What You Need To know About Men Hiking Boots

The trend is toward lighter materials that still offer decent support, and waterproof boots are the most popular by far (many are offered in a non-waterproof version for hiking in hot or dry climates). Our picks for the best hiking boots of 2018 below are broken down into three categories: lightweight boots for day hiking and fastpacking, midweight options that work well for most backpacking trips, and heavyweights for rough terrain or hauling a large load.

Midweight
Midweight boots are skilled compromisers, with enough support to carry a heavy load but without feeling like someone stuffed lead in your socks. It’s a rapidly growing category, reflecting demand from backpackers and serious day hikers for a light but capable option. It’s also home to some of our favorite boots (our top 2 picks, the Salomon Quest 4D 2 and Lowa Renegade, are midweight). Solid support underfoot makes the boots a bit stiffer than your day hikers but not excessively so. Because of the quality of materials and construction techniques, prices in this category usually start at around $200. At that price point, the quality of the waterproof bootie improves and you’ll typically find GTX (Gore-Tex) in the name.
Read more about Recommended Men Hiking Boots

Lightweight 
Boots in this lightweight category are, not surprisingly, light and flexible but tough enough for a longer day hike or short overnight backpacking trip. Options range from the budget-friendly Keen Targhee II to the light and fast Salomon X Ultra Mid 3. Waterproof liners are the norm, but they’re typically the less expensive type (read: non Gore-Tex). Materials used in the construction trend toward a heavy use of mesh and nylon with leather mixed in. This keeps cost and weight down, but doesn’t make them as durable as some pricier full-leather options. You also won’t see as stiff of a structure, as the boot’s shank and support won’t be very substantial. As long as you’re not carrying a heavy pack, that shouldn’t be a deterrent.

Heavyweight 
Stiff, tough, and incredibly reliable, boot legends of the past were made in the heavyweight category. Classic models like the Asolo TPS 520 and Zamberlan Vioz GTX remain popular for those wanting a full-leather design, but the shift towards lighter weights in boot construction has expanded the category to include models like the Asolo Fugitive GTX.
In general, heavyweight boots are built for tough, rocky trail and long slogs with heavy backpacking packs (they are also a great choice hiking with a loaded down baby carrier pack). While the thick upper materials and Gore-Tex make for excellent performance in the wet and snow, they will run warm in hot conditions (some prefer a non-waterproof leather boot instead). Their solid structure also takes some of the strain out of long ascents by keeping the heel from dropping at each step, and makes them often friendly with strap-on crampons for light mountaineering. A final tip: don’t pick up one of these boots and head directly to the trailhead for a long trip. Spend the time to break them in and you’ll have a backpacking footwear partner for years to come.
Read more about Recommended Men Hiking Boots

Weight

Whenever we can, we try and keep the weight of our boots to a minimum, providing enough comfort and support for the weight of our pack and the conditions, but without having to lug around anything extra. Depending on the trip, this can mean a lightweight trail-runner style for fastpacking all the way up to a burly boot like the Asolo Fugitive GTX for trekking through Nepal. If you’re going to choose one boot to do it all, our top-rated Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX does a great job balancing weight and performance.

From a quick look at our comparison table above, it’s clear that hiking boot weights vary a lot. You can choose an over-the-ankle design anywhere from over 3 pounds to less than half that in the case of the Altra Lone Peak 3.0 NeoShell Mid (essentially a trail runner with higher ankles and waterproofing). What’s equally obvious is how the various weights have an impact on a boot’s performance. To start, while the correlation isn’t perfect, a lighter boot generally will offer less support and lateral stability. If you’re carrying a heavy pack, this can present a problem, but for thru-hikers or minimalists, going lightweight can be a great idea.

