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How to buy hiking boots

boots-feature

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.

41 Comments on How to buy hiking boots

  1. Make sure they fit right. Comfort, comfort, comfort. If something doesn’t feel right in the store, it will be torture on the trail. Wear the same socks or sock combination that you will wear hiking for fitting. I like fabric / leather combination uppers because they don’t take no time at all to break in.

  2. Captain Scout // January 31, 2013 at 9:15 pm // Reply

    Timberland boots, buy them for life.

  3. Merrell Chameleon Mid Waterproof Boots are super comfortable boots that I got at REI for $65. I used them on a week long backpacking trip (31 Miles) in Utah’s High Uintas Wilderness and they were very comfortable under a 30 pound pack.

  4. November-Now is a great time to buy hiking boots: season close outs. I can usually buy the boots I want at a 40-50% off discount. Great time to suggest to parents for a Christmas gift.

  5. I have the ones from Cabelas they work great if you have been to Quivira Scout Ranch the trails there are rough and these worked fine.

  6. keens are awesome

  7. i think that they all look pretty cool.

    • outdoorman55 // October 4, 2012 at 7:57 pm // Reply

      they may look cool, but do they fit you,are they durable,do they fit your style,or are they comfortable enough to walk for a long time?These are questions you need to ask yourself when buying any type of shoe,boot,or sandle.

      :)(: think twice about EVERYTHING!!!!!

  8. Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // August 29, 2012 at 10:14 pm // Reply

    I just got a new pair of Merrel heavy duty hikers.

  9. brahma hiking boots are very comfortable but they are a little heavy but i got used to them and they are cheap bought mine at walmart on sale for about 10 bucks or so

  10. No boot is ever waterproof. The brand “Snow Seal” is the best waterproofer there is for LEATHER.

    • I agree. Been using it for years and have never had a problem. Good call MT scout.

    • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // October 12, 2012 at 12:31 pm // Reply

      Well actually as long as the boot says WATER-PROOF they should be water proof enough to last a while. As for Rewater proofing them I use good ol’ mink oil.

      • I used to use mink oil, a lot. Only problem is if you plan on keeping the same boots for more than 5 years, mink oil breaks down the boots glue seals and stitching where as Snow Seal does not. Mink oil is also a scent product meaning animals are attracted to it. Not a good thing for wilderness camping. It’s a-number-one for soccer shoes though.

      • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // November 26, 2012 at 2:06 pm //

        Hmmmmmm… is that personal experance or just internet hype?

  11. Timberland’s are great and very universal because they are very light in weight.

  12. Delta Force // May 3, 2012 at 12:36 pm // Reply

    Oakley “HellBound” Para-boots are what I used and they saved my feet on more then one occasion.

    • Wow I wish I had enough money that I could waist it on boots too. Anyways I have a really nice pair of Timberlands now. why spend $600 on boots when you can get a perfectly good pair for a few bucks?? sounds like overkill to me.

      • Delta Force // June 5, 2012 at 10:17 am //

        Ha-Ha good one. But you cant get a good pair for just a few bucks. and for your information they where ISSUED to me so I did not buy them, the government did. My boots had to be bullet resistant as i was a Para rescue-man for 8 years in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now I use light weight Merrel’s when scouting with the boys and when hunting.

    • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // August 29, 2012 at 10:17 pm // Reply

      @ delta. Your boots sound really tough but I could never afford them and I dont think any other scout could afford it either. Thank you for preserving my freedom though!

  13. On the Contrary // April 21, 2012 at 9:11 am // Reply

    I bought a Pair of Steel toe Combats at my friendly neighborhood Military Surplus store , if you have a big foot ( Im size 10 and a half) then go to a surplus store , i got these for like 20$ and wore then for 3 years and they still fit.

  14. Trail Monkey // March 30, 2012 at 6:13 pm // Reply

    I just bought a pair of Timberland woodland boots that weigh about the same as my tennies; very nice. Cost was $90.00. Just a suggestion.

  15. Delta Force // March 1, 2012 at 12:34 pm // Reply

    Paratrooper combat boots are the best.

  16. I love sports, I love nature, I love the Vibram Five Fingers!

  17. I bought some imitation boots and they work perfectly!

  18. I was looking for combat boots, ya know jungle or military style.

    • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // October 13, 2011 at 2:14 pm // Reply

      I hope you have a lot of $$$ because combat boots cost up to $700!! the cheapest I have found them is $400! good luck with that!

  19. the ones from cabela look nice

  20. legoman88 // July 7, 2011 at 6:18 pm // Reply

    KEEN hiking boots are even better!!!

  21. Is the L.L Bean all Leather

  22. My Hi-Tec are the best!!!!!!!!!

  23. I think that they look pretty cool. The first one from Cabela’s have great quality.

  24. Mr sharp blade // April 23, 2011 at 7:08 pm // Reply

    I love my boots!

  25. THEY LOOK HORABLE. I/M ONLY TEN I COULDNT EVEN FIT IN THEM

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