Boots are, without a doubt, the most important piece of gear you take on the trail. They will make or break your trip. If you have a really bad experience with your boots, you can’t enjoy anything else. So before you buy your next pair, here are some things to consider.
PICK THE RIGHT BOOT FOR THE JOB
If you’re backpacking, look for a leather high-top boot with lots of ankle support. For those day hikes without a backpack, mid-top boots made of synthetic materials are a good option.
Trail runners are O.K. to wear if it’s a completely flat trail with no risk of turning an ankle, but when people go backpacking in trail runners, they’re asking for trouble.
It’s better to have a boot that’s more stout than to have a boot that’s not up for the job.
LEATHER VS. SYNTHETIC
Leather boots offer excellent ankle and foot stability on difficult terrain, and they are usually more waterproof and durable than synthetic boots. But each step comes a little easier with synthetic boots because they are lighter, more flexible and more comfortable right out of the box than leather. They are also usually more affordable.
Like the tires on a car, the rubber-lug boot sole keeps your feet from slipping on the trail. The deeper the tread, the more grip you have. The sole should feel hard, and it should have plenty of knobbiness to it. Look for Vibram brand soles — they’re the best you can buy.
PRICE AND QUALITY
When it comes to hiking boots, you usually get what you pay for. That said, because your feet are still growing, your parents probably don’t want to spend a fortune on new boots that won’t fit after a while. Luckily, you can find lots of good deals if you know where to look. Check the Internet for online outfitters with closeout sales, and ever local outdoor store has a clearance section. Bottom line: Buy the best, quality boots that fit your budget.
FIT IS FOREMOST
Try on as many hiking boots as you can. Hike around the store for at least 10 minutes or so per pair. And for the most realistic fit, you should bring the exact socks you’ll wear on your hike. Your feet are largest in the afternoon, so shop then if possible.
The heel should be snug, and you want enough room in the toe so you can wiggle your toes. Kick the floor and see if your toes hit the end. Think about when you’re hiking downhill, are your toes going to hit the front of the boot? If winter camping is in your future, look for a boot with a little extra toe room so your feet have plenty of circulation.
Never wear your boots on the trail straight out of the box. Break them in first. Wear them to school, around the house, everywhere your mom will let you wear them. They’ll just get more comfortable the more you wear them.
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.