Winter weather unlocks new terrain to be explored. But before you do, making sure you don't sacrifice your feet to the temperature and snow of it all is important. The right hiking shoes (and socks) serve as key factors in comfortably hiking or walking trails (which, depending on where you are, may double as an ice rink!).
But the number of options out there can be daunting — there are leather and GORE-TEX boots, lightweight and waterproof shoes, and many more. To help guide your search, Shop TODAY spoke to Alex Lind, senior product line manager at Altra Running, about how to shop for your perfect pair of hiking boots and his advice for sustaining them after a long winter of wear.
What should I look for in hiking boots? | How should I take care of my boots? | Best lightweight hiking boots | Best leather hiking boots | Best waterproof hiking boots | Best combination hiking and snow boots | Meet our expert
What should I look for when shopping for hiking boots?
"First, you should find something that feels like a natural extension of your feet," Lind says. "Second, be aware of the terrain that you are hiking. If it contains a fair amount of rock and hard surface, a shoe with more cushioning may be preferred. If it is on sand or a very soft surface, sometimes you may want something with a little better ground feel."
The key feature to keep in mind when shopping for hiking boots is size.
"Make sure that what you are wearing is the correct size for your foot. There is nothing worse than being stuck for a day or more while wearing a boot that is too tight or ends up rubbing somewhere," he says.
Whether you have to size up to make room for thick socks or size down to guarantee a secure fit, making sure you have the correct size trumps all when it comes to checking the boxes for a hiking boot, according to Lind.
How should I take care of my boots when I'm not wearing them?
Just like any other article of clothing or pair of shoes, when your hiking boots get wet, allow them time to dry properly, advises Lind. Even if they're damp from sweat, making sure they are completely dry before embarking on your next hike or before you store them in a closet helps promote their longevity and overall look.
When cleaning your hiking boots, Lind strongly advises steering clear of the washing machine.
"Stay away from washing in machines as it can break down adhesives and other parts of the boot," Lind warns. When it comes to storage, he recommended avoiding direct sunlight and placing the boots in a dry spot.
"The sun is great, but it can break down the materials if they are left out for too long," Lind says. The takeaway: Make your coat closet, not porch, the new home for your hiking boots.
Best lightweight hiking boots
Best for: Rugged trails, uneven terrain, long hikes, wet hikes | Weight: 2.7 pounds | Sizes: 5-11 (includes medium and wide)
A closer look at the shoe makes it easy to see why these are a well-known favorite. The Mid 3 boots, like their predecessor, are lightweight and breathable, and they feature a super-grippy Vibram rubber outsole that helps prevent slipping and instability on unpredictable terrain. That rubber tread, when combined with greater cushioning in the midsole and a supportive insole with reinforced heel support, allow for better ankle support, too.
This particular version of the Moab has a waterproof barrier, too, a reviewer favorite for those tricky water crossings. Others rave about their sturdiness (one has had their pair for three years), stellar arch support, and very short break-in period (many had none). The one caveat is to order a half-size up to make room for heavy socks for colder days.
- "Has a good grip."
- "The soles feel bouncy, like walking on clouds."
- Reviewers recommend sizing up.
- Lace hooks are made out of hard plastic, sometimes dents skin.
Best for: Day hikes, groomed or rocky trails | Weight: 12 ounces | Sizes: 5-15.5
Backpackers and those who want to pack light won't have to fret about adding more to their load with these lightweight hiking boots from Hoka — they only weigh a little over one pound. Designed with GORE-TEX waterproofing fabric, these hiking boots are both lightweight and warm, according to reviewers. They've also got that super-supportive cushiony foam Hokas are known for, but the compression-molded foam insoles offer that extra support for rocky terrain, users also said.
These boots cover the ankle and then some, ensuring that your feet and ankles are secure while trekking. Reviewers love them because of their "excellent ankle support," "grip like Velcro" in the world of hiking boots and "comfortable," above all. A couple of user caveats, though: These run quite big and have a wide design, so make sure to try them on before buying if your feet are narrow. A few reviews mention ankle rub, but proper placement of the tongue when lacing should fix this, they added.
Best leather hiking boots
Best for: All-weather hiking, rocky or grassy trails, those with wider feet | Weight: 13.4 ounces | Sizes: 5-11
Available in nine different colors, these hiking boots provide both comfort and style when walking on the trails, rock climbing or whatever outdoor activities you have planned. Outfitted almost entirely with a water-resistant "semi-sealed" leather construction, this boot also features soft, mesh fabrics in the upper and around the ankles, as well as a breathable textile lining. Plus, the so-called Techlite lightweight midsole offers responsive and comfortable cushioning, according to the brand.
