A couple old sayings about horses and their hooves can be applied to humans and their hiking boots. “For want of a nail the shoe was lost, for want of a shoe the horse was lost, for want of a horse the rider was lost……” is how one of those sayings begins; and the other saying sums it up, “No hoof, no horse.”
In other words, if your feet hurt, not only will you not enjoy your hike, you might not even be able to do it. So considering the array of styles and types, how do you choose the best hiking boot for you?
Here are some things to consider:
Your Physical Condition and History
Look around the next time you get together with friends. Those of us of a certain age may begin feeling the effects of long-ago injuries. Your buddy who twisted a knee in high school football may need a boot with more support, definitely up over the ankle. Your featherweight best gal pal who is fit and nimble may be most comfortable in a light-weight, sneaker-style hiker.
Let’s take the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Georgia to Maine, as an example. Parts of it are like well-groomed paths. Parts of it meander through gentle, steady ups and downs over low mountains. Parts of it make you grit your teeth and fight for hand-holds as your boots scrabble for purchase on sharp boulders. Parts of it border bogs and swamps, where even a gentle rain turns the trail into a stream.
There could be a specific boot for each section, but of course that’s not practical. Consider the type of terrain you’ll be hiking. My personal favorite (and I’ve hiked the entire 2,185 miles of the Appalachian Trail) are Merrell. I didn’t start out wearing Merrell boots, but I noted what the majority of hikers were wearing. There are many models, some low, some mid, and you really can’t go wrong either way.
A best friend from high school, who then lived in Manhattan, asked me if she could join me on a week-long hike on the Appalachian Trail in Massachusetts in July. We saw each other in our hometown over the Christmas holidays. My advice was for her to buy her boots as quickly as possible, and break them in, even if it was while walking the sidewalks of Little Italy. She did, and had no problems during our hike.
There’s a reason why “regular” socks are different from “hiking” socks, and if you don’t believe that, make sure you purchase some moleskin before your hike. Hiking socks are designed to combat the constant sweat your feet will emit, and wick away that moisture. The quickest way to develop a blister is from moist friction. Personally, I like to use liner socks (thin, polypropylene socks) under my hiking socks. And I always carry extra pairs of both.
Waterproof or Not?
If you’re hiking in the rain, unless you are wearing waterproof pants that go over your boots, your feet are going to get wet inside your boots. For example, if temperatures are warm and you’re hiking in shorts, your legs and socks will get wet from the rain. The wet socks will at some point make the inside of your boots wet, so you’ll probably want to purchase a waterproof hiker. One of my personal favorites are the Guide Gear Crosby Waterproof Mid Hiking Boots. These Boots are extremely comfortable and have a larger toe box that allows you to wear thicker hiking socks if the weather calls for it. Plus, they’ll keep your feet dry throughout your entire day thanks to their Guide Dry® technology that locks out water even after prolonged exposure.
After the Hike
It’s always a good idea to carry a pair of lightweight and breathable slip-on shoes for after the hike. Instead of buying a cheap pair of flip-flops, check out the Jungle Mocs from Merrell. These shoes are very comfortable and your feet will feel great in these after a long day of hiking!