Types of Hiking Boots
Most hiking and backpacking boots have high-cut uppers that provide plenty of ankle support, plus a stiff sole for foot protection and some degree of waterproofing in the upper. Boots like this provide enough support for hauling heavy packs on long expeditions, but some people also wear them for day hiking over rough terrain. Historically, this type of boot was made from leather, could weigh up to four pounds each, and could easily last for a decade or more than a thousand miles on the trail. However, today's boots show a trend toward lighter-weight materials that offer the same support and feel more agile underfoot. The tradeoff is that lightweight boots don't last as long as leather boots, and they usually can't be repaired; so you'll have to replace them more frequently.Waterproof Hiking Boots
Waterproof hiking boots (and shoes) have a waterproof/breathable membrane built into the construction of the footwear, designed to keep water, mud and melted show out while still letting perspiration escape. The best waterproofing comes when that membrane is molded into a bootie that wraps completely around your foot, so there are fewer seams that become weak spots for dirt, dust -- and ultimately, water -- to work their way in through the waterproofing.Women's Hiking Boots
Women tend to have narrower heels, wider forefeet and longer arches than men with feet of the same size. As a result, the boots most popular with women are usually shaped specifically to fit a woman's foot, as opposed to just being smaller versions of men's boots. In every other aspect, women's boots come with the same array of features as you'd see in men's boots; so women should never be afraid to try on boots that are labeled for men, and vice versa. Sometimes that's all it takes to find the perfect fit.Hiking Shoes
Some hikers eschew heavy-duty hiking boots in favor of low-cut shoes with lightweight, flexible soles; the lightest models weigh in at less than two pounds per pair. That light build means less support and protection for your feet, but hikers carrying light loads, taking short hikes, or traversing mild to moderate terrain may appreciate the extra agility, flexibility and no-break-in comfort you get from this type of footwear. There are even some long-distance trekkers that swear by hiking thousands of miles in trail shoes, although this type of footwear is only appropriate if you have strong ankles and feet that don't need extra support from your footwear. In this report we cover hiking shoes, if you're a trail runner see our separate report on trail running shoes.
else do you need?
you've secured your hiking footwear, don't forget the ten essentials that you need to be prepared on the trail. We have separate
reports that can help you select the best headlamp for your trail adventure as well as effective insect repellents to protect you from bites. And, although they might not be a
survival tool, the right binoculars can
greatly improve the enjoyment of your hike. Some hikers also like using fitness trackers to help track their metrics
-- like speed, distance, calories burned and even altitude gained -- while out
on the trail.
Finding The Best Hiking Boots
We analyzed dozens of expert reviews and
thousands of owner posts to evaluate the comfort, fit, performance and
durability of hiking boots and shoes for both men and women. The best expert
reviews resulted from extensive hands-on use from crews of testers with sites
like OutdoorGearLab.com, Backpacker.com, OutsideOnline.com and
SwitchbackTravel.com. Also extremely informative were hundreds -- sometimes
thousands -- of user reviews posted at REI.com and Amazon.com, where
outdoorsy-savvy readers reported how hiking shoes and boots performed after
extensive use on all sorts of terrain and in varied conditions.
heavy-duty leather hiking boots were the footwear of choice for serious hikers.
But for the first time in recent memory, the top pick in this report is a
lightweight hiking boot. The Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX (Est. $230) strikes the perfect
balance between toughness and nimble agility, with a roomy toebox that won't
pinch your toes on downhill slopes. It garners an impressive number of
first-place finishes after hands-on testing from sources like
OutdoorGearLab.com, SwitchbackTravel.com, GearInstitute.com and Gizmodo.com.
This is the most
flexible boot we evaluated in this category, and a good part of its appeal
comes from the lightweight, twist-resistant midsole it's built on; many
reviewers say it's reminiscent of the trail running shoes Salomon is known for.
It also draws a lot of praise for its excellent ankle support,
"plush" ankle padding, and very good waterproofing.
Another favorite feature is a locking middle
eyelet that lets you fine-tune lace tension in the upper and lower sections of
the boot, making it easy to really lock your heel in place. The Salomon Quest
4D 2 GTX's traction is also as good as or better than the competition. An
average men's pair weighs just 2 pounds, 7 ounces.
The only real criticisms we find of this boot
are that it's not always the best choice for flat feet, and there are
occasional quality control issues with the rubber eyelets at the top of the
boot and the waterproofing around the toe. But that's not enough to deter users
who rave about how comfortable the Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX is right out of the
box and how stable, nimble and protective it feels underfoot, even after long
hikes with up to 40 pounds of weight.
A good pair of heavy-duty hiking boots can
easily cost $300, and lighter boots like the Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX might need
to be replaced every year or two if you subject them to a lot of heavy use. If
you're on a tight budget, you can get very good performance at a great price
from our budget pick, the Keen Durand Mid WP (Est. $150).
Like the Salomon Quest, this lightweight,
flexible boot is comfortable straight out of the box, and it weighs just 2
pounds, 8 ounces per typical men's pair. Hikers especially love the Durand's
roomy toe box, and it draws expert praise for a proprietary polyurethane
midsole that barely compresses over heavy use.
