How to choose hiking boots and shoes

Whether you plan to trek the Himalayas or explore a nearby national park, your footwear can seriously make (or break) your experience. To get it right, you'll need to find the perfect fit in either boots or shoes designed specifically for your intended purpose.

Achieve the Perfect Fit

When you try your shoes on, your foot should be snug enough that it doesn’t move around when you walk, but you’re still 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 tendon. While walking, your heel should not lift.

In sock we trust

It's also essential you try on any potential hiking footwear with the socks you intend to wear them with. A hiking sock that's too thin or too thick can make a big difference to the overall fit.

Generally speaking, a proper hiking sock can provide you with added cushioning and temperature control: all good things when you're trying to avoid blisters.

For additional comfort and moisture-wicking, consider sock liners. They’ll add to the thickness, but might be beneficial for your particular adventure. It's worth understanding more about hiking socks to increase your comfort on the trail.

Customise for your shape

Not all feet fit to standard foot sizes, so you may find that your feet require a custom insole. These can add up to a whole half size to help you achieve the perfect fit.

Insoles can also be helpful if you have low or collapsed arches, one foot longer than the other, or if you find your heel slipping.

These steps are worth it. The better the shoe fits, the better the technology will work to protect you on the trail.

Embrace the swollen foot

Try your boots on in the afternoon. 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.

You've nailed the fit, but what's next? You've nailed the fit, but what's next?
You've nailed the fit, but what's next?

Factor in your needs

To get the right hiking boot, you’ll need to better understand your terrain, the length of time you’ll be on your feet, and the general weather conditions.

If you like getting out occasionally for a few hours to explore your local trails,you might opt in a for a lightweight hiking shoe. But if you're in the backcountry of New Zealand every weekend, or taking on an epic adventure like the El Camino, your needs will be entirely different.

What kind of terrain will you be on?

Will you be travelling across road, rocks or mud? It's crucial to consider what your shoes will be exposed to. Not only does terrain have an impact on wear and tear, it will dictate what type of features you might need.

For instance, concrete and asphalt surfaces can make the sole of hiking boot wear out more quickly, so if you're walking a long distance on the road, you might be better off with a trail running shoe.

On the other hand, your typical hiking trail will be full of mud, grass and stone. Fine grit on this kind of terrain can wear into a hiking shoe’s seam and rip the material.

To counter this, you'll need a hiking boot with as few seams as possible. A seamless design also stops water seeping in and can help stop friction that leads to blisters. Our hiking boots are also made with specialised soles and toe caps for enhanced durability, plus a gusseted tongue to keep debris out.

Boots made from 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 to break-in.

Tip: If you will be hiking in rough terrain, you may want to pair your hiking boots with gaiters to protect your legs and stop debris coming in from the top.

On rough terrain, a little extra ankle support can go a long way On rough terrain, a little extra ankle support can go a long way
On rough terrain, a little extra ankle support can go a long way

How long will you be on your feet?

The longer your hiking adventure, the greater the demand on your body. If you plan to be on the move for a long time, you'll 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 aren’t as durable over the long run.

What are the weather conditions?

Will you be hiking in icy-cold, wet, hot, dry or humid conditions? 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, you will need a boot with breathable and 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. Remember, there’s still 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.

Find the perfect fit in hiking boots and shoes designed for your adventure