Trent Marsh 04.26.21
A great day afield can be ruined if your feet don’t survive the day. If your boots make your feet sore, don’t keep them dry, or lack the support your conditions demand, you may find yourself making your way back to the car much sooner than you’d hoped. Nobody thinks twice about choosing specific shoes for work, or the gym, or sports, but every year people head to the trails and the great outdoors with the same old tennis shoes they wear around the house. If you’re going off-road, your footwear better be up to the task. Let’s get into the details on some of the best hiking boots you can add to your collection of footwear.
Cover Image: Shutterstock/Danylenko
Table of Contents
1. Lowa Renegade GTX – Editor’s Pick
I’ve gone through more than my fair share of hiking boots over the years, but the Lowa Renegade GTX has outlasted all of them. The quality of the build is evident from the moment you put your hands on a pair of Lowa boots, and once you get your feet in them, your opinion only improves. The exterior is a waterproof Nubuck leather that provides support, but enough give to let you fully articulate your ankle while climbing or moving, as well as a VIBRAM Evo sole for superior traction. Too often a rugged boot delivers all the comfort of a bed of nails, but Lowa puts as much thought into the inside of the boot as the outside. In the end, you get a boot that performs as well as it protects.
Pros/The perfect balance of refined comfort and rugged durability
Cons/Might not fit all budgets
Bottom Line/Meticulous design and attention to detail delivers a truly enjoyable boot to wear
2. Columbia Crestwood Mid Waterproof – Budget Pick
Different hikers, and different hikes, need different boots. If the idea of being three days from running water, and more than a handful of miles from the nearest road is a little daunting, but you still like to get out and enjoy some wilderness, the Columbia Crestwood is a perfect balance. Not only is it easy on the pocketbook, but the mesh, leather, and synthetic upper offers a lightweight hiking booth that is easy on your feet as well. You might think you would have to give up waterproofness with that design, but you’d be wrong. The Omni-Grip non-marking traction rubber sole isn’t as aggressive as some of the other boots listed, but is still more than enough for moderate trails, even when inclement conditions make the going a little tougher.
Pros/Lightweight, but fits a lot of performance into a great price point
Cons/Not quite as aggressively “off-road” as some of the other options
Bottom Line/Not everyone needs a hiker for 15-mile treks into the backcountry, if you just need something a little more all-terrain to knock around in, these are it
3. Irish Setter Canyons Waterproof – Balance Pick
The Canyons line of hiking boots from Irish Setter is a great example of product design done right. The Canyons hiking boots give you all the features you want for tackling a six-mile trek, like ScentBan technology, a Vibram outsole, and waterproof construction. Where these boots stand apart is they also give you the creature comforts like stylish designs, memory foam insoles, and the Cushin comfort tongue technology that makes them just as appealing for a casual night around town as that all-day hike. Factor in the rock-solid reputation of Irish Setter products, and you have a solid contender when choosing an all-around hiking boot.
Pros/It’s a classic case of the strength of the product being there isn’t a serious weakness anywhere in the design
Cons/Not the most aggressive lug pattern for hiking in sketchy conditions
Bottom Line/ It’s a great all-around option for hikers that want to be able to tackle urban and literal jungles
4. Merrell Phaserbound 2 Tall Waterproof – Heavy-Duty Pick
Merrell might have more variety in their hiking footwear than any company out there, and the Phaserbound 2 is their most off-road offering. The tall uppers provide a lot of support on long hikes, or hikes when you are packing a lot of gear. They’re waterproof, but breathable, and a combination of hooks and loops ensure you can get and stay laced up securely. Hikes like these often mean long days, without much rest. That’s the perfect storm for some really aggressive odors to seep into your boots, making them downright offensive once you get back to the great indoors. The M Select FRESH antimicrobial agents help tame shoe odor, so you aren’t tempted to leave your boots behind after a full day in the field.
Pros/Aggressive lugs are great, while the M Select FRESH antimicrobial agents keep the smell from getting too aggressive
Cons/These are going to run on the heavier side
Bottom Line/Merrell knows how to build quality trail gear
5. Timberland Garrison Trail Waterproof Mid – Style Pick
While Timberland products have found some mainstream fashion appeal in the last generation or so, the roots of the company are grounded in rugged outdoor performance, and the Garrison Trail hiking boots are a prefect testament to that rich heritage. That said, there’s nothing wrong with a hiking boot that brings some style to the backcountry. Aside from their modern styling, the waterproof leather uppers provide support and comfort, even on full-day excursions. The climbing-grade rubber toe bumper and heel piece, paired with the TimberGrip traction rubber lug outsoles ensure you’re able to keep your footing in a variety of conditions. The fact that they look good is just a bonus.
Pros/ The boots are in the plus category for performance and style
Cons/Given the material, you’ll want to make sure you use the water and stain repellent they recommend
Bottom Line/Don’t get caught up in the recent fashion-focus, Timberland boots are legit
How waterproof is waterproof?
Wet feet might be the worst thing of all. Most hiking boots are waterproof, but how far should you push them? Hiking through wet grass and puddles is one thing, wading in a river is something totally different. If you’re actually going to be streams and river for extended periods of time, you are still going to end up with wet feet. That kind of exposure requires seamless rubber boots, and that kind of footwear is usually not nearly as comfortable for extended hikes. Even if the boots say waterproof, save the wading for bare feet or rubber boots.
The need for the right socks
Do I need special socks for hiking? Absolutely you do. A good pair of hiking socks are going to help wick moisture away from your feet, as well as reduce bunching or slipping that can lead to discomfort or even blisters. If you’re going to invest in hiking boots, you absolutely should make the additional investment in quality hiking socks to go with them.
How hiking boots should fit
It is very important to think of the fit of your hiking boots. They should fit snug but not tight. You don’t want any foot movement inside the boots beyond your toes, as this can lead to two things that are both bad. Blisters form when your foot sweats and rubs inside your shoe, and if you’ve ever had blisters on your feet, I doubt you’d want to repeat the experience.
Movement can also severely impact your stability. A sloppy fitting boot can cause your foot to shift, which shifts your body weight. If you’re hiking down a steep hill, even a slight shift can send you sailing down the hill in a manner you don’t appreciate.
Look for a boot that runs true to size and width, with room in the toes for air movement. When you first try it on, use socks that you would wear while hiking. Check the fit and make sure it is right for your foot. But also know that good hiking boots require some break-in time, and will conform to your foot’s shape even more. A properly broken in and fitting hiking boot will feel like an extension of your foot.
Do I need to break in my hiking boots?
In a word, yes. There are several ways to get a proper break-in from your hiking boots. One favorite is to soak them in warm water and then wear them for a while around your yard. It sounds funny, but it works.
Should I order my hiking boots in a bigger size?
Buy hiking boots true to size – with the socks you would wear while using them. If you like thick socks, or multiple layers of socks, then buy the size accordingly, usually a 1/2 to a full size larger. You just don’t want slop in the fit.
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