Stiffness and Stability

In general, a hiking boot is designed to be stable, which typically involves a piece of hard plastic inserted between the midsole and outsole, known as a shank. The length of the plastic can vary from just under the arch to the full-length of the boot, depending on intended use. The benefit of a stiff boot is that the heel will not drop on an ascent, which helps reduce calf fatigue. This is why the stiffness of a boot will increase along with its technical abilities, culminating in extremely unyielding mountaineering boots that can better handle long summit pushes. On the other end of the spectrum, some lightweight boots do not have this additional structure, instead resembling a tall, flexible hiking shoe.

For day hikes on flatter or less technical terrain or if you’re aiming to move fast and light, we can’t recommend a lightweight and flexible hiking boot enough. Shoes like the Altra Lone Peak 3.0 or Salomon X Ultra Mid are standouts for these uses. As your trips get longer and your pack gets heavier, a more substantial boot that increases ankle support is a better decision. Look to the Lowa Renegade or Salomon Quest 4D 3 for a great all-around option that is equally adept at conquering summit peaks and multi-day backpacking. On the extreme end, heavyweight boots like the Asolo TPS are excellent for hiking in areas that require maximum support: off-trail bushwhacking, traversing an exposed area or trekking over rough ground.

Read more about Recommended Men Hiking Boots

Hiking Boots vs. Hiking Shoes

One of the first decisions in choosing hiking footwear is selecting either an over-the-ankle boot or low-top shoe. Each style has its respective strengths, and we use them interchangeably for hiking and backpacking trips. We’ve found that hiking shoe models vary just as much as the boots listed above, so you can choose from stiff and supportive down to light and nimble.In the end, the differentiators are ankle protection and stability. For rocky terrain, water crossing, snow, and for carrying a backpacking pack, a boot is our preferred option. But the low-top style trims away material and weight, making it the clear choice for those focused on moving fast and light without a large pack. There isn’t a definite right answer in this debate, but the weight of your gear and the conditions you’ll be hiking in can make the decision a lot simpler.

Breathability

No matter what marketers say, making a boot waterproof inherently impacts breathability. By keeping water from entering from the outside, less moisture (your sweat) can quickly and easily escape from the inside, which means all forms of waterproof footwear can run warm in the summer months. There are, however, big differences between boot models in their ability to ventilate.

We’ve found that heavyweight leather boots with a Gore-Tex lining are often the worst performers, while the new Gore-Tex Surround in the mesh-heavy La Sportiva Nucleo and the two-piece design in the Arc’teryx Bora2 are a step. In between, the Scarpa R-Evolution, Lowa Renegade, and Salomon Quest 4D 2 all perform decently with their nylon and leather construction and Gore-Tex liners, and are completely suitable for summer backpacking trips. The cheaper membrane in the Keen Durand Mid boot fell short of those pricier options in our testing. Alternatively, if you are willing and able to ditch the waterproof lining altogether, the Merrell Moab Ventilator Mid and Lowa Zephyr Mid are great options for casual hikers and backpackers, respectively.

Read more about Recommended Men Hiking Boots

Waterproofing

The vast majority of hiking boots are waterproof, and the security from a surprise deluge on a backpacking trip is reason enough for most folks to choose a GTX (Gore-Tex) model. To make these boots waterproof, most designs have a waterproof and breathable bootie inserted between the outer fabric and interior of the shoe. Gore-Tex liners are the most popular and have the brand cachet, but even in-house technologies like Keen’s Keen.Dry are similar in terms of waterproofing performance (it’s breathability where they’ll differ). In addition, a water-repellent coating is added to the boot to help bead up and shed water droplets.

Most hiking boots are waterproof, but does that necessarily mean they should be? It’s nice to have waterproofing so your feet don’t get wet walking through mud or crossing a stream, but all the waterproofing does on a spring or summer backpacking trip in Canyonlands is make your feet hot and sweaty (we cover breathability in greater detail below). And an argument can be made that your feet will eventually get soaked no matter the waterproof design in truly wet and miserable conditions. As an alternative, some backpackers turn to non-waterproof shoes with gaiters over the top for weather protection. While this won’t keep water from entering at the sides, the boots will dry much quicker. And the gaiters keep water, snow, or trail debris from entering over the top of the boot.

