A successful hiking or camping experience begins with hiking boots that fit well. Look for boots that work, no matter how they look. Get the best quality boots possible, thus insuring that you won't have to hike several miles back to civilization with a twisted, swollen ankle.
- Even though we don't recommend buying a pair of hikers from a catalog, they can be useful tools. Get your hands on a quality catalog to check prices and features. But don't purchase hiking boots from a catalog unless you have already tried on the exact model, make and year. The variations are too great - and no matter how much money you save, you can do serious damage hiking in ill-fitting boots. So it's worth a few extra dollars to shop with a specialist at your side to consult you.
- Hiking boots are like parachutes - safety is the primary concern. The boots on sale aren't necessarily the best ones to buy. But if the best boots for you happen to be discounted, go for it. The best time to find hiking boots on sale is at the end of the summer, in August or September.
- If you have currently have a blister, twisted ankle or other recent foot problems (perhaps from bad hiking boots), no hiking boot will feel good. Wait until you are healthy before buying boots.
- Do you have narrow feet? Be prepared to have a difficult time finding hiking boots that fit properly, because most boots are created for medium to wider feet.
- Even if you have regular feet, your shopping trip may take you to several stores. Hiking boots are a very technical, crucial piece of equipment. The right boot can often be a challenge to find. But be patient
Select Your Boot Type
There are several main types of hiking boots: outdoor cross trainers, light hiking boots, and heavyweight hiking boots. There are also mountaineering boots, for more serious treks.
Outdoor cross trainers are for more even terrain, light trail hiking, trail running, and sometimes mountain biking. These are best worn without a backpack. Outdoor cross trainers sometimes come above the ankle, sometimes not, and are more flexible than regular hikers. They generally don't have a lot of ankle support. They are often made of similar materials to running shoes but use darker colors and sturdier soles. Note: the functionality of the outdoor cross trainers make them useful when traveling abroad.
Check The Fit
- Try on boots with the same socks (or the same thickness of socks) you'll wear with the boot. A small difference in sock thickness can dramatically change the fit. Bring your hiking socks with you. Or if without, have the salesperson help you purchase some. Try them on with your boots. Even if you don't buy your boots at the first store, at least you'll have your socks.
- Hiking boots often vary in size from one manufacturer to another. A size nine in one maker is not necessarily a size nine in another. Sometimes they aren't even the same size from the same maker. Try on any pair before purchasing them.
- You need more room at the end of a hiking boot than you do in a regular shoe. A thumb's width is probably best. When you're coming downhill with some weight on your back, you'll want enough room to allow your foot to slide forward without banging against the front. When you put the shoe on, kick your toe on the ground. If it hits the front hard, the boot is too small.
- The boots should be snug (not tight) around the ankle. For best support, they should lace up to the ankle. Hiking boots feel strange if you've never worn them before. But you'll need this type of support off-road.
- If you have narrow feet, your heel will most likely lift up when you walk around in the boots, although you can lesson it by additional insoles, various lacing methods, or a different pair of boots. If you have medium to wider feet and you heel lifts, either your socks are too thin, your shoes aren't laced properly, or they boot fits too wide for you. Ask your salesperson.
- Walk around the store for a few minutes in the boot. They will begin to be more flexible after a few minutes.
Consider Other Factors
- Boot uppers are of leather only, or a canvas and leather combination. The all-leather hiking boots are generally heavyweight hikers, while the leather and canvas combination is often a lightweight hiking boot. The all-leather boots often seem more like a hiking boot or look better with a pair of jeans, but a leather and canvas combination boot is often more comfortable. Boots made of all-leather are usually more water resistant.
- Do your boots need to be water repellent? (Note: the word 'waterproof' is not used because here waterproof is a relative term) Not all boots are treated to be water repellent, but many are. Gore-Tex’ is the best known. It is placed between the materials of the shoe, like a water repellent sock. There are many other built-in water repellent materials, which often work very well. Water repellent adds cost, so you'll need to decide whether it's necessary or not. Will you be hiking in wet weather a lot of the time? Will you be walking through shallow streams? Many people don't need water repellent boots, but it's a nice feature to have. For a less costly option, try the treatments sold at outdoor stores. In addition, one-piece, full grain leather boots, tend to protect you from water, even if they haven't been treated.
Try Them Out At Home
Once you purchase your boots, ask the sales-person if you can take them home and plod around the house for a few hours, then return them the next day if they don't feel right. This will reveal subtle fit problems or confirm your wise buying decision.
Break Them In
If you are going on a long trip with your new boots, buy them a couple of weeks in advance and wear them on one or two test hikes to break them in. Some of the newer models are not as stiff as the traditional, all-leather ones, but if you aren't used to boots, your feet will appreciate the adjustment time.