How to Choose the Best Hiking Boots

It’s important to have the right footwear for your level of hiking, more so if you are going on a walking holiday or a long distance walk like the Camino de Santiago, (and the right backpack and waterproofs). Different styles are more suitable for different levels than others. For instance, if you enjoy ultralight hiking or backpacking, some features may be surplus to your needs and therefore add unnecessary weight. On the other hand, if you’re a serious hiker, the absence of necessary features can greatly impact on your safety and comfort. (Read my review on the best lightweight hiking shoes and hiking boots)

Keeping your feet Dry

Make sure your boots are waterproof. Choose footwear made with full grain leather upper material using limited stitching, or with waterproof membranes such as Gore-Tex. Prolonged dampness in your footwear will lead to infection and blisters. Remember- dry feet are happy feet!

Get Your Boots Fitted Properly

When you consider the length of time you’ll be wearing your boots, and the places you’ll be in them, you’ll understand the importance of taking the time to get your boots fitted properly. At 53° North they have footwear specialist who can take you through a number of steps which will ensure you make the right selection, it is where I buy my outdoor gear.  This thread on the forum is the experience of one of the members having to return boots.

Get Good Socks

Don’t skimp on the socks. A pair of breathable, cushioned socks will vastly improve your comfort when hiking. We recommend Merino wool socks, as they are comfortable and breathe exceptionally well.

Types of Walking Boots

Light walking footwear is very flexible and designed principally for day hikes. It will have a lightweight upper with a stable yet very flexible sole. Due to its lightweight nature, casual travelers will appreciate this style of footwear also.

walking shoes

Hiking footwear is intended for day trips or longer journeys with a light load. Such footwear offers good flexibility, cushioning and breathability, but with less support and less durability than backpacking boots.

Backpacking walking boots are built for all kinds of loads, on or off the trail. They are durable and supportive and have varying degrees of flexibility. It’s worth noting that boots like these usually require some breaking-in time.

Mountaineering boots, with stiffened midsoles, are designed for moderate to heavy loads on or off the trail. These are the toughest boots with the greatest level of support. Some of these boots are compatible with crampons.

Design of Your Boots

Low cut boots give you the greatest amount of lightweight flexibility which is ideal for hiking with lighter loads on well-maintained trails or paths.

Mid-cut boots wrap just around your ankles, giving some cushioning and resistance to roll in the ankle. They also give a degree of protection to your ankles from rock and debris.

High cut boots come up higher over the ankles and give a greater amount of protection and support on uneven terrain, especially when carrying a heavier load. If you routinely go on longer trips and carry heavier loads, high cut boots are essential. For those not accustomed to wearing a higher cut boot, there is a period of adjusting to the more restrictive fit.

How do Upper Materials Differ?

FULL-GRAIN LEATHER is the best for durability and abrasion resistance. A good pair of leather boots can last for years. They offer great water resistance, especially where the stitching is limited in their construction. Full grain leather is more breathable than leather with a waterproof membrane. However these boots require patience – when you buy them they can be stiff and rigid, so you’ll need to break them in. Through time and wear they will mold perfectly around your feet. Once broken in, they will be supremely comfortable.

SPLIT GRAIN LEATHER is lighter and takes less time to break in than full grain leather.

NUBUCK LEATHER is full grain leather buffed to resemble suede. It’s very durable and resistant to water and abrasion.

SYNTHETIC MATERIALS are much lighter in weight and easier to break in, but offer less durability and abrasion resistance.

Waterproofing & Breathability

Firstly, do you need your boots to be waterproof? For walkers and casual summer hikers, a light fabric upper with no waterproofing but enhanced breathability may be more suitable.

If you’re trekking near water or in wet conditions, then waterproofing becomes a must. Full grain leather with limited seams is the optimum choice, combining waterproofing with breathability. The alternative footwear with breathable membranes, such as Gore-Tex. These keep feet dry with only slightly less breathability.

MIDSOLE. A midsole is a piece of stiffened material, often nylon, built into the sole of the footwear. Stiff midsoles provide a stable platform on uneven terrain while also reducing foot fatigue. For low-level walking, boots with a more flexible midsole are more suitable.

CUSHIONING. The heavier the equipment you’re carrying with you, the more important your boot’s cushioning becomes. Less cushioning is better for scrambling and climbing.

