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Hiking Footwear

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Treat your family’s feet to a new pair of hiking boots or shoes.

Hiking Boots

Selecting the right footwear for your outdoor journeys is something to carefully consider. Following the steps below can simplify the process when choosing hiking boots:

  • Make sure your boots fit well: An otherwise awesome boot that doesn't fit well is decidedly not awesome. Different boot brands fit differently. Be sure to try on several boots to find the pair that fits you. An outfitter session (virtual options are available) with REI is an excellent way to ensure you get the right fit.
  • Pick a type of boot: Do you need hiking shoes, day hiking boots or backpacking boots? Generally speaking, the more arduous the activity, the more support and technology you need, which can translate into higher prices.
  • Know your materials: Considering all of the elements hidden inside, hiking boots are truly high-tech gear. You'll see lots of brand-specific tech terms in product features. Learning a few of basics about key materials can help you compare.
  • Balance weight vs. support: Lifting even a few extra ounces thousands of times over the course of a hike can increase fatigue. But rolling an ankle or feeling unstable on sketchy terrain isn't fun either. Typically, more support means more weight.

Looking for quick recommendations? Check out our handpicked guide to the best hiking boots.

Types of Hiking Boots

Hiking shoes: These are really just low-cut hiking boots. Some hikers might even choose trail-running shoes because they're lightweight and comfy right out of the box.

Day hiking boots: Most are high-cut boots, so they're more supportive and heavier than hiking shoes. They're fine choices for hikes where you're not carrying a weighty backpack.

Backpacking boots: Built for on- or off-trail travel, these are the sturdiest options with a high cut that wraps above the ankles to support and stabilize heavier loads.

Hiking Boot Materials

  • Leather: The original boot material is still around because it's sturdy, supportive stuff, which is true to a certain extent regardless of the type of leather.
  • Synthetics: Typically, these are lighter than leather but tend to be less durable. "Vegan" boot choices will be synthetics.
  • Waterproof membranes: GORE-TEX is the brand everyone knows, but other brands also offer waterproof "breathable" protection. It's a plus in wet conditions, but retains water, too, so profuse sweating or plunging into a deep stream can still lead to wet feet.
  • Mesh membranes: Kind of the opposite of waterproof, though you find mesh with waterproof membranes, too. More mesh means more breathability—a plus when temps heat up.
  • Insulation: For winter or cold-weather hiking, choosing boots with insulation can help stave off popsicle toes.
  • EVA vs. polyurethane midsoles: These cushioning materials differ slightly. EVA is a bit lighter and less expensive while polyurethane is more durable.
  • Sole material: Rugged Vibram soles are the gold standard, but you'll find other excellent options as well. Most soles are rubber; some have some carbon, which adds some durability and slickness. Traction and "mud management" is enhanced by lug patterns, which every brand does a little differently.

Hiking Boot Fit

Hiking boots should fit snug everywhere, tight nowhere and offer room to wiggle your toes. Try them on at the end of the day (after feet swell) and with the socks you plan to wear hiking.

Know your size. Because size (length) alone isn't the only consideration, it's best to have a boot fit specialist assess your foot dimensions. Alternatively, you can consult sizing charts. Or stick with a brand that has fit you well in the past. When your boots arrive, double-check length by pulling the insoles out and standing on them; you should have a thumb's width of space between your longest toe and the end of the insole.

More to Consider

Both insoles and hiking socks also enhance comfort, support or fit--or all three. See Insoles: How to Choose and How to Choose Hiking Socks for shopping tips. Boot care products also help you keep your boots clean and make them last longer.

Don't forget to break your boots in before your first trip. Too many sore-footed hikers overlook this important step. This is especially true with leather boots.

More Reasons to Shop at REI

REI carries top brands like Merrell, KEEN, Oboz, Salomon, Vasque and Lowa. We also have a day hiking gear checklist, a backpacking gear checklist and a library of hiking articles to help you enjoy your time on the trail.