Greetings and happy 2016 hikers! We are proud to kick off this year with a guest post from James Menta of SoleLabz – a valuable online resource for information about hiking footwear. Remember, guest writers are always welcome here – so if you have an idea for a blog post that you think would be helpful to the readers, bring it!
Best value-for-money hiking boots – more bounce for the ounce
Henry David Thoreau once said his thoughts began to flow when his legs started moving. He didn’t have to square off against today’s footwear market, though.
So, let’s put our thinking caps on and set about doing some constructive R&D. Our ground zero: netting the “biggest payoff’ hiking boots without stamping out your budget.
That’s why I say every hike begins with a “fishing expedition”. What we’ll try to do in this guide is:
- Make sure we know our basics when boot-shopping (the DOs and DON’Ts)
- Learn some sneaky tactics of a smart buyer and getting the best value for our money
Let’s dig in…
Are hiking boots your best bet in the first place?
To kick-start the guide, let’s answer the basic question of “hiking shoes vs. boots”.
To put it broadly, boots offer more protection and support than hiking shoes. Some boots will basically look like high-cut shoes, but they’ll still provide better stability and support.
However, hiking boots are “heavier on the hips”, so adding weight is the main tradeoff here.
Let’s talk specifics. Few scenarios when hiking boots are a spot-on choice:
- If you’re about to embark on a longer hike
- If you expect to encounter rough terrain (sharp rocks, uneven ground, tree roots, mucky or swampy patches…)
- If you’re carrying a medium to heavy load
- If you’re a beginner hiker in need of better support due to less-developed key muscles
- If you’re susceptible to tweaked knees/rolled ankles
Reasoning behind the price
These are main “price-pumping” factors of yours-to-be hiking boots. I.e. You can’t save money on these if you know what’s good for you.
Bound for number one on this list, materials highly affect the overall performance of the boot.
Comfort – There are boots and there are “bricks with laces”. Hikers with certain foot maladies will know the difference sooner than others (plantar fasciitis comes to mind)
Protection – It gives you a fighting chance when you lock horns with the inhospitable terrain. You’ll also be well protected against snakes and other creepy crawlies. To put it in a nutshell – sturdy boots minimize the risk of potential injury.
Durability – Broaching the subject, there’s a huge gap between full-grain leather and synthetic materials like polyester.
In time, you want your investment to pay itself off. That’ll never happen by mismatching hiking footwear and your surroundings. If you take a plunge into some nasty terrain armed with a pair of sneakers you’ll be in for one rude awakening.
Abrasion-resistance also comes into play, affecting the durability and the overall appearance of your boots.
Stability – Higher cut means better ankle support. Hiking boots feature sturdier construction so they’ll provide better heel and arch support.
Soles offer better grip, which nullifies any potential traction problems right off the bat.
Breathability – If high temperatures and perspiration are a concern, synthetic, meshy materials are your best bet.
They’ll let your feet “breathe” all hike long and keep them well ventilated and dry.
Insulation – If you’re hiking in cooler climates breathability quickly goes out the window and keeping your feet from freezing becomes your no.1 concern. In this scenario, leather is your best bet as it will keep you safe from the elements and harsh weather.
Here are some thingamabobs that make life easier on the trail.
Water-resistance – Rainy weather, swampy terrain, multiple river crossings all merit waterproofing your feet.
This is where GoreTex lining, the most commonly used membrane in hiking boots today, comes in. Its primary forte is high breathability paired with excellent water-resistance.
The material of choice for these boots is leather in one form or the other (full/split-grain, nubuck).
Extra padding/cushioning – There’s a lot of added comfort to be found in a good pair of hiking boots. We start with the collar and the tongue, featuring additional lining, comfortable sockliner, heel padding, midsole cushioning and so on.
Gusseted tongue – It’s just a fancy term for a tongue that’s sewn to the boot on both sides. In a word – it’s a debris dam.
Rands/toe cap – another layer of toe protection. Rands are made of rubber and can go all around the boots while toe cap focuses on the front part alone.
Quick-lacing system – It’s there for convenience. You can save time by simply tying the laces in one quick swoop.
Vibram sole – A sole with a distinct diamond-shaped lugs for better traction and stability. It can also feature self-cleaning threads.
Heel-stop – A lugless part in the heel section of the sole added for better movement-control on steep descents
Odor-prevention – Some of the models feature special technologies for stopping the build-up of unpleasant smells within the boot.
Now that we’ve “dissected” a hiking boot, let us move on to some chit-chat on how to get the best value for your money.
Finding the best value-for-money hiking boots
Don’t give up on me just yet. There are still ways to save money while we’re fishing for good pair of hiking boots.
Here are some tips:
- Get stronger – Once you’ve built up enough leg muscle to withstand the hiking stress on your feet, you can opt for footwear with less protection. That qualifies you for some models that are more affordable
- Make Google your friend – It’s a holiday season as I’m writing this so you’ll definitely want to google terms like “discount hiking boots”
- Do some Big-Box Stores shopping – I know it can be demoralizing, but sometimes you can find a gem in the dirt there. You’ll probably need to visit more than one, though, but once you find something you’ll feel like a life-hacker J
- Adjust your footwear to the trail – Short, light trails don’t merit a hiking boot. If you can pull it off with a trail runner, go for it!
User review of hiking boots – the tipping point
So, you think you have it all figured out. You have one eye on a pair that’s “just right” and the other on your credit card.
At this point, take some breathing room to see what people wearing the boots are saying about them. It’s the ultimate test.
Go online, find the pair in one of the online retailer stores and read what other hikers shared in their reviews of the boot.
It’s that simple but makes the world of difference.
A few more caveats about money-saving
Once we’ve found our perfect hiking boot there are still some things we need to check:
- Watch the connections closely, and I mean EVERY connection. Is the sole glued to the upper, stitched or welded? Does the connection look flimsy? Are the stitches loose? Is there glue sticking out? Are rands poorly laminated? You get the picture…
- Wring your hiking boots of choice as you would a towel and see if it twists around with ease. We want a midsole with a bit more rigidity to it, indicating good mid support
- Try this test – with one hand inside the boot and the other one pressing the outsole, see if you can feel your fingers touching. If you do, the protection offered is poor
- Floppy heel is a no-no, we want it stable and rigid
With the holiday season in full swing, I don’t think you’ll have any difficulties finding the best hiking boots for your adventure (without nuking your budget).
I hope these tips and insights will be of help and you’ll meet Mother Nature chin up.
Safe trails and remember, “Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time”.
Lots of useful tips here. I’ve always been prone to ankle rolls, so I used to opt for high top hiking shoes/boots. I’ve switched out to trail runners now that my joints have strengthened up for just about any type of hiking condition. The lighter weight makes longer hikes much more comfortable. I’ve also found that they dry out quicker and manage moisture build-up from sweat a lot better. Hiking shoes/boots, especially waterproof, hold onto moisture and take a long time to dry out. Blisters used to be an issue. I haven’t had a single blister since making the switch. The one thing I miss about wearing heavier duty hiking shoes/boots are the sturdy soles. Trail runners have thin soles, so you’ll feel a lot more of the trail, including those pesky, sharp rocks beneath your feet. Sill looking for that perfect combination of light weight, durability, traction, moisture management and sturdy soles.