How to Choose Hiking Boots

April 19, 2015


Your thirst for adventure has inspired you to hit the trails and mingle more with nature. And what will carry you every step of the way? Footwear, of course.

Matching the right hiking boots to your feet is key to you having an enjoyable outdoors experience.

So here are a few fitting tips from the experts at the Bill Jackson Shop for Adventure to get you moving in the right direction.

 Things to consider when buying hiking boots

– Determine your usage. Are you a day hiker who carries little weight and prefers well-maintained trails? Low-cut hiking shoes with flexible midsoles may work for you. Do you carry a slightly heavier pack for one- or two-night outings? Consider mid- to high-cut hiking boots with more ankle support as your starting point here. Heading out for rugged, multiday treks loaded down with gear? Will you likely be crossing streams or wading through puddles? Think durable, waterproof, high-cut hiking boots with plenty of ankle support and cushioning.

– Bring your favorite hiking socks. Or use the store’s try-on socks, or be prepared to get new socks to match your intended adventures. Stay away from cotton, which takes a long time to dry and hastens blistering. Go with moisture-wicking wool, wool-blends or synthetic material. Your feet will thank you.

– If you wear orthotic inserts, bring them. You’re trying to match everything that you already know works well for you.

– Go shopping at the end of the day. Your feet tend to swell as you move about throughout the day. Trying on hiking boots late in the day helps prevent you from buying boots that are too small. (Bill Jackson’s is open to 9 p.m. on weeknights.)

– Think about your past, but be open-minded. Do you have a favorite brand that fit well? Hiking boot makers tend to use the same footbeds from model to model, so you might find a consistent fit. But plan to try on at least three pairs, sampling other brands as well.

At the store

– Determine your size. If you’ve never purchased hiking boots before, you may already think you know your size, but getting your foot measured properly goes a long way in getting to a good fit more quickly. Shoe experts at an outdoor retailer can measure your foot’s width, heel-to-toe length and heel-to-ball (arch) length to help you achieve the best fit. Many times the staff can tell you which brands tend to run true to size and those that run bigger or smaller.

– Try on as many hiking boots as necessary to achieve a comfortable fit, and fine-tune with the lacing. Walk around the store for a bit to get a good feel for each pair. Reputable retailers have a ramp for boot buyers to test the heel fit going up and to test for toe bump coming down an incline. Try a half-size up or down as necessary, and try different brands.

What you’re looking for

– These days, the right hiking boots can feel good right out of the box, rather than needing extensive break-in time. Make note of whether the boots flex too much or too little for your taste.

– Test for “slopping” of the heel. If your heel lifts a quarter of an inch or more inside the boot as you walk, you’re likely in too big of a boot.

– Test for “toe bump.” If your feet slide forward and jam the toes into the front of the boot while descending a ramp, you’re not in the right boot.

– Test for hotspots and pinching. Make note of any spots where the hiking boot rubs or pinches your foot. This typically happens in the area of the heel and the ball of the foot. Tightening or loosening the boot’s lacing could help.

– Ask about manufacturer warranties and conditions. And ask the retailer about its return/exchange policy.

Take your time and get the right fit. There’s too much riding on it.

By Rich Kenda