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Gear: Choosing the Right Pair of Hiking Boots

Pick the boot that's right for you with this guide.

Hiking boot comfort depends on fit, but the shoes also need to have the right shape and ample padding. To find the right footwear, keep in mind the following principles of boot ergonomics.

Tongue padding should be ample, yet relatively stiff to prevent the "cutting" feeling from tight laces. The stiffer the sole, the more padded the tongue should be to counteract the torque of a rigid sole. Unfortunately, many stiff soled boots skimp on tongue padding and become painful on steep uphills or long downhills.

Internal ankle padding is a well hidden feature that’s critical to your comfort, since your ankle lacks fatty skin layers but flexes and folds thousands of times a day. Look for a secure fit around the heel and ankle to eliminate excess movement, and for decent padding on both sides of the joint to minimize chafing.

Most trail blisters occur in the heel region due to poorly broken in boots, heel lift from overly stiff soles, or poorly molded heel cups. Some heel friction is unavoidable, particularly with stiffer boots, but you can easily evade most of the discomfort by making sure your boots are well broken in. If discomfort persists, specialty outdoors retailers can apply heat and pressure to mold boot heel cups for a better fit.

Choose a model matched to your frequent type of use and terrain. If your travel styles vary widely, you’ll probably be happier in a boot that errs on the lighter side.

To keep your boots ready for many more years of trail travel,follow these tips.

  • Frequent waterproofing with wax or silicone treatments will soften leather, not only making your boots more comfortable, but also stretching them a bit.
  • Recondition your boots frequently and use boot trees.
  • Rain and stream crossings help boots conform to your feet, but water degrades leather and can lead to shrinkage.
  • On long backpacking trips, take along waterproofing treatments. You’ll definitely notice how much more supple and supportive your trail trashed boots feel after they’ve been treated.
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