Reviewers praise these boots' durability, comfort and standout ankle support. A few mentioned, however, that they may not offer enough arch support if you have flat feet.
Best waterproof hiking boots
Best for: Rainy days, trails with waterfalls and creeks | Weight: 1.92 pounds | Sizes: 6-10 (including wide)
With a brand-specific HydroWall that covers the boot, it helps to ensure that even though the terrain is wet, your feet aren't. Made with majority recycled products, that doesn't diminish the durability or quality of these boots, with reviewers noting that they provide good arch support and hold up during miles of hiking.
Weighing in at a little under two pounds, these boots also boast the platform trend we're seeing with a handful of sneakers and other shoes right now.
Best for: Rainy hikes, ones with wet terrain | Weight: 2.2 pounds | Sizes: 6-12
With waterproof in the name, this hiking boot features Vasque's "VasqueDry" material, that promises to keep feet dry and your boots still looking pristine.
Available in three colors and regular and wide options, the midsole and footbed are made with EVA, a plastic commonly seen in sandals. Reviewers love this pair because they're "a solid hiking boot without sacrificing style."
- Good for wide feet
- "The toe box is super comfortable."
- Reviewers recommend those with narrow feet to size up
- Lack of padding at the arch.
Best for: All-weather hikes, long hikes | Weight: 1.11 pounds | Sizes: 6-11
Made with durable fabric GORE-TEX, these boots from Teva also feature waterproof leather fabric on the sides to provide additional protection against water. Available in a variety of colors across several online retailers, these cute boots also have a rubber heel and bottom, an area Lind emphasized paying extra close attention to when trying hiking boots on at the store.
In addition to their chic design, customer highlights include the boots' lightness, sturdiness and breathability. Others noted, however, that while water-resistant, they're not fully waterproof; plus, those with flat feet observed that you may need to add extra arch support.
Best for: Muddy trails, rainy hikes | Weight: 11.4 ounces | Sizes: 5-12 (with wide and standard options as well)
Outfitted with leather, rubber, mesh and webbing, all to ensure your feet stay dry, comfortable and warm, these waterproof boots from Columbia check all of the boxes. Just like the Newton Ridge hiking boots above, this pair boasts supportive, cushioned insoles and a responsive midsole, so your feet won't get weary after multiple hours. Plus, the secure laces and a grippy rubber tread make sure that your ankles and feet won't wobble and jostle around.
"There were days when it was raining all day and my feet were dry and warm," said one reviewer who wore these boots on a trip abroad. Note: Make sure to size up.
Best combination hiking and snow boots
Best for: All terrains, long hikes, snowy weather | Weight: N/A | Sizes: 6-11
Fleece lining on the inside provides extra warmth (and coziness) that other hiking boots may not, making these hikers from L.L. Bean ample for hikes or treks in winter weather. The grippy rubber outsoles provide dependable traction from mud, dirt and other elements, and the water-resistant nubuck leather and mesh upper offer additional protection.
"Walked all day on different grades of terrain recently in Iceland; [the] perfect boot due to large-enough toe box and arch support," said one reviewer, adding that this boot has a "good grip on [the] bottom, good support at [the] ankle."
Best for: Winter hikes, mountain trails | Weight: N/A | Sizes: 5-12 (including standard and wide options as well)
Crafted with insulation that mimics the function of your winter coat or vest, these boots are designed to keep your feet warm, dry and comfortable on winter hikes. These boots also have a lightweight cushioned midsole that's highly responsive to take your comfort to the next level. These booties also have a water-repellant finish yet lightweight construction, as well as a high-traction rubber tread for rainy or snowy days.
"I live in Chicago, and it started snowing this year; these boots are the real deal," said one reviewer about these snow boots, adding, "It grips the ground, and there are less slip and falls."
Best for: Cold weather, everyday and adventure wear | Weight: 14 ounces | Sizes: 6-11
Sorel is a brand to be reckoned with, especially after one of their boots appeared on the Google Holiday 100 list. With a corduroy collar and a mesh interior, pair these boots with thick socks, in order to keep feet warm during cold weather.
Styles blend in this hiking boot / high-top sneaker crossover. The eyelet details lend to the hiking boot aspect, while the pink platform bottom plays into the trend we're seeing with sneakers.
Best for: Slushy, snowy commutes | Weight: N/A | Sizes: 5-12
As mentioned above, Sorel is a brand that should be on your radar-more specifically this style of boot that has seen an uptick in search interest in 2023.
Fleece lines the interior, while a waterproof leather covers the exterior. Why else do these boots deserve a spot in your winter shoe line-up? Maybe because of the cushioned footbed or durable, rubber outsole.