The importance of a good pair of hiking boots cannot be put into words. You probably have to experience a hike in an ill-fitting, low quality pair before you really understand.
Lucky for you, I’ve compiled a comprehensive gear guide for picking out the best hiking boots for beginners in 2021 for day hiking.
Any hiker’s worst nightmare are…
Hot spots, blisters, aching pains, and in the most extreme cases, the inability to continue. The comfort of your outdoor boot can make or break any length of time on the trail, but everyone’s feet are different.
Most buying guides within the hiking community lump all your options together, that’s why I wanted to highlight the women’s and men’s versions separately.
Not only that, but there are some unique considerations beginner hiking participants need to pay attention to when choosing the appropriate footwear for their first trail adventure.
What are the Best Beginner Hiking Boots?
Vasque Breeze LT GTX
Merrell Moab 2
Best Women’s Hiking Boots for 2021
Vasque Breeze LT GTX (Best Lightweight Hiking Boot for Women)
The Vasque exclusive Vibram Litebase outsole helps reduce the weight of the sole by 25% and offers superior traction on rocky, slippery slopes.
A molded, reinforced toe ensures you won’t stub your toes on the trail and the moisture-wicking lining keeps your feet cool and dry even in the VERY hot months.
Although not recommended, Ashley’s first adventure in her Vasque Breeze LT GTX was an 11-mile hike in (and out) of the Grand Canyon, proving they are ready to go right out of the box.
One thing to keep in mind is that these are narrow-fitting shoes. She ordered her regular shoe size – 10 – but if she was wearing thicker socks a 10.5 would be better.
Besides looking good, they are even an ounce lighter than her previous favorite hiking boot the Teva Ahnu Sugarpine II.
KEEN Women’s Targhee III Mid Waterproof (Most Rugged)
These are a great choice for the new hiker, featuring an over-the-ankle height, nubuck leather combined with nylon mesh, and a proprietary KEEN.DRY waterproof breathable membrane.
The Targhee III is designed with an EVA midsole and nylon shank for support and comfort so that you can take to the trail with ease.
Merrell Women’s Ontario 85 Mid Waterproof (Best Traction)
Excellent traction means you don’t have to worry about what awaits you down the trail and instead, keeping your eyes on the natural beauty of your surroundings.
The Merrell Ontario 85 Mid WP hiking boot is meant to keep you dry and provide traction in slippery, muddy conditions.
These durable, waterproof boots are designed with an upper that provides for a combination of breathability and durability while an EVA foam offers stability and comfort.
The sticky Vibram rubber outsoles have a 3mm lug depth designed to give you excellent traction on all types of terrain.
Merrell Women’s Moab 2 Mid WP (Best Women’s Hiking Boots for Narrow Feet)
For those with a narrower foot, the Merrell Moab 2 Mids boast a narrow toe box and are an excellent option, especially in wet climates.
A combination of waterproof leather and synthetic leather upper means excellent water resistance — and these boots don’t compromise their breathability.
Nylon ventilator mesh ensures your feet won’t get too sweaty, however long the trail.
It is recommended you order these boots a half to a whole size bigger than your normal shoe size.
Lowa Renegade GTX Mid (Best Women’s Hiking Boots for Wide Feet)
Nubuck uppers and a polyurethane midsole paired with nylon shank, offering superior support in this over-the-ankle design.
The most impressive characteristic is that all of these solid features are provided at a weight just exceeding two pounds.
Danner Women’s Inquire Mid Insulated Boots (Perfect for Chilly Climates)
Danner offers a 100% waterproof barrier that will keep your feet dry from the elements, but allows moisture to escape… now that sounds pretty comfortable to me!
The outsoles have multi-directional lugs for incredible grip on both wet and dry surfaces.
All of this in ONLY two pounds? Yes, please!
If you’re hiking in colder climates, these boots make for an ideal trail companion.
Best Men’s Hiking Boots for 2021
Merrell Men’s Moab 2 Mid WP (Best Hiking Boots for Wide or Narrow Feet)
Sometimes your feet fall to one end of the fit spectrum or the other (narrow or wide) and it can be extremely challenging to find a pair that actually fit.
Merrell has done a fantastic job of developing boots just for you given that you can order these in either narrow or wide versions.
The Moab 2 Mid WP hikers boast performance suede leather and mesh uppers in addition to the M-Select Dry proprietary membrane to keep the water out while allowing moisture to escape.
These boots have contoured footbeds that provide for arch and heel support in exactly the right places.
In addition, the 5mm Vibram outsoles ensure you won’t lose your footing.
Danner Mountain 600 Mid (Best Lightweight Hiking Boots for Men)
If you’re looking for lightweight, high performance, and something equally stylish, the Danner Mountain 600s are the perfect fit.
The company partnered with Vibram to implement a durable boot with an SPE (specialized performance elastomer) midsole in conjunction with a Fuga outsole with Megagrip (ensuring you won’t slip).
This rubberized EVA midsole is unique, offering traditional EVA cushioning properties with added durability. The Fuga outsole offers incredible grip on all surfaces, whether you’re trudging through the mud or scrambling across rocky terrain.
