Whether you’re hitting the trails for the first time or you’re a seasoned hiker, the search for the perfect hiking boots never seems to end. But once you find your favorite pair, you won’t be able to believe how you were hiking in anything else.
To help you finally get your dream pair of hiking boots, we talked to expert hikers for the best tips and tricks on finding the right boots for you. They covered everything from fit, waterproofness, materials and more so you’ll never hike with sore feet again.
“Having proper footwear is always important because having blisters or sore feet can take the joy out of hiking,” says Diana Durr, a staff member at Mojave National Preserve and previously a park ranger and climbing guide at Joshua Tree National Park. “For me the most important thing about footwear is comfort. When my feet are happy, my hiking is joyful.”
“There are so many brands and models out there today, and everyone’s feet are unique,” says Danny Butenas, a product expert at REI. “Some of us need a narrow fit with arch support and are all smiles when they put on a Salomon X-Ultra. Others need extra room for their toes and less arch, and never want another boot after sliding into a Keen Durand. There’s a boot out there for everyone, and that can actually feel pretty daunting. But taking your time in your search is worth it.”
“Women’s boots typically come in a B or C width, with wide fits sizing out to a D,” says Butenas. “That width also happens to be the typical size of a men’s regular, so if you have a D-width foot in any gender, you have a lot of options!”
“Women’s boots are typically narrower in the heel and ankle closure as well,” Butenas continues. “One thing to also keep in mind when looking for new footwear is that there’s typically between a one and one and a half size difference between genders. For example: a men’s size 8 will probably be a women’s size 9 or 9.5.”
“I wear the Altra Lone Peak 5 Trail Running Shoes, which have a bit of a cult following,” says Lindsay Gilbert, a gearhead at Backcountry. “I wouldn’t recommend this for everyone, but I like the flexibility of trail running shoes because most of my hikes include some running as well.” The Altra Lone Peak 5s have been discontinued, but the Lone Peak 6s have all the features that made previous iterations of the Lone Peak so popular.
Butenas recommends the Salomon X Ultra 3s, which are now discontinued. The brand’s newer X Ultra 4s carry much of the same design elements as the X Ultra 3s and are great for people who need arch support and have narrow feet. They’re waterproof, feature a single-pull lace for quick tightening and have a thick tread for all your adventures.
Butenas says people that want extra room for their toes and don’t need as much arch support will most likely love these boots from Keen. A dual-density EVA foam midsole and waterproof upper means your feet will be comfortable and dry all hike long.
“For hikers looking to maximize cushion and comfort, look for boots with an EVA foam midsole,” says Butenas. This pair from Hoka One One features a thick, EVA foam midsole for maximum comfort. Plus, they’re waterproof.
“If you’re more focused on stability and support, a boot with a leather (or partially leather) upper and firm ankle will give you the protective boost you need,” says Butenas. “Helpful hint: ankle height is not the end-all measurement of stability. Squeeze the heel! A stiff, structured heel is the base of your ankle support. A strong base is a stable base.”
“If I am planning a quick hike for a few hours on a good established trail, I use lightweight trail shoes because I don’t want to be encumbered by a big clunky pair of boots,” says Durr. This pair from Altra is a more supportive version of its uber-popular Lone Peak trail running shoes.
“If I am going for a multi-day backpack trip, I choose footwear that I know I can wear comfortably day after day, and with enough support to keep my feet from getting achy, but comfortable enough not to cause blisters,” says Durr.
“I like good thick soles to keep thorns and pointy rocks away from my feet when on rough trails,” says Durr. “Leather uppers can help protect the ankles.” This pair from Timberland not only has a tough leather upper, but also features a waterproof membrane and EVA foam sole.
“Men’s shoes are almost always going to be wider than women’s shoes,” says Gilbert. “Women also tend to have a different foot shape (skinnier heels and a wider forefoot) and our arches are typically further back, closer to our heels.” But Gilbert emphasizes that this isn’t the same for everyone, and your best bet is to get your foot measured. “Do not let the confines of gender-specific sizing limit your choices,” she says. “Get to know your feet and buy the boots that fit best. Everyone is different.”
“Waterproof hiking boots are not always necessary, unless you’re planning on spending a lot of time in very wet/snowy terrain or crossing a lot of streams,” says Gilbert. “I almost always opt for non-waterproof footwear because they’re cheaper, more breathable, and if they do happen to get wet, they dry out much faster.”
“When it comes to waterproof boots and tech, you’ll eventually come across Gore-Tex. A lot of people think of Gore-Tex as a specific product, but it’s really a brand with a very high testing standard,” says Butenas. “If you see that brand tagged on a boot, you know that the waterproof membrane inside has been tested under highly controlled conditions and a wide variety of scenarios. That’s as close to a guarantee as waterproof tech can get.”