OUTSOLE MATERIAL. Rubber or Vibram rubber is used on most outdoor footwear. Vibram outsoles are known for their grip and durability. It’s worth noting that some brands are now developing outsoles made from recycled materials.

Getting the Right Fit

Walk around to check for foot movement and heel lift. In well-fitted boots your feet should be held firmly, your toes should be able to wiggle freely and your feet should not be touching the top of the boots.

Walk up an Incline to see if you can detect unusual heel lift. If so, check your foot’s positioning in the boot and tighten laces if necessary.

Go Down an Incline to check that your foot does not slide forward and that your toes do not touch the front of the boot.

Arch Support – Supportive footbeds, either off the shelf or custom molded in-store, can improve the fit of your boots, by returning the foot to its neutral position, holding the heal & arch in place and raising the foot closer to the boots laces whilst improving shock absorption. By taking these measures to support your foot in the boot you reduce foot fatigue considerably.

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  1. Melanie dorien on March 17, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    Thanks for putting up this advice. I am planning to walk part of the camino in 6 months and am starting to lok for the right boots to get them broken in so this is very handy.. I am going to walk a lot from here on in order to be fit enough to tackle. The Camino

    • James(Santiago)D. Cain on August 30, 2015 at 2:56 pm

      I did. It think I needed poles so did not take any with me. I soon heard from others that I “should” try walking with poles. A fellow pilgrim allowed me to try his for about a mile and I found that the poles made walking SO much easier, i bought my own in the next village we came to. So, don’ t just wonder about it, try them out and you will want your own. I promise! Burn Camino!

  2. donron on March 19, 2015 at 5:31 am

    A couple of years ago I planned to do a partial Camino Hike from Burgos to Leon. I had been careful to get good hiking boots from REI well fitted & comfortable. What I did not know about was that the soles needed to be a bit stiffer than I had gotten. The path between Burgos & Leon is built up with lots of sand & GRAVEL. You cannot avoid all the little pebbles and I think I felt every one of them on the bottom of my feet. After 5 days I had very sore feet & many blisters. Please consider how stiff & sturdy the soles of your boots are.

    • Mae Arsenault on March 19, 2015 at 12:40 pm

      I plan on walking in Sept. starting on the 5th. I have boots but will now check the foot bed and the soles. Thanks for the above info. Am going from Leon to Santiago.

  3. James D.Cain on March 24, 2015 at 5:35 am

    My walking/hiking boots are leather, lightweight and waterproof. I have walked over 100 miles in them and find them very comfortable. No blisters or sore feet! I started my Camino without walking poles, big mistake. Bought a pair in Spain and discovered how Important they are. They were one third the cost than in California and really excellent quality.
    “Take care of your feet and your feet will,take care of you.”
    Buen Camino

    • C on July 9, 2015 at 7:58 pm

      Why did you find you needed poles? I walk in mountains most weeks and never use poles (except down a steep mountain on ice)… am I missing something about the Camino? Or is it becasue you walk day after day on the Camino? I’d be interested in your view as someone who has done the Camino.

      • Leslie on July 27, 2015 at 9:39 am

        I don’t use walking poles, my other half does. I think if you are in good physical shape they are not necessary. However I have read and been told that they help a lot for people with knee, leg, or back issues.

        • EhorShk Canada on August 29, 2015 at 11:33 pm

          Hey Leslie – I’m with you re poles, and I’m 69 years old. I tried them for a year on various local hikes but never found them useful – maybe later if I become unsteady.

          But another thing, since you are open-minded about poles, I think you should have a look at Teva Taochi sandals. I used them last year from Pamplona to Finisterre. They are well made with a great foot bed (with a heel drain that actually works!), are light, amphibian and have great grip on wet surfaces. Yep, even wore them through that red mud/clay during 3 days of rain! I wear them with merino socks, except when showering!

          My feet became swollen on the Camino last year – no problem with the adjustable Tevas! After showering I go out on the town with them and they dry on my feet within an hour. There’s not much to hold water.

          I’m heading back to the Camino this year in mid-September and I’ll be wearing my light Tevas and not carrying any other footwear.

