How We Tested Hiking Boots

Where we Test

As with all of our reviews, the places we test are the same places that you’ll expect to be wearing your hiking boots – the outdoors. We believe it is important to test in a wide variety of settings. Luckily, we have access to varying outdoors terrains, from alpine to sandy, rocky to slick, when testing.

This allows us to do thorough tests which don’t just look at the product in certain circumstances but test it in a variety to make an informed decision. We also take into great consideration what a particular boot is intended for, as not all are all-rounders, and some are more specialized. If this is the case, we test in similar environments to their intention.

Editor’s note: This article is part of our guide to the best hiking boots, be sure to check out the rest of this guide for our top buying tips:

Testing Metrics

There is a lot to take into consideration when it comes to rating and recommending a specific hiking boot – after all, they’re one of the most important parts of your equipment.

A bad or poorly chosen hiking boot is something that can set your adventures back quite considerably. If they aren’t waterproof when you need to cross a river or a stream this can cause significant problems. This is why we think it’s very important when looking at testing and also when you’re deciding which to buy to choose the hiking boots that are right for your needs.

In our testing metrics we use areas like durability, waterproofing, materials used, ankle support, fit and various others to determine which are going to be most relevant for different and varying adventures. Let’s take a look in depth at some of the areas that make up our metrics when testing.

Type and Style

As mentioned above, there are various different types of hiking boots on the market at present. Some of these are more intended for lighter and quicker adventures. They often offer the kind of support that you would expect from a traditional hiking boot whilst shaving off some of the weight in their materials to make them more breathable and lightweight.

However, this does of course have an impact on their waterproofing with some of them having very little by the way of waterproofing to offer. Then we move all the way through to the more traditional hiking boot which is often a lot more robust and offers a very robust seal against water.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each, and you will also find that many manufacturers, particularly at the higher end, offer hiking boots which marry the best of both worlds creating hiking boots that are very diverse, extremely flexible and well versed for handling a whole variety of different trails.

This is quite an interesting metric in our tests as we don’t just look at comparing each hiking boot to each other, like for like, purely because they are completely different.

What we instead like to do is look at the intended purpose for a specific hiking boot and test it based on this rather than testing it against something that is completely different, we feel this is the fairest way to test a hiking boot in the wild.

type and style of hiking boots

Price

The price of hiking boots can vary wildly for example some of the hiking boots in our reviews start at around $80 and go all the way up to $300 – there really is a big variety out there. This is great as it allows for you as a hiker to decide what is right for you based on your budget and your personal needs.

When looking at the price of different hiking boots regarding our testing metrics, we’re looking for the kind of performance that is offered for the price point.

It isn’t always true that the more expensive the hiking boot the better it will perform. We don’t just give them good marks for being a top of the range, high end product!

Sometimes we find that some of the cheaper options out there offer some really fantastic benefits for a much more reduced price point.

Traction

Traction is incredibly important when it comes to hiking boots, it is what will give you the confidence to take on more difficult trails and will give you confidence to explore more.

Therefore, we test the traction of each hiking boot in a variety of scenarios to get a full understanding of how it will perform. For example, we make sure we test in rocky, slippery environments and off trail. We test in deep mud, the desert, ice, snow and everything in between.

Similar to some of the metrics above, we also take into consideration the kind of lug pattern that is present on each boot’s sole to make sure that we are testing it and awarding it fairly based on its intended usage.

Breathability

The breathability of a hiking boot is going to be very much decided by the materials used. Some hiking boots will opt for a design that is more geared towards full waterproofing – this is to help with things like stream crossings, boggy muddy sections, heavy rain, and safety and stability against alpine, snowy, and icy situations.

When looking at breathability in our tests we again look at the intended usage of the hiking boot in question. Breathability is such subjective thing that we like to consider how this will perform in different environments, at different times of year and in different climate situations to make our recommendations in terms of whether a boot performs well in breathability metrics or not.

Ankle Support

Generally, you’ll find that hiking boots offer a lot more in terms of ankle support than any other hiking footwear on the market at present. This is one of the things that makes hiking boots a go to for many people. They’re fantastic for intense hikes where foot placement and confidence are needed.

However, some hiking boots offer more in terms of ankle support than others. Some more modern hiking boots on the market have started offering a kind of sock or cushioned design around the ankle for support.

This is not always as supportive as some of the more traditional hiking boots on the market right now, but still offer some, and for some hikers this can be all that is needed. We always try to make clear just what level of ankle support is offered.

hiking boots ankle support

Arch Support

The level of arch support offered in most hiking boots is fairly standard, unless the hiking boot in question is specifically designed for those with differing arch support needs. One brand that often takes arch support into great consideration when making hiking footwear is Hoka.

When looking at arch support in terms of testing we like to consider if there are any elements that are present in the boot that may cause concern for those with arch support needs. Is the boot rigid? Are the supplied insoles particularly hard? Is this likely to impact longer term trail fatigue?

Fit

The way our shoes feel is very personal to us, so it’s only understandable that the way our hiking boots feel is going to be pretty similar. When testing how different hiking boots fit and feel, we’re looking at how they feel longer term on the trail.

We also make sure that we test with a variety of different foot shapes to get a full understanding of the differences in terms of fit. This is particularly important if the hiking boot we’re testing is only offered in a single width or fit. We also like to consider how this changes or differs when the hiking boot is offered in a variety of widths to suit different foot shapes.

We often find that there is no standard when it comes to a regular fit, a wide fit, or a narrow fit – this seems to differ quite substantially between different retailers, especially for retailers that are in different locations around the world.

