Hiking is one of the most physically demanding activities anyone can undertake, and even moderate or light hikes can be an immense challenge for both the body and mind.
A big part of making hiking a little easier, as well as safer, is using the correct equipment, and being well prepared.
These two concepts often go hand in hand, and this is particularly true of choosing the correct footwear for your hike, and ensuring that your footwear is right for you.
There are a huge number of hiking boot brands competing in a relative niche market today, which means there is constant competition to design the best and most comfortable boots.
However, this also means that it can be difficult to decide on the right pair for you, as well as how to work out what exactly you need to look for in a good hiking boot.
The number one most important thing when choosing a hiking boot, regardless of brand name, features, or design, is the fit of the boot.
Whether you get the cheapest boot on the market or something much more expensive, the boot has to fit you correctly in order for you to be able to hike safely and comfortably.
As the famous saying goes, ‘If you take good care of your feet, they’ll take good care of you.’.
In this guide, we’re going to look at how to ensure your hiking boots fit you correctly, and what factors to take into consideration to ensure you get a pair of hiking boots that are perfect for you and help you to undertake many adventures in safety and comfort.
How Should Hiking Boots Fit?
The fit of your hiking boots depends on a variety of factors which we will delve into further into this piece, however in a broad sense, you need a pair of hiking boots that fit you well, and that aren’t loose, or too tight on the foot or ankle.
Hiking boots should fit snugly across all areas of the foot, however, you should be able to wiggle your toes.
Boots that are too tight can lead to blistering as easily as boots that are too loose, and can also cut off circulation or lead to swelling which can make the boots really uncomfortable, especially over long hikes.
Ideally, you also want to ensure that your boots will fit with proper hiking socks, as standard socks are often much thinner and smaller, and not sizing for this can lead to a lot of discomfort when you come to hike with your hiking socks instead of standard socks.
The most important thing to keep in mind is your actual shoe size, and try on several different types of hiking boots in various sizes and designs to find a pair that works best for you, and is capable of handling the type of conditions and terrain you plan to navigate.
It’s best to get an official foot measurement before you buy, to ensure you know exactly where to begin, and can work from here to find something that works for you.
It’s also important to take into account foot width as well as length, as well as whether you have flat feet or need extra support in your hiking boots, as these will also affect the overall sizing that’s appropriate for you.
Different Types of Hiking Boots
Hiking boots come in several different shapes and sizes and also use various different materials that can mean there are almost endless combinations and designs to try to choose from.
Some of the best examples of this are;
Typically hiking shoes don’t use ankle support in the same way as boots and are generally much more comfortable for shorter, gentler hikes.
However the trade-off is that there is little to no ankle support as with a traditional boot design, which may lead to serious injury on tough terrain or in challenging conditions.
These shoes can be found in various materials, from leather to synthetic materials.
Day Hiking Boots
Day hiking boots are a step up from hiking shoes and typically offer much more ankle support, as well as more aggressive tread and generally more study design.
However, these boots can be less comfortable and more restrictive than hiking shoes, and are generally only recommended for more difficult terrain and conditions, where you need the extra support and protection from the elements.
These boots can be made from various materials, including leather and synthetics, or a blend of both to provide as much comfort and durability as possible.
Backpacking boots are some of the most heavy-duty boots available and are designed to provide maximum protection, grip, and support over grueling multiday trips carrying heavy loads and dealing with extreme terrain and conditions.
These boots are often high in the ankle and incorporate various safety features from wraps and clips at the ankles to attachment points for climbing spikes and other equipment for harsh terrain.
They are often much stiffer and harder to break in than day hiking boots, but are very supportive in the soles and are incredibly durable and protective.
Another more niche option is mountaineering boots, which are specifically designed for ice climbing, rock climbing, and traversing the specific and difficult terrain of mountain regions, such as crevasses and sheer cliffs.
They are versatile, tough, and often expensive due to their highly specialized design.
These fill another niche, and fall somewhere between a hiking shoe and a running shoe, allowing the more intrepid runners and trail runners to utilize better traction while still remaining cool and well supported while running or hiking over more difficult terrain.
The sole is arguably the most important area of the hiking boot as it provides most of the traction and cushioning to your feet, while also dictating how firm or hard to break in your boot is.
Stiffer boots are better for tougher terrain, while softer boots are better for comfort over gentler terrain.
Common materials include EVA which is slightly lighter and less expensive, or polyurethane which is firmer and more durable, and a common choice for backpacking and mountaineering boots that require maximum durability.
Leather – Leather comes in either full-grain or split grain, and have slightly different qualities to synthetic boots, providing better durability and excellent waterproofing, but being harder to break in meaning they can be uncomfortable, to begin with.
They are often heavier also.
Synthetic – These boots are often made of polyester, nylon, or synthetic leather and are much easier to break in, as well as cheaper and lighter in most instances, making them a very common choice for beginners.
These boots often dry more quickly than leather boots, however, they tend to wear out more quickly also and can sometimes be less water-resistant than leather boots.
Problems with Poorly Fitted Hiking Boots
Poorly fitted boots can lead to all sorts of problems including blistering, swelling, ankle and joint pain, poor circulation, general discomfort and can overall have a hugely negative impact on your hiking and your health.
Trying to ignore these problems often only compounds these issues causing them to become worse and leading to even more ingrained and difficult to solve problems, such as knee, hip, and even back issues over long periods of time.
It’s always best to admit your boots aren’t working for you and find a suitable replacement, instead of ignoring these problems and allowing them to become much worse, or even endangering your well being while you hike!
Factors to Consider
Know your size!
Choose the correct socks to pair with your boot for sizing
Account for slight swelling of the feet
Allow wiggle room for your toes
Know your planned terrain and climates
Consider your preferred lacing style
How long will it take to break your boots in?
Always try the boots on before buying!
A properly fitted pair of hiking boots is absolutely essential for even the most entry level hiking.
Underestimating the serious risks that come with hiking will almost certainly lead to problems, from blisters to broken ankles.
It’s important to respect the hobby, and nature, and to always go hiking well equipped for your trip to ensure you are able to enjoy your excursion to the absolute fullest.