There’s always one. The guy or girl who bought the wrong hiking boots. You can see them from a mile away. Usually limping from the pain of golf ball size blisters or worse being carried down the mountain because they’ve injured their ankle on the uneven terrain.
But, I get it… considering it’s the most important gear investment you’ll make, buying hiking boots for
the first time can be a costly and daunting experience, but more so if you don’t get it right the first time.
So before you go to your outdoor clothing store and get presented with hundreds of options you need to know what you’re looking for and how to make sure they fit properly!
The five questions you need to ask yourself before you buy hiking boots are:
1. What terrain will I be trekking on?
Will you be hiking through mud? Is there creek crossings? Is it rocky and steep terrain or flat rolling hills. Your hiking boots will need to manage the terrain.
For example if you are climbing Mt Kilimanjaro you will trek through five ecosystems, each with different terrain. At the beginning of the trek the terrain will be relatively smooth on well trodden paths, it will then become uneven and rocky and once you get closer to the summit you can expect scree (loose rocks) and depending on the time of year, snow and ice.
Whereas, if you’re hiking the Kokoda Track the terrain will typically be uneven, damp and muddy – a light weight hiking boot may be able to manage those conditions better than a heavier boot that is worn at high altitude.
Your trek itinerary should indicate the type of terrain you can expect throughout each stage of your trek. Generally you can presume that you’ll be walking on uneven ground, there will be scree (loose rocks), you’ll be inclining and declining and the terrain is likely to change if it rains.
2. What conditions will I be trekking in?
Your hiking boots will need to be suitable for all the conditions of your trek not just the beginning or the end. The conditions will change depending on the altitude and the weather.
If you will be trekking over 5000m, your hiking boot will need to be fairly warm, insulated and definitely have a waterproof layer such as Gore Tex. This will help release perspiration while keeping your feet dry on wet days or in snow.
3. How much trekking experience do I have?
If you’re a first time trekker the buying decision about hiking boots is very important. Unless you have participated in sports like trail running, outdoor multi sports, mountain running or rogaining, and are very confident moving over difficult terrain then you are best off going with a very supportive boot. The reason being, it’s unlikely you will have the strength in the ankles and the proprioception, balance and agility of an experienced hiker, so mid-cut to high-cut boots will prevent injury and keep you warm and dry during any spills.
4. How heavy will my backpack be?
The weight of your backpack will place demands on your feet. The average weight of a day pack is 6-8kg. If you don’t have experience carrying a backpack for up to 7 hours a day, over multiple days you’ll want a fairly rigid and supportive hiking boot.
5. What’s my total gear budget?
Choosing the right hiking boots should be based on comfort and not budget. This is important, so I’ll repeat it. Don’t buy uncomfortable boots because they are cheap. My recommendation is to ignore the price tag. This is the best way to decide on a hiking boot that is driven by comfort not the cost. The reason why you should know your total gear budget (and not a hiking boot budget) is because you can always save money on those items that don’t directly impact on your ability to succeed e.g hiking pants, t-shirts, water bottles, beanies…
Now that you know how to buy hiking boots and you’re equipped with five questions to ask before you buy them, the next step is to learn how to get the best fit.
The Essentials Gear Guide will help you out with buying and fitting your hiking boots, socks and backpack.
What do you think? Is there anything I left out?
And…. If you know someone else who is embarking on a trek, Share this post with them (their feet will be forever grateful! )