The difference between a good hike and a bad hike is having comfortable feet. Whether you’re walking up a mountain or along gravel trails, the right pair of hiking boots are the key to supporting your feet and keeping you comfortable. There are many different styles, features, fits, and brands when looking for hiking boots, so it can sometimes feel a little overwhelming to choose the right pair for your feet. To make deciding a bit easier, here are some of the styles and features most commonly available to get an idea of where to start looking, as well as some tips on finding the right fit.
Trail-runners: similar to running shoes but offering more traction and stability, these low-cut shoes are versatile and comfortable for thru-hikes and trail-running, or long distance treks across relatively even terrain. They’re also great for walking in urban environments!
Light hikers: lightweight with great traction that can offer protection against stony trails. These boots are quite versatile and are often mid-cut, providing extra protection for the ankles without being too restrictive on movement, allowing a comfortable amount of flexibility.
Backpacking: great traction, durable construction boots with above-ankle support – these boots are flexible and often lightweight; a great choice for high-mileage backpacking trips, or a variety of other outdoor adventures.
Mountaineering: extremely durable, excellent traction, high-cut boots that excel on steep terrain, though are usually too rigid for comfortable trail-hiking. These boots are compatible with crampons and are sometimes insulated, making them great for ice climbing or high-altitude ascents. We typically do not carry styles in the mountaineering category as we have focused our collection to accommodate the hiker and backpacker.
Breathability: Many boots are designed with mesh materials in low-wear areas of the boot to alleviate sweat or clamminess. If you’re hiking somewhere with high temps or humidity, the added breathability can be a game-changer – if your feet aren’t sweaty, your socks stay dry, and that means less blister-causing friction!
Design: Many boots have a rand – a rubber bumper on the toe that protects the shoe from accidentally kicking rocks – but some boots have a rand that wraps all the way around the boot for protection on all sides. A gusseted tongue means the sides of the tongue are connected to the upper part of the boot to prevent dirt and water from getting inside. There are also different designs for lacing, such as the length of the lace and how many hooks you need to lace through to tie up the boot comfortably. These are all relatively minor features, but can improve the quality of your time spent putting your boots on or off, or help with a specific adventure you have in mind. They may just be the small detail that defines your favorite pair of boots!
Materials: Hiking boots are made with many kinds of materials; from full-grain, Nubuck, and suede leathers; to polyester, nylon, and polyurethane synthetics. Leathers are generally more durable and water-resistant, while synthetics are lighter and more flexible. Some boots are built using both leather and synthetic materials. This choice depends largely on aesthetics, but it is important to know what you get so you can properly treat them for longevity!
Weather resistance: waterproof boots can stop your feet from getting soaked by rain, river-crossings, or really wet grass. If you’re planning a hike in generally wet environments, or travelling to a place that has frequent rain showers, being prepared with waterproof boots can mean dry socks and toasty feet. You can find waterproof options for all styles of hiking boots! If you notice your footwear is no longer beading the water nicely it may be time to retreat your boots. Check out our post on retreating you boots.
Once you’re ready to try on a pair of boots, one of our experienced staff can help measure the correct size for your feet. Sizes vary from brand to brand, so don’t get caught up on an exact number. Some brands are known for fitting narrow heels, wide toes, or flat arches, but we can help you find the most comfortable selection to try from.
Trying them on: when going to try on hiking boots, to try recreate the conditions of the adventure you’ll be wearing them in at the store. Wear your favorite hiking socks. Bring your orthotics or insoles (if you wear them). Come later in the day when your feet are fatigued from your daily activities, for a natural mid-hike feel. Tightly lace the boots you’re trying from the bottom up. Walk around for a while and feel for any unwanted movement, pressure, or chafing.
Breaking them in: Most blisters occur because boots aren’t properly fitted, or haven’t been broken in. Never take your new boots out of the box and head directly to the trail; walk with them around the house first, then take them around town while doing errands to break them in – make sure they stay comfortable before taking them to run the gauntlet! If your boots aren’t comfy and you’ve still got hours or even days of hiking in them before you can take them off, your adventure could be ruined before it starts. Enjoying your time outdoors is what’s most important, so always break in your boots!
There are many different boots designed for all kinds of activities. At Outter Limits, we proudly have a rock path and sloping ramp to test how our hiking boots feel on different terrain, a rubbing bar to make subtle shape adjustments, and a great selection of aftermarket insoles for additional arch support. We also carry re-waterproofing treatments, cleaning agents, and material conditioners to preserve your boots and make them ready for years of adventures to come. If this information was helpful – or if you still have any lingering questions, we can point you in the right direction at Outter Limits – your adventure begins here!