If as a hiker you believed everything you read about or watched on television, you’d end up thinking that there were brands and models of hiking boots that were “top-flight,” and that every hiker would do well to aspire to them. It’s important to understand that there’s a difference between a pair of hiking boots and a product like a car, though. Unlike cars, boots need to work intimately with a highly stressed body part that’s different for each person.
There is no one “best” boot model that works with all feet. Footwear fit is an inexact science. Yet, if you’re serious about doing well on the trail, you’ll need to find out what works best for you.
Your first rule: do your shopping in person
While buying shoes online can work for regular purposes, the extreme demands of hiking require that you do your buying at a specialist store where you are allowed to wear different boots, and try the ones that you plan to buy for couple of hours. If your foot detects any discomfort at all, you’ll need to consider looking at other pairs.
These stores are also likely to give you advice and how to test a pair of boots. They’ll tell you, for instance, that buying late in the evening, rather than first thing in the morning, is a good idea. The feet tend to swell by the end of the day.
Buy the footwear that’s right for the job
Manufacturers make different kinds of model for different hiking purposes. You need to buy the right design for the kind of hiking that you plan to do. If you’re backpacking, you need supportive high-ankled boots with stiff midsoles for support. Mountaineering boots are built for extremely heavy loads, too, and also to accommodate external claws (crampons). Hiking shoes are much lighter and tend to be flexible (they are the Chrysler 300 Touring cars of hiking boots).
Consider size and heft
Lightweight hiking boots can be as heavy as 3 pounds a pair. Heavyweight ones can weigh as much as 5 pounds. Not everyone can manage such heavy weights. Boots that are too heavy can cause backaches. Female hikers, especially, should never wear heavy boots. Even among the lightweight and midweight ones, it’s important to find a pair that one can easily wear all day. The greater the weight one plans to carry, the harder and heavier the boots will need to be. They offer support.
Find the right size
Merely going by the shoe size chart isn’t enough. You’ll need to wear each pair of boots on your shortlist, and try a number of tests. With the finger test, you insert a finger into your unlaced boots once you wear them. You want to see that your finger goes all around. You’ll need this kind of space when you hike downhill. Your feet will need room to slide into. Some women have wide feet, and find that only a men’s boot works well with the finger test.
Finally, just because you’ve bought a pair and taken it home doesn’t mean that you can’t return it. You must wear those boots all day, walk around your home, climb up and down the stairs — anything that you can do without getting the boots dirty. If there is discomfort, you can be certain that you’ll see it magnified many times over out on the trail. You should take them back, and keep looking.
Larry Snyder worked in retail for 40 years before retiring, the last 10 years being in a sports/outdoor apparel shop. He is now whiling away his days sharing his knowledge by writing articles and has become a regular writer for travel and outdoor related blogs.