How to chose the best hiking boots ultimate guide
How to chose the best hiking boots ultimate guide

The type of boots you get is really important and we’ve got some great info, on just how to do that.
Here at the HikingGearGuru HQ, we’ve tested a bunch of boots and for better or worse our favorites are usually some of the more expensive models and you might ask yourself why you would pay extra, when there are cheap models out there that are also good for hiking. Well there’s a number of reasons why, so we’ll simply get into it and let you know some of our methods for testing hiking boots.

There are many reasons to pick one model instead of another and we’ll list them down here

The ultimate guide to picking a perfect hiking boot that suites your needs

Protection

Having decent protection while you’re out and about in the nature is really important and if you’ve experienced any type of ankle or foot injuries in your life you would know that. Most of us usually take extra weight with us, in our backpacks which makes things a bit different than normal walking and injuries can occur more easily. And if carrying these heavy backpacks, tents, etc on our backs isn’t enough, the surfaces on which you walk in the nature are usually not as even as the ones you’re used to back home. This is where the protection of a good boot comes into play as thick and stiff boots will protect your ankles far better than light cheap ones made out of cheap materials. If you’re planning a serious hiking trip and you’ll be facing sharp edges, steep mountains and other obstacles that will try to hurt you, as mother nature is as cruel as she is beautiful.

 


Durability

Leather boots are obviously the best choice in terms of reliability and durability. If you don’t go on hiking trips every every week, but more like once every few months, a pair of good leather hiking boots will last you a couple of years. If you go hiking once in your annual holiday, then a pair of boots with the proper leather treating products could last you a lifetime. With some care such leather hiking boots could easily become a lifetime investment.


Impermeability


No surprises here, as all leather boots are the leader in this category as well. This being said, there are more and more types of synthetic fabrics that are getting better and better and there are actually waterproof boots made out of alternative materials that are just as good at keeping water away from your feet as their leather rivals.

Boot suggestions for various trip lengths and destinations:

Desert Southwest:
Day Hiking: Moab Ventilator
Backpacking, 2-4 days: Moab Ventilator, Keen Targhee
Backpacking, Extended: Keen Targhee, La Sportiva Eco (Winter)

Sierra:
Day Hiking: Keen Targhee
Backpacking, 2-4 days: La Sportiva Eco 
Backpacking, Extended: Asolo Power Matic, La Sportiva Eco

North and Northwest:
Day Hiking: Keen Targhee
Backpacking, 2-4 days: Asolo Power Matic, La Sportiva Eco
Backpacking, Extended: Asolo Power Matic, Alico Summit

What to look for in your next pair of hiking boots


Design of the hiking boot

If you’re going to hike off the marked trails on to some more extreme paths, an above-the-ankle boot is really important and as I’ve tried walking on such terrains with normal everyday shoes once in my first hiking trip before I got hooked, and believe me when I say, that my ankles felt like they were going to break. Almost every step of the way I would twist one of them and at the end of an 11 hour hike, the pain was unbearable. This means that if you get low, below-the-ankle boots or shoes for hiking, they will be pretty worthless if you go off the trails

Waterproofing of the shoes

Waterproof hiking boots could be pretty easy to find, but picking the right one is much more difficult. The effectiveness of the waterproofing depends on the design itself almost as much as it does on the materials involved in the manufacturing process. Even the best hiking boots in 2014 are not necessarily going to stay waterproof forever, especially if the seems blew apart. Once they do, you can say bye bye to the dry feet and enjoy the fresh water pouring inside your boots.  So keep in mind that poor construction could cause boots made out of the best materials out there to become un-waterproof (if that’s even a word) if they aren’t made well.

Boot Threads

This factor isn’t really important as most newer shoes are made out with pretty similar if not exactly the same threads and more specifically a Vibram sole, which makes the threads themselves pretty equal in terms of comfort and durability. That’s why we won’t take too much space to explain whether this is an important factor as it really isn’t different with most newer hiking boot models. If you’re buying a hiking shoe from some of the well known brands such as  Teva, Hi-Tec, Merrell , etc. you should be fine as they all use pretty much the same thread.


