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How to Buy Hiking Boots

The right hiking boots can mean the difference between a great outdoor vacation and being stuck in a tent with blisters and aching feet. Learn what to look for and hike for days.


  • Step 1: Try on the boots and stand up before lacing them. You should be able to slip your index finger between your heel and the boot's heel. As you tighten the laces, your heel should fill the space where your finger was. Walk around the store to test for comfort and fit.
  • TIP: Ask a sales clerk if they have an uneven surface that you can walk on. Stores that specialize in outdoor gear should be able to offer an incline for you to walk up and down.
  • Step 2: Pay attention to whether the boots rub or pinch your feet, and don't tell yourself that they just need to be broken in. If they hurt your feet now, you'll never make it on a hike. If you get the right pair of boots, you'll be able to hit the trails for years to come.
  • FACT: Ethiopian Abebe Bikila set a world marathon record and won the 1960 Olympic gold medal while running barefoot.
  • Step 3: Take the insole out of the boot and measure it against your foot. The boot will likely be too tight where your foot overlaps the sole, and too loose where the sole overlaps your foot. The closer the insole matches your foot, the less likely you are to get blisters.
  • TIP: The fewer seams the boot has, the less likely you are to suffer broken seams from stress on the trail.
  • Step 4: Prepare before trying on boots. The size and shape of your feet change throughout the day and after a period of walking. Go for a walk in the late afternoon and then go to try on boots.
  • TIP: Wear the socks you intend to wear on your hike when you try on boots.
  • Step 5: Try on several different pairs of boots to compare different features. Weigh comfort against function for features such as waterproofing and breathability, and test materials such as nylon, plastic, or steel shanks. Test both low- and high-cut ankles, keeping in mind that you will want higher-cut uppers for support on rough terrain.
  • Step 6: Examine the stitching on the uppers and check them for quality and strength. If the stitching is loose or fraying, or if the seams are sloppy or slack, don't purchase the boots.
  • Step 7: Decide where and under what conditions you'll be wearing your boots. If you are a day hiker and tread mostly well-worn trails, you will need substantially less complicated boots than the hiker on extended trips over extreme terrain.

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