          I hasten to add that sandals aren’t for everyone. I’ve been a walker all my life and I’m a light guy at 140 lbs. Also my pack is only about 14 lbs (not including water and food).

          Our feet developed over millions of years of walking. However our ancestors were small (Lucy was some 3′ or 4′ in height). I’m not sure whether our exquisitely designed feet and ankles maintain their design effectiveness carrying a weight of over 200 lbs of body and pack. Also maybe more relevant is our sedentary lifestyle.

          Sorry for the long-winded comment. I just wanted to throw in the idea of wearing good sandals. If you don’t need ankle support, seems to me Tevas are superior to light trail shoes, all things considered.

          ps: On my 2014 Camino walk, I looked at everyone’s footwear and only saw one young fellow with sandals. He was “plugged in” and moving briskly, so I couldn’t engage him on conversation, which raises a different issue…

          • Leslie on August 30, 2015 at 12:12 pm

            I have worn my sandals on days when my feet have become sore. But I am a larger guy at just over 200lbs and they don’t work well for me for longer than a few hours.

            Thanks for the great comments.

        • James D. Cain on August 30, 2015 at 6:20 pm

          In regard to using poles or wearing sandals… I say and have said yes to poles. I find they make long walks much easier for me. Ye can do what ye like in that regard. Sandals are a big no for me. I just do not feel comfortable wearing them. I do wear TEVA hiking shoes. They provide great suppor, are very comfortable and are waterproof. They do not cost a young fortune.
          So… I feel in regard to both non-issues it is all a matter of personal choice.
          And I will drink to that!

      • James D. Cain on August 30, 2015 at 6:38 pm

        I tried using poles on the advice of a fellow pilgrim who was using them. I was skeptical. But to shut him up, I tried them and found that walking was SO much easier for me. I congratulated myself for becoming so intelligent so easily. I have been told that the poles take pressure off your walking muscles and you expend less energy as a result. Less stress, etc. Keep an open mind..try them once. If you do not like them or they don’t seem to help you. Well you can sell them on eBay.
        Buen Camino!

      • James D Cain (Santiago) on September 2, 2015 at 3:49 pm

        Perhaps, I felt the need for poles because I was walking day after day. Also, the poles help to take pressure off legs in response to the help from the arms. All help gratefully received! At age 81 I need all the help I can get,

      • James(Santiago) D. Cain on September 22, 2015 at 9:33 pm

        Each must use whatever works for each. I rest my case.

    • James(Santiago) D. Cain on July 27, 2015 at 2:41 pm

      It’s James cain again…my walkingoles take pressure off your entire body. They made my walking so much easier. I started my Camino without poles because I did not think they were needed. WRONG! I found themto be essential. When I do my Camino again, my poles are coming with me!
      Buen Camino!

    • Lucie on March 24, 2016 at 10:59 pm

      Hi James. What brand did you buy and were they a high cut boot? Thanks

      • James(Santiago) D. Cain on April 12, 2016 at 5:27 pm

        My boot brand is TEVA, low cut.

  4. Sharonn on March 29, 2015 at 5:55 pm

    We are walking part of Camino in June/July. I have new Saucony Triumphs which I have started wearing in. I’m not sure that they are waterproof at all though. They seem to be half a size too wide for me and the front part of my feet are shifting around a bit when walking on uneven or slippery surfaces. Other than that they are very comfortable and provide good midsole support. I’m also using mohair socks.

    • Ron Adam on April 5, 2015 at 11:45 am

      Try a supplemental footbed to help provide support and to fill up the shoe volume. If you do a lot of walking, your feet swell up a bit, so the extra “space” might end up being beneficial. I use a “Sole” footbed because I have flat feet and wouldn’t hike without it. A thick or double layer hiking sock might also help you keep from getting blisters.

  5. heartlinepictures on March 30, 2015 at 3:28 am

    I walked the Camino at the end of September, and wore running shoes and double layered socks. Not one blister. I started off with boots but realized that I didn’t need them and then switched to the running shoes. My socks were the envy of all.

    • Ron Adam on April 5, 2015 at 11:47 am

      They say a pound lighter in your shoes is like five pounds lighter on your back. I recently started hiking with trail running shoes (New Balance Leadville model) and they are great on many trails.

