Get a grip with the best hiking boots

Traversing mountain passes can feel like walking on clouds.

Whether you find yourself stationed in Hawai’i, New York, or Arizona, there’s plenty of country nearby to demand you to scrap yet another Call of Duty marathon and explore the world beyond. You must answer the call, but first, ditch your duty boots in favor of something specifically designed to tackle the terrain. Save yourself the irritation of praying in vain for traction to magically replace the bald treads on your old garrison boots. Instead, opt for something with comfort, support, and traction, and fully enjoy your adventure in the woods without unnecessary scrapes and bruises on your hands and legs. A solid pair of hiking boots is just what you need.

Shop smart, cry once, and marvel at the wonders nature has to offer. This is how memories are made.

Before you go over the ridge and through the woods, snag a pair of affordable Columbia Men’s Newton Ridge Plus II boots to accompany you. This mid-rise offering from Columbia has all the right features for a good all-around hiking boot for navigating all but the most demanding terrain. The waterproof suede, leather, and mesh construction provides a tough, weather-resistant exterior that is both classy and durable. The rubber outsole features Columbia’s multi-terrain Omni-Grip tread with aggressive lugs arranged in a dual-zone winter pattern to provide solid performance on ice and snow as well as gravel and rock. The metal hardware, reinforced heel, and seam-sealed construction further enhance this boot’s ability to resist abuse on the trail, yet this design manages to keep the weight low and the comfort high. Need for a ladies version as well? Check out the Columbia Women’s Newton Ridge Plus.

Tired of seeing all the Columbia, Keen, and Merrell boots on the trail? Shake things up a bit with Foxelli Men’s Hiking Boots, a lightweight boot with solid performance, a reasonable price tag, and a modern twist on classic hiking boot styling. These boots consist of a durable, breathable suede leather upper attached to an extremely aggressive all-terrain rubber sole. The Kingtex waterproof membrane and bellows tongue work together to keep your feet dry while the EVA midsoles absorb impact at every step. This design boasts plenty of padding in the collar, shaft, tongue, insole, and toe box, and the toe bumper and reinforced heel help extend its durability. The wide toe box provides room for proper toe splay, adding to the boots’ overall comfort level. Insert ankle and arch support into the equation, and you’ve got one reliable pair of high-top boots. Foxelli also offers a women’s version of these boots available here, but be prepared to order a half size up.

Sometimes, you need a boot that is comfortable to wear in virtually any setting. Enter the Merrell Men’s Moab 2 Mid Waterproof. This affordably priced, mid-rise waterproof hiking boot combines the best elements of hiking boots and athletic shoes into a single boot that is equally at home on both gravel and asphalt. The upper features a combination of suede leather and mesh which uses Merrell’s M Select DRY technology to keep water out while letting moisture inside the boot to evaporate, and the closed-cell foam bellows tongue supports both efforts up top. The boot’s sole includes an air cushion beneath the heel for shock absorption and stability. The contoured M Select FIT.ECO+ EVA footbed uses sonal arch and heel support to keep your foot stable, and the rubber toe cap minimizes injuries from unexpected impacts. The Vibram TC5+ outsole relies on aggressive five-millimeter lugs to help keep you upright and moving forward. Of course, the lineup wouldn’t be complete without a variety of color options and a women’s version of the Moab 2 Mid Waterproof.

Hardcore explorers know that the adventure doesn’t start until the temperatures drop and regular trails are a distant memory. The Oboz Men’s Bridger 8″ Insulated Waterproof is an excellent cold weather hiking boot for blazing your own trail. The tough, durable nubuck leather upper defends your feet against the hazards of unseen rocks or unexpected impacts, while the rubber toe cap, heel kick, and gaiter D-ring combine with the Oboz B-DRY membrane and 200 grams of Thinsulate insulation work to keep cold and moisture at bay. Unlike most competitors, these full-rise boots boast a proprietary thermal insole with an insulated topsheet and a Mylar bottom designed to reflect heat back toward your toes. The EVA midsole provides plenty of cushioning while the outsole boasts aggressive lugs for solid traction on slick mountain sides. While the price tag may be a little on the high side, both the Men’s Bridger 8” and the Women’s Bridger 7″ are worth dropping a little extra cash.