“That said, waterproof boots are going to feel a lot warmer when you wear them,” says Butenas. “If your feet tend to get hot and stay hot, you may want to search carefully for something that breathes well.” Butenas recommends these La Sportiva boots that feature Gore-Tex Surround which maintains breathability while staying waterproof.
Butenas owns this waterproof version of the Altra Lone Peak and says, “My Altra Lone Peaks featuring eVent are perfectly suited to striking that balance between protection and comfort.”
“If you’re looking for a lightweight hiking boot, I would recommend first deciding how lightweight you want to go and how much support you’d like to have because there is a spectrum,” says Gilbert. “If you want to go really lightweight, then I’d recommend looking into low-ankle hiking shoes or even trail running shoes.”
Butenas also says to remember that even though lightweight boots inherently don’t offer as much support, fit is still critical. “Just like with heavier duty boots, more than anything you want it to fit snug and secure. After that, look at the outsole,” says Butenas. “When you go lightweight, a lot of that weight is being taken out of supportive materials on the upper. That makes stable footing and traction underneath the highest priority.”
“I know that some people will point to lightweight synthetic boots as being inferior to leather simply because they are not as tough or durable,” says Butenas. “If a boot lasts you ten years or more but you felt hindered by the heavy material, then I don’t think you made the right investment for yourself. If light and fast is how you like to hike, then it will be worth it to reach for a boot like the Topo Trailventure every three to five years instead.”
Gilbert recommends this pair from Arc’teryx for people who want to hike light. Featuring waterproof, Gore-Tex technology and weighing only 13 ounces, you’ll barely feel them on your feet.
Another recommendation from Gilbert, these boots have plenty of support but are still light thanks to its specially designed outsole.
“For winter hiking boots, I’d recommend finding a pair that are waterproof, and maybe even insulated depending on how cold it is where you hike,” says Gilbert. “Some hiking boots even have studs on the bottom for extra traction, but you can always get some microspikes instead if you need to.”
“Over the years I have tried a few pairs of waterproof boots,” says Durr. “For hiking in very wet or snowy conditions they are great at keeping my feet dry and comfortable.”
These boots have a polyurethane coating to ensure no snow or water gets in, plus it has a light insulation to help keep your feet toasty all hike long.
The most protective boots in the Altra Lone Peak line, these boots feature waterproof eVent technology, along with a raised ankle for extra support.
“Just about every brand on the market has models with a wide option,” says Butenas. “I think the most important thing you can do is get your foot properly sized so you can understand your foot measurements from every angle.”
“I have a wide forefoot and skinny heel, so Altra is the brand that fits me best,” says Gilbert. “They’re mostly a running shoe brand, but just came out with some hiking boots as well. Keen is another great brand that makes boots with a wider toe box…Some brands that people with wide feet might want to avoid because they tend to run narrow are Salomon, Vasque, Danner and sometimes La Sportiva.”
These wide-fitting boots from Keen have plenty of support, are waterproof and won’t squeeze your toes like others do.
Adidas’ boot also has neoprene cuffs to help keep dirt and dust out of your shoe. Plus, they look more like a running shoe than a hiking boot so you can stay stylish even in the backcountry.
This cheap pair of boots from Columbia come in a wide fit, and their suede construction is waterproof, resilient to scratches and ready for any adventure.
“I think there are two ways to view a great “budget” hiker: best straight up price and the best value on the dollar,” says Butenas.
“For simple price, the Timberland Mt. Maddsen is a great option,” says Butenas. “Leather, waterproof, sturdy, and available for $100.”
“For value, I am still stunned that the REI Flash boot is only [$150],” says Butenas. “The light weight, solid arch support and rigid heel are all right up there with other hiking boots, but the grip underneath is insane! I can’t get enough of that outsole, and I can’t believe the price to go along with it.”
“Merrell makes some of the best budget-friendly hiking boots,” says Gilbert. “My first pair of hiking boots were Merrells. I put them through the wringer, but they lasted for years.”
“I’ve fitted a lot of kids for footwear, and my experience has been that most kids won’t necessarily need a boot for hiking with their parents unless the weather demands it,” says Butenas. “They have elasticity and strength in their ankle and knee tendons that most of us can only dream of now. So unless there’s a lot of mud, snow, or something equally difficult, it’s okay for a kid to have low-cut hiking shoes on even if everyone else around them is wearing boots.”
However, if your kid does need boots for your family hikes, both Butenas and Durr emphasize to make sure to get ones that fit correctly. “When I was a kid my dad bought boots a couple sizes too big so that they would last longer,” says Durr. “This resulted in blisters, sore feet, lots of tripping over my too big boots, and I’m sure a lot of whining and complaining… Although your young one will grow out of their boots quickly, make sure their feet are comfortable while hiking. The proper fit will enhance their enjoyment of the hike and help everyone have a good time.”
This Merrell boot is available in kids sizes 1 to 13 and features a waterproof membrane, ankle support and a hefty sole.