Updated: Feb 17, 2021
There are LOTS of different pieces of outdoor equipment being advertised from LOTS of different companies on the market today. Naturally, every company markets in a way to allude the customer to believe their product is best. Many products are meant to make your time on the trail easier, while others are focused on making you feel like a top of the line survivalist. Neither mission is wrong. But a cloud of outdoorsmen must-haves can leave the new hiker in a fog of what to buy first...
I doubt many people will debate me when I say the most important piece of equipment in a hiker's starter pack is a pair of supportive boots.
Hiking shoes are another option, but do not support the ankle. These are a good fit for hikers who prefer flat, even paths and trails. This blog post is dedicated to answering frequently asked questions regarding the purchasing and upkeep of your first pair of boots.
We'll start with the basics: Where Are Hiking Boots Sold?
Luckily for you, hiking boots are not hard to find. When Colton and I were first starting out, we simply took a quick drive into town. Popular sporting goods stores like Dick's or Dunham's and outdoor chains like Cabela's or Bass Pro Shops should always have a stock. While I do suggest this kind of purchase occurring in-store after thoroughly trying on the shoes (we'll get into this more next), it is also no surprise that hiking boots can be brought online. Amazon offers many different brands, styles of shoe/boot, and reviews that may be helpful to read through prior to starting the hunt for your own.
Hiking boots come in a variety of prices. I've seen them as cheap as $40 and as expensive as $300. It all depends on brand and what aspects of the make are most important to you.
Finding the Right Size Hiking Boot: The 2 Main Points
While I would assume everyone has probably already bought a pair of shoes in their life, there are certain aspects of buying hiking boots you may not have thought of before...
1. "I'm a size 6 in every other shoe, so this should be a breeze." Right? Not necessarily.
There are a lot of different reasons why specific hiking socks are an important companion to the hiking boot (we'll get into this later, too). I suggest bringing a pair with you when buying your boots. Commonly, hikers buy boots a half to full size bigger than their average shoe size to accommodate their thicker socks.
The overall fit of the boot should be snug- this is a testament to the boot's supportive nature, but not too snug to the point your foot feels strangled.
First, focus on your heel. There shouldn't be any lifting of the heel once the boot is tied. If there is, this could lead to shifting of the entire foot within the boot, which will lead to the dreaded and hated, blister.
Have another person check the fit around the back of your heel. The second person should be able to snugly put a single finger behind the heel (Achilles arch area) to test the fit around your ankle. This accommodates the adjustment and movement of your ankle when you hike steeper terrain or steps. Ensure that another person does this and not yourself. Your ankle will naturally adjust/move slightly if you bend down to test it for yourself.
Something to think about....feet swell by the end of the day, especially in the spring and summer seasons. If this is something you already deal with try shopping for your hiking boots later in the day.
2. Toes, toes, and more toes
The 'toe box,' or area of the boot where the toes should be- should have room for some slight wiggle. To understand what I mean, stand up for a second in your bare feet. When you shift your body weight to the front of your feet, the toes may naturally spread and grip the ground. This is helping you keep your balance. Same should be true within the hiking boot, which makes a lot of sense when you think about the rougher terrain or steep inclines/declines you may scale on hikes.
The Break In: Do Hiking Boots Stretch Out?
Hiking boots are commonly made out of leather. They are strongly built to protect your feet and prevent ankle sprains. They do stretch out over time to fit the anatomy of your foot better, but you'll definitely have a break in period. Do not immediately go backcountry hiking the weekend following a hiking boots purchase. Instead, work your way up to the length of the long trail you have your sights on. Take a few weeks to check out easier trails in your area with your new boots. This will help break in the boot overtime without reeking havoc on your feet.
Speaking of havoc on your feet......Let's talk blisters:
Blisters are a product of friction. Friction can occur due to a multitude of different factors. We already talked about blisters forming from ill-fitting boots or a pair that haven't been properly broke in, so let's focus in on moisture.
Feet naturally sweat. I have plugged my nose taking off my nursing shoes after a busy 12 hour shift more than once to attest to this. Sweat causes the skin on your feet to be wet and more susceptible to damage. This is why Hiking Socks are important.
You may be tempted to throw on a pair of longer socks you already have in your bedroom drawer and call it a day, but hear me out. Socks made specifically for hiking are thicker by nature. Thicker hiking socks prevent blisters by providing extra cushion than regular socks. By being made of thicker material than regular socks, they will also wear out at a slower rate.
Look for hiking socks made out of wool or materials like polypropylene or acrylic. All of these materials are absorbent to wick (draw off) the moisture from your feet. Cotton socks are absorbent too, but so much so that all of the moisture is drawn off the foot and into the sock, leaving your poor little foot wet and cold.
Some hikers wear 2 socks on each foot to create a double layer. This can reduce friction and absorb more moisture. It's not something Colton or I have tried, but some people swear by it. Of course, the fit of your boot would have to allow another layer of sock to allow you to try this out, too.
Because sometimes blisters are inevitable: Blister Care
I know you know the feeling. You feel it coming. And sometimes even adjusting your foot doesn't help. Your foot gets angry, fiery red, and reminds you with every step. A blister can honestly ruin a day of hiking.
