How To Choose Hiking Boots: A Detailed Guide

Rilor Staff
Update: July 17, 2021
Table of Contents

How to choose hiking boots? 

Whenever you are heading into altitudes, you have to mind what you wear. Your footwear, for instance, plays a vital part in your performance, stability, and protection while you are hiking. Therefore, it is quite crucial that you pick the best hiking boots for your needs. The wrong boots can be a hiking mistake that causes discomfort, injury, or endanger you.

In this post, I will discuss some of the essential considerations that you should mind whenever choosing a pair of boots for hiking. In this way, you'll get the most out of your money and convenience. 

Let's get started.

How To Choose Hiking Boots: The Basics

To make things simpler, it is essential that you realize that the process of choosing outdoor gear requires trial and testing. This concept applies to hiking boots and other related footwear. Basically, you would want your boots to fit your intended application, including the terrain you want to tread. 

The following are the fundamental considerations in picking hiking boots.

  • Type and variation - Not all boots are the same. There's no such thing as one-size-fits-all for this particular equipment. In fact, the gamut of selection is so extensive that you need to write down your requirements and preferences first. There are options for heavy-duty mountaineering down to ultralight hiking.
  • Architecture - You would want to understand the construction of a hiking boot before buying into it. Specifically, you should have a grasp of components like midsoles, uppers, outsoles, and lowers since they form part of the overall performance of the footwear. If you can understand the nuances, you will be able to narrow down your selection. 
  • Fitting - Finally, you would want your hiking boot to provide a perfect fit for your feet. It's the only way you can experience comfort and support while you are on the road. If your boots don't have the correct fit, you'll also be prone to experience blisters and injuries. 

Choosing Hiking Boots Based On Type

  • For backpacking - A hiking boot tailored for backpacking is capable of handling heavier loads, even in extended trips. If you are planning to do some backcountry hikes, it is recommended that you get this one. A backpacking boot is known for its high-cut construction. Specifically, this boot can wrap the region above your ankle for additional support. Moreover, they excel in durability, too, as proven by their stiff midsoles. They are downright perfect for off-the-grid and on-the-trail trips.
  • For day hikes - Hiking boots vary from high to mid-cut options. They are designed for short backpacking trips or day hikes (trips that do go beyond overnight). They work well if you are carrying light loads only. Furthermore, it is noticeable that these boots are quite flexible. They don't require extensive break-ins. However, keep in mind that they don't excel that well when it comes to durability and support departments. 

Construction And Parts

Always be a sleuth when it comes to inspecting the construction of hiking boots. A single flaw can make a particular option not suitable for you. 


It is important to note that the materials used in the boot influence its overall durability, breathability, water defense, and weight. Here are some of the most commonly used materials in constructing hiking boot's uppers.

  • Full-grain leather - This one is standard, as it's abrasion-resistant and highly durable. It also adds to the water resistance of the footwear. Most of the time, full-grain leather is used in backpacking boots designed for multi-day trips. They also handle harsh terrains and have the stability to manage heavy loads. However, keep in mind that this leather is not within the lightweight department. 
  • Nubuck leather - I am pretty sure that some of you have encountered the term "nubuck" already. Basically, nubuck leather is a variation of full-grain leather but has been buffed so that it would look like suede. It is ultra-durable and offers excellent defense against the elements. It also provides a semblance of flexibility. However, you need to spend time breaking the leather in, especially if you intend to have a multi-day hike. 
  • Split-grain leather - A split-grain leather is not a stand-alone material. It is often used together with nylon mesh to create a boot that is light and breathable. The term "split away" refers to the way the leather is divided into the soft exterior and rugged interior. Of course, its obvious advantage is cost, as less material is used in the construction of the boot. But at the same time, it has low resistance against the elements. 
  • Synthetic leather - Keep in mind that synthetic leather is not genuine leather. It is made to mimic the performance of the real thing. Basically, synthetic leathers are made from nylon and polyester. They are the material of choice for many boots today. The leather is easy to break in and dries quickly after getting drenched. Compared to genuine leather, synthetics are downright cheaper. Its main disadvantage is that it wears quickly due to stitching. 
  • Waterproof materials - Hiking boots may also possess waterproofing capabilities if their uppers are tailored with waterproof membranes. A popular example of this is Gore-Tex. Such a feature is helpful, especially if you are hiking on wet terrains or rainy conditions. But keep in mind that these boots can get damp and hot during hot days because of their poor breathability. 
  • Insulation - Winter hiking boots and mountaineering footwear have insulation on their uppers. In this way, they could induce heat retention and warmth to the feet while hiking in cold weather. 


It is the midsole that provides footwear the cushioning that it needs. It also helps mitigate shock and aid in assessing the stiffness of the boots. A stiff boot is essential for hiking, especially if you are heading on difficult terrains. The stiffness prevents your feet from experiencing stings if you ever step on sharp or rough objects.

Today, midsoles are constructed either via ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) or polyurethane. 

  • EVA - EVA is lighter and softer than polyurethane. Moreover, it is cheaper, too. Most hiking boots use EVA in different densities to cater to different needs and preferences when it comes to support and cushion.
  • Polyurethane - On the other hand, polyurethane is more durable and stiffer than EVA. Hence, it is a prime choice for mountaineering and backpacking boots.


Since we are talking about hiking boots, then their outsoles should be exclusively rubber--with the occasional inclusion of carbon. Rubber is a prime choice because it is tough but offers impact absorption. Outsoles that have thick and deep lugs are ideal for mountaineering and backpacking. Such features are necessary for the boot to have a sufficient grip on the ground. The broader the lug, the more it can generate traction. Muds don't stick inside them for too long. 

You can also find the heel brake on the outsoles. It improves the friction on the boot and the ground, preventing you from slipping whenever descending on trailing slippery terrains. 

Interior Support

Plates - These are the inserts known for their flexible structure. They are placed in between the outsole and midsole. They usher protection to your feet so that they won't get scratched by stray objects on the ground--such as branches. 

Shanks - The shanks are inserts within the outsole and midsole of the boot. It is there to optimize the stiffness and carrying capability of the midsole. Shanks have different lengths. There are those that encompass the entire midsole; others are only half. 

Fit And Sizing

Before you start shopping, you should know what's the ideal fit for you. A pair of boots suit you if it's snug on all parts--but not too tight. It should also have enough room for your toes to move. Also, don't forget to wear socks whenever trying on a pair of footwear. You'll be able to assess whether or not you have to adjust your boot size.

There's no love lost if you are going to measure the length of your arch and feet. Once you get the figures, you can refer to the sizing charts of various boot manufacturers. Keep in mind that you should have around an inch of space between your insole's end and your longest toe. 

If you think that you are having difficulties with fit even though you have tried all sizes available, then you might consider wearing orthotics. They can significantly improve one's fit if used appropriately. You might also want to check aftermarket footbeds or insoles.

Of course, try some lacing techniques so that you can adjust the snugness of the footwear. Little things like this can help your feet experience more comfort and support from your hiking boots.

In Summary

This is just a simple guide on how to choose hiking boots, but it is already enough to cover all the fundamentals. Keep in mind that you have to take into account your preferences when it comes to refining your choices. In this way, you'll arrive at an option that is desirable and suitable for you. 

That's it for now. If you have other related inquiries, feel free to ask me in the comment section below.

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