What To Look For In A Great Pair Of Hiking Boots (And Why You Need Them!)

This article was written by Rachel Dimond and first appeared on We Are Explorers in partnership with Merrell Australia

When it comes to choosing hiking boots Rachel Dimond has made more mistakes than you’ll find in a bottle of tequila. Now she’s sharing her knowledge so you can get the right kit for your feet.

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Picture this: you’re an hour into a 7-day hike and it’s just started raining, and I mean REALLY raining. You’ve read the forecast so you know it’s going to keep up for the next three days, except for when it’s so cold it turns to snow. And let’s not get started on the wind…

Dread fills your stomach as you begin to realise those new hiking boots you bought aren’t as waterproof as you thought. You turn to your mate so that you can wallow in shared disappointment and you’re met with ‘Oh dang, yeah my feet are good hey.’

It’s now somehow worse.

Your mate, with feet drier than a mouthful of Weet-Bix

Your mate, with feet drier than a mouthful of Weet-Bix

I am that smug mate. I don’t want to say I’m the authority on choosing hiking boots, but I’m pretty much the authority on choosing hiking boots. I know from experience that having the right gear can make or break an adventure and it’s not because I spent hours poring over reviews and stats (though I have done that). It’s because I’ve made every mistake there is to make and for some god-forsaken reason, bad weather follows me just about wherever I go. Unconfirmed, but I heard that Crowded House song was about me.

Get Boots That Are Waterproof

So I didn’t just make that story up, it really happened, and I was the smug, dry-footed friend. From crossing rivers to exploring Tassie’s finest waterfalls, I can confirm that my feet stayed dry for seven whole days and it wasn’t for Tasmania’s lack of trying. It was the GORE-TEX in my Merrell Moab Mid 2s.

In my humble opinion, GORE-TEX is the best boot material for winter adventures. It’s about as waterproof as you can get, it’s light and these days it’s pretty damn breathable too – more so than old-school leather boots.

That being said, leather boots are pretty tough and have a snazzy look about them.

Good waterproofing using GORE-TEX or leather with a membrane is essential in cold climates.

Good waterproofing using GORE-TEX or leather with a membrane is essential in cold climates.

That’s not to say you can just trash your boots, throw them in the cupboard and expect repeat performances. A bit like a good waterproof jacket, any ‘pressure points’ can eventually have seepage. So what does that mean? If your boots are exposed constantly to water with no reprieve they’ll spring a leak.

Hiking boots almost always come brand new with a hydrophobic coating to help water bead off and keep your feet dry. So you need to clean them, you need to keep them dry when they aren’t being used and if you’re hiking often, you need to reapply that coating once or twice a season. Your feet, and your boots, will thank me.

And Get A Grip!

There’s a lot of nitty gritty when it comes to choosing a pair of boots that suit you and your adventure, but there are a few main features I look for when buying a new winter boot. Next up after waterproofing, it’s traction.

You know what sucks? Climbing up a mountain with your mates and sliding off the rocks they are happily bounding across. You know what also sucks? Stone bruises.

Grippy Vibram soles making a name for themselves in Tassie

Grippy Vibram soles making a name for themselves in Tassie

So yeah, I might have done this and I feel it doesn’t go without saying. Don’t wear joggers on a long, steep hike. Just don’t. Also, don’t wear high heeled sandals, especially in canyons. You laugh now but that’s also a thing that really happened.  

These days I look for a Vibram sole in all my adventure footwear. It’s tough, resistant and it provides me with the stability I need on tougher trails. And y’know what? No stone bruises. Also no broken/dislocated ankles, wrists or shoulders, which I’ve seen happen to too many people and damn it looks painful.

There’s a reason so many hiking boot brands (including Merrell) use an external product like Vibram in their boots. It heckin’ works. If you’ve got a steep hike like the summit of Tassie’s Cathedral Rocks set in your sights (you should) think strongly about Vibram.

Low Cut Or Mid Cut?

Earlier I mentioned picking boots that suit both you and your adventure. Not all boots are created equal and neither are feet or hiking trails. So you need to have a good hard think about what’s gonna work for you.

Mid-cut, low-cut or trail runners? Depends what you’re doing!

Mid-cut, low-cut or trail runners? Depends what you’re doing!

MID-CUT BOOTS

Are you skipping along reasonably flat trails? Navigating creek beds or discovering new and hidden waterfalls (keeping on that Tassie theme, defs check out the endless Russell Falls). Mid-cut might work for you, it can give you a bit of extra support and stability in the ankle which many people like. The extra height can also offer your ankles a little extra protection from the bush when you’re navigating off track, and the waterproofing comes up a little higher!

LOW-CUT BOOTS & RUNNERS

Maybe you’re after a challenge? How about that hike I mentioned earlier, Cathedral Rocks? I find low-cut boots far better for this type of hike. It gives me more flexibility when I’m going up and down steep slopes where mid-cut boots tend to rub and blister.

And hey they’re usually a little lighter too, especially if you opt for trail runners. They say one kilo on the feet is equal to five on your back when it comes to fatigue. Which is yet another reason I now reach for GORE-TEX over leather. Weight is important when you’re covering bulk kilometers.

Trail runners and thru-hikers often opt for trail runners without any waterproofing. They know they’ll get soaked at some point so prefer their shoes to dry quickly.

Trail runners and thru-hikers often opt for trail runners without any waterproofing. They know they’ll get soaked at some point so prefer their shoes to dry quickly.

Skimp And You’ll Limp

A great boot is worth investing in. When you’re hiking your feet are important. Probably the most important, they’re your transport! So treat ‘em right, keep ‘em tight? I dunno but you get it. I for one was a very smug happy camper when I was sitting by the fire enjoying a whiskey while everyone else feverishly tried to dry their boots for the next day.

So, how do you choose a great winter boot? Just pull out your checklist. Are they waterproof enough? Are they going to provide me with traction? Will they give me the support or flexibility I need? Are they breathable enough? Do they have a high heel? Wait, what!

Hikers on top of Cathedral Rocks, Tasmania

Hikers on top of Cathedral Rocks, Tasmania

This article was written by Rachel Dimond and first appeared on We Are Explorers in partnership with Merrell Australia.