Nothing can end a great outdoor experience quicker than painful blisters, pinched toes or even injuries caused by inappropriate hiking boots. (The comfort, fit and construction of appropriate footwear can also add to your margin of safety in rugged terrain.) Here are our guidelines to help you choose the right hiking boots for all your outdoor adventures.
- Before you begin shopping for a pair of hiking boots, think carefully about what kind of hiking you plan to do. Select boots that are designed to provide the support and protection you will need for the most difficult terrain you expect to encounter.
- Choose boots that are designed to support the load you expect to be carrying. The heavier your load, the more support you will need.
- Remember that great hiking boots do not have to weigh a great deal. Today’s high-tech materials have replaced the traditional metal shank and other heavy elements that provide stability in a boot. As a result, hiking boots are lighter but still offer plenty of support.
- Consider the various advantages of fabric-and-leather boots and all-leather boots. Fabric-and-leather boots are lighter and easier to break in, but all-leather boots offer added protection and durability in rigorous terrain, as well as being water resistant and breathable.
- Today’s top-quality hiking boots, including many of L.L.Bean’s fabric-and-leather boots, are made with a Gore-Tex® lining that keeps water out while allowing perspiration to escape. A real plus if you encounter puddles and shallow streams.
If you are hiking in a dry climate and on well-established paths that don’t have a lot of rocks, a pair of trail shoes may be just what you need. High-quality trail shoes are ideal for one-hour to one-day hikes when you are carrying a light day pack.
If you are going to encounter steeper inclines and muddy paths, or plan to stay out three days to a week, then you will need some sturdier, higher-cut waterproof boots. These will provide added stability and ankle protection against protruding limbs and rocks.
If you plan to climb in the mountains (and might even need to attach crampons for a better grip on glaciers or hard-packed snow), you will want an extremely strong boot with a stiff sole to give your ankles support and protection as you climb on challenging terrain.
- When trying on boots, wear the socks you plan to wear on the trail. Try boots on at the end of the day when your feet are more swollen. We suggest polyester liner socks that wick away moisture, as well as an outer pair of heavy-weave wool or synthetic ragg socks for cushioning.
Safety Tip: On the trail, wear any kind of socks but cotton, which absorbs water and perspiration and holds it next to your skin. If you are hiking with wet feet and the temperature drops below freezing, you risk getting frostbite. A good sock system and hiking boot reduce that possibility.
- Boots should feel snug but comfortable, so you can still wiggle your toes. Most hiking boots won’t feel as instantly comfortable as sneakers, but they shouldn’t pinch, cause hot spots or constrict circulation. They should fit securely around your ankle and instep.
- When trying on boots, try walking down an incline. Your feet should not slide forward, nor should your toenails scrape against the front of your boot. If your foot slides forward, the boot could be too wide. If the back of your heel moves around, your boots might not be laced up tight enough.
Once you purchase a pair of boots, break them in slowly with short hikes. Leather boots in particular take a while to break in, so take a couple of two- or three-hour hikes before your big trip or wear them around the house or even while mowing your lawn. If you find any sharp pressure points, use leather conditioner to soften the leather.
- Cleaning and waterproofing your boots from time to time is critical. Use waterproofing on leather, and be sure to concentrate on the seams, which can become porous over time. For boots with a Gore-Tex lining, use a silicon-based waterproofing treatment, not a wax-based treatment. Wax-based treatments keep the leather from “breathing.”
- On the trail, if a blister or hot spot develops, place padding such as moleskin or an adhesive bandage over the area. You can cut a “donut” in the moleskin to create a buffer around the blister.
- Remember, hiking boots will never feel like bedroom slippers, but if you are consistently developing blisters and have uncomfortable pressure points, please call our Outdoor Hotline at 800-226-7552, any day between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. EST. We want all your hiking miles to be enjoyable ones.