Preventing a blister from forming starts by being proactive. We already talked about ways in which to prevent blisters by ensuring you have the right hiking socks to accompany a good fitting and broke in pair of boots. But sometimes the excitement of a trial gets the better of us. We forget our trusty pair (or pairs, for the double layer hikers out there) of hiking socks, we skip breaking in our new boots, or there's just a spot in the boot that wasn't put on or adjusted correctly when you noticed slight discomfort. Sometimes nature simply distracts us and we forget. I've been there, too.
Having a blister care kit tucked away in your hiking bag will definitely feel like a life saver in this situation. Some people swear by blister prevention foot antiperspirant, foot sleeves, or creams. Colton and I have yet to try those out, so I can't speak to them. We keep a simple moleskin pack with us for cases like this. It's inexpensive and gets the job done.
Grab one for yourself here: https://amzn.to/3bSR2xP or click on the picture
Caring For Hiking Boots:
When you invest in a pair of boots, you need to take care of them accordingly. Here are some simple tips to making your boots last longer:
Don't Leave Hiking Boots Dirty
Although a dirty pair of hiking boots are the symbol of a successful day on the trail, remember to clean them off. This can be done with some water and a simple brush to scrub. I've even heard of some people keeping a designated toothbrush for this very reason.
Take Insoles Out
Like socks, the insoles of the boots will naturally absorb moisture. After a day of hiking, take them out of the boot to dry. This will also help prevent the boots from building up a stank.
I know this sounds ridiculous, but hear me out. Conditioner moisturizes hair and the same goes for boots. Use a conditioner when the leather starts to appear dry or cracked. Be careful with the amount, too much conditioner can soften the boot and decrease its sturdiness.
Find boot conditioner here: https://amzn.to/2wUbj7z
You may notice that water does not bead on your boot well anymore. Use a waterproofing spray to alleviate this.
Find waterproofing spray here: https://amzn.to/39NaFWJ
Like most things, room temperature is preferred. Too much heat (ex. leaving boots in the car) can damage your boots.
Get a full care package for you precious boots here: https://amzn.to/2Xbmfbv
Hiking in Snow and Waterproof Boots:
Hiking Boots Versus Snow Boots- There is a difference
As we discussed, hiking boots are sturdy and usually more so than a pair of snow boots. Hiking boots are more protective of the ankles and made of more hefty material. The intention of hiking boots are to keep the feet supported through longer journeys. Snow boots focus more on insulation of the foot.
Most hiking boots made today are waterproof. And if you're looking at a pair that aren't, I suggest looking elsewhere. While being waterproof isn't a necessity, crossing a river or creek is a commonality on the trail, at least where Colton and I live.
Gaiters can be a total game changer when it comes to snow and water leakage in a hiking boot. This equipment is a waterproof sleeve commonly Velcroed around the calf and ankle. This covering prevents snow and water from getting absorbed into the material of your pants or socks and in turn, running down your boots. Gaiters also help if hiking through thorns or areas heavily populated by snakes and ticks.
Get your own pair of gaiters here: https://amzn.to/3bRFCdM
Hiking In Snow
If your hiking boots aren't waterproof, hiking in snow is doable as long as it's only an inch or two. If the snow will submerge your boot, that is when you'll have a problem.
Hiking boots have a thick traction for differing terrain. This can be helpful for packed snow, but doesn't come in handy for icy conditions. In this situation, traction devices like traction cleats come in handy. These are straps that attach to the bottom of your hiking boots with metal teeth to stick into the ice.
Browse traction cleats here: https://amzn.to/2xOUbA4
When To Replace Hiking Boots:
I get sentimental with objects. I've had the same truck since I started driving and I've named my prom dresses. It's a weird quirk I have, but my hiking boots are included nonetheless. Those boots have seen the very bottom of The Grand Canyon and have carried me to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park among many other places. I think out of everything I've grown attached to, my hiking boots are probably the most understandable.
When to replace hiking boots will vary from person to person. On average, a pair should hold you for 500-900 miles. Obviously, like most things, the more you use it, the quicker it will need replaced. Here are some simple suggestions when coming to the decision of retiring your trusty pair:
Examine the overall boot
-Are there obvious areas of wear and tear?
-Are the laces worn out? (Although laces are easily replaced, this is one of the first signs of a boot aging)
-Are they painful to wear? (Sometimes too much is a bad thing. If boots are old they may have developed wear in an area that now rubs your foot and can lead to blistering)
-Is the stitching wearing out?
-Is the cushioning of the boot thinning out?
-Is there wear on the soles?
Can You Resole Hiking Boots?
A quick Google search can bring you to various companies across the country that resole hiking boots. This, in turn, comes with the cost of resoling and shipment. There are videos and instructions online that provide a step by step guideline to resoling your own hiking boots, if you dare.
Well, I hope I've helped you if you're a first time hiking boot buyer. And maybe if you're not, hopefully I've given you some tips to take with you when you have to retire your current pair. Thanks for the read and I'll talk to you soon!