hiker wearing tan hiking boots in desert terrain

How To Choose Hiking Boots: Sizing, Fit, Style

One of the best ways to enjoy the beauty of nature is to step onto a hiking trail. Getting the most out of your journey begins with choosing the right hiking boots. For the best experience, it’s important to understand how hiking boots should fit and what features you need for your outdoor adventures. Understanding how to choose hiking boots involves a number of factors, including the type of hiking you’ll be doing and which style of hiking boots feel the most comfortable. A well-fitting hiking boot keeps you focused on the majesty of nature, not on your feet. Here’s how to buy the perfect pair of hiking boots.

What To Consider When Buying Hiking Boots

Not all situations require the same boot. Use your own unique hiking preferences and tendencies to guide you as you narrow down your choices.

Type of hike

One of the most important things to consider when buying a new pair of hiking boots is the type of hiking you’ll be doing. If your idea of a good hike is a multi-day backpacking trek on the AZ Trail, you’ll want to choose backpacking boots. Typically, this style of hiking boot includes much sturdier ankle support and less flexible soles. For those who favor shorter day hikes, day hiking shoes or boots is the place to start. With less ankle protection and more flexible soles, this type of hiking boot is best suited to shorter jaunts where robust foot and ankle support takes a back seat to comfort.

Weather

Hikers navigate all sorts of weather conditions, but the types of weather you encounter most frequently will inform how you choose your hiking boots. For example, hikers operating in wetter conditions will want boots that offer high levels of water resistance. On the other hand, those who prefer desert hiking will want to prioritize hiking boots that breathe easily in hot, dry conditions, and can stand up to intense UV rays.

Terrain

The kind of terrain you’ll be tackling will also heavily influence the types of hiking boots to consider. Rocky ground calls for footwear with heavier, less flexible soles that provide added protection for the bottoms of the feet. Regions where trails tend to be sandy require hiking boots with a higher cut that are specifically designed to seal out sand and debris using features like a gusset and padded collar at the ankle.

hiker traversing rocky desert terrain

Types of Hiking Boots

Hiking boots come in a variety of styles, each one designed to perform best under a specific set of conditions. Here are the different types of hiking boots and the trail applications where each one truly shines.

Hiking shoes

Hiking shoes are well suited for light day hikes and trail running. These closely resemble sneakers, with lower tops and more flexible midsoles than hiking boots. But don’t let their likeness to sneakers fool you: hiking shoes are specially designed for trail hiking, providing much better protection and support for your feet than shoes designed for the sidewalk or shopping mall.

Day hiking boots

day hiking boot

A step up from hiking shoes in terms of rigidity and support, day hiking boots typically have mid- to high-cut ankle support that makes them suitable for more intense day hikes or short backpacking trips.

Backpacking boots

backpacking boot

With a high cut that provides substantial ankle support, backpacking boots are designed to keep your feet feeling good during long days on the trail (or off) while carrying heavily loaded backpacks. Most often used for multi-day trips into the backcountry, backpacking boots have much more rigid midsoles than day hiking boots, perfect for keeping feet from tiring quickly as they wrap around each rock and root. 

Parts of a Hiking Boot 

All types of hiking boots are made with the same basic parts. But the way those components are designed plays a big role in determining how to choose the right hiking boots.

boot cut in two to see parts of hiking boot

Uppers

The upper is the part of the hiking boots or shoes from the midsole up. Hiking shoes typically feature uppers with a low cut, while hiking boots often feature a high-cut upper for improved ankle support. The material the upper is made of varies. Backpacking boots often feature full leather uppers. This material takes longer to break in but offers superior durability. Hiking shoes are typically made using a synthetic material like polyester or nylon. Synthetic materials are lighter weight, easier to break-in, and dry more quickly than genuine leather.

Midsole

Sandwiched between the upper and outsole, the midsole cushions the feet, absorbing the impact of rocks, roots, and the heavy up-and-down movement involved in navigating uneven terrain. Hiking boots designed for longer treks typically have stiffer midsoles that protect the feet from overexertion. Hiking shoes have more flexible midsoles for a lighter, more sneaker-like feel.

Outsole

This is the first line of defense against rocks, roots, cactus spines, and other on- or off-trail hazards. Boots designed for long-distance backpacking typically have thicker, harder outsoles than day hiking shoes. Outsoles on hiking boots and shoes also have different tread or lug patterns. As a general rule, the deeper and thicker the lugs, the better suited the boots will be for rugged terrain. 

Internal supports

Some hiking boots and shoes have additional internal structural supports placed in between the midsole and outsole. Shanks are pieces of thin, rigid material that are added to reinforce the midsoles, making the shoes more comfortable to wear while carrying a loaded backpack. Plates are partially flexible inserts designed to protect the bottoms of the feet from sharp rocks and roots. Like shanks, plates are placed in between the insole and outsole layers.

How To Wear Hiking Boots

Properly fitted hiking boots and shoes should provide mile after mile of comfortable wear, during on- or off-trail excursions. Here’s how to wear them.

Bigger is usually better

Feet tend to swell a bit during hiking, so erring on the side of larger hiking shoes or boots is advisable. In general, aim to buy your hiking boots a half size larger than you think you need. 

Mind the contact points

Properly fitting hiking boots shouldn’t create any pressure points on your feet. If you feel uncomfortable areas of contact when you try them on, chances are that discomfort will be magnified substantially once you get moving out in the wild.

Socks matter

Pairing your hiking boots with a high-quality pair of hiking socks will provide a much more comfortable experience on the trail. Socks designed for hiking are thicker and more breathable than their streetwear counterparts.

hiker tying hiking boot shoelaces

Hiking Boot Features

Not all hiking boots and shoes are created equal. Some offer special features that can further elevate your trail experience.

Lightweight

Long days on the trail feel even longer with heavy hiking boots or shoes. Buy the lightest pair you can find that meets your needs. Your legs will thank you.

Breathability

Damp feet are a frequent cause of blistering (and stinky feet). Hiking boots and shoes should be highly breathable, keeping your feet well-ventilated and dry during even the most intense hikes.

Sustainability

Most hiking shoes and boots are made using synthetic materials. That means your used footwear will be sitting in a landfill for many generations to come. For nature lovers, buying footwear that goes light on the planet is often a priority. Before making a purchase, ask about the manufacturer’s use of non-biodegradable materials and what steps they’ve taken to become a carbon-neutral business. 

Ready To Hit the Trail?

Erem specializes in next-level desert hiking boots created using sustainable, eco-friendly practices. We craft men’s and women’s hiking boots designed for on- and off-trail adventures in some of the most unforgiving landscapes. Our boots keep your feet comfortable and protected, providing superior breathability and unrivaled durability. Every pair of Erem Xerocole™ boots is Biocircular, with proven paths back to nature. Erem hiking gear is made from 100% biodegradable components. They can be recycled by returning them to us to be renewed through our Reboot program or discarded to go back to nature.

 

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