How to choose the right hiking boots

Choose the right trekking boots, then make sure they're broken in before your walk
Choose the right trekking boots, then make sure they're broken in before your walk

When we venture into the wilderness, it can be for long periods and over some pretty rough terrain. Your feet are the ones doing the hard yards, so making sure that they stay happy is a top priority. With a pair of well-fitted, suitable, durable, and comfortable shoes, you’ll be striding in your adventure and hiking on a high.

We sought the wisdom of the gear experts at Paddy Pallin to drill down what to look for in your ideal boot so your next outdoor adventure is a comfortable one.

Finding your boot type

To keep your feet happy, firstly you need to think about the type of shoe that best fits your needs. Will you be taking days walks on undulating terrain, or are you planning for a more serious trek that will see you on offbeat trails for over five hours a day? Typically hiking footwear can be divided into a few categories and each type tends to be accompanied by a varying set of features.

Shoes/low-cut

These will be low-cut around the ankle, typically with a softer, more flexible sole. Generally, these types of shoes are used for easier day hikes and travel. A shoe like this could come in a burly, full-leather model that is good for hiking and travel to cooler climates. Whilst others will be lighter, with a synthetic/mesh upper, which is more suited to warmer humid climates.

Paddy staffers recommend: The Salomon XA Elevate GTX is a great all rounder trekking shoe and it’s available in men’s and women’s styles. It is stylish yet rugged and ready for adventure as it is lightweight, fully waterproof and has a Contagrip sole, meaning that you can maintain traction on uneven and wet surfaces.

Photo credit: Lachlan Gardiner

Light hiking boots/mid-cut

As the name suggest, these are cut higher around the ankle than a shoe, but usually just high enough to cover your ankle bone on the side. By wearing a boot compared to a shoe, you will have more support for your ankles which is particularly important if you are carrying any weight. A light hiker will usually be a bit stiffer than most hiking shoes, but still quite flexible. They are lightweight and good for a mixture of activities, from travel in colder climates and day hikes to easier multi-day adventures with a lighter pack.

Paddy staffers recommend: The Merrel Moab 2 GTX as it is a lightweight mid-cut boot which still provides you with great support, both for your feet and ankles. Not only is this style waterproof, it boasts an aggressive Vibram sole and is available in both men’s and women’s styles.

Photo credit: Lachlan Gardiner

Heavy trekking boots/high-cut

As expected, this type of hiking footwear is heavier, stiffer and higher-cut around the ankles. This category is for serious trekking and bush walking. This is the kind of boot suited to travelling over rough terrain, off-track and carrying a heavy pack for multiple days. The uppers will be well padded and the sole should not flex too much. This will allow for more support for your foot when walking on uneven surfaces.

Paddy staffers recommend: The Scarpa Kailash Trek GTX boot is a fantastic option for all of your rugged off-track hiking. The boot provides you with great shock absorption and support when walking on hard uneven surfaces, it is fully waterproof and has a protective TPU toe cap. It is also available in both men’s and women’s styles.

Fit and Sizing

After you have thought about which type of shoe will best suit your adventure needs, it’s time to look at the sizing and length of the shoe.

It’s important to know your foot size. The best way to do this is by using a Brannock Device, which is the worldwide standardised tool for measuring foot size. All Paddy Pallin stores are equipped with these and the experienced staff are happy to help take a measurement of your foot.

Photo credit: Ben and Alice

Staff tip: Always have both feet measured as one is often longer than the other.

Typically, the rule of thumb is your hiking boot or shoe size will be between a half to a full size larger than what your measurement is. For example, if the device shows your (longer) foot to be size EU 42, then start by trying on some size 42.5 to 43 shoes. This allows for your feet to have room to swell in the boots and will stop your toes from hitting the front of the boot when walking downhill. After a few kilometres of walking down a trail you will thank us.

When trying the shoes on, give yourself plenty of time to try some different styles and if needed, multiple sizes. Walk around the store and up and down the incline ramp (most Paddy’s stores have one of these). Feel for any uncomfortable pressure points or tightness. Basically, you’re looking for a snug and supportive fit, but with some room in the toe box for your toes to wriggle a bit and spread out.

It’s also important to try on boots with socks that are as thick, or even slightly thicker than the socks you would typically wear whilst hiking.

Finally, if possible, it can be good to try on footwear later in the day after you’ve been walking around for a while. Most people’s feet will swell slightly throughout the day.

Staff tip: Remember to buy them with plenty of time to spare before your hike as you will need to wear them in.

Now you understand what to look for in your hiking boots and shoes, it’s time to get out there and try some on!

Feature image credit: Ben and Alice

gear tips, hiking boots, outdoor equipment, gear

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