Of all the hiking apparel, your footwear is the one that holds the most weight. The best hiking boots are the ones that not only support you on the terrain you’re crossing and are durable enough to do the job for miles, but they also need to protect your feet from the elements and friction caused by hiking in any conditions.
When you picture hiking boots, your mind may flash to images of bulky boots clunking over rocks. But more and more of the hiking boot market is shifting towards higher functioning, lightweight options. Now, with so many varying styles of hiking boots, hikers have boots that will suit their personal preferences as well as the climate, season, and specific terrain they’re hiking across.
Things to Consider Before Buying Hiking Boots
As with any piece of clothing, there are numerous considerations to sort through before making your purchase. So, to ensure you get the perfect pair of boots for your next adventure, read through not only our top picks but the buying considerations and methodology as well. That way, if we didn’t list any boots that fit your needs, you will have all the tools you need to make an educated buying decision.
Type of Hiking Boot
When you are researching hiking boots, take notice of the weight and type of the boot. Most of the time, we can group hiking boots into three categories or types:
Lightweight: If you like the comfort and mobility of trail running shoes, lightweight hiking boots are an excellent choice. They utilize much of the same technology as trail runners, but they also include a higher collar and lacing system. That way, you have slightly more ankle protection with the feel of a running shoe. The only downside is that the lighter weight materials tend to be less durable than heavier boot styles. (If you’re looking specifically for lightweight hikers, you can check out our round up of the best lightweight men’s hiking boots.)
Midweight: These tend to be the most popular style of hiking boots for weekend backpackers and serious day hikers. While utilizing some of the same materials and styles as lightweight boot options, midweight boots will have a more durable toe box area and a thicker sole with more aggressive traction. While some lightweight boots may include water resistance, midweight boots are where you might start to see waterproof options.
Heavyweight: The classic hiking boot you picture for climbing over rocky terrain on an extended backpacking trip are heavyweight hiking boots. These are typically made with waterproof Gore-Tex lined uppers or a durable, long-lasting material like leather. You can guarantee that these will have over-the-ankle support and a high lacing system for optimal stability on the rockiest or snowiest terrain. Heavyweight boots usually take the longest to break in due to their stiff and robust materials, so make sure you give yourself a long enough break-in period before taking them on a hike.
Uppers and Ankle Support
Not all, but most hiking boots will have some ankle support. Several crossover shoe designs are closer to trail runners with no ankle coverage. These will resemble many lightweight hiking boots as they have a thicker sole and are a tad clunkier than running shoes. Like running shoes, they are cut off just below the ankle, so they will not protect or support that area of your body.
All boots and shoes have an upper. This part of the shoe is the material that attaches to the rubber sole and protects your foot. The materials they are made from may vary from shoe to shoe.
The most commonly utilized upper shoe materials include:
- Synthetics: Nylon is a popular material for hiking shoes due to its durability. Nylon is often used in woven panels and open mesh areas for breathability. The durability of nylon paired with its lightweight made it a popular option for shoe uppers. The one downside to nylon is that it absorbs moisture much faster than a leather counterpart. There are synthetic materials, like Gore-Tex, that can allow for shoe-upper waterproofing.
- Nubuck Leather: Common for midweight style hiking boots, Nubuck leather has a suede-like feel that is lighter, more breathable, and more flexible than full-grain leather. The downside is that it is not quite as durable as full-grain leather but still has higher durability than nylon. Many brands choose to mix Nubuck leather and nylon mesh to provide more durability than the mesh alone.
- Full-Grain Leather: Incredibly durable, tough, and water-resistant, full-grain leather is a popular choice for heavyweight boots. A one-piece leather upper is only typically seen on high-end boot collections like Danner’s or Zamberlan. Full-grain leather uppers require more maintenance and care than other materials, but they will outlast everything else if they are well cared for.
Most hiking boots on the market today will be a blend of synthetic materials like nylon, along with some mesh and leather. Some brands make full-leather options, but a blend continues to be more common. Keep in mind that blended materials are harder to recycle or reuse, but they continue to be blended as it improves durability and performance to the shoe design.
The rubber sole of the boot will act as part of the shock absorption as you hike, but the midsole type can improve your comfort when hiking on rocky, hilly terrain. When looking at the types of hiking boots, the midsole types correspond with the weight class.
So, lightweight hiking boots tend to use a thin fastpacking midsole to cut down weight, but they won’t provide as much comfort or shock absorption. Then on the other end, you will have thick, stiff midsoles in heavyweight hiking boots.