The suede upper is stylish and includes a Danner Dry proprietary membrane for water resistance.
This is one tough boot — in a lightweight package.
KEEN Men’s Targhee III Mid WP (Most Rugged)
Touted as “four wheel drive performance for your foot” on the company’s website, the KEEN Targhee III Mids are the boots you need when the going gets rough.
The mid-cut height offers plenty of ankle support while rubber outsoles boasting seriously aggressive 4mm multidirectional lugs will cut deep and maintain traction across a variety of terrain.
The KEEN.Dry proprietary membrane keeps you dry when splashing through puddles or sloshing through snow.
Patented rubber toe guards protect toes from impact with trail objects and abrasion.
One thing to keep in mind is that these boots tend to run about a half size small.
Columbia Newton Ridge Plus II Waterproof (Amazing Traction)
The Newton Ridge Plus II are crafted with PU coated leather, suede, and mesh to effectively seal out the elements while allowing your foot to breathe.
The Techlite midsole provides for cushioning across long distances and in addition, is extremely light weight.
Waterproof and seam sealed, wet conditions are no match for these boots out on the trail.
The Omni-Grip rubber compound outsole is the boot’s stand-out feature, ensuring you’ll keep your footing wherever the trail may lead you.
*Unfortunately the Columbia Newton Ridge Plus II is currently not available at REI but we love Backcountry.com just as much where you still get 30 days to try out your boots and receive store credit.*
KEEN Men’s Durand Polar (A Cold Climate King)
Extreme weather requires extreme measures, and your typical three-season hiking boot won’t always do the trick.
If you’re going to be hiking in extremely frigid temperatures or wading through snow mounds, the KEEN Durand Polar will protect you from the elements.
400 grams of insulation provide for toasty toes while waterproof leathers and textile uppers rise high up above your ankles, ideal for use in areas with a lot of snow.
Dual-compound snow and ice rubber outsoles ensure you won’t miss a step — even in slippery places.
How to Choose the Right Hiking Boots
I decided to include this great video from the experts at REI if you are more of a visual person but of course keep reading to learn how to choose your first pair of hiking footwear.
Do I Need Hiking Boots?
Before planning your first day hike this may be the question you are asking yourself. The short answer is NO…
I don’t want you to have any excuses to not hit the trails and get outside so at the end of the day any athletic type of shoes will do.
BUT a well fitting boot will indeed take your experience to whole new level.
If you’re a new hiker make sure to check out our guide to hiking for beginners…
To fully answer your question though there are some key points you will want to think about.
There are a variety of different hiking shoes to meet your needs — once you’ve determined your primary hiking purpose that is.
Hiking Boots vs Shoes vs Trail Runners
I already alluded to the fact that there is no right or wrong answer when choosing what to put on your feet when you go hiking.
As a hiking beginner though it’s essential to understand the differences and names of the different styles of footwear…
Hiking Boots: A true hiking boot is designed to handle the most challenging terrain.
They provide superior ankle support and are ideal for those who have concerns in that department, or perhaps a previous injury.
Some styles are available in mid-cut designs while others rise high up on the ankle.
They provide outstanding protection in areas of deep mud, snow, or water. The boots in this article fall primarily under this category.
Mountaineering Boots: Designed for use with crampons, which are necessary during glacial travel in high alpine areas.
Some make for great hiking options, so it’s meaningful to identify them on this list.
They typically have full-length shanks and high ankle collars and are intended to keep your feet warm in cold conditions.
If you’re traveling through extremely rugged terrain or in the most inclement of weather conditions, some hikers opt for mountaineering boots.
Hiking Shoe: Hiking shoes are designed for day hikes, short expeditions, or for those who prefer to move light and fast.
Many are waterproof and practical for any type of terrain. They provide less ankle support than the more burly boots covered in this article.
Plus some hiking shoes can double as trail runners. I like getting the most bang for my buck so I do own a pair of Adidas Terrex Swift R GTX shoes that are both rugged and nimble – just like me!
Trail Runners: As implied by the name, these are designed for running through the backcountry.
They are the most low cut and lightweight type of hiking shoe and are much less durable than the sturdy options selected for this article.
For experienced hikers who want to move extremely light and fast, trail runners are an ideal option.
Stiffness and Stability
When picking out a hiking boot, you need to determine how much stiffness and stability you’re going to want.
They are comprised of layers sandwiched around a stiff plastic piece in the center, known as the shank.
The length of the shank determines how stiff the hiking boot is. It varies from full-length to just under the arch.
Full length shanks are found in stiffer boots, such as more heavyweight options and those intended for mountaineering.
For day hiking and gentler terrain, more flexible and lightweight hiking boots are recommended.
While the integration of a waterproof, breathable membrane is standard on most hiking boots, it’s not necessarily needed.
What kind of climate will you be hiking in?
Do you avoid bad weather days and typically stick to dry terrain? Well, then you could probably go without waterproofing — saving yourself some weight.
More likely than not, however, you’ll be splashing through puddles and occasionally getting caught in the rain, so if you’re on the fence about waterproofing, I would opt in.
