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If you’re planning a hiking trip, you may not be prioritizing the type of shoes you wear – but you should. According to the American Hiking Society’s list of hiking essentials, “appropriate footwear” is the #1 thing to take with you. Why are good hiking boots so important? Because if you go in regular sports shoes, you could be setting yourself up for sprained ankles, stress fractures, or other injuries. Not only would this result in a painful recovery, but it could also cut your hiking trip short. When you get quality hiking boots from a company like Bearpaw, though, you’ll be able to focus on the hike rather than your aching feet.

Speaking of aching feet, you can’t just pick any old pair of hiking boots and assume they’ll get the job done. In fact, wearing a poorly fitted pair of hiking boots could be worse than trekking in the shoes you wear to basketball practice. The good news? As long as you know what you’re looking for, it’s pretty easy to find a perfectly fitted pair of high-quality hiking boots.

How many types of hiking boots are there?

There are a few different levels of intensity when it comes to hiking, and there’s a type of hiking boot to fit each one. You also have to consider how much weight you’ll be carrying – the heavier your backpack, the more support your feet will require.

For the most intense hiking trails, you’ll need a heavy-duty hiking boot. This will include durable soles with textured treads, an opening that rises well above the ankles, and a protective exterior made of rubber or leather. These are the bulkiest and heaviest type of hiking boot, and will retain more heat than any other type.

For medium-intensity hikes, there are the shoes that most people probably think of when they hear the words “hiking boots”. They’re definitely built to withstand plenty of wear and tear, but they aren’t as bulky as some options. Although breathability still isn’t great, it’s better than what the heaviest hiking boots offer. They often focus on a grippy, durable tread, and protective outer materials. However, the exterior could be made from mesh or other fabrics, which is what makes them a bit cooler. This type of hiking boot might go just below the ankle, or include ankle support.

If you’ll mainly be walking a trail instead of clambering over rocky terrain, trail runners could be the best choice. These are built similarly to what you might find in a running shoe, but with a sole that’s designed to take the punishment of wilderness trails. They’re lighter in weight and fairly breathable, but not necessarily suitable for long-haul treks.

Questions to ask while considering your options

Finding the right hiking boots is about more than just getting a pair that doesn’t pinch your toes. These shoes have to do a specific job, and they need the right features to get that job done. Here are the questions you should ask yourself when narrowing down the options.

  • What will the weather be like?

While most of your plans for weather conditions might revolve around waterproof ponchos or sunscreen, you also need to account for them with your choice of footwear. Why? Because hiking with wet feet can result in a lot of pain, injury to the skin, or even fungal infections. If you’ll be in a dry climate, you won’t have to worry about this. If there’s even a chance that you’ll be hiking in wet conditions, though, you should definitely get waterproof hiking boots. Not just water-resistant – make sure they’re waterproof.

  • How much weight will you be carrying?

Long-haul treks require hikers to bring plenty of food; cold temperatures require extra bedding; desert conditions mean that enough water will have to be brought for the entire trip. Between one thing and another, you could end up carrying quite a lot of weight. If this ends up being the case, you’ll want hiking boots that support your feet and ankles. For example, even if you’ll be walking a well-laid trail, lightweight trail runners won’t be enough if you’ll also be carrying a heavy load.

  • How rough is the terrain?

Pretty much any hiking route will have plenty of descriptions and reviews, so you’ll be able to estimate how rough the terrain will be well before you arrive. Some hiking trails are really just extended pathways – even though they aren’t paved, they’re still generally even and smooth. If this is the case, trail runners could get the job done just fine (heavy packs aside). On the other end of the spectrum, a hiking trail could require you to cross over uneven rocks, go up or down steep inclines, or make your way across uneven ground. Then there are things like cacti, thorny bushes, and other things that heavy-duty hiking boots could protect you from. Make sure you do some research beforehand, to ensure that you get the right type of boot for the terrain.

  • Do you have any foot-related conditions?

If you’re prone to muscle or joint injuries, or you have ongoing issues such as tendonitis, you should opt for hiking boots that provide plenty of support. This especially includes a design that goes above the ankle, as well as orthotic support inside the shoes.

Tips for buying well-fitting hiking boots

If you’ll be making the purchase at a brick-and-mortar store, you probably already know the drill. Make sure your feet have plenty of wiggle room, but not too much, and don’t buy anything that rubs or pinches your feet in any way. 

If you plan on buying hiking boots online, look carefully at the product descriptions, and even more carefully at the reviews. Online reviewers will often mention the fit and comfort level of their purchase, which will be instrumental in helping you find a well-fitting hiking boot. 

Finding high-quality hiking boots may seem like a tall order, but once you’re trekking your way through the wilderness, you’ll be glad you took the time to get the perfect footwear for the job!

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