How To Choose Entry Level Hiking Boots - girl lacing up hiking boots

How To Choose Entry-Level Hiking Boots (The Ultimate Guide)

If you are new to hiking, you may not need a fancy and expensive pair of hiking boots, a pair of entry-level hiking boots should do just fine.

In fact, for beginner hikers, simplicity is the key to unlocking the fun of hiking.

In this guide, we’ll break down the key factors to consider when choosing entry-level hiking boots, so you can kick off your hiking journey with confidence and style. Let’s dive in!”

Determining Your Hiking Needs and Skill Level

Before you set out to purchase a pair of hiking boots, it’s crucial to assess your hiking needs and skill level.

Hiking boots come in various styles and designs, each tailored to different types of terrain and activities. By understanding your specific requirements, you can narrow down your options and find the perfect boots that will support you on your hiking adventures.

 1. Consider the type of hikes you plan to undertake

Will you be exploring well-maintained trails in local parks, or are you aiming for more rugged and challenging terrains? Knowing the difficulty level of the hikes you intend to tackle will help you determine the level of support and durability your boots should possess.

2. Think about the duration and frequency of your hikes.

Are you planning to embark on day trips, multi-day treks, or even overnight backpacking journeys? Longer hikes and backpacking trips require good boots with enhanced comfort and support. Withstanding extended periods of walking and carrying heavier loads.

3. The climate and weather conditions you expect to encounter

If you’ll be hiking in hot and dry environments, boots with good breathability and ventilation are essential to prevent discomfort and excessive sweating. On the other hand, if you’ll be venturing into wet or snowy regions, waterproof or water-resistant boots with reliable traction will keep your feet dry and secure.

4. Your personal preferences

Some hikers prefer lightweight boots that offer agility and flexibility, while others prioritize sturdiness and ankle support. It’s important to strike a balance between comfort, protection, and functionality based on your individual needs and preferences.

Also, think about how your shoes fit. Do you feel comfortable in wide or narrow shoes and if you have experienced foot pain whilst walking, what was the cause?

Understanding the Anatomy of Hiking Boots

When it comes to choosing the right pair of hiking boots, having a basic understanding of their anatomy can greatly assist you in making an informed decision.

Let’s take a closer look at the different components that make up a typical hiking boot:

The Toe Box

The toe box is the reinforced area at the front of the boot that protects your toes from impact and provides extra durability. Look for a roomy toe box that allows your toes to wiggle comfortably, while still holding your foot in place. This reduces the risk of blisters and discomfort.

The Lacing System

The lacing system consists of eyelets or hooks through which the laces are threaded to secure the boot around your foot. A well-designed lacing system allows for a snug and customizable fit, ensuring stability and preventing foot slippage during hikes.

The Tongue

The tongue is the padded flap that sits between the laces and your foot. It helps distribute pressure from the laces evenly and prevents discomfort and irritation. Some boots feature gusseted tongues that are attached to the sides of the boot to keep debris and moisture from entering.

The Midsole

The midsole is the layer of material between the outsole and the insole. It provides cushioning, shock absorption, and stability. Common midsole materials include EVA (ethylene-vinyl acetate) foam and polyurethane (PU) foam, each offering different levels of support and durability.

The Insole

The insole, also known as the footbed, is the removable cushioning layer inside the boot that supports your foot and provides additional comfort. Most boots come with removable insoles. This allows you to replace them with custom ones, specially designed for your foot. When buying entry-level boots this is a great, low-cost way to upgrade your boots.

The Shank

The shank is a supportive structure inserted into the midsole of the boot. It can be made of steel, fiberglass, or other rigid materials and is responsible for providing stability and preventing the boot from twisting. The type and stiffness of the shank can vary depending on the boot’s intended use.

The Outsole

The outsole is the bottom part of the boot that comes into direct contact with the ground. It is usually made of rubber or a combination of rubber and other materials. A quality outsole should offer reliable traction and grip on various terrains, including rocky surfaces, slippery trails, and muddy conditions.

Usually the grippier the outsole, the more it´s susceptible to wear and tear.

hiking boots

Boot Height: Low-Cut, Mid-Cut, or High-Cut?

When it comes to entry-level hiking boots, one important consideration is the height of the boot.

Hiking boots come in three main height options: low-cut, mid-cut, and high-cut. Each height offers distinct advantages and is suited for different types of hiking and terrain.

Let’s briefly explore each option. If you want a more in-depth explanation click here

Low-Cut Boots

Low-cut boots, also known as trail shoes or hiking shoes, have the lowest height and typically end below the ankle. These boots resemble athletic shoes in terms of design and offer a lightweight and flexible option for hikers.

They are ideal for well-maintained trails, day hikes, and those who prefer a more agile and unrestricted feel.

Low-cut boots are breathable, comfortable, and provide excellent maneuverability. However, they offer less ankle support and protection compared to higher-cut boots, making them less suitable for rugged terrains and heavy backpacking loads.