    • C on July 9, 2015 at 7:55 pm

      Interesting – why do you say you didn’t need boots? I have trail running shoes but presumed I’d need some lightweight boots for the Camino… I walk most weeks in the mountains of the UK Lake District in boots, but had thought my boots far too heavy for the Camino. What do you think?

  6. pippa10 on April 5, 2015 at 11:42 am

    Thanks for the information. I’m walking the Camino Ingles in October with a friend. planning on a mix of mid cut boots & trekking shoes depending on weather, terrain & the state of my feet. Undecided about socks still. Normally when I’m walking I wear trekking socks (the ones with specific L & R feet). However, I’ve noticed that the soles of my feet get hot if I’m walking for a long time so have also (just) bought some liner socks. I’ve also got some pairs of double layered socks & some of the ones with towelling interiors (just sports socks?) so guess I will just have to experiment over the coming months & see which suits me best.

  7. C on July 27, 2015 at 5:56 pm

    Hi Pippa – please let us know how you get on with your footwear?

    I’m hoping to set off in Spring and am thinking of lightweight boots with lightweight Smartsocks. Can’t decide about poles. I only use them currently for icy and very steep descents – I walk in the Lake District most weeks… and usually leave my pole at home. I have walking sandals and trail running shoes… wonder if they might be useful too.
    Ooooh it’s exciting isn’t it?

  8. Fred (AKA-MichiganMan) on September 1, 2015 at 2:45 am

    Some peregrinos may do just fine in trail runners, or running shoes but at 69 this pilgrim stayed with hiking boots, My Oboz boots from REI were not my regular hiking brand but when I upsized for the Camino Frances they were right for me in arch height and placement and in toe room. Many people get awful toe blisters from footwear that is too small in the footbox. I also used a thicker insole to fill some of the extra volume and to give more cushioning. My Camino was May/June so I expected rain and relatively cool weather so I chose waterproof boots. No falls and no blisters. Socks were sometimes changed mid day for overall comfort and blister prevention. My feet were a bit warm a couple of days on the meseta when it was a lot of pavement. My feet never got wet in the rain. My 19 y/o joined me in Leon and wore similar boots from Keen. We both used double socks and often foot powder. We both felt poles were essential. We observed many people not using poles properly. We wore sandals in the evening.

    • Tuney on September 18, 2015 at 11:20 pm

      Hmmm….I tried on some Oboz boots the other day and really liked them. Did you like the weight of them, Fred? I usually hike in Keens but was told the Oboz would be more durable.

    • Donna on March 20, 2016 at 3:07 am

      We are similar ages to you and starting plans for doing the Camino sometime in the next year. Were your boots a size largesse than your shoe size? We have found boots that fit and have ‘wiggle room’ but you said you up sized – would you advise going whole size larger? What was your experience? Worried about getting the wrong size!

      • Leslie on April 11, 2016 at 9:56 am

        I would get good advice before spending a decent amount of money – ask a specialised outdoor gear shop.

        A lot of people go a bit bigger, I never have.

      • Fred Crudder on April 11, 2016 at 4:16 pm

        Fitting boots take time and sizing varies by boot brand. My Oboz are nominally a full size larger than my normal size but are just right with the thicker insole, with good toe room, heel cupped well, and secure support. I tried on many different brands and sizes to get to what worked for me. My daughter had Keens and they worked for her.

  9. f.gaiteri on January 3, 2016 at 7:34 pm

    I did the Camino in 2013. Of course I got blisters in the first 2 weeks. Some huge. But I would never go again unless my shoes or boots are waterproof. I had some miserable days walking in torrential rain for hours with water in my shoes.

  10. Shirley Cooper on March 14, 2016 at 10:35 pm

    Should I have to worry about rain leaving April 26th and returning June 15th??

  11. Linda Mowen on March 21, 2016 at 9:24 pm

    I am wondering if Kayano running shoes would be good? They have lots of support. I am only doing 100 kilometers from Sarria starting May 15th.

    Are the Costco marino wool socks good enough?

    I haven’t asked about the double padded socks. Maybe i’ll check REI for those.

    • Leslie on April 11, 2016 at 9:54 am

      I would say yes to both. If you walking for 5 to 7 days that seems fine.

