How to choose the right hiking boot

How to Choose the Right Hiking Boots

Hiking Tips

I have a little motto that the two most important pieces of hiking kit are your boots and backpack. Get either of these wrong and you’ll be limping like Long John Silver.

Here then are my top tips for choosing the right hiking boots so you won’t be hobbling in the Highlands like a pirate.

How to Choose the Right Hiking Boots – What Are You Using Them For?

If you’ll be wandering to hot climates, you probably won’t want full grain leather or waterproof boots. Go lightweight and non-waterproof (they’ll be cooler). If you’ll be using them along flat rivers and canals and your ankles aren’t weak, you can opt for approach shoes (no ankle support). If you’re going into the Scottish Highlands, I’d choose full-grain leather with a waterproof membrane and strong ankle support, but that’s a personal choice to try and keep them dry longer. Many people, however, prefer lighter, manmade fabrics. If you know where and when you’ll be using them, that’s half the battle won.

How to Choose the Right Hiking Boots – Crampon Compatibility (in basic terms)
How to choose the right hiking boot
How to choose the right hiking boots – using B2 boots in Scotland

Boots described as 3-season mean they are B0 boots and crampons cannot be attached to them. It doesn’t mean they can’t be worn in winter (but check how warm they are), or that you can’t trudge through a bit of snow in them (but make sure the soles have good grip and the waterproofing is decent). It’s about crampon compatibility, or lack of.

If you’re wanting crampon-compatible boots for use in snow and ice, there are three types of boots that take them: B1, B2, B3. The higher the number, the stronger, less flexible, more uncomfortable they are. They are designed to be matched with three different types of crampons C1, C2, C3. Again, the higher the number, the more teeth (points) and sturdier the crampons will be.
B1 boots should do you just fine for snow hiking (in C1 crampons) and possibly very low grade mountaineering.
B2 boots will get you onto tougher winter mountaineering routes but are heavier and nowhere near as comfy. (C1 or C2 crampons)
B3 boots are the highest you can go – they’re like moon boots, uncomfy, cost an absolute fortune, are super warm and are for high altitude winter climbing/mountaineering. They can take C1, C2 and super sturdy C3 crampons.

How to Choose the Right Hiking Boots – Get Measured Up

I spent most of my adult life believing I was a size 7 and not aware that I had a wide fit. I really messed my feet up and now sport an irritating bunion. When I finally got measured a few years back, I was a size 8 and an E width. Now my feet are now happy little campers.
TOP TIP: Head to Cotswold Outdoor where the staff are trained in arch support and foot problems.

Read my Scarpa Delta GTX boot review here. We did 3,500 miles together.
How to Choose the Right Hiking Boots – Don’t Be Put Off By Sizing

This one is mainly for the ladies out there. I have heard so many women protest that they are smaller than what their feet measure up to be in an outdoor store. “But I’m a 6! I don’t want to try a 7 on!” Let me just tell you, you can and you probably are a full size bigger. Fashion brands are obsessed with making women believe they are smaller than what they are, so while you might be a size 7 in your heels, you’ll probably be a size 8 in hiking boots. Get measured up and find out. Oh, and if you are lucky enough to be a size 8 like me, ladies, you can get into men’s boots which means you have three times more selection of footwear to choose from. Hoorah! (Women’s hiking boots normally stop at size 8 and men’s start there.)

How to Choose the Right Hiking Boots – DO NOT Be Vain

You’re choosing hiking boots to go traipsing through muddy fields. “Ooo, they make my feet look so big” or “Ewww, they’re so ugly” should not be a factor. They’re going to be covered in mud and grass stains before you know it. If they fit well, take my advice, NEVER let what they look like be a factor in not buying them.

How to Choose the Right Hiking Boots – Compare Sole Sizes

If you have narrow/wide feet and you can find one pair of boots that fit but want to compare them with another, simply put the soles together and see if they match widthwise. Alternatively, you can remove the insoles of the boots and compare them that way.

