I’ve been hiking for close to 85 years already and have worn out at least a dozen pair of hiking boots.
I’ve heard a lot of hype about buying “the perfect hiking boot.”
Most is interesting but not very useful.
My boot-buying motto is: KEEP IT SIMPLE!
And here is the wisdom of BackpackerBill’s feet.
1. This may be the only tip you need.
Buy the pair that fits your feet best! At whatever cost.
I’ve paid a very high price for custom made boots. And I’ve had throw-away Army Surplus Boots.
One of the best-fitting pair was a cheap REI store brand boot.
I wore them so long that they began coming apart at the seams when I was on a month-long backpacking trip in the Alps.
I taped the boots up with duct tape and kept on hiking until I could get back to the States and to a boot repairman.
I didn’t stop wearing them until my feet grew a size bigger while carrying a heavy pack in the Grand Canyon.
(And yes, as we age our feet do seem to flatten out and stretch a bit.)
On the other hand, my wife had to try brand after brand until she had to buy the highest priced boot on the REI shelves.
And she has been happy as a clam in red sauce for the past fifteen years including a couple of jaunts in the Swiss Alps.
2. Buy from a shop that has salespeople who really know what they are talking about.
And be sure the shop allows full-price return policy if you aren’t happy with the boots after hiking on an actual trail.
REI was my wife’s accommodating shop. God bless them!
3. Get the lightest pair that fit your feet.
For God’s sake do not buy heavy mountaineering boots.
They have thick stiff soles to accept crampons, which you would only use on glacial snow and ice climbing.
Stiff, unbendable soles will be both uncomfortable on the trail and likely give you a bad case of blisters.
Even for the kind of mountain climbing I’ve done, mountaineering boots would not have been useful. At worst my climbs were up steep, rocky talus and scree, as well as some technical glacial climbing which my sturdy hiking boots were perfectly adequate. And comfortable.
For my daily hiking, even a pair of sneakers would do well.
Grandma Gatewood hiked end to end on the Appalachian Trail three times in a pair of Keds sneakers.
The reason I wear hiking boots though, is because the soles are thicker than sneakers and give my feet a bit more comfort on the rocky terrain.
4.You don’t need waterproof boots for virtually all the hiking you will probably do.
This enables you to wear a boot with breathable cloth tops which keeps your feet from getting too hot for comfort.
And if you do get your feet wet — so what!
They’ll dry in time, maybe even before your hike is over.
There is one hike I take early in the season that has a section where the river covers the trail and rather than fussing too much I wade through it and get my boots wet. But by the time I’ve finished the hike the boots are already close to dry.
And there are trails out here in the Southwest where you’ll have no option but to wade across shallow parts of a river, back and forth, several times a day where the water will come over the tops of your boots. And there’s no way to avoid wet feet.
You’ll just have to live with wet feet until you can dry them off in the evening, with your wet boots off of course.
I’m referring to the special wet-feet problems of hiking trails like those in slick rock canyons of Utah — the Escalante, Pariah, and even Grand Gulch.
5. Go back to Tip Number One.
Get the lightest boot that fits your feet comfortably. At whatever cost — high or low.
You may be wondering what boots I currently wear.
I have two pair.
One for my daily hikes, which are usually two to four miles.
The other pair is for the more strenuous and rockier longer trails I hike about three to four times a month.
I bought my low top day-hike Merrill boots from a local shop here in town.
For my more strenuous hikes I wear a pair of Keen Targhee II boots that are the most comfortable boot I have ever owned.
But I swear by both boots — though the Merrill is more of a shoe; and the Keen is more of an ankle high hiking boot.
Both pairs of my boots were on the inexpensive side of the market.
My wife wears an expensive pair of Lowa Renegade boots which she’s had for fifteen years and has worn them both here in the states, like today’s hike, as well as the European Alps. And just loves them. She says they are the most comfortable boot she’s ever worn.
How I Learned About Boots
I first learned about hiking boots back in my early days on the trails in New York’s Catskill Mountains.
It’s when I began getting serious about hiking.
I fell in love with climbing these low-lying peaks on weekends.
There were no such things as “hiking boots” back then, as there were very few hikers.
I rarely saw anyone else either on the trail or at trailhead campgrounds where’d make my first night’s camp .
So what I learned about hiking was from GI’s who had marched across Europe in World War II.
(I was a Navy gob who fought in the Pacific. And my military hiking was no more than a few dozen feet along the deck to our ship’s mess hall and back.)
When I needed hiking boots I bought a pair of US Army Combat Boots at an Army Surplus Store.
And the trick to making them fit was to stand in water that ran over the tops of the boots and fill them to the top to get them thoroughly wet.
Then to wear them until they dried.
I wore mine on a trail up a range of mountains in the Catskills on a six-hour hike.
At the end of the day I recall they were still moist.
I wore them again in the morning, still moist, and by the end of day two they were completely dry.
From then on the boots were comfortably contoured to the shape of my feet and blister-less from then on.
Should you be so inclined, here are the url’s for my wife and my boots.
My sturdier ankle-high boots are Keen Targhee II men’s boot
The low-cut boot i wear on my day hikes are Merrill Moab men’s hiking boot
My wife’s most comfortable boot she has ever owned, are Lowa Renegade hiking boots
Those url’s will get you the best price, despite my earning a nickel-or-dime bit if your purchase.
But again, get only the boot that fits your feet the most comfortably, regardless of price and how they look.