If you’re serious about hiking, it pays to get serious about hiking boots. The right pair of boots will not only keep your feet comfortable, they’ll keep them safe.
The wrong pair on the other hand can seriously slow you down.
If you’re new to the world of hiking boots, you can scroll down below for an in depth buying guide. If not, here are my top seven picks for the best hiking boots currently on the market.
Hi Tec Men’s Altitude
A regular best seller on Amazon, the Hi Tec Men’s Altitude is comfortable, durable and stylish. On the market for less than a hundred dollars, it’s also excellent value.
Hi Tec have been building boots for over 30 years now and it shows in the simple, yet effective design. Comfort is handled with a compression moulded EVA mid sole and on the outside carbon rubber promises superior traction.
The softly padded leather collar adds stability but it’s light enough not to slow you down. I also like the fully gusseted leather tongue which is ideal for keeping debris at bay.
One downside of these boots is that they do take a while to break in. Full grain leather might mean increased durability but it also means some very painful feet the first time you wear them.
Merrell Moab Ventilator
Easily the lightest boot on the list, the Moab Ventilator has been designed solely for hiking in the Summer. The upper has been designed to allow as much air as possible to circulate. And the result is a boot that lets your feet breathe regardless of the temperature.
Another thing that I like about these boots is that they require absolutely no break in period. You can literally start hiking the day you get them.
Unfortunately, these boots do come with one pretty big drawback, they’re unlikely to last long. The ultra light construction means that a little bit of wear and tear will literally tear holes in them.
If you’re looking for a pair of boots that will last a good two years, it’s therefore worth looking elsewhere.
Keen Targhee II
Keen have been a big name in the boot industry for some time now and one of their most popular products is the Targhee II. With zero break in period, they’re also one of Keens most comfortable.
The primary selling point of these boots is simple; they provide ample stability without compromising on weight. And this makes them ideal for somebody who occasionally tackles tough terrain but also wants a boot that they can wear on lighter days.
Available in a choice of six different styles, they have a nice understated style to them too. And as such, they can be worn on the town just as easily as on the mountain.
Salomon Quest 4D GTX
Costing over $200, the 4D GTX is easily the most expensive boot on the list. For the price however, you get a pair of boots that can comfortably handle just about any terrain.
Salomon clearly spent a lot of time on the design stage and the result is very impressive. Despite being very tough, they require no break in period. And despite weighing three pounds, they don’t weigh you down.
They also offer more traction than any boot I’ve worn. If you can stomach the price, there’s no better boot for the serious hiker.
Timberland White Ledge
Made from full grain leather, the White Ledge is one of the toughest boots on the list. This means plenty of stability but it also means a very painful break in period. After a few weeks wear however, the boots do become very comfortable.
Another thing that I liked about the White Ledge is the fully gusseted tongue. This allows you to hike through just about anything without picking up debris.
Timberland is generally pretty hit or miss in the durability department but the White Ledge appears to stand up well over time. One thing that I don’t like about these boots however is that they’re not exactly airy.
Under Armour Valsetz
The Valsetz is officially a tactical boot but that doesn’t mean it can’t perform on the mountain. It’s been designed for people carrying heavy loads and therefore provides more than enough stability for most hikers.
The Micro G foam linings provide just the right amount of bounce and I was also pleasantly surprised by just how light they feel. This is apparently the result of Under Armours patented ClutchFit technology. To be honest, I’m not sure what ClutchFit means but I’m happy to report that it definitely works.
Rockport Elkhart Snow Boot
One of the more stylish hiking boots currently on the market, the Rockport Elkhart Snow boot looks good enough for all day wear. Weighing just 1.5 pounds, they’re also very much light enough.
Aside from being stylish, these boots are also very comfortable. The padded collar provides plenty of cushion and the soles, while rigid enough to hike in, are flexible enough for a long days wear.
The rubber outsole provides plenty of traction and being designed for snowy conditions, they are genuinely waterproof.
These days, hiking boots can generally be divided into four distinct categories. And the first step towards choosing the right boots for you is to choose the right category.
These are more hiking shoes than hiking boots and they are designed for short hikes of less than five miles. They are ultra flexible, ultra lightweight and they tend to be the cheapest of all four. The downside is that they lack support and therefore shouldn’t be worn on longer hikes, rough terrain or particularly steep elevations.
Light Hiking Boots
These are ideal for most hikers and they can comfortably handle moderate terrain for up to ten miles. They offer a lot more support than trail shoes and yet, they don’t add too much weight to your feet. They’re suitable for moderate elevation and they offer more than enough support for a lightweight bag or backpack.
