Best Hiking Boots of 2020

We guide you through picking the top hiking boots for day-hiking to hardcore off-trail long-distance hiking. We’ve got everyone covered!

A listing fo best hiking books

Hiking has grown exponentially in popularity in the last couple of decades, with a lot of us seeing it as a way to remain fit whiles enjoying the beautiful outdoors. With this growth is a demand for high-quality, comfortable and sturdy boots that help reduce the risk of injury on those rugged hiking trails. You may be tempted to go and walk these trails with your favorite running shoes but don’t. You’ll quickly find out those are not up to the task. You need a boot specifically made to conquer the jagged rocks, streams, sharp elevation changes, tree roots and the mud of these tough trails. The best hiking boots provide support for your feet, help reduce or eliminate blisters and other injuries and offer a comfortable hike in all weather conditions.

The list below features our pick of the top hiking boots of 2020 for men and women. Click here to learn more about hiking boots, factors to consider when buying a boot, and a guide on how to pick the right boot for your needs.

The Best Hiking Boots of 2020

1. Vasque Breeze III Mid GTX (Men and Women)

Our Best Overall PIck

Vasque Breeze III hiking bootWeight: Women’s: 1 lb. 10.9 oz. | Men: 2 lbs. 1.6 oz.
Upper: Leather, Gore-Tex, and Mesh
Outsole: Vibram Megagrip Rubber
Midsole: EVA Cushion
Waterproof: Yes, with breathable Gore-Tex and Mesh
Available Sizes: Women: 5.5 to 11 | Men: 6 to 13.5

Likes: Excellent for all terrains and weather conditions. Perfect fit, strong structural support, waterproof and yet comfortable on hot summer hikes, excellent traction on slippery and steep trails, and long-lasting. It also has a fast break-in period.

Dislikes: We have no complaints about this boot

The Vasque Breeze is our top pick for both men and women because it excels in every aspect. This boot feels comfortable right from the box and requires almost no break-in period. It fits a variety of feet types perfectly, including those with extra-wide and flat feet. It also provides excellent support, traction, and stability. The latest model is lighter and more breathable than the previous versions.

We’ve had this boot tested in a variety of terrains and weather conditions, from the rocky, steep trails of Colorado to the cold trails of Iceland, and it conquered everything in its path with no issues. This boot is also excellent for all-day hiking of the jiggered volcanic terrains in Hawaii, which is a testament to its all-terrain ability. The boot is lightweight but provides excellent support and a superb grip in all conditions. Your feet won’t shift inside the boot while going down a steep trail. The grip of the sole is excellent in all trail conditions. You get great arch and heel support and extra room in the toe box. Those who prefer to use inserts will find that there’s plenty of room for that. It comes with high-quality laces and eyelets that will last a long time.

The waterproofing will keep your feet dry while still breathable, allowing for a comfortable hike in the hot summer months. Testers were amazed at just how their feet stayed dry in the pouring rain while wading through rivers, and walking in snowy conditions.

Testers with lower back problems, tendonitis, and other ailments reported zero issues with this boot. We highly recommend the Vasque Breeze III for long-distance, day, and off-trail hikers. Both the women’s and men’s versions should be on the top of the wish list for any hiking enthusiast.



2. Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX (Women and Men)

Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX hiking bootWeight: Women: 1 lb. 13.4 oz. | Men: 1 lb. 15.6 oz.
Upper: Suede Leather, Gore-Tex®
Outsole: Contagrip® Rubber
Midsole: EVA
Waterproof: Yes
Available Sizes: Women: 5 to 12 | Men: 7 to 14

Likes: Lightweight, durable, excellent fit, high-grip outsole, flexible, great support and comfortable insoles. Very easy to get them on and off.

Dislikes: The laces could be better and some women didn’t like the color combination of the women’s version. Some people may need to downsize by half a size.

The Salomon X Ultra is versatile, it is comfortable on the rough train and also performs well as everyday city footwear. However, don’t let this versatility fool you. This is a hiking boot first and an excellent one at that. This lightweight boot offers excellent support and feels comfortable on long and short distant hikes. It has exceptional traction, a tough protective toe box, and a stable chassis. The toe box has plenty of room for those with wider feet.