The most common materials used for hiking boot midsoles include:
- EVA Foam: Varying in feel from moderately stiff to soft and cushy, most hikers prefer an EVA foam midsole on the stiffer side. Not all EVA foam midsoles will be made of the same quality EVA materials, and the construction can break down with use. If you’re a hiker who logs long, hard miles, then a high-quality EVA foam midsole is necessary. In general, the softer the EVA foam in the midsole, the less durable it will be, but it should be comfortable on your feet.
- PU (Polyurethane): Less cushy than EVA foam, PU is more durable and holds its shape longer. A PU midsole is a better option for longer hikes and heavy loads. It tends to be found in heavyweight hiking boots, but some midweight boots utilize it. In most cases, PU lasts longer than EVA foam and will provide more substantial foot isolation against rough terrain.
Like with shoe uppers, midsoles may be a combination of materials, meaning that many midsoles are EVA foam and PU mixed to improve durability and performance.
Outsoles and Traction
One significant thing that sets hiking boots apart from even trail runners is the sturdy traction they provide. The outsoles tend to be thicker, more durable to help hikers navigate unstable terrain.
While other shoe rubber options exist, Vibram soles continue to dominate the market, especially for hiking shoes. Vibram rubber is tailored to match the specific footwear and brands, so although it is a reputable rubber, the quality and traction will differ according to the design.
When choosing boots, it is essential to look at the traction. To identify how the sole will perform on the trail, look at the lugs on the shoe’s bottom. The larger the lugs, the better the shoe will perform in muddy or snowy conditions. If you are scrambling over rocks, you might need smaller lugs and stickier rubber.
All in all, no matter the brand of rubber, look at the lug depth and read the shoe’s description of the compound type. That will provide the information you need to see where that particular outsole performs best.
Lacing systems should be considered. If you have a bad lacing system on a hiking boot, the fit is prone to loosening. As your boot loosens, there is more room for your foot to shift around, throwing off your stability and increasing the likelihood of hot spots and blisters from the added friction. Not only that, but you’ll be stopping more often to adjust your boots!
While bad laces can also cause this, it can help to ensure you have a quality lacing system. When looking at shoes, you may notice that some hiking boot designs, especially lightweight and some midweight boots, utilize a single-pull lacing system. This system is convenient and save time when putting on your boots, but the downside is that it no longer allows for a customizable fit.
Heavyweight hiking boots will almost always have relatively advanced and customizable lacing systems. You will notice that they include locking hooks all the way up, getting close to the ankle providing even better stability and security when moving over rough terrain.
Waterproofing and Breathability
Not all hiking boots are fully waterproof, but many have water resistance. Waterproof boots often utilize Gore-Tex as part of the exterior or as a full interior lining. If the shoes do not have a fully waterproof barrier of some kind, they will have a water-resistant coating. These coatings will need to reapplied after use as they are not a part of the material and are a separate layer.
While waterproofing is a nice feature, especially when hiking in wet climates or seasons, it does impact other performance aspects. The biggest downside to waterproof boots is that they are not very breathable. That means that if your feet are sweating in hot weather, that moisture is gathering and unable to dry effectively.
The least breathable waterproof hiking boots are going to be leather with a Gore-Tex lining. An alternative is to get a water-resistant boot with more breathability, and then you can add gaiters as needed for wet weather or snow. However, waterproofing will work for most hikers, especially those hiking in mountainous regions. In areas that receive less precipitation, like the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, more breathable boots are a better option. (Hiking in winter environments? Take a peek at our round up of best winter hiking boots.)
Other things that may impact a buying decision include toe protection, insoles, and width. Although online buying is increasingly common, when it comes to hiking boots, it can be helpful to try them on in person.
When hiking on exceptionally rocky terrain, having more protection on the toe box prevents you from stubbing your toes and improves the durability of that part of the shoe. If you’re trying to picture the toe protection on most hiking shoes, it is not like a steel-toed boot. Usually, the shoe is designed with a thick rubber bumper over the toe box area.
The insoles of most hiking boots come with a stock insole that is flat and not necessarily all that comfortable. These insoles are removable, and you can replace them yourself with an insole that fits your foot better for a more comfortable fit.
Several other aspects of boots may be important to you and your foot shape. Getting to know what feels comfortable to you when you’re hiking will help you find the right shoe style over time. And having the right socks always helps—check out our picks for the best hiking socks.
Why It Made the Cut
The Salomon Quest 4 Gore-Tex excels in all the areas a hiking boot should, and it will soon become your favorite hiking partner even on the rockiest mountain terrain.
