the uppers are made from will have an impact on the durability, weight, breathability and water resistance of the shoe.

Full grain leather

These offer a high degree of water resistance and are very durable. Leather is expensive, doesn’t breath well and is a lot heavier than synthetics. This makes it better suited for long hikes with a heavy pack over rough terrain.

Split grain leather

Full-grain leather can be split to form several layers. This thinner leather is often mixed with synthetic fabrics like nylon mesh panels.

This gives you some of the durability that full-grain leather offers with better breathability and lighter weight at a lower cost.

Nubuck leather

Full-grain leather that is sanded to give a suede look and feel. It offers good durability with excellent abrasion and water resistance.

The brushed appearance also means that scratches don’t show as easily as they do on regular leather. It also exhibits better flexibility than full-grain leather does.

Synthetics

Normally Nylon or Polyester. These lightweight materials offer superior flexibility, drying and breathability at a lower price point. They don’t offer the level of durability that leather does though and wear quickly.

Waterproof membranes

A boot with a waterproof lining or membrane, such as Goretex or eVent offer good protection in rainy conditions or when crossing streams.

The more waterproof the boot is the less it’s going to breathe so remember that if you’re heading out into warmer weather.

Vegan

If the only milk you drink comes from Almonds then you may prefer Vegan uppers. These are made without any animal products or by-products like leather or wool.

Insulation

Some hiking boots are designed specifically for use in cold temperatures and will have insulation built into the uppers to keep your feet warm.

Hiking boot midsoles

Boots with stiffer midsoles offer better protection to the soles of your feet from roots and rocks on the trail. Softer midsoles will offer more cushioning but will wear out faster. Hiking boot midsoles are typically made from:

EVA – This lightweight and soft material offers superior cushioning and requires little to no breaking in. These are great for lightweight day trips or trail running but don’t offer enough support when carrying a heavier pack.

Polyurethane – This material is denser and heavier than EVA and is used in backpacking and mountaineering boots where a more supportive midsole is needed. It doesn’t offer any cushioning but is longer lasting and provides better support for heavier packs.

Hiking boot internal support

Shanks

On heavier duty hiking shoes you might want more stiffness and support than the midsole alone provides. A shank is an insert that is around 3-5mm thick that the manufacturer places between the outsole and midsole to achieve this.

Plates

Even with the best outsole and midsole your foot still has some spots that are more susceptible to bruising from rocks and roots. Semi-flexible thin plates are strategically inserted between the midsole and outsole to protect these key areas.

Toe protection

A toe guard is reinforced area around the outside of the front end of the boot. This not only prevents wear and tear but also protects your toes when you inadvertently end up kicking a rock or root.

Hiking boot outsoles

Your choice of outsole will have a big impact on the traction, comfort, and durability you get from your boot. A softer rubber sole will offer better traction on a variety of surfaces but will wear out faster.

Heavier duty outsoles will have carbon added to the rubber. These will hold up for a lot longer but won’t grip nicely on slicker surfaces. Besides the material used, the layout and other design features are also worth considering:

Lug pattern – The lugs are the bumps and grooves in the sole pattern. The deeper the lugs the more traction you’re going to get. Make sure that the spaces between the lugs are wide enough for mud to shed more easily.
Heel brake – A heel brake is a raised area of the sole around the heel zone. This helps to prevent your foot from slipping on steep descents. Not all hiking boots have this so it’s worth looking out for if you’re heading into steep terrain.

Crampon compatibility

– If you’re heading into steep and rough mountainous terrain or winter hiking then wearing crampons will help a lot.

There are a three main crampon binding types and it’s important to check that the type you’re using is compatible with your boot.

For the most part, this calls for a stiffer sole and a welt (groove) on the heel and/or toe to secure the crampon.

Fitting and finding your size

No matter how technically superior a boot is, if it doesn’t fit right then you’re in for some blisters and an unpleasant hike. Your foot should feel comfortable the second you put the boot on and it needs to hold your foot securely in place when walking.

A boot that fits right will keep your heel from lifting in the shoe. If your heel and boot don’t lift as one then you need to go a size smaller.

Your toes need to have enough wiggle room so they don’t hit the front of the shoe when walking downhill. If your toes touch the front of the shoe when standing then you need to go a size up.

Fine Tuning the Fit

Getting the right size boot is critical for long-term comfort. Just knowing your regular shoe size isn’t enough. Here are a few hiking boot sizing tips:

