This article describes where to look, what to look for, and how to choose day-hiking boots. Knowing where to look and what to look for, you can be sure to get the high-quality hiking boots you need without paying extra for features you don’t need.
Day-hiking boots range anywhere from $40.00 to $150.00. The high end of that range is beginning to cross into backpacking boots, but anything below that range is either an exceptionally good deal or an imitation hiking boot that will disappoint you badly.
So, let’s talk about the kinds of places to shop for hiking boots, features to look for, pitfalls to avoid, and techniques to make sure you have the right fit.
Where to Shop for Hiking Boots
If you have never done any serious hiking, you will want to buy your first serious hiking boots in a hands-on experience. I’m being honest here (habit of mine). Yes, it is in my interest to persuade you to buy your hiking boots through my Web site, but I won’t do that if it is not appropriate for you. Even aside from ethical considerations, it would be bad business for me to create a lot of dissatisfied customers telling their friends about their bad experience. No, I’m just being honest. I don’t want to take your money and leave you unhappy. Buy your first pair of hiking boots at a brick-and-mortar store where you can handle the boots and try them for proper fit. Then, when you have enough experience to know what you want in your second pair of hiking boots (or third, or …), you can take advantage of the lower prices available on the Web.
When shopping for hiking boots, look for an outdoor equipment store rather than a shoe store. The sales clerks in a general shoe store are not likely to know the difference between real hiking boots and fashion imitations of hiking boots. You might pay more money at an outdoor equipment store, but you will realize the savings out on the trail.
Once you’re in the store, ask about some of the things you read in this article. If the sales clerk doesn’t know what a scree collar is or why soft outer soles are better than hard, look for another sales clerk, or another store.
If you are ready to buy your hiking boots on the Web, you can take advantage of the best of both worlds. You can buy from a high-volume store that has the best prices, but first get your advice, recommendations, and reviews from affiliated Web sites that specialize in hiking equipment.
Wherever you choose to buy your hiking boots, make sure there is a reliable, knowledgeable person in the loop somewhere. If the sales clerk or Web site seems too eager about making the sale and not interested enough in discussing and comparing features, you should look somewhere else before you make a final decision.
Especially when you are shopping the Web sites, you may need to pay attention to brands. Certain brands have a well-deserved reputation for good quality, and you should not ignore that. On the other hand, some brands have an overblown reputation that often has more to do with fashion than with genuine quality. The only way to know the difference, and to find the quality you need without paying for fashion that you don’t care about, is to talk to those who know the difference and to read reviews from people who have actually used the hiking boots in the field.
Features to Look For in Day-Hiking Boots
Here is what you need to look for:
* Deep tread in a soft sole for traction.
* Appropriate height (just above the ankle).
* Soft, wide, thick scree collar (the padding around the top that keeps pebbles out without chafing your Achilles tendon).
* Fiberglass shank. Steel is okay, but fiberglass is better in day-hiking boots because it’s lighter. Full-length is preferred, but shorter shanks may be acceptable if you are planning more moderate hiking.
* Tongue attached at least up to the top of the foot, or higher if you plan on crossing streams frequently.
* Crampon attachments (good, but not essential, unless you do a lot of hiking in icy conditions).
* Hooks for the laces above the top of the foot.
* Choose eyelets, D-rings, or webbing for the lower lace attachment points as a matter of personal taste. My experience does not indicate any one to be better than the others for day-hiking boots.
* Good insulation and padding all around, firm on the bottom, with a tough but smooth lining.
* Double stitching on all visible seams.
* More leather and less fabric is better. Split leather is fine (and you’ll almost never find full-grain leather in a day-hiking boot), but not full suede.
* Fewer seams is better.
Most of these features are self-evident, but here are a few techniques for evaluating specific features.
* Tread should be at least two fifths of the total thickness of the sole.
* Measure the softness of the tread surface by pressing your thumbnail into it. You should be able to make a visible indentation that springs out in a second or so.
* Measure the stiffness of the shank by holding the heel in one hand and the toe in the other, and twisting the sole. You should not be able to twist it at all.
Common Pitfalls to Avoid in Hiking Boots
The biggest problem you’re likely to find in shopping for day-hiking boots is cheaply-made “imitation” hiking boots. They look like hiking boots, but they’re not built to stand up to trail conditions. They will not last long, and they will not give you the traction and water resistance you need.
You can tell an “imitation” hiking boot from the real thing by these characteristics:
* Mild tread, less than about two-fifths the thickness of the sole.
* Hard tread surface that you can barely indent with your fingernail.
* Non-attached tongue.
* Non-rigid sole that you can twist by hand.
* No scree collar. There may be patches of leather or a different color of fabric that look like a scree collar, but if it doesn’t have thick, soft padding around the top, it’s not a real hiking boot. It won’t keep the pebbles out, and it might chafe or constrict your Achilles tendon.
Fitting your Hiking Boots
You must fit your hiking boots with any orthopedic inserts, off-the-shelf insoles, and the hiking socks you intend to wear with them. A good rule of thumb is to start with one full size larger than your regular street shoes.
With all the inserts and insoles in place and your hiking socks on, but with no laces in the boot, put the boot on and push your foot all the way forward until your toes touch the front. You should have just enough room behind the heel to slide your finger all the way in.
Next, lace the boot up snugly and walk around. The boots will be stiff and uncomfortable because they’re not broken in, but they should not allow your foot to slide or rub.
Stand on a steep slope with your toes pointing down. (Use the fitting horse where you’re supposed to put your foot to lace the shoe while sitting. Go ahead and stand on it.) You should be able to wiggle your toes, and they should not touch the front of the boots.
If you bought the boots via the Web, do this fit-test as soon as you get them. Even if you think you know your size, boots from different manufacturers might fit differently. Check the size and fit immediately, and return them for a replacement if they don’t fit right.
If you are looking for your first pair of serious hiking boots, you must do your shopping in an outdoor equipment store where you can handle the boots and talk to knowledgeable sales staff. Only if you have some experience with day-hiking boots, take advantage of the bargains available on the Web.
Check for the features that identify a quality hiking boot, and avoid “fake” hiking boots.
Bring all the inserts and socks you will wear with your hiking boots, and check for a firm but comfortable fit with no rubbing or sliding.
Look for quality, and expect to pay for it, but don’t pay more than you have to for features that don’t contribute to the durability and comfort of your hiking boots.