The secret to being a happy hiker is to have happy feet. Choosing the right hiking boots can be a bit of a matchmaking process (worse than online dating even), but it’s important to make sure you get it right. Hiking boots can keep your feet supported, comfortable, warm, and dry, whether you’re carrying a light pack or a multi-day expedition load. Your dream hiking boots need to sync with how and where you hike. There is a dizzying array of footwear options out there – everything from lightweight trail runners, low-cut hiking shoes, supportive day-hiking boots and burly backpacking boots. We’re here to help you choose the perfect pair for you.
Option 1: Trail Running Shoes
Trail runners are designed with lots of grip to give you traction on the trail, along with cushioning to protect your feet from roots and rocks. This creates a comfortable and flexible feel, but significantly less ankle support, suiting them to shorter hikes or hikers with lighter weight packs.
As trail runners don’t have the same stability or durability of hiking boots, they’re not for everyone. They are however very lightweight, breathable and comfortable with no break-in time needed.
Option 2: Day hiking shoes
Low-cut day hiking shoes take the flexible soles of trail runners and beef them up for the rigors of the trail. They give you more stability than trail runners and also protect your feet a bit more too. They are best for hikers with day packs, and hikers who don’t need ankle support or lots of stability.
They are lightweight and flexible with no break-in time needed (especially compared to hiking and backpacking boots), but they have less ankle support and are generally less durable than hiking and backpacking boots.
Option 3: Day Hiking Boots
Boots for day hiking come in mid- and high-cut styles that offer more ankle support for rugged trails or carrying heavy loads.
Day hiking boots are best for: Technical trails, long-distance hiking, hikers carrying heavy day packs, and hikers who need more ankle support and stability.
They provide lots of ankle support thanks to mid- or high-cut cuffs, increased stability with durable soles. However, they are heavier than hiking or trail running shoes and will likely require a break-in period.
Option 4: Backpacking boots
Built for heavy loads and rugged terrain, high-cut backpacking boots stabilize your ankles when you’re carrying a lot of weight in your pack. They’re also stiff to provide extra support and to help prevent foot fatigue. Backpacking boots are extremely durable, traditionally made of leather, and can stand up to the burliest routes.
Backpacking boots are suited for sustained off-trail travel, and are best for hikers who need lots of ankle support and stability when carrying heavy backpacking packs. As such, they tend to have very durable soles and uppers, and are typically very water resistant. To compromise, they are quite stiff, and less breathable if you’re hiking in particularly hot climates.