- Weight: 2.9 pounds (pair)
- Boot Type: midweight
- Best Use: backpacking
- Highly water resistant
- Exceptional stability
- Longevity and durability
- High price
- Minimal breathability
As the best hiking boots overall, the Salomon Quest 4 Gore-Tex hiking boot is the best of the best, all wrapped up into one high-performing package. It provides exceptional protection against all forms of weather with the Gore-Tex waterproof design, along with the stability and traction necessary in the mountains.
These are among the most stable backpacking boots out there, and when hiking with a heavy pack on uneven terrain, you can trust their traction and ankle support. It even has a taller cuff ankle and many other options to provide even better support and protection.
You’ll be happy with the Salomon Quest 4 on extended treks, weekend backpacking trips, and even a strenuous day hike, as it provides customizable comfort, unmatched stability, and optimal traction. The only downside of this shoe is that it is not very breathable due to the waterproof design, and it is pretty heavy, making it hard to pack and a bit clunky for some folks. Still, we felt that the functionality of the boot far outweighed these few things.
Why It Made the Cut
The Merrell Moab 2 is a durable and high performing lightweight hiking boot that doesn’t break the bank.
- Weight: 2.25 pounds (pair)
- Boot Type: lightweight
- Best Use: day hiking, short backpacking trips
- Excellent fit and comfort
- Improved and updated design
- Doesn’t feel supportive enough for tough terrain or heavy loads
The Merrell Moab 2 is not only the best budget hiking boots, but it performs exceptionally well on maintained trails. It’s perfect for hikers and weekend backpackers that tend to stick to maintained trails or less rocky terrain. It remains a popular hiking shoe because of the level of comfort it provides, and Merrell remains one of the best brands for wide feet.
It is a waterproof hiking boot, meaning that it doesn’t necessarily have the best breathability. It does an excellent job with overall protection when hiking, and the new design improved overall shock absorption, waterproofing, and durability of the upper.
Although this is a well-performing shoe in most respects, the low price correlates directly to lower quality materials, making it less durable overall. That means this may be a good starter shoe or strictly a day hiking shoe, but if used for the majority of your hiking, you will be replacing it after a year or two of consistent use.
Why It Made the Cut
The DayLite Hiker Fusion from Xero Shoes is likely the most minimalist shoe design you’ll find. Not only that, but it beats out many other shoe options in terms of durability.
- Weight: 1.5 pounds (pair)
- Boot Type: lightweight
- Best Use: day hiking
- Improved grip and traction
- Easy to maintain, durable
- Minimalist design may feel too minimal for some hikers
Xero Shoes is changing the shoe industry by helping its customers “live life feet first.” Their DayLite Hiker Fusion is a hiking boot that will surprise many hikers with its lightweight design paired with extreme durability which is why these boots are our pick for the best lightweight hiking boots. The shoe is designed for more than just a walk but may not be the best for super-technical terrain.
It provides plenty of grip and traction for hiking on well-maintained trails, and the upper is durable enough to protect and support your feet. The minimal 10mm FeelTrue® sole features a 3.5mm lugged dual Chevron tread as a redesigned feature to provide more grip and traction when hiking.
The upper is abrasion-resistant and built to last when used for more casual hikes. The fit and feel of Xero Shoes may be different than what many hikers are used to, but their reviews and comfort speak for themselves. As one of the most minimal and lightest weights (only 12.4 ounces per boot), you’ll be surprised how happy your feet are in these shoes and how long they will last you when cared for properly.
Why It Made the Cut
The Obox Bridger Insulated WP boots provide optimal comfort, durability, and functionality whether you are hiking or snowshoeing.
- Weight: 2.6 pounds (pair)
- Boot Type: heavyweight
- Best Use: snowshoeing, hiking, backpacking
- Winterized rubber outsole
- Optimal stability on uneven terrain
- Reinforced heel and toe for added protection
- Not fully waterproof and won’t perform ideally when trudging through deep snow
The Oboz Bridger Insulated WP boots are a top performer for winter recreation. If you are looking to hike, snowshoe, or even backpack throughout the snowiest months, the Oboz Bridger is the best winter hiking boots at an affordable price.
The Oboz Bridger performs best for activities like snowshoeing or hiking on ice or hard snow. Although they are marked as waterproof, they aren’t necessarily the best option if you’re looking for a boot to trudge through deep snow for hours at a time. In those conditions, it is a more accurate label to say these are water-resistant. Keep in mind that hiking in deep snow works best with higher-top boots, and moisture can quickly get into the boot from the top. So, pairing these with gaiters will give you the ideal warmth, comfort, and dryness for most winter hiking conditions.
