Top Hiking Boots For Backpacking

The hiking boot. The indomitable pillar on which the epic hiking trip has been built for centuries. It’s rugged, robust, supportive, and ready to take on any trail anywhere. But step into any outdoor goods store, and you’ll find shelves upon shelves of hiking boots. Some lightweight, some heavy. Some waterproof, some extra breathable. How are you supposed to know which options are the best and which make up the rest? Don’t stress yourself! We’ve done the research and put hiking boots through some of the most rigorous testing possible – we’re trekking guides after all – and now we have the results for you.

Let’s take a look at crucial buying considerations for hiking boots, and then move on to our list of the top hiking boots for backpacking. Read on, learn what you need to know, and pick out the best footwear to take you on epic adventures.

How To Pick The Best Hiking Boot  

Support and Stability

Hiking boots’ main attraction over hiking shoes is support and stability. The over-the-ankle- design provides phenomenal stability on loose or uneven terrain while the stiffer design offers much-needed stability for long days on the trail or steep inclines. However, these levels of support vary from boot to boot, so let’s take a look at your options.

Most hiking boots include a nylon shank in the midsole that adds rigidity and support. The length and stiffness of this shank vary from boot to boot, but its purpose is to keep your foot from flexing on steep ascents – thus decreasing fatigue. The pinnacle of stiffness is the rigid mountaineering boot, designed for long days on very steep grades – often with crampons. On the other hand, we have very flexible and lightweight boots that are not far removed from a traditional trail runner and simply extend over the ankle for improved roll support.

Waterproof vs. Breathability

It’s the classic tradeoff in hiking footwear. Waterproof boots provide a very effective barrier against rain, puddles, creek crossings, and so on. However, that waterproofing often reduces breathability significantly, allowing your feet to get hot and sweaty on warm days.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have breathable non-waterproof boots. These boots typically use a lightweight mesh material that allows plenty of airflow to keep your feet cool and comfortable. But come across one puddle or a little bit of rain, and your feet are wet. Don’t forget, however, that the extra breathable design also allows your feet to dry out more quickly, but you’ll still have to deal with the dampness in the meantime.

Your decision in this department will primarily come down to personal preference and your intended adventures. Consider your hiking climate: are you hiking in the rainy Pacific Northwest or the arid desert? Always remember that although you may not mind your feet getting wet for the sake of breathability, several pieces of your backpacking gear won’t feel the same way!  Review our tips for hiking in the rain for suggestions and advice on how to prepare yourself and your gear for a wet backpacking adventure.

Weight

Often a direct result of the boot’s stability and ruggedness, the weight will play a significant role during your backpacking boot selection process. Lightweight boots typically have better flow – for lack of a better word. They move easily, they’re more flexible, and they provide a more natural walking experience that’s similar to walking in a standard tennis shoe.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the heavyweight boots. These boots place more emphasis on beefy support and durability, transforming them into little bunkers for your feet. We, therefore, have a stiffer sole that’s often deployed in tandem with leather or suede materials for significantly more rigidity than their lighter cousins. While these boots tend to last longer and provide increased support, they also feel more clunky than less stiff options.

While a few ounces here and there may seem like small potatoes, you’ll probably feel it out on the trail. So consider your priorities in terms of footwear, and try to take some time to try on your options before purchasing so you can experiment with different weight boots.

Material

The three most common types of materials we see in hiking boots are nylon, nubuck leather, and full-grain leather. Let’s, therefore, take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of each item.

First off, we have nylon. This material is an affordable option that emphasizes breathability and low-weight. However, the tradeoff is durability as nylon – along with mesh panels – often show signs of wear and tear much earlier than leather. Nevertheless, nylon certainly has its place in the backpacking boot world and is an excellent option for entry-level hikers. But if you forsee using your hiking boots a great deal in the future, perhaps consider upgrading to a more durable material.

Nubuck leather is found on most mid-range boots. It’s composed of full-grain leather that has been given a brushed finish for a softer feel. Nubuck – or suede – leather provides a significant boost in durability over nylon materials. What’s more, it’s very receptive to repeated waterproofing treatments to keep your boots in tip-top shape. However, the beefed-up durability comes with slightly increased weight and decreased breathability. But in the long run, I often believe durability is well worth this tradeoff.

