If you’ve ever had a blister, you know just how debilitating those unimpressive little wounds can be. A great day’s hike can be all for naught – or even worse, your trip turns into an unending succession of replacing bandages and wraps. That’s why it’s important to minimize your risk of any injury great or small by choosing the right pair of hiking boots.
Our Top Hiking Boots, Reviewed
Our top pick for 2020s all-around best boot goes to the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid All-Terrain Boots. The Renegade GTX offers hikers a mix of waterproofing, breathability, stability, and comfort. Read on to learn all about this year’s best hiking boots for men and best hiking boots for women.
Our top pick: Lowa Renegade GTX mid
Lowa’s Renegade GTX has been a fan-favourite for the last two decades. The mix of stability, weatherproofing, comfort, and breathability makes it one of the most versatile boots on the market today. The boot features a GORE-TEX lining, VIBRAM Evo outsole, and MONOWRAP frame construction.
For those seeking an all-around versatile and comfortable boot, consider the Renegade GTX. It’s perfect for all manner of activities, from a weeklong hunting trip to a trekking expedition abroad.
Best Runner-Up Hiking Boots
Now featuring Descent Control technology, the third generation of the popular Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX is the best. Even while navigating a steep descent in wet conditions, these boots excel. This is largely thanks to the two types of rubber used on the sole and the aggressive heel pattern that helps grab hold of terrain.
The X Ultra 3 GTX are also quite comfortable: a well-cushioned interior and lightweight build make them easy to wear for miles upon miles without aches. While first place still belongs to the Renegade GTX, the Salomon offers an outstanding price-point for its technology.
- Excellent traction
- Ankle protection could be better
Best Affordable Hiking Boots
Merrell’s Moab 2 Mid Waterproof hiking boots are not only the most affordable hiking boots, they’re our yearly bestseller. The Moab 2 offers a nearly unmatched price-to-value ratio.
The VIBRAM TC5+ sole with 5mm lugs offers excellent traction and support, while the heel air cushion and closed-cell foam tongue provide serious comfort. The Moab 2 is waterproof and breathable, thanks to the M Select DRY tech construction.
Best Heavy-Duty Hiking Boots for Backpacking
Heavy-duty backpacking requires a heavy-duty boot—but that doesn’t mean it actually needs to be heavy. The surprisingly lightweight Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX is a stable, flexible, durable boot that will keep you moving through all sorts of weather and terrain.
The Ortholite sockliner and EVA-moulded footbed provide your feet with comfort and support. A GORE-TEX Performance Comfort Footwear membrane ensures dry feet in times of rain. To keep you protected from rocks and puddles, the boot features a heel cap, toe cap, and mudguard.
Most Stylish Hiking Boots
For over 30 years, the Danner Mountain Light hiking boot has been a symbol of rugged adventure. The classic aesthetic speaks to a bygone era of heroic expeditions. And yet, even today, form still follows function with the Mountain Light. It features waterproof GORE-TEX liners and Vibram Kletterlift outsoles. Each pair is still carefully handcrafted with real, full-grain leather in Portland, Oregon. It’s the iconic classic—updated. Men can check out a similar version but made with a Gore-Tex membrane here.
- Classic style
- Real leather
Most Ventilated Waterproof Hiking Boots
The all-terrain Vasque Breeze AT GTX hiking shoes are a top-pick for those seeking something that’s both waterproof and breathable. The outer is made of GORE-TEX and waterproof Nubuck leather. The outsole is an exclusive Vibram Contact Grip with Megagrip Compound.
These shoes offer users much in the way of versatility. As they say, “one pair for anywhere.” A caution, however: some wearers with wide feet report that the shoe fits quite narrow.
- Less durable than most
Best Hiking Boots for Day Hikes
The rugged and minimalist Danner 600 hiking boots are a durable, waterproof, and comfortable pair of boots. They’re well-suited to day hikes—in fact, they're equally well-suited to business-casual. The Vibram Fuga outsole offers excellent grip through wet and rocky terrain, but works just as well in the office.
The streamlined boot is comfortable and lightweight in any condition, making it easy to wear all day long.
- Finely crafted
Best Winter Hiking Boots
When winter hiking, the key characteristic for a boot is thorough insulation. The Hanwag Alaska GTX trekking boots offer a well-insulated and weather-proof build, suitable for any cold-weather trek. They feature a Vibram Fuora outsole that grips terrain and absorbs shock, while a GORE-TEX lining keeps water out.
- Shock absorbent
- Higher upper
- Initially quite stiff
Shock-absorbent, waterproof, and breathable, Lowa’s Tibet GTX boots are designed to be durable and comfortable over long distances (like in the Tibetan Himalayas—get it?). The Tibet GTX will run you a pretty penny, though less than actually climbing the Himalayas.
The Arc’teryx Acrux TR GTX hiking boot is attractive, abrasion-resistant, and exceptionally lightweight. Designed for difficult multi-day expeditions, this boot keeps you dry in wet conditions and cool in hot conditions. Women can check out their Acrux TG GTX here.
What to look for when buying hiking boots
There are several key factors to consider when purchasing hiking boots. Below, we break them down so you can find the best hiking boots for your needs.
Hiking Boots vs. Hiking Shoes
The hiking boot is quintessential backcountry footwear. Long before venturing into the woods was ever considered fun, explorers would slip their feet into a tough ol’ pair of boots. Compared to a mere shoe, boots offered more protection, better grip, and unmatched durability. And, despite the many revolutions in shoe textiles since then, boots have remained the hiker’s go-to choice.