Our take on waterproofing is that it’s best for most folks, and particularly those that venture out in mountainous regions where water on the trail or a rainstorm always are possibilities. The designs aren’t perfect, but a quality waterproof lining will keep you reasonably dry in all but the worst weather. And if you hike in the shoulder seasons, the extra layer adds some insulation from the cold. But hikers in uniquely hot and dry places like Arizona and Utah may be best served with a non-waterproof model, no matter how few options there are on the market. Two that we like are the Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator (a sibling of the Moab Mid WP on this list), and Lowa Zephyr, essentially a Lowa Renegade with its Gore-Tex liner removed.

Read more about Recommended Men Hiking Boots

Lacing Systems

Laces are an overlooked feature on hiking boots but play an important role in fit and comfort. If a shoe has a poor lacing system prone to loosening, you’ll find yourself having to readjust constantly on the trail or dealing with hot spots and blisters. If the culprit is just the laces themselves, it’s an easy fix: there are many quality replacement laces available (and can usually be found at a local outdoors shop). But if the system doesn’t hold your foot or fit very well, we recommend looking elsewhere. For this reason, we are hesitant to recommend the single-pull speed lace designs from Salomon and Adidas. Although convenient, it can be more difficult to customize fit, which can lead to discomfort over long miles and when wearing a heavy pack.

As you upgrade to more aggressive designs, the lacing systems also should advance. Notable upgrades for boots include locking hooks near the bend at the ankle, such as what you get on the Quest or Renegade boots. These hooks keep the laces in place extremely well, which increases comfort and on-trail performance.

Hiking Boot “Upper” Materials

The type of material used in a shoe’s upper, which is the fabric that connects to the rubber outsole, correlates directly with its durability, water resistance and ability to breathe. Most often, a boot or shoe will be made with a mix of synthetic (typically nylon), mesh, and leather. There are exceptions, particularly at the high-end with one-piece leather constructions. As we mentioned above, Arc’teryx is one brand that breaks from the mold completely with a separate rigid thermolaminated outer that connects directly to the sole. Below we spell out the pros and cons for the most common materials used for hiking footwear.

Read more about Recommended Men Hiking Boots

Synthetic Nylon and Mesh
Woven nylon as well as open mesh nylon panels are common on entry and mid-level boots to aid in breathability. They’re not as well known for their durability but do a great job of cutting weight. Moreover, the fabric can absorb moisture faster than a leather boot. Exceptions include the Salomon Quest 4D, which is made of tightly woven nylon panels that have comparable levels of durability to some Nubuck leathers despite a lot of exterior stitching.

Full-Grain Leather 
This type of upper is most often found on tough, heavyweight boots. You’ll find one-piece leather uppers on high-end boots like the Asolo TPS 520 or in Danner’s boot collection. These designs are not light or as breathable, but are incredibly tough and water resistant. They do require some maintenance to keep the leather in good shape, but they’ll reward those cleaning efforts with a construction that is built to outlast everything else on the market. As an added bonus, some boots like the Danner Mountain Light can be re-soled, so you don’t need to replace the whole boot once you wear down the lugs.

Read more about Recommended Men Hiking Boots

Nubuck and Suede Leather
Made of full grain leather, but given a brushed finish that has a suede-like feel, Nubuck leather is a common site on mid-range boots. The softer touch leather is lighter and more flexible than traditional, glossy full-leather options, but the thinner construction isn’t as durable. It is, however, more durable than most nylon mesh inserts, and as a result, it’s common to find a mix of Nubuck leather and mesh, with the leather bits giving the boots a little extra toughness. Additionally, Nubuck leather tends to breathe better than full-grain leather and isn’t as prone to showing scuffmarks thanks to its brushed finish.

