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Updated March 2017

Best Hiking Boots

Updated March 2017
KEEN
Men's Targhee II Mid Waterproof
Columbia
Men's Newton Ridge Plus
Merrell
Men's Moab Ventilator
Timberland
Men's White Ledge Waterproof
Salomon
Men's Quest 4D 2 GTX
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Bottom Line

Hands down the best hiking boot available. Performance is consistent on hikes of all lengths.

Hikers trust these boots for their reliability and durability (even in tough weather), but the KEENs just edge them out overall.

A great choice for casual hiking and trail running. You're unlikely to find a more well-rounded boot at this price.

Perfect for bad weather situations (or for construction workers), but serious hikers may want to look elsewhere for an everyday boot.

Affords excellent stability, but these boots can be a bit too heavy/cumbersome for traditional hiking.

Good

Ultra-dry waterproof exterior. Comfortable lightweight construction. Minimal break-in period.

Rock-solid outsole provides excellent grip, even on slippery surfaces.

Vibram soles are comfortable and supportive.

Extremely tough and durable. Perfect for inclement weather.

Draws praise from serious backpackers for rugged construction and overall durability.

Bad

Sizes tend to run small.

Occasional owner complaints about sizing differences.

A large toebox leaves some users scrambling to find an optimal size.

May be too heavy for longer hikes.

The boot's stiff construction is more like a ski boot than a hiking boot.

Best of the Best
KEEN
Men's Targhee II Mid Waterproof
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Bottom Line
Hands down the best hiking boot available. Performance is consistent on hikes of all lengths.

Bad
Sizes tend to run small.

Good
Ultra-dry waterproof exterior. Comfortable lightweight construction. Minimal break-in period.
Columbia
Men's Newton Ridge Plus
Check Price

Bottom Line
Hikers trust these boots for their reliability and durability (even in tough weather), but the KEENs just edge them out overall.

Bad
Occasional owner complaints about sizing differences.

Good
Rock-solid outsole provides excellent grip, even on slippery surfaces.
Best Bang for the Buck
Merrell
Men's Moab Ventilator
Check Price

Bottom Line
A great choice for casual hiking and trail running. You're unlikely to find a more well-rounded boot at this price.

Bad
A large toebox leaves some users scrambling to find an optimal size.

Good
Vibram soles are comfortable and supportive.
Timberland
Men's White Ledge Waterproof
Check Price

Bottom Line
Perfect for bad weather situations (or for construction workers), but serious hikers may want to look elsewhere for an everyday boot.

Bad
May be too heavy for longer hikes.

Good
Extremely tough and durable. Perfect for inclement weather.
Salomon
Men's Quest 4D 2 GTX
Check Price

Bottom Line
Affords excellent stability, but these boots can be a bit too heavy/cumbersome for traditional hiking.

Bad
The boot's stiff construction is more like a ski boot than a hiking boot.

Good
Draws praise from serious backpackers for rugged construction and overall durability.
How We Decided
  • 9 Models Considered
  • 76 Hours Spent
  • 4 Experts Interviewed
  • 184 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Hiking Boots Shopping Guide

    Hiking success begins with the proper footwear.

    You need something that provides traction in rugged, off-road terrain — no matter what the weather. Something that will protect and support your feet and ankles in all situations.

    For most people, the best tool for the job is a well-constructed hiking boot. But finding the right pair can be a challenge for first-timers.

    We researched all the considerations and factors that you should take into account when choosing hiking boots. If you're ready to buy a new pair, please see our product recommendations, above. If you'd like to learn more about hiking boots and our experiences with them, have a read!

    Hiking boots should have a deeper tread than running shoes for better traction.

    Types of Off-Road Footwear

    Your first task is to determine the type of product you need. Hiking boots fall along a spectrum of off-road footwear.

    • Hiking Shoe: A hiking shoe looks a lot like a traditional running shoe, but it includes some noticeable additions and reinforcements. Its low-cut upper provides little protection against the hazards of rough terrain, but the tradeoff is that it doesn’t require an extensive break-in period. Casual hikers who plan to follow established trails without carrying much in the way of gear would do well with a hiking shoe.

    • Hiking Boot:  A hiking boot looks similar to a work boot. Designed for moderate off-road hiking and lighter backpacking trips, its high-cut upper wraps around the ankle and lower leg, providing protection against the elements and specialized support for those with supinated (outward) or pronated (inward) gaits. Rubber lugs on the bottom and sides of the soles allow the wearer to push through muddy, loose, or steep terrain with a proper grip. This type of boot provides the cushioning required for carrying a medium-sized load.