Materials

You’ll see the materials used in hiking boots differ greatly between bands brands. Some of the more high-end hiking boots out there will make use of cutting-edge materials and technologies in their designs. Those manufacturers who are producing boots at the cheaper end of the scale naturally are able to by reducing their reliance on more expensive materials.

However, it is entirely possible that some hiking boots that are at the higher price point end of the scale are not as durable in terms of materials as those actually seen at a lower price point.

When testing we like to take into consideration how the materials use at the price point the boot is offered at work to create a boot that performs well in the circumstances it’s intended for.

Appearance

There are a whole range of different appearances and styles when it comes to hiking boots, and each and every one of these will appeal to different hikers with different tastes.

We like to look at if the hiking boot in questions’ appearance does anything to impact its performance on the trail. For example, some hiking boots on the market at present have a much more aggressive and larger sole span, which, whilst they may look cool, can have an impact on how they perform in certain situations, such as crag work and more technical ascents.

We also like to look at how the appearance of the hiking boots were testing changes depending on the wear and tear it has experienced on the trail. If this starts to have a significant impact, this is something that we will question when giving our ratings for this particular boot.

Durability

Durability is so important when it comes to hiking boots. A good hiking boot can last a very, very long time, especially when looked after. There is no reason why a good pair of hiking boots should not last you more than a decade – if not more.

That said with the inclusion of much more hybridized styles of hiking boots on the market now, which combine the best of both worlds in terms of a trainer/running shoe and a hiking boot, it is much easier for those lines to blur in terms of durability.

When looking at durability, we believe the best way to test this is to put the hiking boot through its paces in a variety of different scenarios. We award and inform in our reviews on this metric quite substantially.

Sustainability

Sustainability has become quite a buzzword in the outdoor scene over the last few years. This is great, and we actively encourage the work that many brands are doing to make their lines and processes much more sustainable. However, it is also easy for broad, fast, and vague statements to become confusing as to what they actually mean in terms of the end product and its sustainability credentials.

For every boot in our reviews, we look to investigate the brands standpoint on sustainability. This may be a case of finding out the specific boot’s sustainability credentials- whether it has recycled materials, uses plant based compounds etc. It may also be that we reach out directly to the brand to find out more information about this.

We also like to see realistically how long the hiking boot we’re testing is likely to survive for, how long it’s going to look good for, and how long you’re generally going to want to wear it for.

Buying less has a very big impact on sustainability and is one of the best ways we can reduce our footprint. So naturally a boot that is designed with longevity in mind will perform greater in this metric.

Water Resistance

There is a big difference between water resistance, waterproofing and water repellency when it comes to hiking boots. This is unfortunately a collection of terms that is used quite frequently and interchangeably but they’re not the same thing.

On testing, we look at which terminology specifically the brand uses for the product in question, and we test accordingly. For example, if we are looking at a full on, robust hiking boot that is designed for deeper water crossings, snow, and ice, we will look to test the boot in those scenarios.

If the hiking boot in question is water resistant to a certain point, we will look to test the hiking boot in scenarios that are more relevant to this kind of protection.

hiking boot waterproofing

Weight

There is a huge variety of difference when it comes to weight in hiking boots. A pair of hiking boots that is more of a kind of traditional boot style is more likely to be heavier than a pair of lightweight hiking boots that are intended for fast and light backpacking.

When looking at weight, we always like to test how these feel in a variety of circumstances -for example how do they feel when carrying a heavy loaded backpack? Does the weight have any impact on trail fatigue over a longer period of time?

Insoles

The majority of hiking boots on the market at present can have the insoles replaced to something more specific, if this is of importance to you. This allows you to address any specific concerns and get a fit that is perfect to your needs.

Given that most hiking boots come with a fairly standard insole, when looking at testing the insoles in particular, we are more looking at if the insoles can be replaced with something more specific, still allowing room for the foot to move as easily as it did with a more standard insole.

We also look to see if there are any areas which may impact the comfortable nature of the boot that are coming from the insole or the insole placement within the boot.

Break-in Period

We don’t believe that you should be wearing your hiking boots straight out on the trail, even if we’ve said they have little to no break in.

We always test based on a pair of boots that has been broken in to make fair judgements. What we mean by this is a pair that has become comfortable enough that we feel confident they can take on longer trails.

Lacing System

There can be a variety of lacing styles and lacing systems used on different hiking boots and these allow different levels of flexibility and adjustability when it comes to getting the perfect fit.

We look to see if the lacing system used for a particular pair of hiking boots has any impact on its wearability, comfort, and also the durability and longer-term life that you can expect to get from your particular hiking boots.

Toe Protection

Toe protection is so important when it comes to hiking boots, it can make a really big difference, especially if you’re taking on more advanced trails or traveling off trail for periods of time. The toe protection offered in hiking boots usually comes from reinforced rubber rands, but this can also sometimes be reinforced with things like steel in more traditional boots.

As this can differ from boot to boot, with some hiking boots offering more toe protection and others, we like to test the level of protection offered based on the particular boot itself. This allows us to create a fair and level playing field when it comes to comparing each boot against each other.

Conclusion

As you can see, there is a lot to consider when it comes to the different testing metrics used for the hiking boots that we recommend in our reviews.

We generally like to consider each boot for its particular purpose when deciding how to award it based on the various metrics we use. We believe that this is the fairest way to compare hiking boots against each other.

It’s important to remember that given there are so many different hiking boots on the market right now with a whole variety of different purposes and intentions for their use, that not every hiking boot is going to perform as well as each other in every single metric.

We hope this guide has allowed you more of an overview into our testing process and how we make our awards so you can get a better understanding of how those metrics play into each other. For more information on our advice for buying, be sure to check out our how to choose the right hiking boots article.

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