How to Choose the Right Hiking Boots – Ensure Your Toes Don’t Touch The End

What you never want to happen is your toes to touch the end of your boots. Ever. Not even when you’re slamming down a hill. Test them out in a shop where they have a walking platform and ensure you stamp your feet when you go down the ramp to mimic wearing a heavy backpack on a descent. If your toes slam into the end, they’re not the right pair of boots for you.

How to Choose the Right Hiking Boots – Make Sure Your Feet Don’t Slip

Similarly, if your feet are slipping out of the heel and slamming into the front of the boots, don’t buy them.


How to Choose the Right Hiking Boots – Try Them On In The Evening

Your feet are at their most swollen towards late afternoon / early evening so it’s always advisable to try on any potential boots or footwear at this time of the day.

How to Choose the Right Hiking Boots – Is The Arch In The Right Place?

You need the correct arch support for your feet or it can cause problems. You might also want to invest in Superfeet or gel insoles depending on what works for you. Even something as simple as removing the original insoles and replacing them with something more suitable to your shaped arch can turn what was not a good fitting boot into the perfect one for you.

How to Choose the Right Hiking Boots – Waterproofing

I wish I could write this and tell you the magic little ingredient that makes boots waterproof. But I can’t, as I have always ended up with boots/approach shoes/trail shoes that have let water in despite buying the ‘best technology’ in waterproofing and ensuring I proof them with wax or cream/spray (and a million claims by the manufacturers that they will keep my feet dry). When you’re out in horrendous weather, day in, day out, with bog etc, I can only suggest one thing: Sealskinz waterproof socks. They’re about 80-90% waterproof and will stop trenchfoot kicking in.

That said, I’m still a fan of full-grain leather with a waterproof membrane on the inside as it (should) hold the water out more than just fabric with a waterproof membrane (unless rubber or plastic like on B2/B3 boots). But this is down to individual preference and experience and I’m sure people will disagree with me!

How to Choose the Right Hiking Boots – Sole Searching
How to choose the right hiking boots
How to choose the right hiking boots – sole searching

If you want your boots to last ages then check the soles. The softer they are, the faster they’ll wear out. Check the thickness of the soles, too, as you can wear denser ones down more before having to purchase new ones. If you notice the grip is starting to go or they feel harder underfoot than when you first got them, it’s time to replace the boots. From experience with messing my feet up, the thinner the soles are either when bought new or from too much wear, can contribute towards shin splints and plantar fasciitis among other issues. (I’ve had both. Grrrr.) A few manufacturers make some boots which can have the soles replaced – check online or in a decent store for info.

How to Choose the Right Hiking Boots – Listen To Suggestions But Don’t Be Pressured

Ask friends and family which boots work for them. Try them on see if they work for you. (They might not do because everyone’s feet are completely different.) Ask the people who work in the footwear department for their help and suggestions. They might tell you that Scarpa, North Face and Mammut are on the narrow side, while Lower, Salomon and Merrell are generally a wider fit. But to be honest, each boot is different. I tried on about seven pairs of Scarpa boots and approach shoes and yes, they were all too narrow. But I found hiking boot Nirvana and ended up walking 3,500 miles in my Scarpa Delta Goretex boots and own a pair of Scarpa approach shoes too. (They altered their ‘last’ for a wider-footed market.)

How to Choose the Right Hiking Boots – NEVER Buy Boots That Don’t Feel Quite Right Because They’re On Sale

I’ve done this and it was on the suggestion of staff in one of the country’s biggest outdoor chains. “Ooo, they’re on sale, it’s a great price, so I’d buy them even if you can feel the front of the boot.” I f***** my feet. If any staff member in an outdoor store tells you that, run for the hills. You might be doing it in bare feet, though.

How to Choose the Right Hiking Boots – Spend That Extra £100 (if you have to)

Hiking footwear can be ridiculously expensive. But if you have problematic feet and simply can’t find anything that fits correctly for your budget, you might need to consider increasing your expenditure. If you find that magic boot and it’s £100 over budget then perhaps cut down on coffees from Costa, weekend booze and those little treats, and save up. I cannot stress this enough, your feet are the most precious things you have when hiking, you need to look after them. Spend that extra money if you have to. And if you’ve got cheap boots that have been abused and still work magically, let us know in the comments!

