Ding ding! There’s a fight going on in the world of hiking boots, if you didn’t already know.
And the grand finale is being slugged out in the boxing ring, with yours truly acting as the ref.
Because when it comes to choosing the right footwear for your hiking expedition, it is a mightily tight contest – and there a whole host of contenders.
A bit like a fight, hiking boots are divided into a lightweight, midweight and heavyweight.
However, they aren’t the only ones with a dog in this fight. There are also the outsiders, peering in from beyond the ring, who are beginning to gain traction.
Rest assured, your trusty guide will tell you everything you need to know to back the right contender.
And picking the right boot for the job will be less like a boxing match and more of a nice relaxing walk in the park.
How To Choose The Best Hiking Boots For Men – A Guide
A hiking boot, as opposed to a shoe, has a considerable amount of ankle support.
For anyone who has hurt themselves in past adventures, an inadequate hiking boot which lacked the proper support is the most likely culprit.
A hiking boot should protect both you from all hazards, including falling and twisting your damned ankle at 1000 ft.
Generally, hiking boots are considered the heaviest of all options (although they are becoming lighter) and fall into one of three categories.
Out of all types of hiking boot, these are going to provide a lower level of ankle protection. However, it is still there.
The ankle collar height will be shorter than the others. The boot will also be lighter (hence the name!)
You might choose this if your load is light and you’re not carrying much with you.
A lightweight boot might be your compromise solution between the lightness of a shoe, or trail runner and the total support of a heavyweight hiker.
A midweight hiking boot gives a decent amount of ankle support, with a collar that covers your ankle, but doesn’t extend all the way up your shin.
These are solid constructions and might feel a tad inflexible, at least to begin with. The tradeoff here is that they protect your ass (ankles) from all assailants.
If you’ve got a fair bit to carry and are going to be walking a long way, these could be for you.
If you want something that can take anything that life throws at it, then here’s your solution!
Okay, a heavyweight hiking boot is never going to be the most comfortable experience out of the box. But they’re getting better.
No more do you have to endure months of torture and a century-long breaking in period.
Yes, maybe their primary focus is sending out an S.O.S. (saving our soles) and not kissing our feet goodnight – but they are a whole lot more comfortable than they used to be and getting lighter to boot!
All the same, be aware that these will be fairly heavy to have on your feet.
The trade-off is no twisted ankle or broken toes, absolutely no chance of being impaled on something nasty and complete peace of mind with waterproofing.
But hang on a minute, are you even sure you need a hiking boot at all. Hiking shoes plug the awkward gap between a trail runner and a hiking boot.
This gives you the flexibility, comfort and lightness found in a trail runner, but also some of the protection afforded by a boot.
Quite often, many hiking shoes are waterproofed these days.
A hiking shoe should have a tough sole, that is going to outlive that of a trail runner and give better protection. It also will be a little heavier than the lighter trail runner.
Essentially, a hiking shoe may well be a smaller version of a hiking boot.
But remember, you’re not getting the same ankle support and so they may be best for experienced hikers, with well-toned ankle and heel muscles!
You’re probably not going to consider a mountaineering boot unless, well, you’re off up a mountain.
These are, as the name suggests, designed for use with a lot of heavy mountaineering equipment. So if you’re handling crampons, these are a must.
We can’t lie though, these are never going to be like walking on air – the long ankle collar sees to that. On the other hand, they are safest for wearing when serious climbing needs to be done.
Well insulated and perfect for extreme cold, you may also choose from for arduous trips involving a lot of bad weather and heavy loads.
The New Kids On The Block…
Trail running shoes have surged in popularity, due to their lightness and comfort.
It’s true, these do not feel like stepping into a vat of concrete, like many of the heavier boots do. They are great for anyone on a shorter hike, who isn’t carrying a ton of kit.
These are cut low down and won’t give your ankles any protection. Nor will they help you out massively if you step on something sharp. The soles do have some serious lugs for traction, however.
Do bear in mind these are usually made from mesh. This makes them breathable and great for sweaty feet – but not so good for wet conditions.
The downside of trail runners is that they simply won’t last as long as a sturdier boot will do.
But if comfort and lightness is your priority, then a pair of trail runners could be just the ticket.
ABC OF SOLES
There is more than one sole in your footwear. To help you better appreciate what the manufacturers are banging on about, here is our guide to sole.
The outsole is the outer level of the shoe, which connects with the ground.
This is where the tread or lug is on the shoe is situated and probably the first thing you will be concerned about when choosing hiking boots.
