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How to choose hiking boots and shoes

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Whether you plan to trek the Himalayas or explore a nearby national park, your footwear can seriously make (or break) your experience. This is our guide on how to choose the best hiking boots.

Wet feet, blistered feet, hot and sweaty feet are all going to lead to a pretty miserable time. So it’s important you choose hiking and trail shoes that are the perfect fit for your foot and are designed specifically for your intended purpose.

What is the ideal fit?

To get the perfect fit, it’s important you try on footwear with the socks you intend to wear them with. If you’re going hiking, for example, you’ll need to be wearing hiking socks, which generally speaking, provide added cushioning and temperature control and can be moisture-wicking and anti-bacterial.

You may choose to hike in sock liners too, for additional comfort and moisture-wicking, which will add to the thickness. As hiking socks are thicker than regular socks, it’s important to wear them when trying on hiking shoes, as it may affect the size you need.

It’s also important to note that feet swell throughout the day — especially if you’ve been walking for hours — so try on shoes in the second half of the day when your feet will be at their largest.

The ideal fit for hiking boots is for your foot to be snug enough that it doesn’t move around when you walk and you’re able to wiggle your toes without them touching the front of your shoe. When you push your toes to the front of the boot, you should be able to slide two fingers down either side of the Achilles.

As not all feet fit to standard foot sizes, you may find that your feet require some style of custom insole, which can add up to a whole half size, to help achieve the perfect fit. Insoles can also be helpful if you have low or collapsed arches, can help if one foot is longer than the other, or if you find your heel slipping.

The better the shoe fits, the better the technology will work to protect you on your adventure.

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What is the intended use?

While ‘hiking’ might be your short answer, you’ll need to be more specific and think about the kind of terrain you’ll be hiking on, how long you’ll be hiking for and what the weather conditions will be like. Here’s why:


Kathmandu’s hiking boots are designed specifically for hiking trails — think mud, grass and stone. Fine grit found on this kind of terrain can wear into a hiking shoe’s seam and rip the material.

To counter this, our hiking boots are designed with as few seams as possible, which also stops water seeping in and can help stop friction that leads to blisters. Our hiking boots are also made with rubber soles and toe caps for enhanced durability, plus a gusseted tongue to keep stones out.

Full-grain and nubuck leather offer water resistance, abrasion resistance and durability. Split grain leather is a little lighter in terms of durability and water resistance, but requires much less time spent on the break-in period.

If you will be hiking in rough terrain, you may want to pair your hiking boots with gaiters to protect your legs.

It’s important to note that wearing these hiking boots on concrete or asphalt surfaces will damage the sole. So, if you intend to hike mostly on sealed surfaces, you’d be better off choosing a trail or lifestyle shoe designed for that purpose.

Hike duration:

The longer your hiking adventure, the greater the demand on your body and feet, so you will need more support from your boot. A longer trip also usually involves carrying a heavier pack — again requiring further boot support; both under the foot with a stiffer mid-sole and around the ankle with good heel support.

Despite the benefits of sturdy and durable hiking boots, lightweight hiking shoes have their advantages too. A lightweight shoe can save you 100–200g every time you move your foot, so you will save a lot of energy over the course of a day.

Boots made of synthetic materials are lighter and cooler than leather products, have a much shorter break-in period and tend to cost less, but are not quite as durable over the long run. You'll need to consider all these factors when you're choosing the best hiking boots for you.

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Weather conditions:

Will you be hiking in icy-cold, wet, hot, dry or humid conditions? These are important considerations when choosing hiking boots. The weather and other environmental factors will determine if you need a breathable mesh shoe or a waterproof boot.

If you are hiking in and out of water, you’ll need to weigh up whether it’s more important to have a quick-drying shoe or a water-resistant boot. For a truly waterproof boot, look for either waterproof leather with sealed seams or a boot with a waterproof liner, such as Gore-Tex or ngx®. Taking proper care of your Gore-Tex footwear will prolong its life and performance. A waterproof liner will also add warmth. That said, there’s a large hole at the top of your boot where your foot goes in, so water may still trickle into if you’re wading through rivers.

Another option is to pair your leather hiking boots with some lightweight, durable and quick-drying sandals, which you can wear through streams, as well as around camp to let your feet breath in comfort.

Ultimately getting the right fit is king and getting footwear that’s made for your purpose is just as important when it comes to choosing the best hiking boots.