Full-grain leather is the heavyweight champion of upper boot materials. It’s robust, very waterproof, and will hold up for years and years. In fact, many full-grain leather boots can be resoled when other parts of the boots wear down or break – a further testament to this material’s longevity. As you might expect, full-grain leather is the heaviest and least breathable material available for backpacking boots. An additional note, full-grain leather boots also tend to be the most expensive material option. Still, that investment can be easily justified for committed hikers that are sure to use the leather to its full potential.

Budget

The field of hiking boots spans from affordable to premium. So, make sure you consider your budget and needs. If you’re looking for a good pair of hiking boots for a single vacation or hiking trip, then consider going more affordable. If, on the other hand, you’re eyeing plenty of adventuring and hiking in your future, then the increased initial investment for a high-quality pair of boots may well be worth it.

Now that we’ve covered the primary points to consider when evaluating hiking boots, let’s dive into our list of the top hiking boots for backpacking!

Salewa Mountain Trainer GTX

Specifications

  • Weight (Pair):
    • Men’s: 3.0 lbs
    • Women’s: 2.5 lbs
  • Waterproof: Yes – GoreTex
  • Support: Dual-density Bilight Technology
  • Price: $$$
  • Gender:
    • Men’s
    • Women’s

Notable Features

  • Tough, durable design
  • Much more stiff than other options
  • Lacing extends all the way to the toes for improved fit and comfort

What We Like

In terms of rugged durability, the Salewa Mountain Trainer is at the top of the pack. The suede and rubber upper is specially designed to hold up to the rough and rocky terrain found in alpine hiking. Furthermore, the Vibram outsole will stand its ground against constant hiking and not give way over time.

Holding true to its mountaineering roots, Salewa’s Mountain Trainer features incredible support. The insole is perfectly formed to cradle and support your foot, providing the perfect walking platform for long days on the trail. This particular boot also features a lacing system that extends down to your toes – much like a climbing shoe. Therefore, it’s effortless to adjust the fit and tightness to find just the right combination for you, further adding to this boot’s overall comfort.

What Could Be Better

While not necessarily a drawback, it should be noted that the Mountian Trainer is noticeably more stiff than other options – but not as stiff as a true mountaineering boot. On one side, this stiffness provides more support on steep terrain. However, it can make the boot feel a little more clunky on level trails.

Like almost all fully waterproof boots, you’ll find the breathability in the Mountain Trainer to be less than non-waterproof options. Therefore, the boot can feel a little warm in very warm environments.

Upshot

For the backpackers out there looking for superior support from the ankle to the footbed, you can’t go wrong with the Salewa Mountain Trainer. It’s stiff yet comfortable, providing constant support for every step of your adventure. But its greatest strength can also be a drawback for the hikers out there who prefer a little more lightweight mobility in their boot. If that sounds like you, then perhaps look at other options.

Oboz Sawtooth II Mid

Specifications

  • Weight (Pair):
    • Men’s: 2.1 lbs.
    • Women’s: 1.76 lbs.
  • Waterproof: No – Waterproof version available
  • Support: EVA Countoured Footbed and Nylon Shank
  • Price: $
  • Gender:
    • Men’sWaterproof Version
    • Women’sWaterproof Version

Notable Features

  • Waterproof and non-waterproof versions available
  • Very comfortable design
  • Accessible price for such a good boot

What We Like

Oboz has hammered out a reputation for incredibly comfortable boots, and the Sawtooth II Mid is an ideal example of why this reputation is well earned. This boot features an incredibly plush padding system, thanks to the O FIT insole. The molded insole stays soft and provides an excellent cushion for miles and miles of backpacking, yet offers the perfect amount of stiff arch support to keep aches and pains at bay. In fact, I’ve been known to transfer the insole from my Oboz to my other active footwear because it’s so comfortable.

We’re also big fans of the price tag on these boots. These are certainly some of the most affordable boots on our list, yet they offer premium-level support and cushioning in a reasonably durable package. However, the lower price does have a few drawbacks.