Midsole Types

While wearing hiking boots, it’s common to carry a decent amount of weight, which puts a lot of stress on your feet. Combined with the rubber outsole, the midsole plays the essential role of shock absorber from impacts and provides an additional layer of protection from sharp rocks. Depending on the design, midsoles vary from very thin (fastpacking boot) to stiff and substantial (full leather hiking boot). Most include EVA foam, PU, or a combination of both in their construction.
PU
For tougher applications or when it’s a priority to isolate your feet from rough impacts, manufactures will use a PU or polyurethane midsole. This durable foam is far less cushy than midsoles with only EVA but will last longer and better handle a heavier load. In addition, they’ll keep their shape longer and won’t be prone to compressing like EVA. Boots like the Asolo TPS 520 Evo use a polyurethane insole, but the material’s popularity is expanding to mid-range options—despite the extra cost—with the Scarpa Zodiac Plus being a recent example.

EVA
The majority of light and midweight hiking boots use EVA foam in the midsole. The cushy soft material takes some of the sting out of your heel or midfoot impacts and is also extremely lightweight. Not all EVA should be treated equally, and the proprietary versions can vary from super soft to mildly stiff. For logging serious miles on tougher terrain, we prefer a firm and supportive midsole as opposed to too much cushioning. Those overly-soft midsoles also have a tendency to break down over time, much like a road running shoe. In general, you pay more for an improved midsole design and a higher quality EVA compound.

Read more about Recommended Men Hiking Boots

Toe Protection

Toe caps or rubber rands cover the front of many hiking boots, and we consider them an essential element of backpacking boot design. These thick pieces of rubber are there to keep your toes in one piece should you accidentally—and in our case, eventually—kick a rock on the trail. Some standouts from our list above include the Arc’teryx Bora2 and Salewa Mountain Trainer, which have protection that wraps completely around the front of the foot. To cut weight, some manufacturers will occasionally take away this feature, including the otherwise excellent Lowa Innox GTX boots. Speaking from experience, we’d prefer that Lowa included one after catching and bruising a toe on a rock hiking in Utah’s Cedar Mesa. If you go lightweight, toe protection is one area where you may sacrifice.

Insoles

Getting a proper fit can be a real pain, and in many cases the blame is a generic, flat insole. Thankfully, removing your stock insoles is super easy, and replacing them with an aftermarket model that’s specific to your foot size and shape can remedy most shoe maladies. New insoles can provide more or less volume to fill out the shoe, improve the fit under the arch, and increase or decrease the cushion and impact shock. We recommend checking out Superfeet insoles for their wide selection of options and trusted reputation in daily shoes, ski boots, and hiking footwear.

Outsoles and Traction

The motivation behind upgrading from a flimsy cross trainer to a real hiking boot or shoe often is for improved traction. In a way that more casual footwear can never match, hiking footwear is leaps and bounds better when the going gets rocky, slippery and steep. And much in the same way that Gore-Tex dominates the market for mid to high-end waterproofing, Vibram inhabits a similar space for outsoles. Not all Vibram models should be treated as equals, however, as the rubber manufacturer tailors their designs for the specific footwear and brand. Some have much larger lugs underfoot for serious grip in mud , and others prioritize sticky rubber for scrambling over rocks. There are also more entry-level options that just do well on easier trails, like the lugs you’ll find on the bottom of the Merrell Moab boots and shoes. The lesson is it’s worth taking a look at the lug depth and description of the compound type to find out where a specific out sole will perform best.

Salomon is one brand that doesn’t outsource their traction needs. Instead, they use their in-house ContraGrip brand for all of their boots and shoes models. And with years of experience in everything from trail running to hiking, they aren’t short on expertise. The level of quality and performance is in-line with the Vibram offerings across the board, from anything from their fast-and-light X Ultra Mid hiking boots to the burly Salomon Quest 4D 2 backpacking boots.

Read more about Recommended Men Hiking Boots