Minimalist footwear is slowly making inroads into a variety of markets, and the Xero Shoes Men’s Xcursion is one of a handful of minimalist hiking boots designed for hikers who like to feel the ground as they move. This high-top boot provides just enough ankle support while still ensuring the flexibility and ease of movement barefoot runners have come to expect. The boot consists of vegan-friendly synthetic materials with a sealed waterproof inner lining and a water-repellent membrane to keep your feet comfortable and dry. The wide toe box, “zero-drop” footbed, and thin, flexible sole enhance natural foot movement and ground feel. The FeelTrue rubber sole employs an aggressive, dual-chevron tread pattern and is backed by the Xero Shoes 5,000 mile warranty. These boots are incredibly lightweight with a single men’s size nine tipping the scale at just 12 ounces, while a Women’s Xcursion in size seven weighs only 9.6 ounces. They may not be the least expensive available option, but once you adjust to the unorthodox feel, these may just be the most comfortable hiking boots you’ve ever worn.

Related: 6 of the best hiking backpacks money can buy

Why should you trust us

Growing up near the foot of America’s Mountain, I have spent plenty of time trekking over trails and scrambling up rocky outcroppings, and I have come to appreciate the value of a quality pair of hiking boots. Over the last 25 years, I have learned the value of traction, durability, and other critical features and have learned a bit from other hikers to boot. I love spending time outdoors and have written about other pieces of outdoor gear from bear spray and fire starters to bivy sacks and folding saws.

Different types of hiking boots

Traditional boots

When you hear the phrase “traditional hiking boots,” these are the boots that first come to mind: tough, rugged, and maybe a little clunky. They may be made of leather, but just as often, they consist of high-tech synthetic materials for lighter, faster performance. Their soles boast aggressive tread patterns designed to grab hold of rock like a Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep on the windblown slopes of Longs Peak. They also include ankle support in the form of a shaft not found on regular shoes.

Minimalist boots

Minimalist hiking boots combine the excellent ground feel and natural foot movement of minimalist shoes with the extra traction and tough outer shell of a traditional hiking boot. These boots may be the official hiker of yuppies and hippies, but with a little bit of mental adjusting, you may start to wonder why nobody told you about them sooner. (Not sure what a yuppie is? Don’t ask, and you won’t date yourself.)

Hiking shoes

Hiking shoes are the glorious offspring of hiking boots and athletic shoes. They provide the toughness, protection, and grip of a traditional hiker, yet they offer the comfort, freedom, and light weight of an athletic shoe. Unless you spend most of your time on technical trails with plenty of rocks and uneven ground, a solid pair of hiking shoes may be your best bet. Think of it this way: You could complete a hot extraction with an Abrams, but in most situations, a Humvee would be a better choice.

Features to look for when purchasing hiking boots

Support

Always buy hiking boots with proper foot and ankle support for your excursion. Well-groomed trails require less support, making hiking shoes and low-top boots your go-to choice. More technical trails require mid-height boots and may warrant the need for reinforced arch supports, toe caps, and other support features not found on more casual options. Want to blaze your own trail? Grab some leather boots with above-ankle shafts and all the extras to avoid breaking anything valuable.

Comfort

Every grunt knows that comfortable boots are worth their weight in gold, but for all the airmen out there, we’ll explain. Uncomfortable boots signal a poor fit which can cause rubbing, hotspots, and cramping. On the trail, these “features” cause blisters, blackened toenails, and arch sprains, forcing you to crawl back to your Jeep instead of walking back. Do yourself a favor: Skip the “bargains,” and get some boots that you’ll look forward to wearing.