Their lightweight design makes them ideal for those who go on long hikes. The memory foam insole gives you an extra layer of comfort with some hikers saying it feels like walking on clouds. They’re so comfortable and well-built that you can do trail-running in them with no discomfort.

Most testers wore this straight out of the box with no reports of blisters and others reported the need for a short break-in period. But none of our testers experienced blisters on their hikes. The boot offers exceptional fit and support without feeling constricted. They have different sizes for both narrow and wide-footed people. It offers excellent ankle support which helps prevent ankle rolls when hiking in rocky and steep terrain. The outsole has excellent grip, which gives you exceptional traction and stability when hiking up or down steep trails.

The X Ultra Mid has high-performing waterproofing, which keeps your feet truly dry in wet and snowy conditions but reasonably comfortable in the warm summer months. These boots are so easy to get them on and off. One tester described them as the “slip-on” of hiking boots.

Some users have problems keeping the laces tired up during their hike. Some find they tend to undo themselves as you go further into the hike. However, this is not unique to this boot, and a quick re-tieing of the laces should get you going again. Some also find that the X Ultra Mid tends to run a bit large. This seemed to be more of an issue for women than men. It may be a good idea to downsize by half a size to get the perfect fit.

We highly recommend the Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid for both men and women. This is a purchase you’re unlikely to regret making.



3. La Sportiva Nucleo High GTX (Men and Women)

Our Best Long-Distance Pick

La Sportiva Nucleo High GTXWeight: Women: 1 lb. 10.9 oz. | Men: 2 lbs. 1.6 oz.
Upper: Nubuck Leather, PU leather and Nano-Cell
Outsole: Vibram Nano Rubber
Midsole: EVA
Waterproof: Yes, with Gore-Tex®
Available Sizes: Women: 37 Eu to 43 Eu (6.5 US to 12 US) | Men: 40.5 Eu to 47 Eu (7.5 US to 14 US)

Likes: Excellent ankle support, comfortable lining, does not feel stiff, exceptional traction, fast break-in period, great support & balance, excellent for backpacking.

Dislikes: Breathability may be a bit better but not intolerable.

Las Sportiva Nucleo High GTX is an ideal boot for hiking and backpacking over long distances. Its lightweight and comfortable fit combine with a sturdy and robust frame to give you all you want in a long-distance hiking boot for men and women. There isn’t much of a design difference between the women’s and men’s versions besides the colors and sizes.

This boot performs well in all hiking conditions. It excels when backpacking, providing exceptional support, excellent grip, and waterproofing that allows you to move easily through heavy downpours and cross water bodies without feeling weighed down. The sole has a springy feel to it, which makes your treks extra comfortable. One user wore it for 19 straight hours, with plenty of climbing through mountainous off-trail terrain, and had no discomfort with their ankle or feet.

The Vibram sole is incredibly grippy, allowing you to clamber up and down slick rocks and steep trails comfortably. Do you need to hop across rocks in a stream? This boot will stick to the rock like glue to paper. The Vibram rubber extends to cover the toe cap, making it ideal for scrambling across rock faces. Our testers hiked across sharp rocks with no pain points reported. One tester said, “they felt like walking on cushions, after a long trek while carrying a heavy backpack.

The La Sportiva Nucleo requires very little to no break-in period. Almost every user had a comfortable first hike with these boots straight out of the box with no reported blisters. The fit is exceptional and true, so most hikers will not need to resize.

This boot is lightweight, durable, and made to last. It’s flexible enough where it needs to be but stiff enough for scrambling.  The laces tend to stay tied after a long hiking period, and we haven’t come across a single complaint about them so far.

This is one of the top hiking boots, and although slightly more expensive than the others, it’s worth every penny if you can afford them.



4. Oboz Sawtooth Low II (For Women)

Oboz Sawtooth Low IIWeight: 1 lb. 11.6 oz.
Upper: Nubuck Leather
Outsole: Carbon Rubber
Midsole: Dual-Density EVA
Waterproof: No
Available Sizes: 6 to 11

Likes: Excellent traction, great arch support, and comfortable fit

Dislikes: Sizing issues for a few people. Some say it runs large and others say it runs small.

