Types of Hiking Boots
Light hiking shoes: This type has a similar appearance to ordinary sneakers, but they are thicker because of the extra padding. The padding keeps a hiker’s feet from moving around inside and prevents blisters. The outer sole is designed for long strides, and the midsole absorbs shock. Light hiking shoes are preferable for short hikes, but they can also be worn by long-distance hikers who travel with less than 5kg on their backs.
Hiking boots: These boots are made for overnight hiking trips or short hikes over moderately rough terrain. They offer more support than light hiking shoes, but they are not as sturdy as backpacking boots. For this reason, they should only be used when hiking with a light backpack.
Backpacking boots: These heavy boots are durable and offer adequate protection when crossing both flat and hilly terrain with a backpack full of camping equipment. They protect the soles of the feet from blisters while supporting the ankles and the arches of the feet, preventing injuries that often result from carrying a heavy load.
Mountaineering boots: Used mainly for hiking on rough mountain terrain, mountaineering boots are worn by hikers who need to be sure-footed while walking on rocky paths or up steep inclines. They are designed to give better traction when climbing or walking through slippery areas.
The above guide is a general description of the different types of hiking books. The way a pair of boots feels on your feet is the only sure way to know if they are right for you. When planning a long trip, be sure to buy your equipment well in advance so you can spend some time walking around in your shoes while wearing a backpack.
Boot Cut (Low, Mid, High)
Low-cut shoes: While adequate for traveling with a daypack, they don’t give the ankles the support that serious hikers need. They also are not good at keeping out rocks or smaller debris which can cause blisters.
Mid-cut boots: These keep out all but the smallest particles of dirt from entering your boots. They offer better ankle support, making them a better choice when going on a long hike or on any hike across uneven ground.
High-cut boots: High-cut boots are the best choice for those who like to get off the beaten trail. They keep your ankles from turning even if you’re carrying a heavy load and keep mud from getting in when you hike through wetlands.
Boot Materials and Construction
Upper Boot Materials
The materials hiking boots are made from affect the comfort of the wearer and how well the boots stand up to wear and tear.
Full-grain leather: Once the most common type of material used, it has been largely replaced by materials made with modern methods. It is still popular with some because it is long-lasting and does not scratch or puncture easily.
Split-grain leather: Though not as durable or water-resistant as full-grain leather, it is lighter and cheaper. Split-grain leather can be used in combination with synthetic materials to make it waterproof and to allow better air circulation. This creates a lighter boot and prevents the feet from sweating, reducing the risk of blisters.
Nubuck leather: Essentially the same as full-grain leather except that the outside has been buffed or sanded to create a different look. While it has a nicer look and feel, it is less resistant to abrasion than full-grain leather.
Synthetics: Many modern hiking boots contain material, such as polyester and nylon, produced by chemical processes. In addition to being cheaper, they are lighter than leather. However, they are not as durable.
Waterproof linings: Some boots are manufactured with a synthetic material which prevents water from entering the boot while still allowing some air to pass through. Boots made with a waterproof membrane in the lining are not good all-weather boots because the reduced airflow can cause feet to sweat.
The midsole is important because it plays an crucial part in how comfortable the boot feels on your feet. The midsole absorbs the shock of each footfall and keeps the boot stiff when walking over uneven ground. Midsoles are often made of one of three synthetic materials. One is EVA (Ethyl Vinyl Acetate), which provides good shock absorption. A more expensive material is polyurethane, which is more flexible and offers better cushioning. Finally, TPR (thermoplastic rubber) produces midsoles that are lightweight and flexible, but is less commonly used than the other two.
A variety of components are used in and around the midsole to lessen shock and provide support.
- Shanks: Often included only in heavy-duty hiking boots, shanks can be made of lightweight synthetic materials or steel. Shanks support the weight of the hiker and provide stability.
- Plates: Plates are placed below the midsole to prevent foot injuries caused by stepping on rocks.
Synthetic rubbers such as thermoplastic polyurethane are used in most outsoles. This material provides traction and durability. Many leading outdoor sportswear companies such as The North Face, Columbia, and Merrell, use Vibram®, a proprietary synthetic rubber used to make outsoles.
- Lug pattern: Boots designed for hiking will have treads called “lugs” on the bottom. These offer traction on uneven or muddy ground or when hiking across loose stones.
- Heel brake: The section of the outsole below the wearer’s heel. Its purpose is to grip the ground to prevent the hiker from sliding during descents.
Connecting the Upper and Outsole
Traditionally, the midsole and outsole were stitched together. Today, they are generally bonded with an adhesive. This is usually enough to form a bond that will last for many years, but beware that cheaply made hiking shoes will use cheaper and less reliable adhesives. Also, avoid exposing your boots to heat, as this causes all adhesives to deteriorate.
The boot rand is a guard made of tough rubber which rings the area where the upper meets the midsole. The rand gives added protection against moisture entering the boot and reinforces the upper in high-wear areas such as the toe.
Can Footwear Be Resoled?
- Light hiking footwear: No. It’s cheaper simply to buy new boots.
- Hiking boots: Most likely no. These boots are not designed in a way that allows them to be fitted with a new sole.
- Backpacking boots: Most backpacking boots can be resoled.
- Mountaineering boots: These can almost always be resoled.
Fit: The Most Important Factor
No matter what material a boot is made of or how much technology goes into its design, if it doesn’t fit you properly, you are not going to have a good day on the trail. There are three things to consider:
- Length: The boots should be long enough to give your toes some wiggle room in the toe box.
- Width: Your feet should feel snug inside your shoe and not move around, but they should not feel pinched or cramped.
- Volume: The total space taken up by your foot should fill the whole shoe snugly.
Ensuring that the volume of the boot matches your foot is the most important factor in finding a pair that fits you properly. There should be no friction between your heel and the sole, and your toes should not strike the front of the toe box when descending a hill. Remember that your feet will swell once you begin hiking, so allow extra space for this.