Choosing the best pair of hiking shoes is a process Goldilocks knows: You want them not too big, not too small, and just right for the hike you’re planning.
There are many things to consider before shelling out the big bucks for hiking shoes, including which type of shoe is best for your journey, your weight load, the terrain you’ll encounter and how long your trip will take. You can find detailed information to help you choose the best pair of walking boots, hiking boots and hiking shoes for your journey here, but for those interested in knowing even more about hiking boot features, the following offers an in-depth detailed explanation of the different materials, uppers, midsoles, outsoles and support components hiking shoes offer.
Hiking Shoe Upper Materials
The type of material your hiking boot is made from highly impacts its durability, breathability and water resistance. Some of the most common materials hiking shoes are made of include:
- Full-grain leather, which offers strong durability and water-resistance but very little flexibility and breathability
- Split-grain leather, which is usually paired with nylon mesh for breathability and comfort but offers less durability
- Nubeck leather, which is flexible full-grain leather buffed to look like suede
- Lightweight synthetics like polyester and nylon, which are breathable and dry quickly but aren’t durable or stable
- Waterproof materials like Gore-Tex and eVent, which keep the feet dry in extremely wet conditions but have limited breathability that can lead to uncomfortable, blister-producing foot sweat
Additionally, some boots are made out of vegan materials (meaning they are made without any animal ingredients), and some offer synthetic insulation to keep the feet warm in icy, snowy, mountainous conditions.
Hiking Shoe Midsoles
A hiking shoe’s midsole (the layer between the outsole that touches the ground and the insole that touches your foot) is what determines the cushioning and stiffness of the shoe. Stiffer midsoles are heavy, but they offer better protection against rocky, uneven terrain that would put pressure on a foot not protected by a stiff midsole. Most mountaineering and backpacking boots have midsoles made out of polyurethane, which is firm and durable. However, many also use ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA), which is lighter, more cushioned and less expensive than polyurethane.
Sometimes shanks or plates are positioned between the midsole and the outsole. A shank helps add weight-bearing stiffness, while plates offer additional protection against sharp rocks or roots that might bruise or injure the feet.
Hiking Shoe Outsoles
Pretty much all hiking boots have rubber outsoles, which is the part of the boot that touches the ground. You’ll want a heavier lug pattern with deeper, thicker lugs for improved grip and traction.
Some hiking boots offer heel brakes on the outsole. A heel brake helps reduce your chances of slipping and falling when hiking on a steep decline.
Hiking Boot Tongues
Hiking shoes with stiff soles should offer a relatively padded tongue to help offset the “cutting” feeling tight lacing or potentially uncomfortable laces create during hikes that involve steep uphill or downhill climbing. Additionally, gusseted hiking boots are generally more comfortable, because a gusset (a piece of material that connects the tongue to the upper) can help keep trail debris from entering your boots and creating blister-inducing abrasion.
Hiking Boot Internal Ankle Padding
Your ankle is one of the boniest parts of your limbs with minimal fat padding and therefore needs extra cushioning, especially during long treks.
Hiking Boot Rands
Hiking boot rands are thick, rubber wraps that circle the toe and/or forefoot and are generally found on waterproof boots as extra protection against wetness and slippage.
Hiking Boot Crampons
A hiking boot crampon is a component that features spikes for hikes in icy, snowy areas. They come in three different models: strap on, step-in and a hybrid of the two. You’ll want to make sure that your boots and crampons are compatible with one another.