The Oboz Sawtooth Low for women is primarily a day-hiking boot that is comfortable enough to use as a daily city shoe. The boot comes with a comfortable insole that provides excellent arch and heel support. This a lightweight boot that is ideal for long and short day-hikes. They are also great for people whose jobs require walking long distances every day. The carbon rubber outsole has exceptional grip and works well with the lugs to provide excellent traction, even in slick conditions. None of the testers reported any blisters or pain points. The excellent fit prevents your feet from moving and rubbing against the inside of the boot, which reduces the likelihood of blisters and ankle-rolls. The boot also utilizes abrasion-resistant fabric and liners for increased comfort and a lower risk of blisters.

Most users found that it fitted well and was comfortable to hike with straight out of the box. We recommend going half a size up if you want more room. It has a wide toe box and a narrower heel section for a snug and comfortable fit. A few users needed a short break-in period to get to their optimum comfort level.

This is not the waterproof version because it’s primarily meant for daily use, so it needed extra breathability. However, users still reported that it handled wet conditions very well. It also works well in cold weather conditions.

These are comfortable for long and short day-hikes on relatively easy trails but not the ideal boot for hardcore, rough trail or off-trail hiking. Some have also used it for backpacking with no issues.

Also, Oboz plants a tree for every shoe they make, which is great for nature lovers.



5. Lowa Renegade GTX Mid (Women’s and Men’s Versions)

Lowa Renegade GTX Mid hiking bootWeight: Women: 2 lbs. 2 oz. | Men: 2 lbs. 7 oz.
Upper: Nubuck Leather
Outsole: Vibram Rubber
Midsole: Polyurethane
Waterproof: Yes, with Gore-Tex® lining
Available Sizes: Women: 5.5 to 12 | 7.5 to 15 (Available in wide and narrow options)

Likes: Comfortable and lightweight, excellent for backpacking, all-weather support, superb traction, great for rock hopping and hiking up steep and rocky trails.

Dislikes: Durability issues for some male users.

This is a tough but lightweight hiking boot that delivers on any terrain. There are no design differences between the men’s and women’s versions besides the weight, colors, and sizes. So, feel free to pick whichever version you prefer.

The Renegade GTX has excellent ankle support, a high-grip outsole, and comfortable linings and insole. Most users found no need to break them in because they are comfortable to hike in straight from the box. The boots offer excellent traction in slick and steep terrains, which provides increased stability and sure-footedness.

People who regularly had blisters when wearing hiking boots discovered no such mishaps with the Renegade GTX Mid. They experienced no pain in their feet, even after long hours hiking through tough off-trail terrain. This boot is an ideal option for backpacking with a heavy load strapped to your back.

The Gore-Tex® lining works well as a waterproof barrier, keeping your feet dry during heavy downpours, while hiking through heavy snow and when crossing shallow streams and rivers.

You’re unlikely to need to size up or down because it fits perfectly. Most users found the fit to be true to their regular shoe size. However, you may want to go one size up if you intend to use an insert. The midsole and Vibram outsole acts as a shock absorber when walking on rocky terrain. Also, most users found they did not need a break-in period. They have sizes for narrow and wide-footed people.

The feedback from women has been very positive, with very little complain. However, some men have reported that their version fell apart after months of regular hiking while other men have no such issues. You can say the results are a bit mixed for men, while women are extremely happy with their purchase. Most users re-purchase the same boot after they fall apart because of how comfortable they are.

We believe the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid is a high-quality and well-built boot that will give you years of happy ventures into the wild.



6. Merrell Moab 2 Mid WP (Women and Men)

Merrell Moab 2 Mid hiking bootsWeight: Women: 2 lbs. | Men: 2 lbs. 4 oz.
Upper: Suede Leather and Mesh
Outsole: Vibram TC5+ Rubber
Midsole: EVA
Waterproof: Yes
Available Sizes: Women: 5 to 12 | Men: 7 to 15

Likes: High-quality build, comfortable, affordable, and excellent fit

Dislikes: Some reports of waterproofing issues from a few users but we had no such experiences.