What Could Be Better

All the plush padding and support has given the Sawtooth II a slightly clunky feel to them. They’re not as heavy as other items on our list, but they don’t quite have the fluid motion associated with similarly sized boots. However, don’t let this drive you away from the Sawtooth II as the difference in motion is subtle, and these boots certainly don’t feel like you’re walking around in chunky mountaineering boots.

From the critical eye for hiking footwear that I’ve developed over years of guiding, I also feel compelled to point out that the Oboz Sawtooth II doesn’t quite hit the mark for an aesthetically pleasing design. It’s undoubtedly functional and effective, but the overall design doesn’t have the sleek lines and colors that other brands offer. This critique is by-and-large a personal preference, however, and I’ll leave it to you to find the boot style you like the most.

Upshot

The Oboz Sawtooth II offers phenomenal comfort at a remarkable price. Both of these points work together to make these boots a compelling backpacking option for just about any hiker. Oboz also offers both waterproof and non-waterproof versions so everyone can find a pair to suit their needs.

However, the Sawtooth II lacks the smooth movement and appeal of more premium options, which may be a factor for diehard backpackers who spend more days in a tent than at home.

La Sportiva Nucleo High GTX

Specifications

  • Weight (Pair):
    • Men’s: 2.1 lbs.
    • Women’s: 1.70 lbs.
  • Waterproof: Yes – GoreTex
  • Support: Compression-Molded EVA and
  • Price: $$$
  • Gender:
    • Men’s
    • Women’s

Notable Features

  • Effective waterproofing technology
  • Exceptionally durable and long-lasting design
  • Slimer fit is perfect for smaller footed hikers

What We Like

The Nucleo offers the perfect bridge between the ultralight and burly heavy-duty boots. It provides the ideal amount of flexibility and rugged toughness to make this boot one of the absolute best crowd favorites in the hiking community. The heavy focus on leather for the upper construction provides excellent protection and durability for hiking through rough or rocky terrain. At the same time, we have good flexibility for a comfortable and natural step – aided by Sportiva’s 3D Flex Ankle technology.

What Could Be Better

La Sportiva footwear tends to err on the narrow side, and the Nucleo follows this trend. For most hikers – and especially narrow-footed adventurers – this is hardly a problem, and the Nucleo provides a very comfortable and supportive fit. However, the hikers out there with larger feet – including me – will have a tough time getting comfortable in these boots. If that sounds like you, then I recommend looking at a different option.

Additionally, the heavy reliance on leather – while excellent for durability – limits the Nucleo’s breathability. This lack of airflow can make the boots run a little warm on toasty days or long hikes. La Sportiva has tried to tackle this problem with its Nano-Cell technology to encourage airflow, but its success is debatable. So if you know that your feet tend to run hot while hiking, I’d recommend considering more mesh-heavy designs for improved breathability.

Upshot

The La Sportiva Nucleo is a solidly performing hiking boot in almost every regard. It’s burly and durable, but not too heavy. It’s flexible and comfortable, but also very supportive. Keep in mind that the fit runs narrow, and you’re sure to find this boot a worthy addition to your backpacking gear list.

Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX

Specifications

  • Weight (Pair):
    • Men’s: 1.90 lbs.
    • Women’s: 1.85 lbs.
  • Waterproof: Yes – Goretex
  • Support: Ortholite Insole
  • Price: $$
  • Gender:
    • Men’s
    • Women’s

Notable Features

  • Lightweight design
  • Very flexible for natural foot movement while hiking
  • Distinctive and effective ContaGrip lug design for traction

What We Like

Our only hiking boot on this list to sneak in below 2 lbs. for both men’s and women’s versions, the Salomon X Ultra 3 is a wonderfully light and flexible option that is perfect for hikers looking to get away from the constriction of traditional boots. You’ll also inherit Salomon’s excellent build quality that results in a surprisingly durable construction for such a lightweight boot.

The waterproof GoreTex lining is also extremely effective, ensuring you have a solid barrier between your feet and the elements at all times. This waterproofing works in tandem with Salomon’s distinctive ContaGrip lug pattern – for improved traction – to make this boot stand up to wet and slippery trail conditions.

