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How To Choose Hiking Boots

If there is one question that is frequently asked by new hikers and in-market hiking boot buyers alike, especially on online forums, it’s: “I’m in need of a pair of hiking boots. What brands do you recommend?”

Or “I’ve got $200 to spend on hiking boots. Can someone recommend some I could buy under this price range?”

Now, people do offer up suggestions here and I have no doubt they’re with the best intentions.

But, they’re such tough questions to answer given my foot is almost certainly different to the person who asked the above questions, which is different to yours and so on and so forth.

In short, buying a pair of hiking boots is such a unique purchase that is incredibly difficult for anyone to really offer any recommendations on.

And it’s important that you get this right because it will honestly be the most important gear purchase you will make as a hiker.

What I’m going to outline in this blog is what I believe to be the process you should go through in picking your first, or next, pair of boots/shoes.

It’s worth noting that this is probably going to be more relevant to first time hikers as it would be fair to assume that experienced hikers already know what works for them and what doesn’t.

So, where do we begin?

Frequency of Use

Huge twist here with many thinking, much like the questions above, that price and brand would come first.

They don’t.

Your frequency of use needs to be your first consideration as it will unlock everything else that follows it.

For example, let’s say you’ve only just started hiking.

Literally, you’ve done one walk and whilst you enjoyed it you’re really not sure if this is something you’re going to be doing every weekend (you’d be mad if you didn’t though haha).

In fact, it’s probably something you’d do every couple of months at best.

But you recognise that eventually you might need to upgrade from your cross trainers that have just taken a hammering in the mud.

Fording a river in NZ with hiking boots on

Fording the Crow River in New Zealand boots and all. 

Using this scenario, it doesn’t make sense to go out and spend $250-$350 on a pair of hiking boots that will only sit in your closet and collect dust.

My advice would be to go down to your local outdoor store that is known for selling cheap gear and buy a pair of boots for say $100 or a fraction more.

Alternatively, if you are going to be hiking a few times a month as you’ve got an appetite for it that can’t be satisfied, then go and grab yourself a sturdy pair that will cost you anywhere from $250-$350.

They’ll withstand the beating you’ll give them on the trail and you’ll get plenty more use out of them over a longer period of time.

Price

Now, we can get into price!

You’ve worked out that you’re going to hike every second weekend and potentially up to and including four times a month.

Given this regular use, you’re going to need to something that will go the distance which usually comes with a more expensive price tag.

Based on my experience, you’re going to find something that fits this criteria in the $250-$350 price tag.

Now, your eyes may have just fell out of your head reading that last sentence but revert back to my previous comment in this blog about your hiking boots being your most important purchase.

Trust me when I say that you should never sacrifice quality for a cheaper price and it’s none more so relevant than with hiking boots.

You’ll certainly appreciate the initial investment three years after buying them when your boots are still going strong and may yet still be with you for another two years if you take care of them properly.

Brand

Okay so we have set our budget at $250-$350.

By having that in mind, it now starts to narrow down your options and draw you closer to making a final decision.

Top end brands like Keen, Merrell, Scarpa and Salomon typically exist in this price bracket because they tend to make high quality, durable hiking boots.

Merrel Moab hiking boots

Merrell Moab hiking boots are a popular choice. But, remember, what’s good for one hiker might not be good for all. Check out a full range of boots at Snowys Outdoors. 

But to work out which brands will be available for your budget, you will need to make a visit to your local outdoor store.

Style, Range and Feel

In fact, we’d suggest visiting multiple stores if you can.

Again, it’s the most important outdoor gear purchase you’ll make so you need to be able to try on all your options in person and really get a feel for them.

If you end up buying them online that’s completely fine.

But just make sure you’ve tried them on first. That’s the important part of the buying process.

By actually going into the outdoor store, you can have a chat with a staff member about the shape of your foot and he/she can measure both feet up for you.

They’ll also take on board your criteria of use and budget, combining it with your measurements, and then present you with some brands.

But within each brand there will almost certainly be a different style and range for you to choose from.

If you’re a regular hiker, it’s a good idea to invest in good boots. Or, 3 days into a 6 day hike, you might find yourself having to do this when the sole of your boot comes off. 

If they fit your frequency of use and budget requirement, try them all on just to be sure to get a good feel for what actually feels comfortable for your foot.

And this is where purchasing a hiking boot really becomes a unique purchase.

Salomons might be really comfortable for me, but they don’t agree with your foot shape.

Whereas the Scarpas fit like a slipper on your foot, but feel restrictive and uncomfortable on mine.

This is why it is hard for a complete stranger on an online forum to answer your question about which brand would they recommend.

One Last Tip…

Any good outdoor retail staff will tell you this anyway, but just in case they don’t, always remember that your everyday shoe size isn’t going to be your hiking boot shoe size.

In fact, you’re going to need to go a half size bigger in your hiking boots.

Why? Did you ever hear about a hiker complain about losing their toe nail on a hike?

That’s because their toes, or big toe in most cases, are smashing up against the inside of the toe box (the small section at the end of your boot); particularly on downhill sections.

Over time, this typically damages their toe nail to the point of it falling off (yuck!).

So, if you go a half size bigger, you’ll give your feet that little bit of extra wiggle room and avoid losing any toe nails (huge bonus!).

If you’re not sure if you’ve got it right, a good rule of thumb is to actually stick your thumb down the back of your boot in between the inside of it and the back of your Achilles heel.

If you can comfortably get it down there without it being too loose or too tight to do so, then it’s more than likely that you’ve got a really well fitted pair of boots.

And as long as they are comfortable to walk around in, then you should be good to go.

And there you have it, folks! Whilst price and brand are definitely a factor, they come a distant second and third to frequency of use.

By determining that frequency, you’ll be a majority of the way to finding the perfect pair of boots for YOU (which is most important) as it will influence the rest of the process.

John Feeney is the owner and main guide of The Hiking Society; an adventure company that offers the best hiking tours in Victoria.

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