How To Choose the Perfect Pair of Hiking Boots

hiking boots close-up. girl tourist steps on a log

Key Points

In no possible scenario are flip-flops appropriate for hiking. Leave them for the beach bums. You need fit and comfortable boots when you're out in the woods.

There's no shortage of hiking boots on the market. When buying a pair, there are your boot budget considerations, the boot's breathability factor, ankle support, material choice of the boots, footwear waterproofing features, and durability level.

Those are a lot of considerations, but each one is important.

Before rushing to your local outdoor equipment store, sit back, relax, and learn more about choosing the perfect pair of hiking boots.

A group of hikers cross a river

Choose the Right Material

Manufacturers use leather or synthetic materials to make most hiking boots. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

Leather comes from tanned animal hides. This may push vegans and others opposed to using animal products towards human-made material in the synthetic vs. leather boots debate.

Leather is tough, but that's a double-edged sword. You need a fair amount of time to break in the leather. Scampering off to the woods in leather boots without first breaking them in is a one-way ticket to Blister City.

Do some leisure activities in your leather boots before doing something more hardcore.

The beauty of leather blossoms after the break-in period. Leather boots' durability level is through the roof, offering unparalleled protection in almost any weather and conditions.

Synthetic boots are cheap, which is good for those on a tight boot budget. Synthetic material is flexible, light, and perfect for quick jaunts in the woods or trail running.

Don't get synthetic if you're slogging through the wilderness for several days. The material doesn't offer the same enduringness as leather.

These two materials both shine in breathability. Leather or synthetic, your feet don't suffocate and remain cool and dry.

For those with particularly sweaty feet, Smartwool socks absorb unwanted moisture.

In the dialectic battle between synthetic vs. leather boots, what matters most is not the material choice of the boots but how that material fits your feet.

Consider the Fit

Fit and comfortable boots are the mantra for all hiking boots retailers. If a pair of hiking boots throws up red flags left and right, blacklist them like that weird guy who still uses pickup lines.

You ain't got time for that nonsense.

Figuring out what boot fits you best is 99.98 percent of the battle.

A trekker crosses a river in hiking boots

Measure Your Feet

It's nigh impossible to get fitted hiking boots without knowing your foot size. Visit a shoe store to have the pros measure your feet, or get a foot-measuring tool and do it yourself.

Everybody knows the length needs to be perfect. Equally vital is width. Give your feet enough space to slide left and right, and that's what happens.

At best, you get some blisters and bumps. At worst, you break your ankle and pay an arm and a leg in medical bills. Avoid such disasters by considering the perfect boot width for your foot.

Wear Appropriate Socks

Wear the same socks to buy your boots that you plan to wear with your boots. Don't go to the outfitters in thin dress socks unless that is what you plan to wear on your wilderness excursion.

Whether you're rocking wool, polyester, nylon, silk, or spandex when hiking doesn't matter. What matters is wearing the same socks when trying on new boots.

Bring your orthotics if you have them.

Try Boots on Later in the Day

Being upright all day means gravity brings the weight of your existence onto your feet. That's quite a burden to bear. Those poor appendages swell up, which is the best time to try on new hiking boots.

Don't introduce your feet to new footwear when they're at their best but rather when they're at their worst. Trying on boots when you're feet are at their largest ensures you don't get a pair that's too small.

A typical pair of hiking boots

Walk Around in Them

Never, under any circumstances, for any reason whatsoever, put on a pair of hiking boots for three seconds, think they fit fine, and buy them.

Hiking boots are friends for your feet. Get to know them before bringing them home.

The best way to do that is to walk around in them. You don't have to walk a mile in the boots. A few laps around the store do the trick. Just don't walk out the door without paying for them.

If you bought the boots online, wear them around the house for a day.

Wear your boots longer as your feet get more used to them. Walk around in them as much as possible.

Start with brief walks around your neighborhood. Next, try a half-mile hike. Increase the length and difficulty as the boots get more comfortable.

Don't go too quickly. Undertaking a 50-mile trek in new boots is a recipe for pain — lots of pain.

Know What the Right Fit Feels Like

A properly fitted hiking boot feels snug but not tight. No pinching, chaffing, or rubbing. If you feel these sensations, the boot doesn't fit right.

The heel must stay in place and not slide around like an untrained ice skater. Toes need enough room to wiggle and stretch.

Two trekkers with hiking boots and poles in the mountains

Look for Features

The features of a hiking boot keep your foot pain-free and spry.

First, know what type of hiking you plan to do. Are you walking through the rainy Pacific Northwest? Is an ascent straight up the Colorado Rockies on your outdoor agenda?

Once you know the type of activity, choosing the appropriate features becomes much easier.


Footwear waterproofing features are essential if you're hiking in wet conditions. Wet socks suck, but they're just a nuisance. Trench foot is potentially life-threatening.

Ankle Support and Material Stiffness

Ankle support footwear ranges from high-cut to low-cut boots. The more extreme your hiking, the higher cut your boots must be. Rugged, rough terrain demands good ankle support.

If you skimp, you limp.

The stiffness of the material also matters. Stiffer material is stronger and takes longer to break in, so they might not be as comfy when you first start wearing them.


Look for boots with good traction. Trail footwear doesn't have the same level of traction as extreme, high-cut hiking boots, but they're easier to run in.

Get traction suitable to the terrain of the hike.

Close-up of hiking boots while trekking


Some hiking boots are lightweight; some are heavier. Consider how much weight you want to carry on your feet.

Lighter boots make you nimble but don't offer the same protection. Heavier boots are tanks, slow and steady, yet able to endure endless abuse from Mother Nature.

Consider Your Budget

Money doesn't grow on trees, nor does it come from them (bills are made of cotton and linen). Be ready to drop some cash for a pair of good boots.

Fortunately, there are hiking and trail-type footwear to fit all boot budget considerations. A good secondhand pair costs as little as $50.

Across the spectrum are the higher-end boots, ranging from $200 to $300. There's a hiking boot for every hiker, regardless of socioeconomic status.

The financial cost of hiking is wonderfully low. Anyone from any background can afford a good pair of hiking boots.

Hiker helps a friend climb up a rock face

Leave Civilization and Enter the Woods

The author of Our National Parks, John Muir, says, "Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity."

Perhaps you're one of them. Society's benefits are bountiful and muchly appreciated. Still, sometimes even the most civilized primates need to return to nature — that great haven from which everyone comes.

That return starts with hiking boots. Once you choose the perfect pair, the rest is a breeze.

The glory of nature is at your fingertips — but it starts with your toes.

What are you waiting for?

The mountains are calling, so put on your hiking boots; this country has a lot of natural beauty to explore!

Head on over to MyOutdoorGear to learn everything there is to know about The Great Outdoors.

Was this article helpful?

My Outdoor Gear is the go-to source for in-depth outdoor gear reviews. Join us as we review some of the best outdoor gear items on the market.