What Could Be Better

The extra lightweight design sacrifices some cushioning and support. This boot is, therefore, not quite as supportive as the heavier competition. You’ll feel the reduced cushioning while tackling technical or rocky terrain, and you’ll also notice that the Ultra 3 doesn’t provide the same level of rigid ankle support as other options.

Upshot

Overall, this is a solidly performing item that is best suited for hikers looking for a lightweight and flexible boot. The effective waterproofing and excellent traction also make the Ultra 3 an ideal option for questionable weather. Just keep in mind that reduced padding and support make this option more akin to a beefed-up trail running shoe, and doesn’t offer the same amount of protection of burlier boots.

Danner Mountain 600

Specifications

  • Weight (Pair):
    • Men’s: 2.25 lbs.
    • Women’s: 1.88 lbs.
  • Waterproof: Yes
  • Support: Nylon Shank and Orothlite Insert
  • Price: $$
  • Gender:
    • Men’s
    • Women’s

Notable Features

  • Very aesthetically pleasing design
  • Durable and waterproof leather materials
  • Comfortable for long days on the trail

What We Like

When it comes to Danner boots, there’s a beautifully uncluttered leather (or suede) aesthetic that’s hard to beat. The Mountain 600 does a phenomenal job of projecting that classic look to become one of the best looking hiking boots out there. But we’re not shopping based on looks alone, and the Danner Mountain 600 packs plenty of features to make it a worthy backpacking boot.

The nylon shank and insole provide decent support and comfort for a wide range of hikes, but also offer enough flexibility for a natural step over tough terrain. We also have a fully waterproof design that does an excellent job of keeping rain and puddles at bay.

What Could Be Better

The Mountain 600 isn’t known for being the most durable boot on the market. With that in mind, these boots may not be the best choice for exceptionally long thru-hikes, but they hold up well for shorter backpacking trips through standard terrain. By standard terrain, I mean well maintained and reasonably graded trails. These boots are simply not built for intense mountain climbing or route finding. However, for your standard backpacking trip, they’ll work very nicely.

I believe the higher price tag is a little steep for this particular boot compared to the other options. However, you’re paying for a timeless vintage style, which may well be worth the extra investment for some hikers.

Upshot

For a beautifully crafted boot that has comfort and support to match, look to the Danner Mountain 600. This boot is very well designed and includes an effective waterproofing layer. The suede or leather material (your choice) looks fantastic on any trail and also provides excellent resistance against scrapping rocks or branches. However, these boots are built for standard, well-trafficked, hiking trails and don’t have the grip or construction for intense elevation gains or multi-week backpacking.

There you go hikers! You now have all the information you need to pick out a phenomenal pair of backpacking boots for your next adventure. Remember to consider our points concerning waterproofing, materials, support, weight, and budget, and you’re sure to land on the perfect pair of boots for your needs.

Ready to put a new pair of backpacking boots into action? Consider joining us on one of our many hiking vacations around the United States and globally. We guarantee plenty of opportunities to use those new boots along with unforgettable views and experiences that will work in tandem to create an epic hiking adventure.

Have fun and stay safe, eh?

Wildland Trekking Hiking Adventures

Wildland Trekking ToursAs the world’s premier hiking and trekking company, Wildland believes in connecting people to fantastic environments in amazing ways. We offer an array of incredible hiking and trekking experiences both in the United States and internationally. Our trip types include backpacking, lodge-based, and basecamp oriented adventures to ensure that you’ll always find an adventure perfectly suited to your traveling style.

To learn more about our guided backpacking trips and all of our award-winning hiking vacations, please visit our website or connect with one of our Adventure Consultants: 800-715-HIKE

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Top Hiking Boots For Backpacking
Article Name
Top Hiking Boots For Backpacking
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Supportive and comfortable hiking boots are essential to a successful backpacking adventure. Join us as we discuss what makes the best backpacking boots stand out, along with our top recommendations for the best options on the market today.
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The Wildland Trekking Company
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Dan Purdy

Dan is an avid traveler and adventurer. From guiding in Norway, to studying wilderness medicine in Scotland, to leading volcano trips in Nicaragua, and - most recently - guiding with Wildland Trekking in the Pacific Northwest, he loves to share his love of the outdoors with others in every way he can.