Weight

What do ROTC, basic training, OCS, and the military academies all have in common? Heavy boots. Bad jokes aside, weight is the nemesis of a good hiking boot. The longer you trek overland, the more you feel the weight of your boot. Just as in the military, ounces equal pounds, and pounds equal pain.

Traction

One of the most critical features of a hiking boot is its level of traction. If we were content to slip and slide across smooth stone surfaces, then plenty of people would be opting for Converse high tops whenever they hit the trail. A purpose-built hiking boot will have plenty of aggressive lugs on the outsole to give you a grip on gravel, rocks, and fallen trees.

Durability

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of seeing a trusty pair of hiking boots fall apart after over a decade of hard use. While most of us never expect our boots to endure for that long, durability is still a key component to a quality boot. If you plan to drop more than $100 on a pair of hikers, make sure they’re worthy of your money.

Waterproofing

While not everyone plans to ford streams during a weekend hike, plenty of us still need a solidly waterproof boot for those times when the only way forward is through a flooded field or half a mile of lingering snow drifts. Waterproof boots usually feature a bellows (gusseted) tongue and a waterproof internal lining inside and/or external finish. If you find a boot you like but it isn’t waterproof, you can always purchase a water-repellent spray if you anticipate few puddles.

Breathability

Nothing stops sweaty funk and its side effects like a good breeze. While hiking boots are about the farthest thing from a flip flop, a good pair will promote airflow as much as possible. While leather boots tend to be tougher and more durable, most modern hiking boots combine semi-breathable suede with proprietary meshes and synthetic materials that maximize airflow while letting sweat escape and keeping water out. Magic, you ask? We think maybe.

Related: Hit the trails in style with these 7 top-rated hiking poles

Advantages of owning hiking boots

The best hiking gear is the stuff you never notice until you need it. On the trail, your mind should be focusing on the terrain and the views instead of your feet, so a light, tough pair of boots with plenty of traction are a must-have piece of gear. Boots protect your feet from the terrain, the elements, and the rigors of the trail. Healthy feet equal mobility, a critical need anywhere off the pavement. Boots will also support your foot and ankle, minimizing the likelihood of rolling an ankle and maximizing your body’s position to properly balance any load on your back. When you scramble over wet rock, slippery shale, or just loose gravel, the grip and traction on your boots’ outsoles will decrease your downtime in both senses of the word. Of course, boots that leave you feeling pain and discomfort in your feet have no value on the trail. Comfortable feet will take you farther faster and leave your mind free to focus on the world around you.

The best hiking boots price ranges

Good-quality hiking boots may not be the cheapest footwear on the planet, but your feet will thank you for springing a little extra cash to baby them. As a general rule, expect to spend between $50 and $100 for a good starter pair of boots. They may be a little hefty due to the common leather-heavy construction, but they are far better than nothing and usually will provide plenty of support and durability. For lighter, more specialized boots, expect to fork over somewhere in the $100 to $150 range. You can find quite a variety of options in this price range, although highly specialized boots, such as insulated winter hikers or minimalist boots, can take you past the $150 mark. Whatever your budget, be ready to spend on the right pair of boots. If you don’t find anything you can afford, keep looking or see if you can expand your budget. Either way, your feet will love you.

How we chose our top picks

When reviewing new gear, we much prefer to go the hands-on route, but sometimes, a lack of resources may thwart our attempts to get our mitts on some cool gear. To make sure we don’t let you down, we take the time to listen to those who have firsthand experience, combing through reviews on Amazon, professional publications, enthusiast blogs, and more to bring you the best intel available. We sift through it all, keep the gold, and toss the rest. For this review, we found the folks at The Adventure Junkies, Backpacker, Slick & Twisted Trails, Traveling Lifestyle, VeraVise Outdoor Living, and What’s Danny Doing to be extremely helpful.

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