How to Buy Hiking Boots

Whether you’re walking a local footpath or trekking the Appalachian Trail, you need a hiking boot that delivers a blend of comfort, protection and traction. Learn more about choosing the right hiking boots, materials and features.


  • Light hiking boots are great for novice or intermediate hikers. Think outdoors enthusiasts who go on one- or two-day hikes with a lightweight backpack and only essential supplies. These boots are lightweight and flexible and offer ideal breathability.
  • Technical hiking boots are geared towards the more experienced hiker, such as those who journey on multi-day hiking trips. These hikers might venture out on technical terrain with a heavier or frame hiking backpack. These boots are ultra-durable and waterproof with traction-maximizing outsoles.



  • A full-grain leather upper is supportive, durable and waterproof.
  • A suede upper (sometimes combined with mesh fabric) offers more flexibility and breathability, but is not as supportive as full-grain leather, nor does it offer waterproofness.
  • A one-piece upper is often more durable than those with multiple seams, but offers less breathability.


  • The midsole helps to disperse weight and provide stability. This component can be made of multiple materials.
  • Compression EVA midsoles are ultra-lightweight.
  • Injection-molded EVA midsoles are made of melted EVA pellets. They have a more consistent density from heel to toe.
  • Polyurethane, or PU, midsoles are lightweight with excellent cushion, shock absorption and flexibility.
  • TPR (Thermoplastic Rubber, a combination of petroleum-based chemicals) midsoles offer lightweight durability and flexibility.


  • Outsoles are generally constructed of rubber and offer traction when hiking over a variety of surfaces.
  • Lugs or treads help boost traction, but the deeper they are, the heavier the outsole and overall boot will be.

Extra Boot Features

  • GORE-TEX® linings provide waterproofing and breathability.
  • Shanks offer stability and support and are generally located in the midsole.
  • Gusseted tongues help to keep out water, stones and debris.
  • Removable footbeds or insoles help provide comfort, cushioning and additional support.
  • Padded collars offer a comfortable, supportive fit.


  • Before waterproofing, make sure your hiking boots are clean and free from dirt and debris.
  • The best waterproofing substance for leather boots is a water-based or fluoropolymer waterproofing product. This can be used on previously treated leather. It dries quickly and removes stains.
  • Make sure to concentrate on seams, which can degrade over time and let water seep in.
  • For GORE-TEX® lined boots, it’s best to use a silicone-based waterproofing substance to allow for more breathability.
  • Waterproofing solutions are available for a number of types of other footwear as well.