If there is one piece of gear you should invest in before hiking, let that be your hiking boots.
Your shoes are where the “rubber hits the road,” and also what protects your body from the shocks of walking. They shield your feet from anything else Mother Nature will throw at them, too. Don’t make the mistake (as I did when I was a starving student) of buying cheap so-called hiking shoes, especially if you are a serious trekker.
If you’re on a budget, there are many affordable good quality hiking boots that will serve quite as well as some costing hundreds of dollars. Shoes should be your first consideration (and then sun and cold protection as a close second) before venturing out on the trails. Luckily, we are here to help make your decsion a little easier.
There are basically three kinds of hiking boots: light, midweight, and heavy. In general, they get more expensive the heavier they are.
Light hiking boots
Light hiking boots are like a reinforced athletic shoe. The treads are a little thicker, and they wrap your feet and ankles with sturdier materials like leather, man-made materials, and waterproof materials like Gore-Tex.
Light boots are super comfortable, breathe well, and don’t weigh you down on long treks. The downside is that you will wear these out more quickly than a heavier boot.
You also lose some traction with lighter and thinner-soled boots. I personally wear this type of boot most of the time and even to work, just because of the excellent foot support.
Midweight hiking boots
Midweight hiking boots are a step up with bigger lugs on the soles, a stiffer ankle support, and sturdier materials.
Midweight boots can start to weigh you down after a few hours of hiking, but they offer more traction and durability on back-packing and moderate mountaineering treks.
Heavy Hiking Boots
Heavy boots add a heavier-weight sole, and a rigid body and ankle. In fact these boots cover all of the ankle. Most of these type boots have laces almost down to the toes.
They are suited for serious mountaineering and many models can be fitted with crampons for ice and snow hiking. The heaviness grabs the terrain better than any other, but you lose some of the comfort of lighter shoes.
Unless you are a hard core mountain climber or ice trekker, I would recommend you start with one light and one midweight pair of boots.
On longer trips, you can switch between the two regulary. This allows time for them to air-dry, and also prevents foot pain and bilsters, since you won’t have the constant pressure on hot spots from one shoe only.
The older you get, the more your joints and muscles will thank you for choosing high-quality,well-supporting footwear.
Make sure you choose a boot right for the occasion. (You woudn’t want to take snow boots tothe desert in summer, or light athletic shoes for serious mountaineering, for that matter.)
Keep the Water Out!
Definitely waterproof your boots if you hike in wet weather or spots with streams, rivers, mud, tidepools, etc.
It is such a pleasure when you are ankle deep in snow or sloshing through mud in a downpour and your feet are still dry and toasty! Many models are made waterproof, using materials like Gore-Tex.
Even for everyday trekking footwear, some level of keeping water out is good, unless you have the money and space to carry around a small arsenal of shoes.
Though hiking in the dry season, you might run into streams, marshes, or swamps. Even dew-covered grass in the morning can really soak your feet and legs.