If you’re looking for a cheaper but high-quality hiking boot, look no further than the Merrell Moab 2 Mid. This is an ideal boot for long and short day-hikers as well as backpackers. It’s lightweight but built tough. The Moab 2 Mid is extremely comfortable to hike in with all our users reporting no blisters or discomfort after trekking over long distances. We and many users like the air cushion in the heel that adds an extra layer of comfort. The insole provides excellent arch support while the lining is abrasion-resistant and super comfy.

The fit of this boot is true to size for most users but some people chose to go half a size up to make room for multiple layers of socks in the winter. The right size should fit snuggly and provide great ankle support. The Moab 2 Mid has excellent traction and prevents your feet from sliding forward when descending a steep incline. It offers good flex whiles providing great support. All these combine to reduce the risk of blisters and ankle-rolls. Most users do not need a break-in period because the boots fit perfectly and are comfortable to hike in right out of the box.

The waterproofing works well to keep your feet dry when it rains or when wading through shallow water. You can upgrade to a model with Gore-Tex® waterproofing at a small premium if you want extended waterproofing. The lacing of this boot is excellent and stays tied after a long day of hiking.

Overall, we believe these boots are great value for money, and you won’t regret buying them.



7. Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX (Men and Women)

Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX Hiking Boot For Women and MenWeight: Women: 2 lbs. 5 oz. | Men: 2 lbs. 13 oz.
Upper: Nubuck Leather and Textile
Outsole: Contagrip Rubber
Midsole: Dual-Density EVA
Waterproof: Yes, With Gore-Tex® breathable
Available Sizes: Women: 5 to 12 | Men: 7 to 14

Likes: Durable and tough construction. Comfortable, supportive, and all-terrain hiking.

Dislikes: Some men had durability issues with their boot, and they can be a bit too warm in the summer. They also don’t make them in wide sizes.

This boot is made with hardcore hiking and backpacking in mind. The Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX is an all-terrain, all-weather boot that is frequently updated to add better performance. The Contagrip outsole is super grippy, giving you exceptional tracking on slick surfaces and when going up or down steep trails. The grip level, support, flexibility, and stability make them a great boot for scrambling in the toughest terrains. This boot is pretty high and provides excellent ankle, heel and arch support. This makes it an ideal boot for long-distance hiking whiles carrying heavy loads. This is why it makes an excellent backpacking boot.

We love the lacing system on this boot. You can tell the laces and eyelets are of high-quality. They are not prone to undoing themselves as you go deeper into the hike. This boot requires little to no break-in period for most users. The fit is excellent and extremely comfortable. It hugs your fit just enough to give it the right level of support but also flexible enough to walk in without discomfort. Your feet will not slide forward when going down steep inclines and we did not experience any friction points.  It performs well for off-trail hiking and in all weather conditions.

The waterproofing is excellent with breathable Gore-Tex® lining. Your feet should stay comfortably dry when trekking in wet conditions. Some men reported issues with the waterproofing, but this seems to be an issue with only the men’s version yet again. However, we had zero problems crossing streams or hiking through damp conditions. Most male users also found no problems with the waterproofing.

Our only real complaint about this boot is that they tend to get a bit too warm when hiking in hot conditions. However, this is not unexpected for a waterproof boot with a high-top design.

We do not recommend this boot for everyday day-hiking on well-maintained trails even though they are extremely comfortable. The Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX is a bit of an overkill for such usage and you’re better off getting a cheaper and lighter boot like the Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX.



8. La Sportiva Pyramid GTX (Women and Men)

La Sportiva Pyramid GTX Hiking bootsWeight: Women: 1 lb. 11.8 oz. | Men: 2 lbs. 1.6 oz.
Upper: Nubuck Leather, Mesh, Polyurethane
Outsole: Vibram® XS-Trek Rubber
Midsole: OrthoLite® EVA
Waterproofing: Yes, with Gore-Tex® Surround 3-Layer Breathable Laminate.
Available Sizes: Women: 37 to 42 EU (6 to 12 US) | Men: 39 to 47.5 EU (6 to 14 US)

Likes: Sturdy and supportive, lightweight, comfortable fit, excellent traction, and a stylish design.

