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How to Buy Hiking Boots

One of the most important elements of any hiking trip is your foot comfort. Whether you plan to take an afternoon trek down a local footpath or a two-week excursion down the Appalachian Trail, there is a hiking boot for you. This guide will help you determine the type of hiking boot and features you need for your hiking activity.

Types of Hiking Boots

The first thing you need to determine when choosing a pair of hiking boots is the type of activity it will be used for. A hiker who spends a few hours on a well-groomed trail will need a less complex boot than a backpacker on a 10-day hike.

  • Light Hiking Boots - Light hiking boots are geared towards novice to intermediate hikers, those that attend 1- to 2-day hikes and carry a light backpack with only essential supplies. These boots are generally lightweight and flexible with limited support. Most light hiking boots feature a combination upper consisting of leather and mesh to offer breathability for additional comfort; although, entire leather (and waterproof) uppers are also available.
  • Technical Hiking Boots - Technical hiking boots are geared towards the more experienced hiker who attends multi-day hiking trips over various terrains and who carries a heavy-weight backpack containing supplies for the length of the trip. These boots generally boast a waterproof leather upper and offer support, stability and cushioning.

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Hiking Boot Features

Features are a good thing to consider when purchasing a pair of hiking boots. You want to make sure you purchase a pair of boots with the features you need that will help keep your feet comfortable while on your hike.

  • Upper
    • A full-grain leather (the outermost part of the cow's hide) upper is supportive, durable and waterproof.
    • A suede upper (sometimes combined with mesh fabric) offers more flexibility and breathability, but is not as supportive as full-grain leather and does not offer waterproof properties.
    • A one-piece upper will tend to be more waterproof and durable than those with multiple seams.
  • Midsole
    • A midsole helps to disperse weight and provide stability and can be made from a variety of materials:
    • Compression-molded EVA (Ethyl Vinyl Acetate, a foam material) midsoles are made of expanded EVA and offer a lighter weight.
    • Injection-molded EVA midsoles are made from melted pellets of EVA and offer a more uniform density from heel to toe.
    • Polyurethane (PU) midsoles are lightweight and offer cushioning, shock absorption, flexibility and durability.
    • TPR (Thermoplastic Rubber, a combination of petroleum-based chemicals) midsoles offer lightweight durability and flexibility.
  • Outsole
    • Outsoles are generally constructed of rubber and offer traction when hiking over a variety of surfaces.
    • Lugs, or treads, help increase traction, but the deeper they are, the heavier the outsole (and the boot) will be.
  • Additional Features
    • Gore-tex® linings help provide waterproofness and breathability.
    • Shanks offer stability and support and are generally located in the midsole.
    • Gusseted tongues help to keep out water, stones and debris.
    • Removable footbeds or insoles help provide comfort, cushioning and additional support.
    • Padded collars offer a comfortable, supportive fit.

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  • Before waterproofing, make sure your boots are clean and free from dirt and debris.
  • The best waterproofing substance for leather boots is a water-based or fluoropolymer waterproofing product; this can be used on previously-treated leather, dries quickly, and repels stains.
  • Make sure to concentrate on seams which can degrade over time and let water seep in.
  • For Gore-Tex-lined boots, it's best to use a silicone-based waterproofing substance to allow for more breathability.
  • Waterproofing solutions are available for a number of types of other footwear as well. Check out the selection of products here.

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When to Replace Your Hiking Boots

  • If the soles are worn smooth and no longer provide adequate traction
  • If water or debris begins to seep in
  • If you begin to get blisters or hot spots
  • If the lining becomes worn
  • If the seams begin to split

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