    • Backpacking Boot: A backpacking boot looks similar to a traditional hiking boot, but the ankle and lower leg support are stiffer and the toebox is less flexible. The manufacturer may install a protective plate under the front of the sole to shield the wearer from rocks and other puncturing debris.

    • Mountaineering Boot: Not intended for rookies, a mountaineering boot represents the ultimate in hiking footwear. This inflexible boot generally features a hard outer shell and a space for ice-gripping cleats or snowshoes. Anyone shopping for mountaineering boots has probably already accumulated years of hiking experience and knows precisely what features he or she needs.

    • Approach Shoes: Approach shoes combine the flexible grip of a climbing shoe with the support of a hiking shoe. It’s not unusual for an advanced hiker to change shoes according to terrain conditions. An approach shoe is good to have on hand when the trail becomes hilly.

    Joy
    Expert Consultant

    Joy fell in love with hiking and climbing about six years ago. Her favorite mountain of all time is Mt. Kilimanjaro, which she summited after a 10-day trek. Summit day itself was a 10-hour slog, but the satisfaction of reaching the crater and then the summit was unparalleled. The most important lesson Joy has learned is to listen to the experts, be prepared, and have the right gear.


    Joy  |  Hiking Expert

    Size and Fit

    Standard shoe sizing doesn’t always apply to hiking boots. A size 10 shoe may feel quite different than a size 10 boot. What matters more is finding a boot that isn’t too loose or too tight, especially when wearing thick hiking socks.

    Fittings should be done at night when the foot is at its longest. Ideally, a pair of hiking socks should be worn at this time.

    To find the proper fit, slide your foot forward into an unlaced boot until your toes reach the front of the toebox. You should be able to fit a finger between the back of the boot heel and the back of your foot. When laced, the boot’s tongue should apply steady, non-constrictive pressure to the top of your foot.

    Hiking boots should feel supported in the heel yet moderately roomy in the toebox. However, too much “bend” in the toebox could cause a serious abrasive injury. All hiking boots require a break-in period.

    When trying on hiking shoes, wear the kind of socks that you expect to wear during an actual hike. This will help you find the correct fit.

    Our Experience with Keens

    Our COO, Ben, is an avid hiker as well as a graduate of both Army Ranger School and Airborne School. He had an aweseome experience testing out a pair of KEEN Men's Targhee IIs — our Best of the Best product — in a number of scenarios, including ice, snow, rain, hills, flat land, and hiking trails. 

    Ben was impressed by the KEEN boots for three reasons in particular:

    • The boots kept his feet warm in spite of the fact that A) they're not really built for warmth, and B) he wasn't wearing thermal hiking socks. Granted, he did not cross any streams or stand still in the cold for long periods of time. Still, he was pleasantly surprised by how warm and comfortable the boots felt.
    • Although these boots are clearly designed for hiking, they're also comfortable in a variety of other settings. You could wear them in mud, on ice, or on a simple stroll around the block. They even keep you comfortable when traversing up and down paved hills. Some hiking boots struggle with this type of the terrain, but the KEENs hold their own.
    • The laces sport a unique, functional notch at the top that helps maintain the perfect amount of "snugness" around the foot. Because of the leverage these notches afford, Ben had no issues with the laces coming undone or losing their fit. 

    On the downside, the KEEN boots are quite bulky. They consume a fair amount of space in a carry-on or hiking backpack, and they're not as lightweight as some people would like. Furthermore, they're not the most stylish hiking boots we've ever seen.

    We're not sure that most hikers care about matching their boots with their suits, but if this matters to you, you may want to consider boots with a more neutral design, such as the Columbia Newton Ridge Plus hiking boots.

    How to Break in Hiking Boots

    New hiking boots, even if they’re made of lightweight materials, are going to be stiff. There’s no magical shortcut to softening leather, so wearers should never soak their new boots in water and immediately take an all-day hike! However, you may consider adding one or more of our "lesser-known" break-in methods (see below) to your bag of tricks.

    Two schools of thought exist concerning the break-in process. The first is that “the wearer needs to adjust to the boot, but the boot also needs to adjust to the wearer.” If you choose to follow this school of thought, we recommend these steps:

    • Wear the boots around the house, noting any pinch points or abrasive spots. These issues may need to be addressed by a professional boot fitter later.
    • After a few days of indoor use, expand your walking distance to include grocery store runs or short walks around the block. 
    • Advance to short hikes on smooth trails.
    • Finally, take the boots on an all-day hike on moderately rough terrain.

    Treating the leather uppers with mink oil or a water-repelling boot wax is highly recommended.

    The second school of thought is that "the wearer is experiencing a breaking-in period as well.” In other words, your feet and ankles need time to adjust to the contours of the hiking boot.