As the name implies, the midsole is in the middle of the construction and is essentially the meat in your sandwich.
A well-made midsole is vital to ensure the comfort and support for your feet. Something which is going to be important, if you plan to cover hundreds of miles in these things!
The insole will be the first thing your feet are aware of, when trying on the boot. This is the first port of contact for the base of the shoe and how it feels is important.
A good insole should provide ample cushioning, as well as good moisture control.
Put simply, it is going to get sweaty in there without the right sort of damp coursing!
Insoles can be replaced or added in to your footwear, so you get the right fit for you.
A liner is a waterproof membrane layer, which may form a part of your shoe or boot. It may be made from GORE-TEX or a similar material.
However, this might make the boot sweaty, something worth remembering if you are hiking in the heat.
Pay special attention to the material and the construction of the upper – this is the top part of the shoe or boot, next to the midsole.
TLC FOR YOUR FEET – THE TRYING GUIDE
How to try on a pair of shoes may not sound like something that you need help with – but you could end up wishing you had taken some advice when stranded up a hillside, with blisters!
Here’s how to put your prospective footwear through its paces, so you choose the right pair!
• Wear Socks – don’t make the newbie mistake of going shoe shopping without your favorite pair of hiking socks to try the boots on with.
Regular socks just won’t cut it and you may find the shoe too tight once you hit the open road. Just remember to wash them first, to avoid any embarrassment!
• Remove The Insole – we recommend taking out the insole and then placing it on the floor. Now step onto it.
You need to ensure that your feet fit comfortably on it, with your heel firmly to the back.
It should not fit too snugly. There should be a gap of approximately one finger’s width from your big toe, to the edge of the insole.
For a more general guide, you should be looking to scale up by half a size from your usual fitting.
• Lace It Up – When lacing the boot, make sure the tongue is dead center before beginning.
• Walk The Plank – You need to walk up – and down – on an incline or ramp. Within the confines of a shop – yeah, hard we know, but give it a try.
Because when you walk down a hill, you want to know that your feet are secure. Not move about inside the boot – that’s how blisters happen. If you find your heel moving, then it’s the wrong fit.
We’re still not done with slopes – this time you want to be paying attention to the front of the boot. Look at the creases on it.
If they are particularly deep, then that shoe is probably not for you and will cause you discomfort later down the line.
And we’re still not done with marching about like a pranny in the shoe shop – sorry!
This time, you want to stomp up and down the incline, like you’re about to invade Poland.
When you do this, your feet will be pushed to the end of the boot. If they are connecting with it, then the boot is too small.
This is what you want to have that extra bit of gap in the boot for.
• Go Late In The Day – …and one last bit of advice when it comes to the successful choice of a new hiking boot is to go as late as you can do.
This is because your feet will be bigger by then, having spent all day on them. Remember, when you wear these boots your feet are going to swell. So they need to fit at the end of the hike just as well as the beginning.
TLC FOR YOUR FOOTWEAR – THE DRYING GUIDE
Hiking boots need love too, but it is easy to overlook this. The better you look after them, the better they can look after you!
After all, you don’t want to have to go through this torturous process of choosing another pair (never mind the expense!) anytime soon.
• Clean ‘Em Up – At the end of your hike get all the dirt off the boots as soon as you can do. Being caked in mud for weeks on end is not going to do them any favors.
Check with the manufacturer for the particular care guide they recommend for the model, paying particular attention to the type of material it is made from.
Everyday dish soap should be fine for leather boots, but it is something that needs checking.
• Moisturize Me! – Your skin is not the only thing to need protection before/after a long hike. In the same way that you may apply sunscreen or a moisturizing lotion to combat exposure to the elements, your boots are crying out for the same attention.
This means waterproofing them and treating them with a suitable conditioner.
• Dry Me! – Even if you ignore the rest of this guide, the one thing you MUST do is dry your boots the right way.
This means categorically never putting them near the camp fire to dry. It makes leather crack up and it’s not good for other materials either.
The general rule is, if it is too hot for your hand, then it’s too hot for your boots. Think – leather is a skin, treat it with the same respect you’d give your own!
This also applies to leaving your boots anywhere too hot, for too long. Exposure to extreme heat is a no-no so think before you leave your poor old hiking boots in the back of your car.
…AND THE WINNER IS?
In the all mighty scrum to become your next hiking boot, we don’t know which of our main contenders you will pick.
But hopefully, by following our guide, the real winners will be your feet!