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How to buy hiking boots

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Your feet are your direct connection to the trail, so what you wear on them really matters — and it can make or break your day. But that doesn’t mean you have to spend a boatload on a new pair.

The key is getting a good fit and picking the right shoe for your needs. Gear Guy is here to help with shopping tips, plus a look at some of his favorite new boots and shoes.

RIGHT BOOT FOR THE JOB

The truth: A pair of sneakers with good tread and a stiff sole is probably all you’ll need for 70 percent of your troop’s outings. Trail-running shoes are always a great option. The main exception is multiday hiking and backpacking, and trail activities in cold or wet weather. For those, you’ll want sturdier hiking shoes or boots with extra ankle support and possibly waterproof protection.

SALOMON XA PRO 3D J ($65; salomon.com): One of our favorite trail-running options, this all-mesh shoe provides lots of breathability with an aggressive off-road sole. Instead of conventional laces, it has a simple single-pull lace-tightening system, plus an antimicrobial treatment to prevent foot stink. Weight: 8.5 oz. An adult-sized version, the XA Pro 3D, runs about $130.

SALOMON XA PRO 3D J ($65; salomon.com): One of our favorite trail-running options, this all-mesh shoe provides lots of breathability with an aggressive off-road sole. Instead of conventional laces, it has a simple single-pull lace-tightening system, plus an antimicrobial treatment to prevent foot stink. Weight: 8.5 oz. An adult-sized version, the XA Pro 3D, runs about $130.

PRICE

Since you’re probably growing out of your shoes quickly, durability is less important. Odds are, you’ll grow out of them long before you’ll wear them out. So cheaper entry-level shoes and boots will probably be good enough. Also look for clearance sales at local shops and online deals at sites like Campmor.com and REI.com/outlet. When you see a really good sale, think about planning ahead and buying for the next size you’ll need.

Some troops have a shoe/boot bin or hand-me-down program. Donate a pair of boots you’ve outgrown, and grab a pair that fits. And if your troop doesn’t have a boot bin, start one! (Remember: A new set of $20 insoles can really freshen up a pair of used boots.)

THE NORTH FACE JR. HEDGEHOG HIKER ($50; thenorthface.com): The most affordable shoe in our roundup, this synthetic and breathable mesh hiking shoe has an easy one-handed lacing system and rugged sole. Weight: 8.7 oz. An adult version, the Hedgehog Hike, is $120.

THE NORTH FACE JR. HEDGEHOG HIKER ($50; thenorthface.com): The most affordable shoe in our roundup, this synthetic and breathable mesh hiking shoe has an easy one-handed lacing system and rugged sole. Weight: 8.7 oz. An adult version, the Hedgehog Hike, is $120.

FIT

When trying on shoes and boots, make sure you’re wearing the type of socks you’ll be hiking in. The heel should be snug with enough wiggle room for your toes up front. Kick the floor — your toes shouldn’t hit the end. Then spend at least 10 minutes test driving them, walking around the store. If you buy online, try them inside your house, because once you’ve worn new shoes outside you usually can’t return them. If you’re planning to do winter hiking, look for extra toe room for thicker socks and better foot circulation.

CABELA'S YOUTH BACKCOUNTRY HIKERS ($80; cabelas.com): This leather-and-nylon high-top boot is supportive, with plenty of ankle stability. The boot is also armored with a waterproof lining and a sturdy lugged sole. Weight: 18 oz. A version for adult sizing is also available for $100.

CABELA’S YOUTH BACKCOUNTRY HIKERS ($80; cabelas.com): This leather-and-nylon high-top boot is supportive, with plenty of ankle stability. The boot is also armored with a waterproof lining and a sturdy lugged sole. Weight: 18 oz. A version for adult sizing is also available for $100.

BREAK IN YOUR BOOTS

While your new boots or shoes might feel comfortable right out of the box, it’s not a good idea to wear brand-new shoes on a long hike without breaking them in first — unless, of course, you like painful blisters! So start by wearing your new shoes to school, around the house, anywhere you can. The more time you spend in them ahead of time, the better off you’ll be on the trail. This is especially important with new leather boots.

HI-TEC ALTITUDE LITE I WATERPROOF JR. ($65; us.hi-tec.com): One of the best-selling boots in the U.S., this lightweight mesh-and-suede-leather high-top boot features a waterproof membrane and sturdy outsole for good traction. Weight: 10.9 oz. The adult-sized version is about $90.