Dislikes: Some people had trouble adjusting to a high-boot.

The Pyramid GTX is a lightweight day-hiking boot that is fast and supportive. However, we’ve tested them on steep and rocky trails and they held up very well. The outsole has an excellent grip and the fit is just right. The boot is exceptionally comfortable and fits snuggly to your feet. The Vibram® sole has excellent traction when walking in slick conditions including ice and slippery rocks. It hugs your feet gently and prevents them from sliding up or down in the boot when scrambling or going down steep terrain. Some people may need to go one size up but most users were comfortable buying their usual size.

The upper is made up of Nubuck leather and breathable mesh. A Gore-Tex® lining gives this boot excellent waterproofing. You can wear it in the rain and cross streams without getting your feet wet. It also keeps your feet dry when hiking through snow or wet grass.

You can tell these boots are made from high-quality materials and craftsmanship as soon as you take them out of the box. They look sturdy and well-made. Most users find it very comfortable right out of the box without needing much of a break-in period. They get even more comfortable after using them for a week. The toe box is spacious and there are excellent arch and ankle support.

The only downside is that they do tend to run a bit too warm, so we don’t think it’s an ideal boot for summer hiking. Also, the laces tend to loosen after walking for a couple of hours. But then again, this shouldn’t be a problem if you know how to tie laces properly to stop them from becoming loose.

The lightweight and sturdy construction of this boot make them a good option for backpacking with a medium-weight load on your back.



9. Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX (Women and Men)

Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX Hiking BootsWeight: Women: 2 lbs. | Men: 2 lbs. 6.4 oz.
Upper: Suede Leather
Outsole: Vibram® Drumlin® Rubber
Midsole: EVA
Waterproof: Yes, with 2-layer Gore-Tex®
Available Sizes:  Women: 38 to 42 EU (7.5 to 11.5 US) | Men: 41 to 47 EU (8 to 14 US)

Likes: Easily handles tough terrain, comfortable and snug fit, lightweight for a stiff and rugged boot

Dislikes: Some question marks about durability and insole padding.

The men’s and women’s versions of the Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX have identical designs and materials. They only differ by color and size. The Zodiac Plus GTX offers an ideal blend of trail and off-trail hiking on some of the toughest terrain. The Vibram Drumlin rubber on the outsole is super grippy, allowing you to walk confidently up or down slippery rocks and steep inclines. It also excels on ice-covered trails. Most users reported that it has a snug and comfortable fit although you may want to go up a size if you need more room. However, your regular boot size should be a good fit in our experience.

The toe box is spacious and well protected. The arch and ankle support on this boot is second to none. Your feet feel comfortable and secure inside the boot with no movement of the foot in the shoe when scrambling or going downhill on a steep incline. This reduces the risk of blisters and ankle-rolls significantly.

The Zodiac Plus is sturdy but flexible, making it an ideal boot to use for hiking in the mountains and rocky terrain. The 2-layer Gore-Tex® lining provides excellent waterproofing. Your feet will stay dry when hiking through wet and damp conditions.

The Zodiac Plus is one of the best hardcore hiking boots on our list along with the Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX and the Vasque Breeze III Mid GTX.

Some users have reported the sole falling apart after a short period. We are yet to experience this but it is a concern that we’ve had this reported by more than one person. Some also felt the insole does not have adequate padding so you might need to replace it with a new one. Again, we had no issues with the insole and found it to be very comfortable.



10. Zamberlan Vioz GTX (Women and Men)

Zamberlan Vioz GTX BootsWeight: Women: 3 lbs. 1 oz |Men: 3 lbs. 8 oz.
Upper: Full-Grain Leather
Outsole: Vibram® Rubber
Midsole: Polyurethane
Waterproof: Yes, with Gore-Tex® Performance Comfort
Available Sizes: Women: 6 to 11 | Men: 8 to 14

Likes: Excels in tough off-trail terrain, a comfortable and snug fit, excellent grip and a very nice-looking boot

Dislikes: A bit on the heavy side.

