“I’m going to buy a new pair of hiking boots.” Maybe easier said than done. So, how to choose hiking shoes? You might find yourself in a retail store or webshop facing a huge selection. There are lightweight hiking boots, lightweight trekking boots, low-cut, mid-cut and high-cut models. How to choose walking boots?
We don’t intend to go too deep into the science of hiking boots here (although as bootmaking experts, we could ;-). Instead, we want to provide a clear overview of the main types of hiking footwear and explain the difference of hiking boots vs hiking shoes.
The fact that different manufacturers use different vocabulary sometimes makes things confusing. One brand might refer to hiking boots, while another might call them trekking shoes. The same applies to some retailers. One shop might talk about lightweight trekking footwear, while another might refer to lightweight mountain boots.
However, if you are wondering how to choose hiking boots, then this is where hiking boot categories can help.
We divide our hiking boots and mountain boots into categories A – D. Some models might cover two categories or sit somewhere in between. This is why the descriptions overlap.
The main criteria for this categorisation is boot torsional stiffness – how flexible the sole is lengthways and sideways. This ranges from very flexible (leisure footwear in Category A) to extremely stiff (Category D mountain boots).
The more flexible the sole is, the greater the roll-off. This increases the walking comfort. And vice versa: The stiffer the sole, the better the stability and support. This ensures surefootedness on uneven paths with stones, rocks and roots.
Outdoor footwear is influenced by a number of factors, such as the height of the uppers and flexibility. In addition, personal attributes, such as sure-footedness, individual physiology and pack weight also play an important role.
To help you best decide how to choose hiking boots, we divide our Hiking Boot Categories into six areas of use:
Example: City trip to Stockholm
Example: Hiking on easier trails in the Black Forest mountains
Example: Camino de Santiago with a light pack
Example: Trekking trips, such as the Kungsleden trail or the Sarek National Park in Sweden
Example: Mount Kilimanjaro ascent
Examples: Aconcagua (Argentina) or the Western Alps
When considering how to choose hiking shoes, looking at the table you might think: The higher the footwear category, the higher the upper. However, Category C mountain footwear is an exception. Some models have a low-cut upper. Why? Because approach shoes are designed for the walk-in to rock faces and to climb in too, for example on a via ferrata.
For climbing, good ankle freedom of movement is more important than protection against twisting an ankle. This is why some via ferrata enthusiasts prefer to wear a low-cut model shoe that allows them to move more freely.
Category C footwear also has a very stiff sole – for the best possible precision on rock when climbing. This is what sets them apart from the low-cut models in Category A and A/B: Category A and A/B lightweight hiking shoes generally have a soft sole for maximum walking comfort.
In addition, Category C footwear is generally chosen to give a narrower fit. This is important as it enables you to climb with more precise footwork.
Find your HANWAG boot with our shoe finder
When it comes to how to choose walking boots, more and more hikers and mountaineers are looking for lightweight hiking boots or lightweight mountain boots. This is perfectly understandable. After all, we have to lift our footwear with every step we take. Every extra gram on our feet requires more energy to move than if it was in our backpack.
This is why ever greater numbers of people see weight as one of the most important factors for hiking footwear. Their area of use would appear to be common sense. Lightweight hiking boots means light, easy hikes – right?
However, there’s more to a boot than how much it weighs. After all, a classic Trek Light boot with a leather upper (Category A/B) can weigh more than an Alpine mountain boot (Category C). There are a couple of reasons for this: The upper on a mountain boot often uses a higher proportion of synthetic material (which is lighter than leather). And their stiffer sole is generally thinner (and has less cushioning).
This means that weight is just one of many factors you should consider when asking: Which boots are right for me?
You now understand how hiking boot categories help you how to choose hiking boots and understand different shoe types. Naturally, there are a whole range of factors to consider in finding the right footwear:
Anything we’ve missed out? Well, there’s also the price and value for money to consider. At HANWAG, we make hiking boots and outdoor footwear from the best materials using the highest quality shoemaking techniques.
A final piece of advice about our hiking boot categories for how to choose hiking shoes: if in doubt, go for the model in the next category up. Wearing unsuitable hiking shoes or mountain boots might overstrain your feet and cause ligament or tendon injury. They can also be a safety hazard, for example, if you twist your ankle while carrying a heavy pack. (–> Find out more: Find your shoe)
It’s better to be over-equipped and have a safety reserve on your tours. We hope you have fun on your adventures, as far as your feet will carry you.