Picking the best hiking boot for your needs is a very personal decision. I can tell you without hesitation it’s probably the most difficult and important decision you’ll ever make.
First of all, forget about uppers and midsole materials, internal support, shanks, plates, heel brakes, crampons, and such – those aren’t the things that matter. Fit is even a little overrated. The most important component in hiking boot utility is how quickly they can put distance between you and things that want to kill/eat/maim/embarrass you.
You might wonder ‘Why not buy a pair of running shoes and be done with it, then?’. A good question, but running shoes can get expensive. Also, hiking boots offer some advantages related to surviving the initial attack that running shoes do not (unless they’re the very expensive kind).
When choosing the best hiking boot for you, it’s important to consider your personal fears and nightmares. Are you most afraid of bear attacks? Buy a lightweight shoe with good traction so you can run as quickly as possible. Bears can run upwards of 30 miles an hour so unless you’re an Olympic quality sprinter it won’t save you, but the 2-3 extra seconds it buys will be really exciting.
Maybe snakes (i.e., danger noodles) are what keep you up at night. In that case, grab yourself a pair of hi top boots to protect against bites. Probably something waist high, just to be safe.
Or maybe your worst nightmare is simply cold toes or a really annoying sunburn on the top of your feet. Just avoid hiking in flip flops and you’ll probably be okay.
For some, it’s not about what can get you in the out-of-doors, it’s about the terrors inside. If, like me, your biggest fear is putting on your boot only to feel something squishy and jumpy that wasn’t there when you removed your foot – or even worse, feeling something poky and stingy that wants to fight back – it doesn’t matter what type of boot you get. Regardless of what boot you buy, every night before you go to bed, cover the tops with two rolls worth of duct tape and put them in the refrigerator. (If you don’t have an RV, I’m sorry, you should probably go ahead and make your ER appointment now.)
Storing your dirty, muddy shoes so close to the food may result in some protests from your fellow campers, but what would you rather have to deal with, spider guts between your toes or an offended camp mate?
Finally, if you find yourself having frequent nightmares about being naked in social situations – thus betraying a strong fear of public ridicule – the best hiking boot for you may be the one that keeps you from looking like a dork. For those camping with spouses, the simple solution is to let your spouse pick the boot they find most aesthetically pleasing, regardless of any other of its qualities. For those travelling with teenage children this will be more difficult. Teenage children are required to think their parents look like dorks.
And the best hiking boot is…
In summary, when shopping for hiking boots, it’s best just to go with the option closest to the store entrance to minimize the amount of walking you need to do. You’ll probably need the energy later to run from bears.