Hiking Boots for Beginners

Wondering what to look for when buying hiking boots?

When you’re on a camping trip or a long trail, the quality of your boots can make a world of difference.

Hikers around the world enjoy the benefits a good pair of boots can bring, but beginners may not know the full importance of making the right choice.

Keeping in mind the different types of hiking shoes, the materials they’re made with, proper sizing and boot maintenance will be a big step in the right direction.


Someone just getting into the world of hiking may not know that there are many different styles of hiking footwear. Different shoes are capable of accomplishing many different jobs.

We wouldn’t wear heels to a construction site, or sandals in the winter! The same holds true for hiking boots.

For short day trips, a low-cut hiking shoe may do the job. They look a lot like sneakers, though they have especially flexible soles, which makes them a good choice for trail running and short distances.

They usually feature a fabric/leather mix, making them breathable and lightweight. These can hit the trail the day after you buy them, making them attractive for trail running or light walking.

For a full day of hiking, a more high cut, boot-style day hiking boot is necessary. What distinguishes these from more heavy-duty boots are their flexibility and short break in time.

If you need a boot last minute and don’t want painful blisters on the trail, these might be a good bet, though they aren’t as flexible and easygoing as a basic hiking shoe.

If you’re going on a long backpacking trip, you’ll need dedicated backpacking boots. These feature full leather uppers and very strong soles. Most shoes of this type have a higher cut that wraps around the ankle to provide more support, especially important for traveling with a heavy pack.


Another factor to consider is the material going into your hiking boots. For more casual hiking over shorter distances and easier trails, a higher proportion of fabric or synthetic material in the uppers will reduce fatigue and allow your feet to breathe.

However, if you need extra support, you’ll want a split grain or full grain leather. You’ll find more leather in backpacking boots, and more breathable materials in hiking shoes or day boots.

The sole of the shoe is another important consideration. After a full day of walking on a dusty or rocky trail, the sole of your shoe will cushion your foot and reduce shock. This is the component that largely determines the stiffness of the boot.

While a stiff boot doesn’t sound like it could ever be a good thing, on long trips the stiffness of the sole will protect your feet from bumps in the trail or sharp stones. These boots are typically made of a material like polyurethane, which is firm and durable.

For softer trails and shorter hikes, a more breathable material is desirable. One of these materials is EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate). Shoes of these kind will remind you more of a street shoe, and will be correspondingly easier on the foot. Again, the function of the shoe will determine which material is best.


After determining the right style and material of shoe for your needs, you need to focus on perhaps the most important thing: proper sizing.

No matter how expensive or well built a hiking boot is, if it isn’t the right size you’ll be plagued with blisters and a very uncomfortable experience.

It’s important when ordering online to make sure you order the right size: go into a store personally and get sized. You’ll thank yourself later. Ignore your size for sneakers, since hiking boots are designed to fit differently and will be sized differently accordingly.

Hiking boots should fit snugly on the foot, and there shouldn’t be wiggle room in the foot. However, it is important not to have cramped toes, as that will produce blisters and will be generally uncomfortable.

Some blisters are inevitable, especially in stiff backpacking boots, but this issue can be reduced by wearing thick socks and making sure your boot features substantial ankle support. There are also products you can invest in, like boot softener, and services you can seek out, like heat molding for your boot.


Hiking boots run the gamut from low prices and questionable quality to outrageous pricing but admittedly high quality craftsmanship. So, how much should you spend on your first pair?

The different types of shoes have varying prices. Light hiking shoes can cost between $50-100, while decent backpacking boots can run you around $200.

You should find a budget that works for you, and find a boot that fits your needs. Price doesn’t always correlate with quality: a cheap no-brand shoe can sometimes serve you better than an expensive name brand boot.

Caring For Your Boot

After you buy your hiking boot, looking after it is essential for continued good performance. Before you go on any extended hikes, you should break your boot in thoroughly by walking around on even surfaces, before subjecting your feet to any rough trails.

Don’t warm your boots in any extreme heat, as tempting as it may be. This can degrade the materials and glue holding your shoes together.

Thoroughly cleaning your hiking boots is highly recommended, if you want them to last and stay as you bought them! Whenever your boot hits the ground it is collecting dust, sand and dirt. Leather uppers can be cleaned with either a special product or diluted dish soap.

Coating the shoe in wax or conditioner is another step you can take to maintain the leather and keep it supple. This can also help waterproof your boot and keep your feet warm and toasty.

Check out this video from Rei.com


If you follow these steps and keep the type, materials, and sizing of your boot in mind, you can’t go far wrong for your next trip. Whether you’re a complete beginner or just someone buying new boots for the first time, this guide will set you on the path to a fulfilling hiking experience.

Hopefully you’ve found what to look for in hiking boots, if you have any questions then please feel free to contact us!