Having fun looks different this summer, thanks to the coronavirus. But hiking is always something you can do at a safe distance from other people. Just make sure you have the right footwear.
“Many things can go wrong during the thousands of steps you're taking, but one thing in your control is giving your feet a quality boot right off the bat,” says Chad Lubinski, a hiker writing at Hiker Trash Nation who’s planning to take on the John Muir Trail next month and the Pacific Coast Trail next year.
Good hiking boots will mitigate blisters, inflammation, ankle problems and more. They’ll let you stay out on the trail longer, and can spell the difference between being a lifelong hiker and never returning to hiking again, the McMinnville, Oregon-based hiker adds.
When you go shopping for hiking boots, it’s important to match the shoe to the terrain, conditions and activity, says David Dicerbo, based in Catskill, New York, and co-owner of the adventure travel company Destination Backcountry Adventures, which specializes in hiking and backpacking in upstate New York.
“The best day hiking boot for the Catskills would be different from the best day hiking boot for the Utah desert,” he adds. “Similarly, the best backpacking boot for the Catskills would be different from the best day hiking boot for the Catskills.”
Dicerbo says there are three things to consider when looking for hiking boots:
- Construction Material: Most boots are a combination of a thin membrane that is waterproof and breathable called Gore-tex (or something similar to Gore-tex), and panels that are suede, nubuck or leather. There are also full-grain leather boots which are waterproof. Water-resistant boots are appropriate for a majority of hikes, but if water crossings and muddy trails are a big part of your plan, fully waterproof boots are a good choice. But there’s a tradeoff: waterproof boots have less breathability and can therefore be hotter (and smellier) because, although moisture can’t get in, it also can’t get out, Dicerbo says.
- Ankle Height: The higher the ankle of the boots, the greater the support. This is an example of matching the boot to your terrain – if you’re planning on hiking rough, rocky trails, a higher boot can help avoid twisted ankles. But the tradeoff here is that they are a bit heavier, he adds.
- Sole and Traction: While a thicker, harder sole is more durable, it’s also heavier. Some backpacking or heavier hiking day boots have a shank of metal or plastic in the sole, which is great for uneven terrain, but adds weight too, Dicerbo says.
So what are some of the favorite boots of experienced hikers who have taken on trails all over the world? We asked around, and there are their recommendations.
Best Hiking Boots for Women and Men: Updated September 2020
Merrell Moab 2: From $80 at Amazon or $110 at Merrell
DiCerbo recommends the Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator as a “great boot for day hikes on all terrain, backpacking with moderate weight.”
Julien Heron – who started the blog Outdoors Generations with his father after years of hiking together – says the Merrell Moab 2s are the best value boots. The foam tongue of the shoe keeps moisture and debris at bay while the sole, depth and toe cap provide durability to handle anything the trail throws your way, he adds.
“The performance suede leather and mesh uppers provide protection and durability without sacrificing breathability and comfort,” says Heron, based in Montreal, Canada. “Plus, this shoe is available at a fraction of the price of many competitors.”
The Merrell Moab 2 boots come in waterproof and non-waterproof models.
Columbia Newton Ridge Plus II Waterproof Boots: From $66 at Amazon or $79.95 at Columbia
Lubinski likes the Columbia Newton Ridge Plus II Waterproof Boots.
They’ve worked well for him on trails that aren’t well-maintained as well as during the winter months, and are extremely lightweight. That’s important for people that want ankle and foot protection, as well as waterproofing, but still want the boots to feel light, he says.
Lubinski says he’s never twisted an ankle in them (something he can’t say for all of his hiking shoes). He’s owned them for 2.5 years and there have been “zero durability issues and no cosmetic damage whatsoever,” he adds. “Not even the tread has been worn down.”
Salomon OUTline Mid GTX: From $112.50 at Amazon or Salomon
If you’re looking for a boot that’s sleek, stylish and lightweight, check out Salomon's OUTline Mid GTX, suggests Kate Ayoub, a hiker of more than 15 years who’s also a physical therapist, endurance coach and health coach with Own Your Movement. The liner gives you water protection and the reinforced toe and ankle support keeps your feet protected in the woods, she adds.
“This hiking boot fits and feels like a sneaker, making it incredibly comfortable right out of the box,” says Ayoub, who lives in Washington, D.C.
Asolo Powermatic GTX: From $310 at Amazon or $176 at Asolo
Matthew Usherwood, the founder of Book My Trail – a travel business specializing in walking holidays – has hiked in Central America, India and the United Kingdom in Asolo Powermatic GTX boots.
They’re sturdy trekking boots for long-distance hiking and backpacking, with a molded sole and excellent foot support.
The durable inner liner “never failed once after 10 years of use,” adds Usherwood, based in Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom.
La Sportiva Trango TRK GTX: From $99.98 at Amazon or $110 at La Sportiva
Diane Vukovic, an American expat in Belgrade, Serbia, has been hiking since her father brought her to the Adirondack Mountains when she was 6. Now, she takes her own daughters backpacking and blogs at Mom Goes Camping. She recommends La Sportiva Trango TRK GTX boots, which she says are lightweight while still providing good ankle support.
The waterproof lining also keeps your feet dry when hiking in bad weather, she adds. Vukovic is also vegan so finding these animal-friendly boots was a must!
Lowa Sassa GTX Mid Hiking Boots: From $158 at REI
When your foot isn’t solidly on top of the sole of a boot, you can get soreness and blisters, says Durham, North Carolina-based Alison Watta, who leads backpacking trips and shares her tips at Exploration Solo. But that’s not a problem with the Lowa Sassa GTX Mid Hiking Boots.
These boots are narrower around the toe area but have a wider midsection than others, which help keep her foot on the sole, she says. With this design, her toes don’t slide around, and that prevents calluses forming behind her big toe, which she says is common in other boots.
“The support they provide helps me hike confidentially and my feet feel great in the evenings,” Watta adds.
Vasque Talus Ultra Dry: $149.99 at Amazon or Vasque
Kim Hefner, an avid hiker from Denver, Colorado, loves the Vasque Talus Ultra Dry hiking boots, which she’s hiked several 13ers and 14ers (mountains that exceed over 13,000 or 14,000 feet).
They’re a great boot for either beginners or experienced hikers, with strong ankle support that is helpful on rocky trails. In addition to being waterproof, they're comfortable with soles built to last, she says.
“I’ve probably hiked 200 miles in these boots, and they are still in great shape,” adds Hefner, owner of Wild and Found Photography.
SALEWA Mountain Trainer Lite mid GTX boots: From $199 at Amazon or Salewa
Ben Vaughan is currently hiking the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail and is more than happy with his SALEWA Mountain Trainer Lite mid GTX boots. In fact, he just ordered a second pair, to help him complete the journey.
The instep area is connected to the heel pocket, making the shoes supportive and stable in all mixed terrains, he says. They also combine leather with abrasion-resistant fabric, which provide superior durability, he adds.
The lining has kept his feet "dry and comfortable for miles upon miles,” says Vaughan, who is based in Fraser, Colorado, when not on trail.