Zamberlan makes the upper of the Vioz GTX with high-quality full-grain leather to appeal to buyers with deep pockets. However, this material translates into extra weight, which shows in the more than 3 pounds weight of both the men’s and women’s boots. This Italian luxury classic is very well-made and extremely comfortable to wear. It will look stunning on your feet but also very functional.

It’s made to help you make mincemeat of the toughest of trail and off-trail terrains. There’s plenty of comfortable padding in the interior which gives you extra comfort as your walk. The toe box gives your toes plenty of room whiles the arch and ankle supports are top-notch.  The Vibram sole has superb grip, making light work of slick, steep and rocky terrain.

The fit is perfect and the sides are sturdy, which helps prevent foot pain, blisters, and ankle rolls. The Gore-Tex® lining works well with the leather upper to keep your feet completely dry in ankle-deep water, snow, rain, and other damp conditions.

The Zamberlan Vioz GTX is one of the best hiking boots if you plan to go hiking in challenging terrain with a heavy load strapped to your back. This makes it an ideal boot for backpacking.

The only real complaint we have with this boot is the weight. But if you don’t mind walking with that bit of extra weight, this is an excellent pair of boots, and we can’t recommend it highly enough.



Hiking Boot Buyer’s Guide

Types of Hiking Footwear
Hiking Shoes
Day Hiking Boots
Backpacking Boots
Hiking Boots vs. Hiking Shoes
Flexibility and Stability
Laces and Eyelets
Hiking Boot Upper
Full-Grain Leather
Split-Grain Leather
Nubuck and Suede Leather
Synthetic Materials
Midsole Materials
Outsole materials
Toe Box Protection
The Insole

Types of Hiking Footwear

Hiking Shoes: These are low-cut and look like your usual sneaker, but they are built to handle the tough surfaces of the hiking trail. They’re usually lightweight and ideal for day-hiking and ultra-light backpacking. However, there are a couple of hiking shoes that can handle rugged and rocky terrain, as well as long-distance hiking with a heavy backpack.

Salomon X Ultra 3 Low hiking shoe

Hiking Shoe – Salomon Ultra 3 Low Aero

Day Hiking Boots:  These can be a mid-cut or a high-cut boot. They are ideal for day hikers and light backpackers who undertake short-distance travels. They tend to be very comfortable out of the box with little to no break-in period required. This is mainly due to its extra flexibility. However, they may not offer the strong support and durability of a full-fledge backpacking hiking boot. These boots typically fall into the midweight category.

Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator Mid Day Hiking Boot

A midweight day-hiking boot – Merrel Moab 2 Ventilator Mid

Backpacking Boots: Backpacking often involves strapping heavy loads to your back and walking long distances. You need a boot that can support the extra load and yet comfortable to walk long distances in. Backpacking boots typically have a high-cut and are made from high-quality and durable materials. They tend to be stiffer and provide better feet and ankle support. They also tend to be heavier than the other two types of hiking boots.

Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX backpacking boot

Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX is one of the best backpacking boots

 Hiking Boots vs. Hiking Shoes

As we’ve already established above, boots are mid to high-cut that usually rise well above your ankle, whiles shoes are typically low-top that usually sit just on the ankle line. Hiking boots can be laced above the ankle and provide greater ankle protection than shoes.

hiking shoe

Hiking shoes are ideal for less challenging trails

The boots also offer better protection against ankle rolls and tend to be more supportive than shoes. Hiking boots should, therefore, be the best option when hiking through rocky and mountainous terrain whiles hauling heavy gear. The shoe options use less material and are, therefore, lighter than the boots. This means they are the ideal option when you need to move quickly over well-maintained trails while carrying lightweight. In the end, it comes down to what is comfortable for you. If you boot and don’t feel comfortable, you can try a shoe to see if that fits you better. You’ll find high-quality makes in either category that can handle any hiking task well.

off-trail backpacking

Hiking boots are ideal for challenging terrains


Most hiking boots will come with waterproofing because conditions on the trail can change in an instance. One minute you’re moving through bright sunny weather and it could suddenly start raining the next minute. You may need to cross streams on the trail or walk through the snow. Your hiking boot should keep your feet dry when trekking through damp conditions. Most manufacturers use a Gore-Tex® (GTX) lining to help waterproof their boots. When GTX appears in the name of a boot, it means it uses Gore-Tex® technology.