Hiking boot materials

This one is a little more important and could make a serious difference in terms of durability and many other aspects such as comfort and others. If you want to make a long time investment, great support for your feet and water and dust proof hiking boots, you’d want to go with an all-leather shoe. Models such as the Asolo Power-Matic is a great example of an all leather shoe that will stand the test of time. If you’re not looking for these specific qualities in your boot though and you require more ventilation and lower weight, because you like hiking in the desert more often, you would definitely be better off with a synthetic or a hybrid boot.

Hybrid boots incorporate both leather and synthetic materials and are best for a different types of hiking, in the mountains and in the desert, as they incorporate the best from both worlds. They are a bit more on the expensive side though, so you would really want to think on how much you need such shoes before paying the extra bucks for them.


Hiking boot durability

Like already mentioned, there’s no question that the all leather construction makes for one durable boot that will last you a long time, if not even forever. If these shoes do fail you though, you’ll see the first signs at the end near the ball of your foot. This happens in hybrid and synthetic boots though, as all leather construction simply eliminates this weak point. There’s one universal truth about the durability of the hiking boots and it is the following:

The less components there are, the more durable the hiking boot is



How to take care for your hiking boots so they last you forever

Alright! So you’ve already bought a great pair of hiking shoes and you’ve parted ways with a hefty amount of money. The boots you bought were advertised as indestructible and they very well might be, but they will need care, like everything else to be indestructible. All of us at the HikingGearGuru have used more than a pair or two of hiking boots, but there are ways to keep your shoes for a very long time, especially if you don’t live in the outdoors like we do. So here are a few bullet points which will make sure your boots stay in a pristine condition as long as possible.

Cleaning the boots

(Although it might sound a bit crazy and like a ton of work, but cleaning your boots after every hiking trip will definitely prolong their lives with at least 30%. Without washing the boots often enough, the layers of dirt that are accumulated on the boots will gradually wear it out. You can say goodbye to the waterproofing treatments and if there’s one thing that will destroy even a high-end leather boot, this is dirt. If you’re already convinced that regular cleaning will help prolong the life of the boot, here are a few ways  to do it)

  • First and foremost, take off the laces of the shoe as it will make the access to every part of it easier.
  • Take a tooth brush or even a dirty all rag if you don’t have anything else as well as some water – even the creek water nearby your camp will do and start scrubbing the dirt off. If you’ve got special soap for treating leather products, that’s just an additional plus. If the product is not specialized for leather products and cleaning them, you’re better off using clean water instead, as the soap will do more harm then good.
  • Get all the grime off your shoes with the help of your brush or rag and them simply dispatch of it. Look around the boot in order to scrub off the dirt even from the places where it’s not so easy to find.
  • Once you’ve done scrubbing, simply let the boot dry out. If there’s sunlight or a camp fire nearby simply leave the boot near them. Be careful though as fire is the nightmare of every hiking boot and you ought to be careful when you leave the boots nearby. If you’re not going to stay near them and supervise the drying process, simply leave them somewhere where they can dry off by themselves. (Keep in mind that they should be at least 5 feet off the camping fire as temperature over 85 degrees F, could damage the leather just as easily)
  • Put the laces back on the boots and prepare yourself for the next adventure on the next day!


Drying them after the cleaning:

As strange as it sounds and as ironic it is, water could dry out the leather in most boots, making them crack and damaging them at the end. There are lots of ways to prevent that though, one of which is to prevent the water accessing the leather with a waxing product. There are tons of products that you can use to do that such as this one, which is just one of the hundreds of brands out there offering this type of protection. It makes the leather water repellent, which ultimately keeps the boot dry and safe – making it last longer. If you’re going on a hiking trip which will involve a lot of walking in water or moist areas or using boats or canoes to travel, the boots will not enjoy all the water, so pre-treating them with such wax is mandatory.

Keeping the boots away from excessive heat, is also important as it could damage the boots even more than water would. Heats over 85 degrees could damage leather and make it crack, something you’ve probably noticed if you’ve worn boots in the desert. The problem here is that heat not only damages the leather, but also damages the glue which keeps the separate parts together and could cause delamination as well.