Mid Weight Boots
These are significantly heavier than the former category but they also offer significantly more support. They can handle any terrain short of mountainous and they have enough cushion to keep your feet happy for up to twenty miles. They’re also the only boots suitable so far for 50 Kilo backpacks.
These are serious boots designed exclusively for use on the mountain. They’re heavy as hell and they take forever to break in. But they’re also nearly impossible to break and they have the support you need for steep inclines and ice. These boots certainly aren’t for everyone but if you plan tackling an alpine environment, they’re the only logical choice.
The Four Most Common Build Materials
Modern hiking boots are made from a wealth of different materials. And again, the best material for you will depend largely on the conditions that you expect to encounter. Here are four of the most common.
Full Grain Leather
Naturally water and abrasion resistant, full grain leather is easily the most durable material on the list. The problem is that it’s also the heaviest, the most expensive and by far, the hardest to break in. If you’re tackling tough terrain, or carrying tough loads, it’s the only logical choice. Otherwise go for something lighter.
Split Grain Leather
Split grain leather is what happens when you cut full grain leather in half. The rough cowhide is split away and you’re left with a smooth exterior that’s lighter, cheaper and more flexible. Split grain leather isn’t as durable or as water resistant as full grain but it’s a trade off that most people are happy to make.
This is basically full grain leather that’s been buffed to look like suede. It has all the same characteristics of full grain leather except it looks nicer and the buffing process makes it a little more flexible.
Synthetics have become increasingly popular in recent years, especially polyester, nylon and synthetic leather. The primary benefits of these materials is that they’re lighter, more flexible and they dry faster. They’re also typically a lot cheaper. The downside however is that they rarely last as long.
The Three Types of Cut
Hiking boot cuts range all the way from the ankle to the shin. As a general rule of thumb, the higher the cut, the tougher the terrain that you can handle.
- Low Cut: Low cut boots are ideal for light terrain. They add almost no weight and they keep your feet cool. The downside is they also offer no protection from sand and grit.
- Mid Cut: Mid cut boots can handle most types of terrain. And yet unlike the high cut variety, they’re generally pretty light and breathable.
- High Cut: The benefit of a higher cut is better balance and increased ankle support. High cut boots will help you to carry more gear and walk more evenly over rough terrain.
What About Waterproofing?
Not all hiking boots are waterproof and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The more waterproof a boot is, the less breathable it is. And it follows that you should only really opt for waterproofing if you genuinely expect to encounter wet conditions.
If you do want waterproofing, you have a choice of two types
Full grain leather, when combined with wax or oil, is about as waterproof as you can get. Provided the boot has been well constructed, you should be able to wade through just about any kind of conditions and get home with dry feet. Keep in mind however that not all boots are well constructed. If waterproofing is important, stick to well known brands.
Another option is the use of breathable linings such as Gore-Tex. They consist of lightweight fabric and are generally only used on the inside of the boot. The benefit of this is that Gore Tex boots are significantly more airy than those made from leather. The downside however is that linings on the inside don’t stop the outside getting wet.
What About the Sole?
A hiking boot generally consists of three distinct sections; the upper which covers your foot, the outsole which makes contact with the ground, and the mid sole which is sandwiched between the two.
So far, we’ve only discussed the upper but this is only half the story when it comes to choosing good hiking boots.
The mid sole acts as a buffer against the ground while you walk. It is responsible for absorbing the shock each time you take a step and it’s the reason that your feet feel cushioned even when walking over rough surfaces.
Most mid soles are made from either EVA or polyurethane. EVA is lighter, softer and less expensive. Polyurethane is heavier, harder and more expensive. The latter is therefore primarily found in mountaineering boots.
Some hiking boots contain additional components which are installed in between the mid sole and outsole. The most common examples are shanks and plates.
- A shank is typically 5mm thick and is designed to increase the stiffness of a boot
- .A plate is an ultra thin insert designed to increase the hardness of a boot. It ensures that your feet are not bruised when walking over uneven, or sharp objects.
All outsoles are made from rubber with the most popular brand being Vibram. When looking at outsoles, there are only really three factors to consider:
- Hardness: Sometimes additives are added to the rubber to increase hardness. The benefit of this is increased durability.
- Lug Pattern: These are the grooves on outsoles designed to increase traction. The deeper the groves, the more traction they offer. The wider they are, the better for shedding mud.