In addition, some manufacturers also coat the outside of the boot with a water-repellent substance that causes raindrops to quickly slide off the surface of the boot without soaking it.

The season and terrain play a factor in whether you need a waterproof boot or not. They are excellent in keeping your feet dry in damp conditions but can also make your feet hot when hiking in dry and hot conditions. You should also note that waterproof boots are great at keeping your feet dry for a while but they won’t keep them dry forever. So you may get your feet soaked eventually when crossing knee-high streams, walking through a heavy downpour and walking for hours in a very damp environment.

hiking through water

Waterproofing helps keep your feet dry when hiking in wet conditions

Some hikers opt for non-waterproof boots in the summer that allow their feet to breath more. They use gaiters to prevent water, debris, and snow from entering the boots from the top. However, these gaiters may not be effective in preventing water from entering the boot from the sides.

We recommend waterproof boots for those that hike in terrain where they have to cross water bodies, and for areas where the weather can turn unexpectedly. Waterproof boots also tend to keep your feet warmer in cold weather than non-waterproof boots. We recommend that you buy a non-waterproof boot when hiking in an area that experiences very little rain. They offer better breathability which helps the feet sweat less. Two of our favorite non-waterproof hiking boots are the Hoka One One Sky Arkali and the Merrell Moab2 Ventilator. We’ve covered the issue of waterproofing in detail in our waterproof and hiking boots article.

Flexibility and Stability

Hiking can involve walking long distances over uneven terrain. This can cause all sorts of foot problems if you do it in the wrong boots. You need a stable boot to handle trails littered with rocks and tree roots. Manufacturers achieve this stability by using shanks and plates to add rigidity to the sole. Shanks are thick inserts inserted between the outsole and the midsole. They help with the load-bearing ability of the boot. Plates tend to be thin, and partially flexible inserts found between the midsole and the outsole (and below the shank if your boot has one). They protect your feet when you step on small rocks and tree roots on the trail.

Stiffer boots prevent the heel from dropping when going up a steep incline. This makes them an ideal choice for hiking up rocky and mountainous terrains. Lightweight hiking boots typically do not have shanks or plates, which give them extra flexibility. They are suitable for day-hikers who trek on well-maintained flat trails.

Some boots offer a good balance between stiffness and flexibility. The Salomon Quest 4D 3 and Lowa Renegade GTX Mid are excellent examples of boots that are comfortable for day-hikers and hardcore off-trail hikers alike.

Laces and Eyelets

Most people don’t pay attention to the lacing system when picking a hiking boot but they are an essential cog in the fit. You want a lacing system that stays tied throughout your journey. A lace that loosens as you hike can be very frustrating and may even cause your feet to blister. Imagine carrying a heavy load and having to stop now and then to redo your laces. That is not something any of us want to do.


The lacing system is a crucial component of fit and comfort

It is easy to replace a bad lace but no so easy to replace the eyelets or hooks. That is why you need to find a boot with a lacing system that fits your feet comfortably. You need a system that allows you to customize the lacing to your desired comfort level. Some models like the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid and the Salomon Quest 4D have locking hooks that secure the laces and prevent them from loosening as you hike.

Hiking Boot Upper

The upper of the hiking boot is the area covering the upper part of your feet. This is the material located on the non-sole section of the boot. The type of material used to make this part of the boot affects its durability, breathability, and waterproofing. Some manufacturers use a combination of leather, mesh, and synthetic material like nylon. High-end models, like the Zamberlan Vioz GTX, typically use an all-leather upper with a synthetic tongue. Let’s go through some of the common materials used to make the upper and the impact they have on the boot.