  • Try on boots at the end of the day – Your feet tend to swell towards the end of a day of walking in shoes.
    If you’re shopping for a new pair of hiking boots try them on later in the day than rather than in the morning.
    That way the snugness of the fit is going to be a better indication of how tight they’ll feel on the trail. You could have as much as a half size difference at the end of the day and this will give you more of a true fit.
  • Orthotics – If you wear orthotics bring them along to wear inside the boots you’re trying on.
  • Wear appropriate socks – Try the boots on while wearing your hiking socks. Regular dress socks are really thin and will give you a completely different fit than when you’re wearing hiking socks.
  • Spend some time in the boots – They might feel great when you put them on but it’s worth spending a few minutes in them walking around.
    Some stores will have an inclined ramp that you can walk up and down. Walk up the ramp and make sure your heel doesn’t slip in the boot because that will cause a blister pretty quickly.
    Make sure your toes aren’t hitting the front of the boot when walking down the ramp.
  • Know your feet – Make sure you understand any special needs your feet have.
    Maybe your feet are wider or narrower than most.
    If you’ve developed plantar fasciitis or have weak arches you need to understand what a shoe needs to accommodate these issues.
  • Know your physical condition – If you tire easily then wearing a lighter shoe will make a big difference to how quickly you become fatigued. Get the sizing right but opt for lighter upper fabrics, midsole and outsole construction.
  • Ask your footwear specialist – Maybe you’ve always had a particular issue with hiking shoes. Share this with your footwear specialist and ask for suggestions.
    If the store assistant is more than just a sales clerk they should be able to give you good advice.
  • Shopping online – When shopping online consider a brand you’ve worn before. Not all brands have the same sizing consistency.
    Most of the good brands will have a sizing guide and it’s worth paying attention to customer reviews to get a feel for whether the sizes are true to fit.
  • Change your knot strategy – If the shoe fits great but you still feel pressure on the top of your foot or your heel keeps lifting no matter what, consider changing your lacing technique.
  • Try an insole – You’re unique and so are your feet. Consider aftermarket insoles (ie footbeds) if you don’t find a boot that gives you the arch support you need.
  • Break your boots in before your first trip – Don’t head out on a hike with brand new boots.
    You want to break them in by wearing them for about two weeks.
    Wear them around the house, while walking the dog or even on a mini hike where a boot issue isn’t going to be too much of a disaster.

Other Features to Consider

Are they waterproof and does it matter?

Hiking boots with waterproof membranes like GoreTex and eVent are great at keeping water out while still allowing your feet to breathe.

Even so, they’re going to get warm and won’t be as breathable as a lightweight hiking shoe.

If you’re worried about rain or crossing some streams then go for a shoe with some water resistance. If it’s unlikely you’re going to walk in water then save yourself some money and get a lighter, more breathable shoe.

Where will you be hiking?

  • Flat, even, well-worn trails – If you’re not carrying a heavy pack then low-cut hiking shoes or trail runners are ideal.
  • Uneven terrain – You’re going to need some ankle support for the multitude of angles you’ll encounter.
  • Streams, Rain or Snow – Hiking boots with all leather uppers will keep the water and snow out. For even more protection use gaiters just in case.

When is it time to replace my old pair?

You love those hiking boots but they’re looking a little tired. If you’ve put between 500 and 600 miles on them then it’s a safe bet that you could do with a new pair. If you see any of these signs it might be time to replace them:

  • Worn laces – The laces can easily be replaced but if they’re worn and frayed then it probably means that other areas of your boots are too.
  • Loos eyelets – Loose, bent or broken eyelets are also an indicator of excessive wear on your shoes.
  • Worn ankle support and insoles – If your ankle cuff or insole is losing shape or developing cracks you’re not going to get the support your feet need.
  • Cracked midsole – Eventually your midsole will show signs of cracking or compression cracks. This is a sure sign that your boots aren’t up to giving you proper support anymore.
  • Worn outsole tread – Smooth outsoles mean reduced traction and could be dangerous.

Should I consider an insole

Some shoes look great and fit great but just don’t give you enough arch support. It may be that no matter how hard you look, you just don’t find a shoe that accommodates your needs.

It may be time to consider using an insole. You could experiment with some options yourself but a decent outdoor clothing outlet should be able to help you make a better decision.

What style of boot do I really need?

The style of boot you choose really comes down to where you’ll be wearing them and your personal preference. If you stick to well-worn trails for walks through the woods then a hiking shoe will give you enough support and comfort.

These shoes are also more versatile and lend themselves to being worn casually too.

If you prefer leaving the tracks and cutting your own trail then opt for a boo with a higher cuff. This gives you more ankle support and will keep debris out of your shoe.

If you’re going to make your way through some really rough stuff then a more rugged shoe with abrasion and water resistance is a better bet.

Weight of pack

The heavier your pack weight, the closer you may be getting to needing the support that comes from heavyweight hiking boots. Before running off to buy a pair it’s worth considering if lightening your pack isn’t the better solution.

It also comes down to personal preference. Some backpackers are fine with mid-weight boots and a pack of 40lbs or more. Also, don’t forget to take your own weight into consideration.

If you’re overweight you may need the extra support you get from heavyweight boots even with a moderate pack weight. Pack weight in itself shouldn’t be the determining factor.

Consider the terrain, weather conditions and if your pack weight is really heavy enough to sacrifice wearing a more flexible shoe.

Conclusion

If you’re looking to buy a single hiking boot that will suit a variety of hiking scenarios then stick with something from the midweight range.

You’re going to sacrifice speed on shorter trails and it won’t be up to long hikes with a heavy pack but it’ll cover most of your bases.

You’re better off spending more to buy a decent pair of midweight boots than buying two cheap pairs to cover both lightweight and heavyweight hikes.

If you generally do just one kind of hiking then choose a shoe that is purpose made for those conditions.

Also, avoid the temptation to default to a waterproof shoe. They’re great in the wet but horrible when it gets hot. We have listed some budget hiking boot options above but it’s worth investing in the best hiking boots your budget allows for.

If you buy cheap hiking shoes then what you save now will be paid back on the trail in Band-Aids.

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