A stand-out feature for these winter hiking boots is the winterized rubber and intentional outsole design that wraps up the toe and the heel. These aspects improve grip, durability, and comfort, especially on slippery trails.
Why It Made the Cut
The Lowa Renegade GTX Mid combines comfort, durability, and waterproofing for the ideal backpacking boot designed to keep your feet dry, even during the rainy season making it our choice for the best waterproof hiking boots.
- Weight: 2.4 pounds (pair)
- Boot Type: midweight
- Best Use: backpacking
- Durable Nubuck Leather Upper
- Sticky, multidirectional lug pattern for better traction
- Exceptional waterproofing
If you’re looking for a waterproof backpacking boot that seemingly has it all, the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid should be a top contender. Coming in both men’s and women’s sizes for slim and wide feet, you’re likely to find a pair that matches your needs.
The entire boot design affords the wearer comfort while hiking from the midsole to the upper and beyond. You’ll enjoy a somewhat cushy PU midsole to add comfort when logging long miles without skimping on durability. Then, the shape of the boot itself ensures that there is no heel popping or slipping inside the boot after you’ve been hiking for a while.
Along with excellent traction, these boots utilize a robust leather upper and waterproof membrane for some of the best waterproofing on the market. The only downside to such waterproof boots is that they are not very breathable.
Blisters, hot spots, sprains, lost toenails, you name it, and I’ve probably had it while hiking at least once. Even with the best hiking boots, these can be issues. So, with ill-fitting shoes, these issues are amplified.
Finding the right hiking boot for you can take time, and maybe a hiking boot isn’t the right option for you, and a trail runner or hiking shoe works better. Some trial and error can work, but an easier way is to identify your needs and preferences when it comes to hiking and then work through the options with all of the buying considerations we laid out above.
In choosing our top picks for the best hiking boots, we considered all of those aspects, along with the knowledge that comes with wearing both good and bad boots on the trail.
Beyond what was covered in the “things to consider before buying” section, we looked at:
- Intended use: Does this boot fit my needs? How often will I use these? Under what conditions am I hiking? What is the climate and weather? What type of terrain am I covering?
- Sustainability: What materials are used? Does the company use and enforce any sustainability practices? How long do the boots last? Is there a repair policy?
- Durability: What materials are used? How long do the boots last? Do I need to know specific maintenance to ensure longevity?
Other things like verified customer reviews, company referrals, and information about the whole product life cycle were also taken into account.
Q: What are the three types of hiking boots?
The three types of hiking boots include lightweight, midweight, and heavyweight. Learn more about each of these in the buying considerations section of this article.
Q: What makes a boot good for hiking?
What makes a boot good for hiking varies from person to person and can change depending on the type of hike and type of terrain. In general terms, the boot should be durable, comfortable, improve hiker stability, and have appropriate traction for the terrain.
Q: How much do hiking boots cost?
Hiking boots cost anywhere from USD 80-200+. The type of boot, quality of the materials, and overall features all tie into the price of the boot itself. When it comes to outdoor gear, the amount you spend on it often correlates to the projected longevity. So, if you want a quality boot that will last you years to come, you will be paying a higher price.
Q: Should I get waterproof hiking boots?
Waterproof hiking boots are not necessary for all climates or seasons. They will be a good choice for most hikers, especially if you enjoy hiking in the shoulder seasons. If you are hiking in hot and dry conditions, a more breathable and less waterproof shoe will be better.
Q: Hiking boots vs hiking shoes: Which do I need?
Hiking boots and hiking shoes both get the job done and have advantages. Hiking boots provide better ankle support, ideal traction, better protection from the elements, and are usually very durable. They also tend to be clunky, heavy, take time to break-in, are harder to pack and take longer to dry if they do get wet. Hiking shoes are lighter weight, don’t take much time to break-in, are easy to pack, comfortable, and dry quickly. However, they do not provide as good of ankle support or overall protection from elements as hiking boots do.
Q: What is the best hiking shoes for wide feet?
The best hiking shoes for wide feet will have a wider toe box and be less narrow following to the heel. Traditionally, Merrell and Keen have standard shoe designs that work well for people with wide feet. You can also find many brands that make hiking shoes specifically for wide feet.
Final Thoughts on the Best Hiking Boots
The best hiking boots are the ones that fit your fit and your personal hiking needs. No one foot is the same (even your two feet may differ!). Even if you did not find hiking boots on our list that works for you, we feel confident that using our buying considerations will lead you down the right path.