Mid-Cut Boots

Mid-cut boots provide a balance between ankle support and flexibility. They offer a higher height than low-cut boots, typically reaching above the ankle.

Mid-cut boots are suitable for a wide range of hiking activities, including moderate terrains, multi-day hikes, and backpacking trips.

They provide better ankle stability and protection against rocks, roots, and uneven surfaces. Additionally, mid-cut boots often have additional features like cushioning, waterproofing, and a more robust outsole, making them versatile and dependable for various hiking conditions.

High-Cut Boots

High-cut boots, sometimes referred to as backpacking boots, are the tallest option, extending well above the ankle.

These boots offer maximum ankle support and protection, making them ideal for challenging terrains, steep inclines, and carrying heavy loads.

High-cut boots excel in providing stability, preventing ankle sprains, and supporting the foot and lower leg on rugged trails. They often feature a stiffer construction, additional padding, and a higher level of waterproofing. However, high-cut boots tend to be heavier and may require a break-in period due to their robust build.

Material Matters: Leather vs. Synthetic Hiking Boots

Hiking boots are commonly available in two main options: leather and synthetic. Both materials have their advantages and considerations but generally synthetic boots are much more cost-effective. For this reason, most entry-level hiking boots will be made from synthetic materials.

  • Leather boots offer durability, natural water resistance, and the ability to mold to your foot over time. They excel in rugged terrains but may require a break-in period.
  • Synthetic boots, on the other hand, are lightweight, quick-drying, and provide better breathability. They are ideal for day hikes, wet conditions, or those seeking immediate comfort.

If you want to know more about synthetic hiking boots click here

Traction and Outsole Grip

When selecting entry-level hiking boots, it’s important to consider the grip and the ground that you would like to hike on.

The outsole plays a vital role in keeping you stable and secure on various terrains, preventing slips and falls. Think about the types of hikes you will be going on and try to choose the best sole for the job.

Here’s What To Look For In Outsole Grip 

Lug Pattern

The lug pattern refers to the raised treads on the outsole that provide traction.

Look for boots with deep, multi-directional lugs as they offer better grip on different surfaces. Lugs with varying shapes and sizes can enhance traction by providing more contact points with the ground.

If you are planning on hiking on roads or hardpacked trails, large lugs will be overkill and feel strange underfoot. They will also wear out quickly.

Rubber Compound

The type of rubber used in the outsole greatly affects its grip. High-quality rubber compounds like Vibram® are known for their excellent traction and durability. They offer a reliable grip on wet rocks, muddy trails, and slippery surfaces. Check for boots that specifically mention a durable and grippy rubber compound in their construction.

Flexibility vs. Stiffness

The flexibility or stiffness of the outsole can impact traction in different ways. Flexible outsoles provide better grip on uneven terrain as they can conform to the ground.

Stiffer outsoles, on the other hand, offer stability and support on rocky or challenging surfaces. Consider the type of terrain you’ll be hiking on and choose the appropriate level of flexibility or stiffness accordingly.

Terrain-Specific Design

Some hiking boots are designed for specific terrains and activities. For example, boots intended for hiking in muddy conditions may have self-cleaning (widely spaced) lugs to prevent mud buildup, while boots designed for rocky terrain may have sticky rubber compounds for enhanced grip on rock surfaces.

Think about your typical hiking environment and select boots with outsoles tailored to those conditions.

How To Choose Entry Level Hiking Boots

Find The Right Size

When it comes to choosing entry-level hiking boots, finding the right fit is paramount.

Even the most expensive hiking boots will be uncomfortable to wear and cause blisters if they don’t fit right

How To Find The Right Size And Fit

Size Accuracy

Start by determining your accurate shoe size. Keep in mind that hiking boot sizing may differ from your regular shoe size or vary between brands. Use a measuring device or consult a professional to measure your feet accurately, considering both length and width. Remember that your feet may not be the same size, so measure both and go with the larger foot’s size.

Toe Space

There should be enough room in the toe box for your toes to wiggle comfortably. Your toes should not feel cramped or pressed against the front of the boot, as this can lead to discomfort and potential toenail issues, especially during long descents.

Width Considerations

Hiking boots are available in different widths to accommodate various foot shapes. If you have wide feet, look for boots labeled as wide or choose brands known for offering wider options. Conversely, if you have narrow feet, look for narrower sizes or brands that cater to narrower foot profiles. It’s crucial to find a boot that provides a snug and secure fit without excessive pressure points or looseness.

Arch Support

Consider the arch support provided by the boot. Ideally, the boot should align with the natural curve of your arch, providing adequate support and preventing discomfort during long hikes. Different boots may have varying arch support, so try on multiple options to find the one that suits your foot’s needs. Entry level hiking boots can lack in arch support but this can easily be fixed by upgrading the insole.

