Boys' Life magazine

How to Buy Hiking Boots

You can make do with a hand-me-down backpack, tent or even sleeping bag. But hiking boots that don’t fit you exactly or perform as needed can end a trip. With so many choices in trail footwear, though, it’s hard to find what’s right for you without tripping over some that are wrong.

The key is getting a good fit and picking the right shoe for your needs. The shoes and boots reviewed here cover a range of models for all kinds of uses and users.

Need a comfortable, reliable shoe for day hiking that won’t break the bank? The MERRELL BIG KID’S MOAB FST LOW A/C WATERPROOF ($58, merrell.com) is a solid pick. With breathable synthetic and mesh uppers that prevent sweaty feet, plus waterproof construction and multidirectional outsole lugs, this shoe transitions smoothly from the school playground to the trail.

HIKING BOOTS OR HIKING SHOES?

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.

When you want to keep your feet light and cool, and have kicks that stick to everything from rock slabs to loose scree, slip on the low-cut LA SPORTIVA TX3 ($135, sportiva.com). Mesh uppers provide super breathability on the hottest hikes, while the full rubber toe box protects your toes and sides of your feet from bashing against rocks. Best of all, the sticky Vibram outsole gloms onto the ground like a gecko. 1 lb. 9 oz.

HOW MUCH SHOULD HIKING BOOTS COST?

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. 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.)

When you’re ready to tackle multihour day hikes, go for the support and waterproof protection of THE NORTH FACE JR. HEDGEHOG HIKER MID WATERPROOF ($65, northface.com). The HydroSeal waterproof membrane keeps out water when splashing through puddles and mud. The reinforced toe and heel protect feet and improve durability, while multidirectional lugs on the nonmarking outsole deliver good traction for hiking fairly rugged trails. 1 lb. 4 oz.

HOW TO FIT A HIKING BOOT

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.

Imagine a sportier version of the classic leather hiking boot, and you have the VASQUE BREEZE III GTX ($180, vasque.com). A Gore-Tex membrane keeps water out and, combined with the partly mesh uppers, breathes moderately well in hot environments. The Vibram outsole’s multidirectional lugs are more similar to a lowcut shoe than a heavy-duty boot and grip well in most conditions. 2 lbs. 10 oz.

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.

High-quality leather boots are rarely lightweight and easy to break in. The ZAMBERLAN 491 TRACKMASTER GTX RR ($220, zamberlanusa.com) boots are both. Everything about these comfy boots speaks to top craftsmanship, from the durable leather uppers to the rubber toe bumper, metal lacing hardware, supportive but light EVA midsole and high-traction Vibram outsole. 2 lbs. 2 oz.

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.

Very few low-cut waterproof hiking shoes deliver the performance value of the OBOZ SAWTOOTH LOW WATERPROOF ($140, obozfootwear.com). Support for carrying 30 pounds comes from what’s under the hood: a compression-molded EVA midsole, a polyurethane heel plug for rigidity, a partial nylon shank beneath the mid-foot, and a 1mm plate under the forefoot. Throw in the boa-style, one-pull lacing system, and uppers made of synthetic leather and abrasion-resistant synthetic, plus an outsole that grips the trail. 15.5 oz.

WATERPROOF BOOTS?

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.

It’s tough to find a good mid-cut, waterproof-breathable boot at this price, but the KEEN TARGHEE II WATERPROOF ($125, keenfootwear.com) fits the bill. A cushiony midsole provides a stable platform when you are carrying up to 30 pounds. The Keen Dry membrane keeps water out and breathes well. Solid for day hiking and lightweight backpacking, the outsole grips dry or wet rocks, scree and dirt, but won’t shed thick mud or snow. 2 lbs. 3 oz.

LEATHER VS. SYNTHETIC HIKING BOOTS

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.