HI-TEC ALTITUDE LITE I WATERPROOF JR. ($65; us.hi-tec.com): One of the best-selling boots in the U.S., this lightweight mesh-and-suede-leather high-top boot features a waterproof membrane and sturdy outsole for good traction. Weight: 10.9 oz. The adult-sized version is about $90.

TRACTION

Whether you’re buying full-on boots or a pair of trail runners, pay special attention to the sole and its traction. The deeper the tread, the more grip (and less slipping and falling) you’ll have on the trail.

L.L. BEAN KIDS' WATERPROOF TRAIL MODEL HIKERS ($50; llbean.com): Made of leather-and-synthetic-mesh uppers, these mid-top boots are comfortable straight out of the box and boost a waterproof membrane to keep your feet dry. Weight: 13.5 oz. A new adult version, the Men's Waterproof Trail Model Hikers 4 Mid, runs $99.

L.L. BEAN KIDS’ WATERPROOF TRAIL MODEL HIKERS ($50; llbean.com): Made of leather-and-synthetic-mesh uppers, these mid-top boots are comfortable straight out of the box and boost a waterproof membrane to keep your feet dry. Weight: 13.5 oz. A new adult version, the Men’s Waterproof Trail Model Hikers 4 Mid, runs $99.

WATERPROOF?

Boots and shoes with waterproof membranes like Gore-Tex, eVent and others usually do a good job of keeping the water out (think: stream crossings, heavy rains). That said, some guys find waterproof shoes to be less breathable and often sweaty in warmer, drier weather. So keep in mind where you’ll be hiking most and what the weather will be like.

COLUMBIA YOUTH NEWTON RIDGE WATERPROOF ($65; columbia.com): This all-leather upper high-top boot is the most affordable leather boot in our roundup. The leather is coated with a waterproof treatment while the sole has heavy lug traction. Weight: 8.6 oz. The Men's Newton Ridge Plus II Waterproof, an adult-sized version, comes in at $90.

COLUMBIA YOUTH NEWTON RIDGE WATERPROOF ($65; columbia.com): This all-leather upper high-top boot is the most affordable leather boot in our roundup. The leather is coated with a waterproof treatment while the sole has heavy lug traction. Weight: 8.6 oz. The Men’s Newton Ridge Plus II Waterproof, an adult-sized version, comes in at $90.

LEATHER VS. SYNTHETIC

Leather boots are more durable and traditionally provide more ankle and foot stability on tough trails than boots made of synthetic materials. But they are also heavier and more expensive. Synthetic boots are lighter-weight and more comfortable straight out of the box, with less wear-in time.

CARING FOR YOUR HIKING BOOTS

Always clean your boots after every hike. If you have leather hiking boots, apply a leather treatment like Nikwax every once in a while to keep them waterproof and prevent cracking and drying out. Never dry wet boots by the campfire. The heat will damage the soles and weaken the glue that holds them together. To dry them out, just remove the insoles and stuff your boots with newspaper.

12 Comments on How to buy hiking boots

  1. Zombie apocalypse // March 25, 2015 at 8:26 pm // Reply

    I want to get a pair of boots. I have never bought any . What is the best brand.

  2. The best way to test boots is to use them all day for a week even if you are sitting. The top of the boot will rub more often as well as other non typical pressure points thus showing you problems that would come out far down the trail. Usually working with the lacing will fix these problems if not try a different insert.

  3. Just received as a gift, Solomon GX trail hiking mid-top boots. Really nice, a lot different from my “loved” Timberlands. These are as light and about the same price but are fast drying and have flared out soles for lower chance of ankle twisting on the Philmont trails.
    Looking forward to using these this summer; breaking them in right now … very comfortable. My size 12’s weigh 20 oz. for the pair, crazy light!

  4. “Sorting the Best Hiking Boots and Shoes. For every Hiker Alike”

  5. I am inspired

  6. I have kodiak boots that I got for 30 dollars at Costco. They work great and haven’t worn out tremendously over multiple 2-3 hour hikes. I would recommend them as they are waterproof, comfortable, and durable.

  7. Get a pair that could double as snow boots. Just put on some wool socks before yoou play in the snow.

    • Good idea. I purchased some Lacrosse boots (galoshes not boot boots) that I used for about three years, in the summer for tromping around in the mud, and in the the winter for my regular snow boots. They were fantastic and never got snow in them.

  8. The hiking boots are really unique.

  9. Somebody from my church who was in the military gave
    me a pair leather army boots once

  10. you are my inspiration , I own few blogs and sometimes run out from to brand : (.

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