7 Essential Qualities of

Great Hiking Boots
14 min read

Want to know a good way to tell if you have a good pair of hiking boots? You don’t think about them when you’re wearing them. Having a good pair is the difference between an enjoyable time sightseeing and being distracted by painful blisters on your heels. Read on and see the seven qualities of a great pair of hiking boots.

1. They're Comfortable

This one should be pretty obvious, right? Whether you’re hiking a steep mountain, wading through the Narrows in Zion National Park, or stomping your way through a local state park, your feet should feel comfortable. The amount of cushion in the boot is really a personal preference, but I would suggest not to overdo it. You want to be able to feel what’s underfoot so you can walk properly. You wouldn’t want to potentially twist an ankle because you didn’t feel a rock underfoot, right?

A Fellow Traveler’s Hiking Boots

Columbia Coretek Waterproof Hiking Boot

Steve Frazer

“These boots along with great socks kept my feet warm in the coldest conditions. The soles are perfect for providing a slip proof experience while traversing mountains or streams.”

Steve showing just how waterproof his Columbia boots actually are

2. They're Waterproof

One of my biggest pet peeves is wet socks. It’s incredibly irritating at best and downright dangerous at worst. If you’re going to be hiking in a place that’s susceptible to heavy rainfall or hiking a trail that involves crossing rivers, you’ll thank yourself for a waterproof boot. Plus, that makes them easier to clean. Just spray them down and leave ’em to air dry! My boots, the Salewa Ultra Flex GTX, are a solid example of being watertight. I submerged my foot while taking a photo of the Icelandic waterfall, Gufufoss, and my feet were completely dry. Now, I later ended up going knee-deep in the same river, and the boots obviously filled with water then. That being said, they dried out super quick when placed in front of the van’s heater. Let it be known, waterproof boots don’t solve clumsiness.

Right after I got this shot, I submerged my foot. Thankfully my boots were completely waterproof

A Fellow Traveler’s Hiking Boots

Vasque Canyonlands Ultradry Hiking Boots

Kari Morgan

“I bought Vasque boots to hike Mt. Whitney, since then they’ve taken me on countless adventures! They’ve lasted me 6 years, they’re waterproof, and super comfy. Many more miles to come!”

Kari handstanding with her Vasque boots

3. They're Light

This ties in with comfort; you want boots that aren’t heavy. When checking out different boots, pay attention to what material the boot is made out of. Trying boots on are important, so either go to a shop in person or purchase from a place with a solid return policy. I purchased my boots from Peter Glenn and they said I could return the boots within a month if I didn’t like them. That was plenty of time to test them out in several grueling environments. In an opposite situation, when I was hiking Bryce National Park in Utah, I was wearing an old pair of boots I had purchased for an Alaska trip. They were clunky, heavy, and about one size too big. After mile 3 out of 8 in Bryce hike, the strain of lifting these dump truck-sized boots were killing my knees. When I purchased my new boots before Iceland, I made it a point to prioritize their weight (or lack thereof). I was lucky to find some that are somehow about the same weight as my Nike running shoes. My knees thanked me.

Flying sidekicks = perfect way to test hiking boots

A Fellow Traveler’s Hiking Boots

Merrell Moab FST Waterproof Hiking Boots

Tim Thornton

“These boots have kept my feet dry from the Incan Trail of Peru to the glaciers of Iceland. They breathe well and are form fitting, providing excellent comfort for endurance hikes.”

Solid hiking boots can be great for climbing abandoned houses, just like Tim

4. They're Sturdy

This goes without saying, you don’t want boots that will fall apart months after purchasing them. The easiest way to find out how sturdy they are? Read reviews online. Amazon is a pretty good place to look, since the reviews on the manufacturer site is likely to be positively biased. Disgruntled users will be much more likely to leave a review and include pictures if the boots didn’t live up to their standards. Check out those reviews!

This was the only time my boots slipped. Worth it.

5. They Have Excellent Grip

I’m pretty sure I don’t need to say much on this. Get boots with significant tread on the bottom so you don’t slip! The only time I lost grip during my entire Iceland trip was when I was standing on an iceberg on Diamond Beach. Literal ice was the only thing that the boots couldn’t grip to. The last thing you want is to slip when descending a steep, muddy trail or climbing a rocky outcropping. Stay safe, get grippy.

A Fellow Traveler’s Hiking Boots

Ahnu Sugarpine II Waterproof Hiking Boots

Leah Herman

“Choosing the right boot can make the difference between hiking up and down a cliff face in pouring rain for 5 hours a slightly uncomfortable experience or the single worst day of your entire life. While my boots did eventually get soaked from the constant downpour, I couldn’t have been more happy that I chose a shoe that wouldn’t blister my feet no matter what and kept my feet comfy for the entire adventure”

Leah taking her Ahnu Sugarpine Hiking Boots for a spin in Norway

6. They Stay Warm / Cool

I don’t know of many things that are worse than cold toes. Want to know what’s just as bad? Marching through a tropical hike and having damp, sweaty feet. That’s why it’s important to keep your climate in mind. If you’ll be hiking primarily through a damp, tropical environment like Kauai or Honduras, then you’d want a boot that has breathable material. If you plan on taking colder, polar hikes, then making sure that the boots have proper insulation is crucial. This is another point where reading reviews are crucial. If a boot advertizes to be insulated for cold-weather and doesn’t fulfill that promise, you’ll be sure to find some reviews telling you all about it. That being said, what socks you wear directly correlates between how hot or cold you can be, which ties into the next and final quality to look for…

After Iceland, these Darn Tough socks look as beautiful as a bouqet of roses

7. They Fit (Protip: Buy Hiking Socks)

The socks you wear changes how hot/cold/comfortable your boots will be in addition to how the boots will fit. I personally use and love Darn Tough socks. I bought four pairs (at Tim’s suggestion) before Iceland and they were easily one of the best purchases I made for the trip. Hell, I even wear them around the house most nights. Darn Tough socks come in a variety of thicknesses, have really cool and minimal color patterns, and are comfortable as hell. With this in mind, be sure to get the appropriate socks and wear them when trying on the boots. This will make sure that you have the proper fit and don’t end up with cramped, cold toes. Also, as a side-note, keep in mind that hiking boots often come in varying widths (Medium, Wide, etc.) in addition to the regular sizing. 

Personal Suggestion: Salewa Ultra Flex Mid GTX

I wasn’t originally planning on buying the Salewa boots. In fact, I didn’t even know they existed before I walked into a local Peter Glenn. When I saw them on the wall, they looked really interesting and boasted a lot of cool features. It has a quick-lacing system, so you can have the boots on and ready to go in seconds. Salewa worked specifically with Michelin tires to create the tread on the bottom of the boot! I can attest to the grip, I only lost grip once in Iceland and that’s when I was climbing an iceberg. The boots are super light too. In fact, they’re almost the same weight as my Nike running shoes. On top of all that, the Gore-tex material is completely waterproof. I submerged my foot entirely up to the tongue of the boot and no water got in. I’m so thrilled with the boots that I’m actually wearing them as I’m typing this. Check them out, you won’t be disappointed.

Comment below with your favorite pair of hiking boots!