Purchasing a quality set of hiking boots/shoes should be a top priority before heading out on your next adventure. Your footwear is what provides you with grip, support, and stability throughout your treks. So, what makes a set of boots/shoes the “best”? The short answer is it depends! When it comes to choosing a pair of hiking boots, there are two major things to consider.
- Your Goals: The biggest thing to consider before choosing your footwear is what you’re going to be using them for. Will you be mainly going for day hikes, or long-term backpacking trips? What’s your average trip length? What climate do you plan on using them in? These are a few of the main questions you need to ask yourself before committing to a style. If you’re taking on established trails in a hot climate, breathability may be your top priority. Whereas if you’re planning a backpacking trip through mud, rocks, or snow, support and protection reigns supreme!
- Your Fit: No two people are built the same way. Knowing your foot size, width, and shape so you can research the best styles and brands to accommodate you is going to save you a world of painful blisters and uneven support. Don’t forget to consider any other clothing or orthopedics that can affect the fitment as well! We always suggest trying on different brands and styles to see what best fits your foot type.
Hiking shoes are a great option if you’re looking for something reliable and lightweight for easy to moderate terrain difficulties. They generally provide good breathability, flex, and comfort, making them perfect for day hikes or to cover long journeys with minimal backcountry. However, their lightweight low-cut design comes at a trade-off for stability. Since the cuff ends below your ankles, you are going to find no additional ankle support when going through tough, uneven areas. If you’re planning a long-distance backpacking trip, it might be worth your while to consider a boot option. While it might be tempting to shave some weight, the last thing you want while miles from help is to be incapacitated from an ankle injury.
Hiking boots are a step up for stability, making them better suited for backcountry terrain where you may find yourself consistently stepping through rocks and brush. However, it is not as simple as just shoes vs. boots. Depending on your goals and preferences, you can find hiking boots in two main options: Mid-Cut and High-Cut.
Mid-Cut: As the name states, this boot style cuts off at the middle of your ankle. These boots offer a good middle ground for anyone looking for some additional support over hiking shoes without adding on too much weight. These boots usually offer one or two metal lacing hooks at the ankle to tighten and provide a more secure fit to prevent rocks or debris from entering. Although these rise higher than shoes, the support is still not optimal for extreme terrain. Mid-cuts offer less flex than hiking shoes and are going to require some level of breaking in.
High Cut: These are generally going to be very similar in feel to a mid-cut hiking boot, with the main difference being that the cuff now extends a couple inches above your ankle. This additional coverage is going to be ideal for ankle stability and protection from the elements, making them the best suited for the toughest conditions. While these will keep you the most protected against ankle injury, cuts, and pests, these usually tend to be the heaviest option, least breathable, and require the longest break in period.
Picking the right footwear boils down to matching the right features to your goals. Take a good look at the trips you have planned and ask yourself what makes more sense? In most cases, lower cuts mean lighter, more breathable, and less break in time. Higher cuts mean more stability, warmth, and protection from debris and brush.
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