How to choose hiking boots and shoes

Whether you plan to trek in the mountains or explore a nearby national park, choosing hiking boots carefully can seriously make (or break) your experience. To get it right, you'll need to find the perfect fit in either boots or shoes designed specifically for your intended purpose.

Choosing hiking boots: the Cinderella effect

When choosing hiking boots, look out for three things:

1. Your foot should be snug enough that it doesn’t move around when you walk, but you’re still able to wiggle your toes without them touching the front of your shoe. Remember that your feet swell in the heat and as you spend more time and effort hiking, so you want enough room in front of your toes for these swelling, otherwise you risk blisters and bruising under your toenails. 

For this reason, try on hiking shoes in the second half of the day when your feet will be at their largest.

2. When you push your toes to the front of the boot, you should be able to slide two fingers down either side of the Achilles tendon.

3. While walking, your heel should not lift.

How to clean your footwear

Choosing hiking socks

It's also essential you try on any potential hiking footwear with the hiking socks you intend to use on the trail. A hiking sock that's too thin or too thick can make a big difference to the overall fit and plays a major role in helping you to prevent blisters when hiking. 

Generally speaking, a proper hiking sock can provide you with added cushioning and temperature control: all good things when you're trying to avoid blisters.

For additional comfort and moisture-wicking, consider sock liners. They’ll add to the thickness, but might be beneficial for your particular adventure. It's worth understanding more about hiking socks to increase your comfort on the trail.

You've nailed the fit, but what's next?You've nailed the fit, but what's next?
You've nailed the fit, but what's next?

How to choose hiking boots for your foot shape

Not all feet necessarily fit within standard foot sizes, so you may find that your feet require a custom insole. These can add up to a whole half size to help you achieve the perfect fit.

Insoles can also be helpful if you have low or collapsed arches, one foot longer than the other, or if you find your heel slipping.

These steps are worth it. The better the shoe fits, the better the technology will work to protect you on the trail.

Factor in your needs

When choosing a boot, you’ll need to better understand your terrain, the length of time you’ll be on your feet, and the general weather conditions.

If you like getting out occasionally for a few hours to explore your local trails, you might opt in a for a lightweight hiking boot. But if you're in the backcountry of New Zealand every weekend, or taking on a multi-day adventure, like the Overland Track in Tasmania, your needs will be entirely different.

What kind of terrain will you be on?

Will you be travelling across road, rocks or mud? It's crucial to consider what your hiking shoes (and, consequently, your feet) will be exposed to. Not only does terrain have an impact on wear and tear, it will dictate what type of features you might need.

For instance, concrete and asphalt surfaces can make the sole of a hiking boot wear out more quickly, so if you're walking a long distance on the road, you might be better off with a trail running shoe.

On the other hand, your typical hiking trail will be full of mud, grass and stone. Fine grit on this kind of terrain can wear into a hiking shoe’s seam and rip the material.

To counter this, you'll need a hiking boot with as few seams as possible. A seamless design also stops water seeping in and can help stop friction that leads to blisters. Our hiking boots and shoes are also made with specialised soles and toe caps for enhanced durability, plus a gusseted tongue to keep debris out.

Choosing hiking boots made from full-grain and nubuck leather offers you water resistance, abrasion resistance and durability. Split grain leather is a little lighter in terms of durability and water resistance, but requires much less time to break-in.

Tip: If you will be hiking in rough terrain, you may want to pair your hiking boots with gaiters to protect your legs and stop debris coming in from the top.

On rough terrain, a little extra ankle support can go a long wayOn rough terrain, a little extra ankle support can go a long way
On rough terrain, a little extra ankle support can go a long way

How long will you be on your feet?

The longer your hiking adventure, the greater the demand on your body. If you plan to be on the move for a long time, you'll need more support from your boot.

A longer hike also usually involves carrying a heavier pack, again requiring further boot support – both under the foot with a stiffer mid-sole and around the ankle with good heel support.

Despite the benefits of sturdy and durable hiking boots, lightweight hiking shoes have their advantages too. A lightweight shoe can save you 100–200g every time you move your foot, so you will save a lot of energy over the course of a day.

Boots made of synthetic materials are lighter and cooler than leather products, have a much shorter break-in period and tend to cost less, but aren’t as durable over the long run.

What are the weather conditions?

Will you be hiking in icy-cold, wet, hot, dry or humid conditions? The weather and other environmental factors will determine how to choose hiking boots: do you go for a breathable mesh shoe or a waterproof boot?

If you are hiking in and out of water, you’ll need to weigh up whether it’s more important to have a quick-drying shoe or a water-resistant boot.

For a truly waterproof boot, you will need a boot with a breathable and waterproof liner, such as Gore-Tex or ngx®. Taking proper care of your Gore-Tex footwear will prolong its life and performance. A waterproof liner will also add warmth. Remember, there’s still a large hole at the top of your boot where your foot goes in, so water may still trickle into if you’re wading through rivers.

Find the perfect fit in hiking boots and shoes designed for your adventure.

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