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Boot Buying Guide

More than any other category of gear, boots can make or break your trip. In this guide, gear editor Kristin Hostetter shows you how to pick the right pair for any outing, any feet.
Gear School 09 Boot illo 445x260Gear School 09 Boot illo 445x260

Boots fall into seven basic categories.
1. Trail running
2. Technical scrambling
3. Trail
4. Off -trail
5. Mountaineering
6. Winter
7. Water shoes

Trail Running
Low-cut and lightweight, trail runners typically have better traction, more cushioning, and better midsole support than average running shoes to handle the rigors of the trail, yet they’re not quite as stiff or heavy as a light hiker.

Technical scrambling
Low- or mid- cut, and fairly lightweight, these shoes have grippy, sticky rubber soles and narrow, foot-hugging lasts for bouldering, scrambling, and rock climbing. The fit is typically more snug than a standard hiking shoe (allowing climbers to feel the rock and get better purchase), but scrambling shoes are uncomfortable for anything but short hikes to the crag.

These boots are either low- or mid- cut and geared for striding on well-maintained trails. Support is adequate for daypack-sized loads.

With higher cut ankles and more torsionally rigid soles, these boots are designed to protect your feet when you venture off-trail, where the footing is unpredictable. Off-trail boots often have rubber rands (buffers to protect the upper in high wear areas like the toe and heel), and cutout ankle collar known as an Achilles notch (to relieve pressure on long descents), full waterproofing, and crampon compatibility.

The stiffest of the bunch, mountaineering boots are also the most protective. Often lightly insulated, these boots are geared towards very high, cold places. The always have rigid soles designed for crampon use.

Winter boots are essentially trail shoes that have been modified for winter use, with a higher ankle to keep snow out, insulation to keep you warm, a waterproof membrane to keep you dry, and amped up traction for snow and ice. They’re ideal for snowshoeing, sledding, and winter hiking.

Water Shoes
Designed primarily for paddling trips, river crossings, and other wet conditions, these shoes feature good drainage (often mesh uppers or small holes along the side of the shoe) and quick-drying materials.

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