How to Choose the Right Hiking Boots

Before you schedule a visit to your favorite outdoor equipment store to look for hiking boots, remember: A good fitting, well made pair of boots, coupled with socks to help keep your feet dry and blister-free, will create the foundation of many successful backpacking trips for years to come. Your feet are your only “means of transportation” on the trail, so you need to keep them healthy and well protected. Because your pack will add an average of 25-35% more weight to the load that your feet are used to carrying, they will be working harder than ever before. So consider buying the best pair of boots you can afford. Just think of those extra dollars you may spend as “trip insurance” to prevent breakdowns on the trail.

During the sixties and seventies, you could tell who the hikers and backpackers were by the shoes they wore. Most of the boots that were available then were bulky, weighed a couple of pounds per foot, were probably constructed in some European country and were made of full-grain leather. They were virtually indestructible, and people knew that, with proper care, they would last for many years.

hiking boots How to Choose the Right Hiking Boots

The running craze of the eighties changed all this, however. Today’s hiking boots have been influenced by the footwear technology developed for athletes, runners and walkers. Many of today’s popular models are constructed out of the same lightweight, breathable fabrics and materials that make running shoes durable and comfortable. Voila! The modern hiking boot has arrived!

Today, you will find an amazing variety of boots to choose from, ranging from the “barely more than a running shoe” styles (recommended for day hikes only), to plastic mountaineering boots used on treks to the South Pole. The traditional heavy, full-leather, Vibram-soled boot (such as the pair I bought in 1985) is still available, but the price has more than doubled – expect to pay between $175-$275 for a well-made pair.

I am not suggesting you should rush out and look for a pair of these right awayˇŞthey probably are not the best choice for you. Many full-leather boots are designed for mountaineering. They can accommodate crampons and help transport their owner to the top of the highest mountain, through glaciers, rock and ice. But most beginning backpacking trips will not be this rigorous.

For your first few outings, especially if they will be one or two night weekend trips on well-maintained trails, consider a lightweight to medium weight pair of boots with a leather/nylon upper. These will be more comfortable and easier to break in than full leather ones, will cost much less ($70-$150 range), and will be lighter on your feet. This last point is especially important: the old adage, “a pound on your foot is equal to five pounds on your back,” is still considered accurate.

If you are backpacking with fast-growing children, it hardly seems a worthwhile investment to spend a lot of money on boots that won’t fit for more than a few months. Better to purchase a pair of lightweight boots that are intended for backpacking, and are constructed out of nylon/leather uppers. These will also be suitable for wearing in town and to school as well as on the trail. Wait until their feet aren’t growing quite so quickly before investing in anything more permanent.

Before making the final choice, you’ll need to take into account the logistics of your trip. Here are a few things to ask yourself:

1) How much weight will I be carrying in my pack?

This depends in part on the length of the trip: is this a one-night trip, multi-day, or week long outing? Is water available, or will you have to carry it along? Will you be traveling solo, or with others who can help you distribute the load?

2) What kind of terrain will I be crossing?

Will you be on well-maintained trails, or are you preparing to go off-trail or cross-country over rougher terrain? Will you be doing water crossings, or hiking through mud. ice, or snow? Will you be hiking uphill and downhill or over fairly level countryside?

3) What time of year will I be most likely to use them?

Are you a “fair weather” backpacker, or do you plan to go out in all kinds of conditions (rain, snow, etc.)?

4) When will I buy my boots?

Will you have adequate time before your trip to wear the boots on day hikes, and make sure they are “broken in” and fit properly?

5) How much am I willing to spend?

Boots are the foundation of a backpacking trip. Remember the importance of healthy feet for the successful outcome of your trip, and budget accordingly.


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