A great pair of boots will take you anywhere, while a bad pair will leave you crippled and sad.
What Types of boot should You get?
We’ve recommended a good number of boots and it may become apparent that some of our favorites are the heaviest and most expensive. So why would you ever want a heavy, expensive boot when there are light and cheap ones available? There are a number of reasons.
If you have ever had an ankle injury, carrying heavy loads on uneven ground can wreak havoc on an already weak joint. A stiff, thick boot can protect your ankles from further harm or prevent injury altogether. If you are working around fire, in helicopters, or with sharp objects, a heavy boot will help protect your toes and feet from harm. For extended backpacking trips, or trips with a lot of off-trail travel, a heavy pair of boots will ensure that your trip is not ended prematurely.
A nearly seamless, all-leather boot is unmatched for durability. If you want boots that will be a lifetime investment, go for a heavy leather boot.
With no stitching to leak or seams to fail, all-leather boots are consistently more waterproof than their synthetic counterparts.
What to look for
Design & Waterproofing
For off-trail travel or if any time-heavy loads are involved, an above-the-ankle design is imperative. If your boot can’t protect your ankles, then it becomes pretty worthless.
The effectiveness of any given waterproofing method depends much more on the boots’design than the waterproofing material itself. Boots with the most sophisticated waterproofing that technology has to offer can be rendered useless by poor construction. We found that this was the case with boots similar to the Scarpa Kailash. Once the seams blew apart, the waterproofing became useless.
If there is one factor that should be of little to no concern, it’s the tread. Nowadays, nearly every boot made comes with a Vibram sole of which most, if not all, are created equal. If you plan on fusing your hiking with canyoneering or easy climbing, just get an approach shoe, or a hybrid of hybrids like the Scarpa Zen.
If you’re looking for unquestionable support, complete impermeability, and long-term durability, get an all-leather shoe like the Asolo Power-Matic or the Alico Summit. For better ventilation and lower weight, go synthetic or with a synthetic-leather hybrid.
Boots with an all-leather construction, like the Alico Summit or Asolo Power Matic, will always have an advantage over synthetic or leather synthetic hybrids. The first failure is nearly always a seam near the ball of the foot, and one-piece leather construction eliminates that weak point. Look for shoes that have as few components as possible, or a thick rand that covers potential points of failure, as with the Scarpa Zen. Also look for rivets that are attached to the exterior of the shoe, rather than through the interior. In shoes like the Alico Summit a missing rivet could mean a leak.
Boot suggestions for various trip lengths and destinations:
Day Hiking: Moab Ventilator
Backpacking, 2-4 days: Moab Ventilator, Keen Targhee
Backpacking, Extended: Keen Targhee, La Sportiva Eco (Winter)
Day Hiking: Keen Targhee
Backpacking, 2-4 days: La Sportiva Eco
Backpacking, Extended: Asolo Power Matic, La Sportiva Eco
North and Northwest:
Day Hiking: Keen Targhee
Backpacking, 2-4 days: Asolo Power Matic, La Sportiva Eco
Backpacking, Extended: Asolo Power Matic, Alico Summit
Best Lightweight Boot
The Keen Targhee II is our favorite lightweight hiking boot. With luxurious comfort, great support, and luxurious comfort, it made oppressive marches feel like puppy-filled frolics. Seriously. We can’t get over how comfortable these boots are. It’s like walking on lambs, or swimming through cotton balls, or burying yourself in the tender, velvety wool of an El Capsized alpaca.
The Merrell Moab Ventilator is the top contender for best value. While it didn’t dominate any one category, it performed well across the board and retails for under $100. It also performs much better in hot weather than the Keen Targhee.
Best Heavy Boot
The Asolo Power Matic 200 is our favorite heavy hiking boot. It had an unbeatable combination of comfort, support, and waterproofing. It is nearly indestructible, and, while pricey, a great investment. These boots could weather the apocalypse and then get passed on to the grandkids.
The La Sportiva Eco 4.0 is the best value in a heavy hiking boot. It was the least expensive of the heavy boots tested. It performed well across the board and is a great lighter alternative to the heavy and expensive Asolo Power Matic. The Alico Summit is extremely well constructed and full of old-school class, and retails for as little as $99. However, it can be hard to find, especially at that price.
We also loved the Salomon Quest 4D. It had a tighter fit and more aggressive design than the La Sportiva Eco. That being said, it is more expensive. It’s a fantastic boot, and a great investment, but even so, we would probably buy the La Sportiva Eco instead.