How to Choose the Right Hiking Boots – Test Them Out

Most outdoor stores will allow you to try the boots on at home. Take advantage of this. Go up and down your stairs in them, walk around the house, see how they feel at different times of the day. Once used outdoors they will be non-returnable unless there is a fault with them.

How to Choose the Right Hiking Boots – Don’t Buy Online If You Can’t Return Them

Simple really, but many people are persuaded by price, yet they’ve never tried the boots on and have no idea how they fit. If you can’t return them and you don’t know what they’re like, don’t buy them online. Simples.

how to choose the right hiking bootHow to Choose the Right Hiking Boots – Be Nice To The Outdoor Footwear Staff!

They are there to help you and you need them on your side especially if your feet are as awkward as mine. It’s not their fault if your feet don’t magically fit into every pair of boots you try on. Explain what the problems are and see what they can do. And if you’ve never been measured up before, ask them to do that and suggest something for your shaped foot. If they seem useless, go to a different store.

How to Choose the Right Hiking Boots – Try A Million Pairs On

If that’s what it takes to find the right boot, do it. I tried on 40 different pairs before I found my perfect sole mate – the Scarpa Delta GTX boots. Read my review here.

How to Choose the Right Hiking Boots – Learn To Care
How to choose the right hiking boots
How to choose the right hiking boots – dubbin, wax and Nikwax aftercare

Now you’ve got your boots you have to look after them. Wax or put dubbin on them if they are leather, pop boot conditioning products on them if they’re fabric and then proof them. Pay particular attention to where the boot bends as that will give way first (get a hole) with repeated use if not conditioned/waxed.

How to Choose the Right Hiking Boots – What’s Your Experience?

If you have any top tips for finding the right boot, drop them in the comments below (as opposed to Facebook because your advice is available for everyone to see here!). Or if you have problematic feet and have found “The One” boot for that issue, similarly let us know. I cannot tell you how much I HATE shoe/boot shopping!

Happy hiking boot hunting!
Jane Batchelor hiked 3,500 miles through Britain in her Scarpa Delta GTX boots for an entire year.
To find out more about her journey, click here.


  • Hi Jane,

    we found your inspiring website recently. This article is very useful indeed, especially the sizing option. My wife learned the hard way that too small shoes are no good for walking, by loosing a toe nail on the Hadrian’s Wall walk. She’s now a full size up.

    Being a fan of full grain leather myself (Meindl Badile, my wife’s in Scarpa Ranger GTX) we wondered what your take is on the long-distance trend to trail runners (especially in America) with respect to walking in the UK – next planned trips include Coast to Coast, Pennine Way, Cape Wrath, maybe South Downs as a warm-up 😉

    I’m happy doing 30km in Five-Fingers (without a pack) on familiar trails in the Peak District, but am not sure I’d want to use them in the Highlands or the Lake District.

    What’s your take on the “pound on the feet is equal to 5 pounds on the back” dilemma?

    • Hi Torsten,

      Ah, this one will come down to personal preference! Trail runners are light so you’re nimble on your feet while running. The treads are often softer than on boots or walking shoes which means they tend to wear out faster, plus they have less foot support all around. I saw some people on the Cape Wrath trail wearing them as they could plough through the rivers without changing in to gripped pool shoes (which is what I did) and their trail runners dried out faster than sopping wet boots. Again, it comes down to preference and if you’re looking to get a personal best time where weight will play a factor, if you have weak ankles, what the route is like, if you’re agile or clumsy (I’m the latter!), and how much you like your feet being cocooned. I’m a boots gal now, but haven’t always been.

      I used walking shoes (but not trail runners, they’re not supportive enough for me) for several years but swapped over to boots for ankle support. I personally wouldn’t go back to walking shoes if I’m laden with weight – either from overdosing on brownies during lockdown or from a hefty backpack! The more weight you have, the higher the chance of doing damage to your ankles if you twist them, fall, trip etc. while wearing non-ankle support footwear. And if you’re in the middle of nowhere, a broken ankle isn’t ideal.

      But let me know what you opt for and how you both get on. Hope you enjoy your adventures! 🙂

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