America has some of the most beautiful hiking trails in the world, like the Appalachian Trail, running from northern Georgia to Maine, at about 2,200 miles long. Trails like this, and others along the former Oregon Trail, or famous trails elsewhere in the world, can be a pleasant afternoon stroll for the casual hiker, or an intense, month-long adventure for the dedicated outdoorsman.
Some equipment for hiking may be negotiable. Walking sticks, for example, can be used on paved or dirt trails to help reduce stress on knees and joints, but not everybody needs them.
A really great quality hiking backpack for supplies is generally an investment a hiker would make, but someone who only hikes a few times per year might just use a standard school backpack or shoulder bag. The one non-negotiable piece of hiking equipment, though, is a good pair of boots.
Types of Hiking Boots and Shoes
There are four basic types of hiking shoes available. These range from the lightest version, which are technically for running rather than hiking, to the bulkier, high-ankled boots you probably picture when you hear the term “boot.”
1. Hiking Boots
The hiking boot is specifically designed to protect the ankles from rolling, has a thick, protective sole, and is usually stiff in nature. These features protect the hiker’s feet from obstacles on the trail like sharp rocks and sticks, divots in the trail, and small jumping actions that could injure the ankle without proper support.
2. Hiking Shoes
This type of footwear has lower cut ankles than boots. They’re still durable, and heavy, and designed specifically for foot and ankle protection for those who don’t wish to use the stiffer, heavier boot option.
3. Approach Shoes
This lesser known option is similar to a trail running shoe, in the sense that they are lighter and more flexible. These shoes are designed for rock climbing, off-trail scrambling, and climbing rocky mountain peaks.
4. Trail Runners
This lightest, most flexible trail shoe is designed to give added protection for runners who wish to dash along the trails instead of the sidewalks. They’re made with breathable materials, but still have that thicker sole to protect against trail obstructions that typical walking doesn’t encounter. They’re also good for light hiking.
The Best Hiking Boots
Finding the best hiking shoes can be tricky. They need to fit properly, they need to wear well, and they need to be the most comfortable boots possible. We’ve found a few tips for both fitting and finding the right hiking boots for you.
Fitting Your Boots
There are several things to consider as you try on potential boots.
1.Your toes should be close to the toebox.
2. The boots should be tight, but not overly so.
3. Your heel shouldn’t move up and down inside the boot as you rock forward and backward.
4. Your feet should stay in place within the boot as you walk around.
If any of these are off, you’ll be in for trouble when trail day hits.
Finding Your Boots
1. Measure Your Feet
When you go to a store to find hiking boots, you need to make sure that you have both feet measured. Most of us have slightly to drastically different sized feet, and knowing exactly your measurements will make a major difference in finding the right fit.
2. Wear the Right Socks
As you try on the hiking shoe options, you’ll need to make sure that you’re wearing the socks you’ll be hiking in. If your feet tend to get cold, wool socks are a great option. If you’ll be hiking in warmer climates, there are thinner hiking socks options. Either way, be sure to try on your boots with the thickest socks you’ll hike in during your adventures.
3. Try on Other Boots
You might be female, but that doesn’t mean men’s shoes won’t be a better fit. Sometimes the shape of the design for the opposite gender (or a child, if you have small feet), might be a better fit than the one intended for your gender. Don’t be afraid to try men’s boots or women’s boots to find the right fit.
4. Ask for a Different Width or Size
The right width and length is important for avoiding sores. If the boots you’re trying on are running a little too narrow, ask for a wider width. The friction caused by either too narrow or too wide a boot, or too long or too short, can create blisters and other sores.
Now that you’ve figured how hiking boots should fit, trying on a variety of options should yield the right ones for you. Our top hiking boot recommendation is a pair of Asolo boots, like the water-proof Asolo Neutron Gore-Tex® suede hiking boots for women, or the waterproof leather Asolo Scafell Gore-Tex® for men.