Today, however, hiking shoes have gained unprecedented popularity. This has to do with modern fabrics and research into the physics of hiking. For instance, while an ankle boot does offer more stability, it restricts flexibility, which can lead to more serious ankle rolls when they do occur.
Many people, including thru-hikers, are opting for lighter footwear just as they’ve opted for lighter backpacks. As the old adage goes, “one pound on your feet equals five pounds on your back.” What it comes down to is this: a hiking boot will be more durable, more waterproof, and create less impact per step. A hiking shoe will be lighter, less tiring to wear, more breathable, and dry faster when wet. Best way to know what works for you is to experiment!
As features increase, so does weight. Things like metal hardware, added insulation, a taller support, and a thicker sole all go a long way in protecting your foot. But these will also contribute to quicker leg fatigue—especially on inclined terrain. If weight isn’t your top concern, you should still determine which features you need and which you don’t. That way, you’re not carrying more weight than you have to.
There are three main categories that materials fall into:
Synthetic is a broad category that includes all man-made materials. Synthetic materials of today tend to perform better in every category, such as breathability, weather-resistance, and durability. Of course, they won’t look nearly as cool as a pair of leather boots.
Suede & Nubuck
Folks often confuse suede for nubuck and vice versa. That’s because both have a ‘fuzzy’ look and feel, since both are made of sanded leather hides. The difference is that suede is the result of sanding the inside of the hide, while nubuck is the result of sanding the outside.
The practical difference is that suede is softer and nubuck more durable. You’ll notice that hiking boots which appear to be suede are actually nubuck. Because of its soft feel, suede is typically reserved for next-to-skin garments like gloves or boot interiors.
Any good leather boot will be made of full-grain leather—it is the toughest, highest-quality leather on the market. You may be used to seeing the term genuine leather on a lot of supposedly high-end products. Don’t be fooled. Genuine leather simply means that the material is technically leather, but it won’t tell you the actual grade of the leather.
There’s nothing worse than feeling like every step you take is a barefooted one into a puddle. That’s why a boot that can withstand a serious downpour is a must. Always check the boot material construction: GORE-TEX is the most common waterproof fabric, while rubber outsoles like VIBRAM are also waterproof.
Areas of the boot made of a secondary fabric (like full-grain leather) should be treated with a waterproof coating by the manufacturer. You should also check the quality of the stitching, and whether you can lace the boot well enough to prevent water from entering from above.
After waterproofness, breathability is the next most popular concern. Think about it: the most perfectly waterproof boot will still leave you feet soaking wet from sweat! Carefully consider a boot’s ventilation, as having a foot that can breathe is as important to staying dry as having a boot that repels water.
Soles & Traction
Traction is always important. Deeper grooves and multiple patterns on a boot’s outsole tend to provide more traction. That said, better traction also requires a thicker outsole. This is good because thicker outsoles reduce impact; however, they minimize your tactile feel of the trail. It’s important to decide how much traction you need to maintain a good grip.
Here are a couple common features:
Toe and heel rands (more commonly known as toe and heel caps) provide wearers with additional protection against rocks and logs. In hiking boots, a rand is usually made from a thicker piece of rubber or leather, and is a common feature of many models.
Crampons are an after-market feature that equip your boots to travel across snow and ice. They are a detachable outsole that consist of a frame and an array of metal spikes (either aluminum or steel), which penetrate into and grip icy/snowy terrain.
Crampons come in many varieties, from flexible to rigid, which vary according to the level of technicality required of them. Make sure the crampons you like are compatible with your particular boot.
Nothing beats trying on a pair of boots in person to determine its fit. Because all our feet are different, it’s important to go with a pair that feels like it was made for you. For those with wide feet, pay special attention to a boot’s narrowness: if your toes feel squished together, move on.
Winter hikers and thru-hikers should consider sizing slightly up. For the former, you’ll need the extra space for a thicker sock. For the latter, your feet will most certainly swell on the trail from so much hiking. On the other hand, you don’t want a hiking boot or shoe that feels too loose, either—this is a guaranteed road to blister-city.
And try your boots on after 2 PM, when your feet have swollen naturally, as they do every day.
FAQ's for hiking boots
Are hiking boots necessary?
For short hiking trips, strolls through the countryside, or hikes along easy terrain, hiking boots aren’t strictly necessary. But for any hiking that involves paying attention to the placement of each step, a hiking boot or shoe is a must. Not only will your normal shoes wear out near-instantly on a real trail, but you’re greatly increasing your risk of injury.
How long does it take to break in hiking boots?
It really depends, and there’s no shortcut. The only way to find out is by wearing them as much as possible in and around your home. Never wait until you start hiking to break in your new pair of boots, no matter how comfortable they felt out of the box.
How often should I replace hiking boots?
Things like the make and/or model of your boot, types of terrain, climate and weather, frequency of use, and how well you take care of them will all factor into this answer. There’s a loose guideline, however, that stipulates replacing them every 300-500 miles.
How can I make hiking boots more comfortable?
After-market insoles, a padded Merino wool sock, and lots of break-in time are the three key ingredients to making a boot more comfy. If all that fails, you might consider buying different boots...
We hope to have shed some light on what it takes to choose the right hiking boot. Now that you’re equipped with the right knowledge, go back and take a look at our best hiking boots for men and women in 2020 to see if you can pick a boot that’s right for you. Happy trails!