Hiking boots are a hiker’s most important piece of equipment. Twenty years ago, buying a good pair of hiking boots was easy. They had to be stiff, heavy and leather. But gone are the days when most hiking boots weighed as much as bricks and were equally as flexible.
Especially in the last decade, space-age materials and new design concepts have brought change and variety to the hiking-boot scene. These days, the styles range from lightweight, canvas-and-rubber models that resemble souped-up sneakers to medium-weight Gore-tex and leather versions for tougher treks and heavyweight, steelshank models for mountain climbing. But the changes have not only been functional. They have also been fashionable,
The type of hiking boot that is right for you depends on three main factors: the weather, terrain and type of hiking you will face. An unscientific rule of thumb is that the weight and stiffness of the boot should correspond roughly to the strenuousness of the hiking you will be doing.
If you are strictly a weekend walker you should stick to the lightest, most flexible style of shoe. It will probably be canvas, or canvas and leather. It may be a lowcut model or a hightop. The sole should have shallow cleats. These models will be most comfortable on smooth trails with no steep grades and will not tire your legs.
If you are a recreational hiker, as opposed to a walker, you should move up to the next level of hiking boots. Buy a lightweight, leather model that comes above the ankle. The sole should have medium-depth cleats and be moderately flexible for long treks but hard enough to protect the sole of your foot from stone bruises on mountain trails.
The final category of hiking boots is the rock-hard leather or plastic line for serious mountain climbers. These models are practically unbendable and are made to take a beating. They are reinforced with steel for top protection from rocks, ice and sharp objects. Like some ski boots, many of the plastic models have removable soft liners. These boots are designed to have climbing irons or crampons attached to them.
As with any sports equipment, the most important thing is not to buy more or less boot than you need. The fact that a boot is more expensive does not necessarily mean it is better for you. Heavy mountain-climbing boots will provide disadvantages rather than advantages to someone who uses them for leisurely strolling in the woods.