    Again, experts recommend that you follow the steps above, wearing your new boots indoors at first because your feet and ankles are going through structural changes regarding load bearing and balance. Taking on a challenging hike too soon could result in foot fatigue or a twisted ankle.

    The break-in period can last for several months, especially with higher-end models destined for use on rough terrain. Some lightweight boots do have a shorter break-in period, but durability can be a trade-off.

    Break in your hiking boots by wearing them indoors at first. This way, you'll avoid blisters or even a twisted ankle on the trail.

    Three Lesser-Known Break-In Methods

    We maintain that a lengthy break-in process is the best break-in process, but consider these methods to enhance your break-in period:

    1. Shower in the boots for at least 15 minutes while barefoot. The moisture helps the boots conform to your feet. Once the boots are dry, this proactive measure speeds up the break-in process.
    2. Swim in the boots. The same reasoning mentioned above applies to the swimming method.
    3. Sleep in the boots for a few nights. The boots conform to your feet, and your feet grow accustomed to the boots while you sleep.

    Some people swear by less-conventional methods of breaking in boots, while others stick with their belief in the long-term methods. The choice is yours.

    Construction Materials

    When shopping for hiking boots, there are several kinds of materials to consider, each with its own pros and cons. Manufacturers typically place a high premium on durable materials that are flexible, breathable, and water-repellent.

    • Full-Grain Leather: Full-grain leather is an excellent footwear material, but you won’t often find it on standard hiking boots. Rather, you’ll find it on backpacking and mountaineering boots where its natural stiffness and resistance to water serve a crucial purpose. Beginning hikers generally do not need to invest in full-grain leather boots for day hikes or trail runs.
    • Split Leather: Split leather is literally the softer “inner layer” of standard leather. Some manufacturers combine split leather with other materials to form a rugged yet lightweight boot or shoe. Hiking boots made of split leather generally cost less, but the tradeoff is a loss of durability and water resistance.
    • Synthetic Leather: Some modern hiking boots are made of synthetic materials which may include nylon, polyester, and artificial leather (pleather). These boots cost less and sport a faster break-in period, but they also suffer a shorter lifespan due to higher stitch counts. (The more stitches required to form a boot, the greater the chance of seam failure over time.)
    • Vegan “Leather”: Hiking boots that are completely free of animal-based materials do exist. Durability and breathability may be sacrificed when synthetic materials are used instead of a natural leather hide, but for some, the ethics of vegan leather are more important.
    Leather or synthetic? Leather makes for a very supportive upper, and the material repels water naturally. Hiking boots made of synthetic materials have higher breathability and are lighter in weight.

    Design and Comfort

    Hiking boots are designed to protect the feet, ankles, and lower legs in rough terrain. The ratio of mesh to leather varies from model to model, but all high-quality hiking boots share some basic features.

    An extended toe bumper helps you maintain a good foothold and protects your lower extremities from rocks, tree stumps, and other obstacles. Boots with an extended toe bumper have a rubberized sole that curves upward at the front and continues until it meets the upper.

    A heel brake is a rubberized sole extension behind the heel that helps you dig in your heels and control your descent on steep terrain.

    Some people use customized orthotics to enhance their comfort during hikes. An orthotic with heavier cushioning helps prevent foot fatigue, while an orthotic with lighter cushioning allows you to get a better feel of the terrain.

    Shanks and plates are sometimes found on more supportive hiking boots. A shank increases the boot’s load-bearing ability, and a plate provides extra protection against trail debris such as stones and thorns.

    To find the proper fit, slide your foot forward into an unlaced boot until your toes reach the front of the toebox.

    A Note About Laces

    The trick to proper lacing is to keep the boot secure everywhere and tight nowhere. Modern hiking boots offer a number of different lacing options, but the best models generally use a “quick pull” lacing system with a locking mechanism. While it may be tempting to ignore the upper boot that surrounds the ankle and lower leg, hikers really need the additional support those lacing eyelets provide.

    Laces designed specifically for hiking boots are not the same as laces sold for athletic shoes or regular work boots. Hiking boot laces should be round, not the flat ribbon style used for other sports. Ideally, they should be constructed from a water-resistant material like nylon.

    Special lacing techniques create what experienced hikers call a “heel lock.” The user’s heel is more secure in the boot, and the reduced foot movement helps prevent blisters. Experienced hikers or trained footwear salespeople can demonstrate this lacing technique, or tutorials can be found online.

    It may seem trivial, but the socks you wear impact your level of comfort during a hike. The best hiking boots in the world won’t save you from the perils of ill-fitting, worn, or damp socks.