It’s important to note that you can still get wet — if you step into a puddle deeper than the top of your boot, water is going to seep in.
Likewise if it’s raining, water can dribble down from your Marmot Precip rain pants into your boot.
GTX (Gore-Tex) is the most common waterproof membrane you’ll see, but some companies have their own proprietary membranes.
These membranes are inserted between the outer fabric and interior materials of the shoe.
In addition, many versions are coated with a durable water-repellent that is often applied to the outside of the shoe in order to help bead up and shed water droplets before they have the opportunity to soak through the outer fabric of the shoe.
The weight of your hiking footwear is a crucial consideration out on the trail and will affect how fast and nimbly you move across terrain.
Heavier boots usually equate to greater stability and durability, which might be desirable when you’re a newbie hiker.
On the other hand, you’ll start to feel the weight of your heavy footwear after a few miles on the trail.
If you have adequate hiking experience and would like to move fast, lighter weight gear is recommended.
They’re less durable and it’s easier to sustain a stubbed toe or sprained ankle but if your body is adjusted to the rigors of hiking, you’ll perform fine and the miles will feel like they’re floating by.
How are hiking boots supposed to fit?
Fit is the most critical consideration on this list. If you don’t wear a boot that properly fits your foot, more than likely you’ll end up miserable.
Some brands typically serve a wider foot whereas others have a more narrow fit, and for some models you will have both width options to choose from.
Also, even if they’re ready to be worn right out of the box, spend some time breaking them in (trust me).
You will want them to be snug but also have enough room in the toe area to account for swelling.
Yes, your foot will grow as you are hiking due to increased blood flow to the area so this is something you will want to pay attention to when choosing the right size.
Another key fit factor is to make sure you do not notice much, if any, heel movement.
Your heel is the most common spot for blisters to occur especially with a brand new hiking boot.
Ain’t nobody got time for blisters!
In order to fine-tune your boots’ fit, you can purchase after-market insoles or play around with different sock thicknesses.
Speaking of socks…
I would be missing a prime fit element if I didn’t mention that you should invest in a pair of socks for hiking.
Companies like Smartwool and Darn Tough have put a lot of effort into making socks that will compliment your hiking shoes to ensure you end the day blister free.
And remember what I just said about blisters.
What are Hiking Boots Made of?
It’s necessary to understand what goes into creating a hiking boot so that you can evaluate what you like and don’t like.
These materials determine the boot’s weight, breathability, and water resistance.
Uppers: Uppers comprise the part of boot from the rubber outsole up to the top of the shoe. They provide for durability, breathability, and water resistance.
Most boots are designed with synthetic materials, including nylon, mesh, and leather.
Synthetic nylon and mesh uppers are commonly found on lighter weight boots, providing for fantastic breathability but not as much durability.
Nubuck or suede leather is durable, water resistant, and holds up against abrasion, but does require some breaking in.
Some high-end options are designed with full-grain leather or nubuck leather, buffed to resemble suede.
Full-grain leather is found most commonly on heavyweight boots and is typically the toughest, most durable, and most water resistant.
They require ample break-in time and is not as breathable as other materials.
Midsoles: Midsoles are tasked with two purposes: shock absorption and stiffness. There are two different primary midsoles:
EVA: The most common midsoles are comprised of EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) foam or polyurethane, often varying in thickness depending on how much support the specific boot provides.
EVA is often more comfortable, lighter weight, and less costly while polyurethane is found in higher-end heavy versions.
Manufacturers can integrate varying densities in order to allocate extra support to the more sensitive areas of the foot.
Polyurethane: This is the more durable of the two materials and can also provide for the most shock absorption.
It is generally less comfortable and used to support heavy loads (such as in backpacking), but also has a longer lifespan than EVA due to its lack of compressibility.
Internal Materials: These are the secret ingredients of a good hiking boot that can make a huge difference in comfort and support.
Shanks measure between 3-5 mm in width and are integrated between the midsole and the outsole, either extending from the toe to the heel or only extending halfway.
They have essential load-bearing properties. Plates are positioned between the midsole and outsole, providing for solid protection from bruising.
Outsoles: Your outsole determines your traction and is especially important when hiking in winter across possibly slippery, icy conditions.
Vibram rubber is a quality name you’ll encounter frequently as you shop for outdoor gear, but not all Vibram is created equal, as manufacturers tailor the lug pattern to suit the primary purpose of the boot.
It’s ideal to look at lug depth, compound, and tread pattern as a whole.
Wrapping It Up…
There you have it, the best beginner hiking boots for women and men as well as how to buy your first pair! No doubt by this point, you’re probably itching to hit the trail.
The woods are calling — but remember, your footwear will be your closest companion when the going gets rough.
Do your research and select a model that matches your unique footprint and of course compliments the appropriate hiking clothes you’ll be wearing.
Take into consideration the trail conditions, the daypack you will be using and remember to go on short hikes to break in a new pair.
Use this guide to help pick out the appropriate pair for you so that you can hit the trail wherever you are.
Soon you’ll be hitting the backcountry with ease — and returning home without a blister to show!