Author: Shannon Ankeny
Hiking boots have come a long way since the 1980s when athletic-shoe-style hiking boots were first introduced. We’re also now wearing them for a more versatile array of outdoor adventures from fastpacking and trail running, to extended backcountry hunting treks and serious mountain trailblazing. Mastering this broad shoe selection doesn’t have to be overwhelming - finding your perfect hiking boots is an easy matter of understanding the anatomy of hiking boots and some specialty features, the different types of boots available, and knowing when to replace them.
Other components of the uppers - Every piece plays an important role, and understanding these will help you choose the right boots.
Soles - Hiking boots’ soles have three components: insoles, midsoles and outsoles. The soles are attached to the uppers with either stitching or adhesive. While stitched soles are easier to replace, glued or cemented soles are lighter and more flexible.
Insoles - Often removable, these directly touch and cushion your feet.
Midsoles - Provide stability and disperse weight. Incorporated shanks made of plastic or steel provide stiffness and even more support to the bottom of the boots.
Outsoles - Made of rubber and sometimes hardened with carbon for durability, these are what help keep you on your feet. Most have lugs on the bottoms - protruding rubber tips that provide traction and help shed mud. Lugs vary in size according to the type of shoes they’re on. Note that extra-hardened outsoles can feel slippery if you go off trail.
Breathability - Make sure that if your boots are waterproof, they’re also breathable. Most high-quality waterproof treatments make the fabric weave smaller than a water molecule, but large enough for air to escape through. This helps keep your feet drier and therefore warmer in cold weather.
Midweight/Traditional Hiking Boots - The most versatile of hiking-boot options, these are designed for walking over varying terrain with moderate inclines, and can support your feet, arches and ankles with enough cushion and comfort for carrying midweight to heavy packs. Uppers are usually a combination of leather and synthetics, giving them abrasion resistance and water protection. Midsoles are stiffer with durable, lightweight outsoles that are sturdy enough to withstand aggressive mileage. These are offered in different cuts &#— low, mid and high heights — making them ideal not only for hiking but trail running, fastpacking and training.
Backpacking/Mountain Boots - Designed for multiple days on the trail or deep backcountry trips with extreme terrain and the most relentless weather, these support you the best when you’re carrying a heavy pack. Designed so you can tackle the harshest Mother Nature offers, these are as stout as they get - durable, supportive, waterproof, breathable and warm. Their high-shaft leather uppers provide maximum ankle support, and have stiff midsoles to protect your feet from rocky terrain. Deep, aggressive tread and longer lugs shed mud and debris better. These are also heavier, and can have longer break-in periods.