Other high notes include a grippy, dual-rubber
outsole and the Keen.Dry membrane that testers say generally provides great
waterproofing, although the editors at SwitchbackTravel.com warn that it's
somewhat lacking in breathability. We did find a few complaints of shoes that
leaked right away -- perhaps a quality control issue? -- and a light boot like
this won't stand up to long periods of heavy use; but most users say it's a
great value and that they'll happily buy a second pair when the first one wears
The only negative fit notes we see are that
some users are disappointed by the lack of arch support, and the Keen Durand
tends to run about a half-size small. The mid-cut ankles also aren't quite as
tall as more serious boots like the Salomon Quest 4D GTX, but the Durand is
available in wide sizes, and seems to be a particularly good fit for users with
For another extremely popular budget pick,
consider the Keen Targhee II Mid (Est. $135), which is also the most popular women's boot we evaluated. It's
not quite as technical or durable as the Keen Durand Mid WP -- most users say
they have to replace the Targhee IIs after a season of heavy use -- but this style
is still resoundingly popular with both men and women that was a sturdy,
comfortable all-around boot at a great price.
The Keen Targhee II's traction is also
excellent, and the very reasonable price means users often don't mind having to
buy a replacement. High points include that great out-of-the-box comfort, a
wide toebox that accommodates many foot types, and lacing eyelets that also
draw the heel of the boot in toward your foot, helping lock it in place. A
typical men's pair weigh just 2 pounds, 2 ounces.
The one thing to be aware of with this boot is
quality control, especially with the soles and the waterproof/breathable
membrane. But as a general rule, if your Keen Targhee IIs survive the first
immersion, they should survive you for a season of regular use on the trail.
They also run a half-size to full size small.
Leather boots are still
Leather boots are heavier than their
synthetic-material brethren but, in exchange for that extra weight and some
break-in time, you get a tough boot that breathes well, can be treated for
water-resistance, molds to your foot and wears like iron. If you're looking to
buck the trend toward lightweight footwear, consider the Asolo TPS 520 GV (Est. $300), which was our top pick
overall until the Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX took its place.
The Asolo TPS 520 GV is the epitome of a great
leather boot. At almost two pounds each (29.3 ounces), these are not
lightweight boots -- but they're still a constant favorite with both male and
female hikers who are traversing rough terrain or lugging heavy loads. All that foot support comes
from a fairly stiff sole, but it's still comfortable to walk in thanks to its
rockered, or curved, construction.
Traction on wet surfaces tends to be the
Achilles heel for heavy-duty boots, and the Asolo TPS 520 GV gets somewhat
mixed reviews in this regard -- but does better than most. It has a
waterproof/breathable Gore-Tex membrane that reviewers say performs
brilliantly, and a wicking nylon lining to help keep your feet dry inside the boots.
The dual-density midsole and extra padding provide excellent shock absorption,
and an ankle collar and gusseted tongue help keep debris out of the boot.
Once these boots mold to your feet, you can
expect a comfortable hike and stellar ankle support that'll easily last for 10
years or more than a thousand miles on the trail. We did find occasional
complaints about the sole delaminating as the adhesive that holds it in place
Waterproofing can be a
boots are always a trade-off. You give up some breathability in exchange for
keeping water out of your boots. The same membrane that keeps water from
seeping in also keeps it from escaping once your feet do get wet, and it slows
the drying process too. So, waterproofing is great... until you go hiking in
weather so hot that your feet and boots end up soaked in sweat, or until you
step into water that's higher than the top of your boot's waterproofing.
means waterproofing isn't necessarily ideal in every single climate or terrain;
but it does come in handy if you do a lot of hiking through shallow water or in
generally wet conditions. Although all of our top-reviewed hiking boots have excellent waterproofing, we
also found sporadic complaints about quality control that were usually related
to the waterproofing. So we've chosen the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid (Est. $230), a lightweight throwback to the classic leather
backpacking boots of years past, as the best boot when reliable waterproofing
is your highest priority.
The Lowa Renegade GTX Mid weighs just under
two-and-a-half pounds for a men's pair, and because it's lightweight for a
leather boot, it requires very little breaking in before you're ready to hit
the trail. The Renegade is available in normal and wide widths for men, and
normal, wide and narrow for women; reviewers say it's especially good for
locking in a narrow heel.
The Lowa Renegade's stellar waterproofing comes
from a seamless Gore-Tex liner, and it receives top marks for water resistance
from OutdoorGearLab.com, along with one of the highest scores for traction.
Reviews of this boot's durability are mixed;
some users say a single pair lasts them for more than ten years, while others
say they've worn through a pair of the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid in just one season
of frequent use with heavy loads. But they're usually so happy with other
aspects of the boot's performance that they don't mind turning around and
buying another pair.
Other waterproof boots in this report that
perform very well include our top-reviewed boot overall, the light, agile Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX (Est. $230); the reliable and
affordable Keen Durand Mid WP (Est. $150); the
heavy-duty Asolo TPS 520 GV (Est. $300), which remains a perennial favorite for those who like leather
boots; and the sturdy but surprisingly lightweight women's Asolo Stynger GTX (Est. $235) -- long a popular
favorite with female reviewers.