Insole and Sock Thickness

Keep in mind that the thickness of the insole and socks you plan to wear during hikes can affect the overall fit. If you use custom insoles or orthotics, bring them along when trying on boots to ensure they fit comfortably inside. Similarly, if you prefer thicker hiking socks, wear them when trying on boots to assess how they affect the fit.

Heel and Ankle Support

The boot should provide a secure fit around the heel and ankle without excessive slippage or tightness. The heel should feel snug and firmly cupped, preventing your foot from moving around inside the boot. The ankle collar should offer support without causing discomfort or rubbing against the skin.

Tips for Testing Entry-Level Hiking Boots in the Store

When you’re in the store, trying on hiking boots is an essential step in finding the perfect pair.

It´s not uncommon to be pressured by the salesman to settle for a pair of boots that don’t feel perfect. It’s important to think about some of the tips listed below and not be scared of walking away to find the perfect option.

If you are buying boots online we have a guide for that too! just click here 

How To Test Entry-Level Hiking Boots Hiking Boots In The Store

Wear Proper Socks

Wear the same type of socks you would typically use for hiking. If possible, bring along a pair of moisture-wicking hiking socks with a medium thickness. This allows you to assess the fit and comfort of the socks you’ll actually wear on the trails.

Lace Them Up Properly

Take the time to lace up the boots properly, making sure they are snug but not overly tight. Start at the bottom and work your way up, adjusting the tension along the laces to achieve a secure fit.

Walk and Test Different Surfaces

Walk around the store and try different surfaces to simulate hiking conditions. Stores often have ramps or inclines to mimic uneven terrain. Take advantage of these features to assess how the boots feel when walking uphill, downhill, and on different angles. Pay attention to any discomfort, pressure points, or instability.

Test Toe Room

While walking, pay attention to the amount of room in the toe box. Wiggle your toes and ensure there is enough space for them to move comfortably without feeling cramped. Remember that downhill descents can cause your toes to push forward, so make sure there’s sufficient room to prevent discomfort.

Check for Heel Slippage

Pay attention to any heel slippage as you walk. A small amount of movement is normal, especially with new boots, but excessive slippage can lead to blisters. Make sure the boots have a secure fit around the heel without feeling too tight or causing discomfort.

Assess Overall Comfort

Take note of how the boots feel overall. Are there any pressure points or areas that feel too tight or too loose? Focus on the areas where you typically experience foot discomforts, such as the arches or ankles. It’s important to prioritize comfort since you’ll spend hours wearing these boots on the trails.

Consider Weight and Flexibility

Lift your feet and assess the weight of the boots. Keep in mind that lighter boots can provide more agility, especially for day hikes. Also, flex your feet to evaluate the boot’s flexibility. Depending on your hiking preferences, you may prefer boots that offer more flexibility for easy movement or boots that provide more rigidity for added support on rugged terrain.

Seek Expert Advice

Don’t hesitate to ask the store staff for assistance and advice. They can provide valuable insights into different brands, models, and fit considerations based on their experience and customer feedback. They may also suggest additional techniques or considerations specific to the boots you’re trying on.

Budget-Friendly Options for Entry-Level Hikers

If you’re a beginner hiker or simply looking for more entry-level options, there are several affordable choices available. Here are some tips for finding budget-friendly hiking boots without compromising on quality:

Previous Season’s Models

Consider purchasing previous season’s models, as they are often discounted to make room for new inventory. While the latest models may have minor updates or design changes, the previous season’s boots can still offer excellent performance and durability at a lower price.

Outlet Stores and Sales Events

Check out outlet stores or attend sales events where hiking gear is offered at discounted prices. These locations often carry discounted products from well-known brands and can provide significant savings.

Online Marketplaces and Auctions

Explore online marketplaces and auction sites where you can find new or gently used hiking boots at discounted prices. Ensure you verify the seller’s reputation and read the product descriptions carefully to ensure you’re getting a reliable product.

Store Clearance Sections

Browse the clearance sections of outdoor stores, both in-person and online. These sections often feature discontinued or overstocked items at reduced prices, providing an opportunity to find high-quality boots at a lower cost.

Rental or Borrowing Options

If you’re unsure about investing in hiking boots right away, consider renting boots from outdoor gear rental services or borrowing from friends or family who have boots that fit your size. This allows you to try different boots and determine your preferences before making a purchase.

Consider All-Rounder Boots

Look for hiking boots that can serve multiple purposes, such as day hiking, light backpacking, or casual outdoor activities. These versatile boots often come at a more affordable price point and can be suitable for a range of hiking adventures.

Quality Over Brand Name

While brand reputation can be a useful indicator of quality, it’s important not to overlook lesser-known brands that offer reliable products at lower prices. Read reviews and feedback from other hikers to gauge the performance and durability of less mainstream brands.

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