Full-Grain Leather

This is a durable, high-quality, and abrasion-resistant leather that has an excellent water-resistance quality. This is a common material used to make backpacking boots for long-distance treks over tough terrain. Full-grain leather uppers tend to offer the best side-support which makes them ideal for walking on uneven trails. Their use usually results in heavier boots than those made from other materials. They usually require longer break-in periods, but often lasts longer than those made from other materials. The Zamberlan Vioz GTX is an excellent example of a full-grain leather hiking boot.

full-grain leather boots

Full-grain leather is durable and naturally waterproof

Split-Grain Leather

This type of upper uses a split leather (leather that has had the rough inner side “split” away from the smooth outer side) combined with a synthetic material like nylon mesh. They tend to be more breathable than uppers made from full-grain leather. Stripping the rough inner of the leather helps keep costs down and reduce the weight of the boot. However, it is less abrasion-resistant and needs a liner to improve its water resistance property.

Nubuck and Suede Leather

You get nubuck leather when you buff the full-grain leather to look like suede. It retains all the qualities of full-grain leather, such as water-resistance, abrasion-resistance, and excellent durability. It gives people who like the feel of suede the option of buying a tough and durable hiking boot with such feel.

nubuck leather boot

Nubuck leather upper

Synthetic Materials

Synthetic materials found in the upper of a boot include nylon, polyester, polyurethane, and “synthetic leather.” They are lightweight materials and require virtually no break-in periods. They’re also faster-drying and more cost-effective than leather-based materials. However, they tend to be less durable than leather.

The upper may also have a waterproof membrane lining like Gore-Tex® to help keep your feet dry in hiking in wet conditions. Other boots may use a non-waterproof mesh to increase ventilation, which helps prevent sweaty feet.

synthetic fabric boot

Hiking boot with synthetic fabric upper

Midsole Materials

The main function of the midsole is to cushion your feet and act as a “shock absorber” when you step on rocks and tree roots on the trail. It affects the boot’s stiffness and helps provide better stability and comfort on the trail. Most manufacturers us EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) or PU (polyurethane) to make the midsole. Manufacturers can vary the density of material in some spots to provide localized support. EVA is cheaper and less dense than polyurethane. Polyurethane is more durable and firmer, so they’re typically used in hardcore backpacking and mountaineering boots.

Outsole materials

That outsole is that part of the boot that comes into contact with the ground. It needs to provide excellent traction and support in all kinds of terrains. They’re typically made from high-grip rubber. There’s one company that dominates that outsole rubber market. Vibram®, just like Gore-Tex® in the waterproof lining market, is the predominant supplier of rubber for boot outsoles. Some brands add hardening substances like carbon to increase the durability of boots intended for the toughest terrains. However, such additives may reduce traction. One notable brand that does not use Vibram® is Salomon. They’ve developed an in-house rubber called ContraGrip®, which has an exceptional grip.

the outsole

A rubber outsole with lugs for traction

The outsole may consist of lugs and a heel brake. Lugs are like the threads on a car tire. The depth and pattern of the lugs can determine just how much grip is in the outsole. A heel brake is the distinctive heel area after the arch in the outsole. It provides additional grip and helps to prevent slipping when hiking on slick surfaces.

Toe Box Protection

Toe caps, toe bumper, toe roll, toe shield, and scuff cap all refer to the protective rubber that typically extends from the outsole to cover the front of the boot’s toe area. It is a thick rubber that helps cushion the blow when, not if, you inadvertently kick a rock or a tree root on the trail. You should look for a boot with this feature because we know from experience that you’ll eventually stub your boot on a rock at some point, and the toe protection will come in handy at that point.

The Insole

The insole is the first layer of cushion and support between your feet and the boot. The shape and density of this layer can be crucial in giving you a comfortable and pain-free hike. While the insole that comes with the boot will do for most buyers, some people may need to replace them to get a perfect fit. It’s easy to find an aftermarket insole that fits the shape of your foot perfectly and provides better comfort when walking. Superfeet® is a leading maker of high-quality aftermarket insoles, so we encourage you to look through what they have to find the right insole for you.

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