If you take the insoles out and put dry ones inside will almost make it seem as if the whole boot is completely dry itself. This might not be true, but it will definitely make you feel much better if you have having “swamp feet”. Wind and direct sunlight are also enemies of the leather your boots are made out of. If the wind is gentle enough, there’s no problem , but strong winds could damage your boots by throwing little pebbles and small branches at you.

It is really important to condition your boots after you’ve cleaned them. Use the wax you have for it and your boots will look as sharp as yourself. We’ve got some info about the conditioners that would best fit your needs.

 

Hiking boot conditioning

If you want your boots to have a long life and to prosper know the following. Waterproofing breaks down, and eventually the leather parts of your boots will dry in time. These two though could be remedied if you use the right conditioner to keep treat them. There are different types of conditioners. These conditioners could vary in composition as well as the materials they’re intended to be applied on and their composition. Here’s a quick tutorial on which will fit your needs best.

First off – there’s the leather conditioner with waterproof liner. Usually boots made out of leather needing treatment is the exterior one.  The waterproofed liners are usually not the ones that need care, but the leather parts of your boot will require it in order to stay intact.

If your boot is a heavy, thick one, Mink Oil works great. Although it isn’t really recommended it will definitely make the boot way more supple. This conditioner though is might be good for treating thick boots, doesn’t really do any good with thinner boots such as the Moab series of Merrell.

Some boot manufacturers actually sell their own cleaning and conditioning products and compounds, but sometimes you can achieve way better results with “aftermarket” products of other brands that are specialized in producing quality substances. Nikwax is one of these brands. They have hybrid conditioners as well as separate solutions for keeping the leather well moisturized as well as products for keeping thinner synthetic boots in order for longer.

Treating all leather boots

The preferred conditioner for all leather boots that we’ve come to love is the Mink Oil as we’ve already noted. Dubbin also works wonders though so if you own such shoes, that’ll do just fine for them. These conditioners are often used by lumberjacks for treating logging-style thick boots made out f leather and it really works wonders. If you use own this conditioner, make sure to use it in the break-in period. It would benefit the boot, by keeping it supple and waterproof for a longer period of time and will shorten the period for break-in.

 

Synthetic and hybrid boots

This type of boots are often made out of leather and suede and for this, they obviously need a different type of conditioner. The suede parts of the boots are usually thin and require a little less care. Nikwax makes good conditioners for hybrid boots and we’ll recommend them for this type of shoes as well. The Breeze models of Vasque are a good example of high-end hybrid shoes, but the Nikwax conditioner isn’t the best choice for them as there as a simple waterproofer will do a lot better. The Nikwax produces better results if you’ve got boots with Nubuck or other materials such as Hide. Anyway Nikwax is a good conditioner for fabric materials as a bottom line.

There’s a ton more information about conditioning your boots that you can find on our hiking boot conditioning page.

FIRE- A boot’s worst enemy:
Whether you are parachuting into them or using them for casual cooking, Fires are often a semi-unavoidable component of outdoor life. This is somewhat unfortunate for your dandy boots, because fire has a tendency to disassemble the components used in most modern boots. If you’re going to be working around fire, either as a lover or a fighter, here are some things to consider: 
Fires hate mesh
A sizeable ember can melt a hole straight through your nice Moab Ventilator or Vasque Breeze. Hot melted nylon and your feet are not a happy combination.
Fires hate glue
Repeated heating and cooling can cause the soles, rands and toe caps of some boots to delaminate. The results can range from minor damage to total failure. Keep glued products away from fire, if at all possible.
Fires hate leather
Although much less than they hate some other materials. The heat from a fire will cause the leather to crack with prolonged exposure. 
Fires hate stitched soles, but are impotent against them.
If you have many campfires and you want to get the most out of your boots, consider getting a boot with a stitched-on sole like the Alico Summit. They have a minimum number of components that are damageable by fire, which can help you get the most out of your investment. 
Fires hate your feet.
The significant majority of canoe-tripping injuries are to the feet. These range from encounters with sharp sticks to errant axes, but they usually involve campfires and boiling water. Whenever we work around campfires, we always wear some type of heavy-duty boot. Oftentimes mesh doesn’t cut it. Even if we’re risking damage to the boot, it’s better than a painful backcountry evacuation.

How to choose the best hiking boots