Choosing the Right Hiking Boot

by | Oct 21, 2019

Early winter snow is already on the ground, but there’s still plenty of time for some late season hiking.  Choosing the right footwear for your hike is the key to your enjoyment and to your foot health.

Your selection of footwear should be geared to your level of activity and the type of terrain in which you’re hiking.  Are you looking for a hiking shoe for your daily dog walk on the trail in your neighborhood?  Are you venturing out for a longer day hike to one of our beautiful high mountain lakes?  Are you a doing a multi-day backpacking trip into the wilderness?  Or are you checking off your most recent fourteener?   Hiking shoes and boots come in variety of styles.  Depending on where you’re going and the weather you’re heading into will determine the best boot for you.

Trail Shoes/Trail Running Shoes:  These types of shoes are typically low cut, with more flexibility, and are lighter weight than hiking boots.  Some of these shoes may look similar to a low cut version of your typical hiking boot or to your running shoe but with a more rugged sole and upper.  While they don’t offer as much support or protection as a hiking boot, this style of shoe may be appropriate for hikes on well-defined trails or when venturing out without a heavy load on your back.  Some experienced hikers prefer this style of shoe for long distances because of the lighter weight.  If you choose this style of shoe for rugged terrain make sure you’ve put in the time beforehand to strengthen your feet, ankles, and legs.

Day Hiking Boots:  In general, a hiking boot will offer more support and protection than a shoe.  Day hikers will range from mid-cut to high-cut boots that come up to or above your ankles.  Some of these boots will basically be a taller version of your hiking shoe or trail runner, still offering lighter weight and more flexibility than other boots.  Many boots in this category will be made with a firmer sole and more supportive upper materials to provide additional protection.  If you’re heading into rougher terrain or carrying a light to moderately heavy pack, a day hiker may be your best selection.  A beginning or infrequent hiker with less-developed muscles, or someone prone rolling their ankles, may find that a higher top boot like this is a good option as well.

Backpacking Boots:  If you’re heading into the backcountry for a long, multi-day trip with a heavy pack, a backpacking boot is essential.  Usually taller and stiffer than traditional hiking boots, backpacking boots are built sturdy to withstand any terrain and any weather.  The outsole and tread are thicker and more rugged, but with this comes a slightly heavier boot.  These boots can take some time to get used to the weight and to break in, so make sure to plan ahead if you’re purchasing new boots before you tackle the Colorado Trail next summer.

Mountaineering Boots:  The apex in hiking boots (yes, pun intended) is the mountaineering boot.  These boots are built for the most extreme conditions in alpine terrain and are stiffer, taller, and more insulated than other boots.  Mountaineering boots are often built with removable liners and are specially designed to accommodate crampons for ice climbing and trekking on frozen surfaces.  If Everest is on your bucket list, a mountaineering boot should be on your shopping list.

Get the Best Fit

After you’ve decided what type of hiking boot you need, it’s time to try some boots on so that you can get the best fit.  Tips for your best fit include:

  • Shop for shoes and boots at the end of the day. Our feet tend to swell and get slightly larger throughout the day, so trying on shoes later in the afternoon or evening will help you avoid getting shoes that feel great in the store, but awful when you get home.
  • Try on your hiking boots with the socks that you’ll be hiking in. These days, many styles of hiking socks are made with additional padding for certain areas of your foot.  This additional padding and the thickness of your socks in general will affect boot fit.
  • Take your orthotics with you. If you wear custom foot orthotics or other specialty insoles, try boots on with these as they will definitely affect the fit.
  • If you can, shop at a store with an experienced fitter. When shopping for athletic footwear, fit is the most important criteria in selecting a shoe.  Have your foot measured using a shoe scale called a Brannock device – measure heel to toe, heel to ball, and ball width.  The measured number is a starting point – comfort is the goal.  Place your foot in the boot with the laces undone and slide your foot forward until your toes touch the end.  You should be able to place a finger behind your heel inside the boot.  If not, the boot is too short.
  • Try the boot on… and walk in it! You’re looking for a snug fit, but not too tight.  You should be able to wiggle your toes a bit.  As you stride, you should not feel your heel slipping or toes pinching.  If there is an incline ramp available, take advantage of this to make sure your heel is secure going uphill and your foot does not slide forward heading downhill.

Get the right boot and the right fit and get out there for a hike.  If you do experience a problem with your feet or ankles, don’t hesitate to contact us. Eagle-Summit Foot & Ankle is ready to provide the care you need.  You can contact us by calling our Avon, CO location at (970) 949-0500 or our Frisco location at (970) 668-4565. You can also use our online form to schedule your appointment at either of our Colorado offices.