    A Note About the Tongue

    Another consideration that’s often overlooked by first-time buyers is the boot’s tongue. Some manufacturers save on production costs by using less padding on the tongue and other areas, but without enough padding, you could sustain some aches and/or abrasions.

    That being said, a heavily padded boot could cause the foot to sweat profusely and overheat in hotter climates. While breathability in any kind of footwear is always a consideration, hiking boots also need to be moisture-repellent and debris-resistant. You may actually want to invest in two pair of hiking boots: one with a heavier tongue for cold weather and another with a thinner tongue for improved ventilation in hot weather.

    Always wear hiking socks that are clean and dry, and carry extras with you to diminish the possibility of blisters, injuries, and worse.

    Preparing For a Hike

    How do you prep your feet for a 10-day hike or 50-mile walk? We assembled a team of experts to help us find out. Our team included Army Rangers, Green Berets, Navy Seals, and other members of the U.S. Special Operations community, as well as civilian distance hikers.

    To avoid foot pain and experience the best possible boot fit during your hike, our expert team offers the following tips:

    • Ensure that you have the correct boot size, laces, and socks before you begin the break-in period.
    • Gradually increase your distance as you break the boots in. Our experts like to double their distance with each outing.
    • Once you have reached a distance of 10 miles, the boots will likely have conformed to your feet. They’re now ready for regular use.

    Other Tips from the Team

    • If you’ll be hiking for several days, the team recommends carrying more than one pair of boots with you. That way, you can rotate the boots for even wear and change them if they get wet. Of course, you’ll need a hiking pack that can handle the extra boot weight.
    • Because softer laces may increase your level of comfort, consider gutting the internal white threads from some 550 parachutist cord and cutting it to the length needed for each boot. Many hikers embrace the combination of durability and softness this solution provides.
    • Owning more than one pair of hiking boots is ideal. That way, you can rotate their use, allowing the rubber soles time to rejuvenate and expand between uses. This increases the product life of each pair and saves your feet and joints from pain through better cushioning.
    • Allow boots to “rest” between uses in a well-ventilated area. This deters bacteria growth and allows the footwear to deodorize naturally.
    • Every few weeks, the team recommends the application of foot powder to the boots to dry any lingering moisture and discourage bad odors.
    • Clean mud or debris from the outside of each boot after use.
    • Replace worn insoles. You may also find it necessary to replace the tread as time wears on. Quality boots often outlast their tread and soles.
    • Apply tincture of benzoin to your feet prior to any hike, paying particular attention to areas that are vulnerable to blisters. This helps toughen the foot skin and decrease your chance of blistering.

    Your hiking boots should contour to the shape of your feet, with the heel holding your ankle in place. Make sure there's extra room at the toe and, to minimize your chance of twisting or tipping over, check that your feet are firmly secured inside the boots.

    Post-Performance Foot Care

    How do you care for your feet after a long hike? In many cases, this is when the real work begins — particularly if you’re looking forward to multiple hiking events over the coming days or weeks.

    Ice Your Feet

    This will hurt at the time, but ice prevents swelling and promotes blood flow. Over time, it will help you fit your feet back inside your boots.

    Elevate Your Feet

    Raising your feet above waist level helps drain the blood and prevent soreness. Our experts suggest reading a book while your feet are propped against a wall. It works!

    Other Measures to Consider

    If you have time, consider towel wrapping for 30 minutes. Begin by wrapping each foot in a warm towel. After five minutes, switch each foot to a cold towel. Repeat this for half an hour.

    "Aquajogging,” though not well-known, is a great way to help the feet recover and reduce the chance of injury. A session of aquajogging in the pool requires a flotation device and 30 to 60 minutes of your time.

    Lastly, if you can afford it, take advantage of the healing touch of physical massage or the soothing energy of a mechanical foot massager.

    Your feet actually swell by evening every day. They also tend to swell when you're hiking. Hence, trying on a pair of boots at the end of the day will give you a better fit for your sport.

    Final Thoughts

    Inexperienced hikers sometimes make the mistake of buying more boot than they need. If you’re a newbie, keep these pointers in mind:

    • A short trail hike with no additional load probably calls for a hiking shoe rather than a boot.
    • By contrast, a two-day hike with a small backpack requires a true hiking boot — but only after it’s been properly broken in.
    • A week-long backpacking trip in remote terrain calls for a backpacking boot, and a trip up the side of Mount Whitney means investing in a mountaineering boot.
    • If water hazards are expected, the purchase of a water shoe is also advised.
    • Melissa
      Melissa
      Editor
    • Ben
      Ben
      COO
    • Devangana
      Devangana
      Web Producer
    • Heather
      Heather
      VP of Content
    • Jimi
      Jimi
      Product Analyst