  12. Linda Mowen on April 11, 2016 at 5:47 pm

    Thanks so much for your response, Leslie!!!!

    Also, wondering if taking just one of those light rain tops would be enough. I’m refering to the ones that are clear and light. I’m only walking for five days from Sarria and not carrying a back pack. I found a company that would find my room ahead and move my suitcase from place to place since I’m doing it alone. : )
    Has anyone tried waterproofing their shoes by spraying them?

    • Fred Crudder on April 12, 2016 at 7:00 pm

      Spraying footwear will only add water repellancy, not waterproofness which needs to be purpose built into the boots or shoes. So products like Nikwax will help reduce water penetration but do not claim to make a non-waterproof shoe a waterproof one. And WP footwear need to be maintained to perform well in use.

  13. Helge Årsvoll on August 17, 2016 at 7:29 pm

    I will walk 200 km at the camino in september and need to take decision. I have my ecco yura, Goretex. I will definately use merino wool socks. Do you think that i have to choose other and not so warm shoes? Today it seems that the temperature is 25-30 degrees celsius.

    • Leslie on August 23, 2016 at 1:50 pm

      I think it is best first off to wear what is very comfortable.

      September is not cold in Spain, you will be fine with lightweight shoes or boots.

  14. Liz on October 3, 2016 at 2:44 pm

    I walked the Via Frances in 2013 (left SJPdP on Sept 26) in a pair of Salomon hiking shoes. They were not leather and that meant they actually dried out more easily than the boots some others were wearing. Smartwool socks – managed without a single blister. But, we changed socks every 2 hours or so, every day.

  15. Jay Schwantes on December 22, 2016 at 7:58 pm

    Prior to our Spring ’16 Camino, my wife and I researched all the comments and suggestions regarding Sandals and poles. In the end we ignored all but one comment – do what works for you. We each took one pole and with rare exception never wished for the second one. (Hint: Wrap a colorful piece of tape up under the grip to find it in the pole bucket in the morning)

    I learned long ago that hiking in Teva’s (Terra Fi Lite) is the only footwear I can reliably use without blisters. 95% of my normal life is in Teva’s and 100% of my extensive hiking – haven’t had a blister since ’08 on that awful trip in Boots to Yellowstone. I’m not suggesting YOU do it, but at well over 250lbs and 6’4″, I am only saying, if you like Sandal hiking, don’t change just for the Camino. I brought a spare pair and never used them (unless I wanted a particularly clean pair for the Cathedrals!) Granted we were lucky with decent weather for much of it – but the rainy muddy days never presented a problem for the Sandals, I just took off my socks and got wet/muddy, then walked through a creek… lots of creeks!

  16. Barbara Cartwright on March 17, 2017 at 9:21 pm

    Ladies a practice question. I plan a 4/5 week camino in September. Would I take 5 weeks worth of panties, or wash n wear just a few pairs???

    • Ellie Mahoney on May 26, 2017 at 2:30 pm

      Well you need to change them at least three times a day so you better triple that. Of course that’s all you’ll have room for in your backpack and although your feet and back will kill you, your bum will be nice and dry. Practice answer.

  17. Nicki BW on August 10, 2017 at 9:50 pm

    Hi my husband and I both use poles on all our hikes which is every weekend. We live in NZ and use “Pacer Poles” purchased from England. They are brilliant and I highly recommend them.

  18. Frank W. Raymond, Jr, SFC, Ret on October 2, 2017 at 6:07 pm

    Has anyone had their boots fail them while on the Camino? My wife was told that our boots are good for 350 miles, 563 km, and our boots would need to be replaced somewhere along the Camino. She intends to train in the Kuru boot and I some Danner Kevlar. I have Asolo boots that are thirty years, but to stiff for the Camino, old and they look and feel like they have many miles left. No one has made mention of changing boots while on the trek and wondered if this is “something” to be ignored. I will be 69 and my wife 67 and retired. Any thoughts will be appreciated.

  19. Louise May on October 10, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    Hi I am 67 and hoping to do the Camino Frances in the next couple of years, I am fit and I walk about 5 miles every day with the dogs. Am I mad or it it possible with some practise.
    If so would appreciate tips and advise Thanks

    • judy on January 30, 2018 at 7:34 am

      Have you decided to go Louise? If so, when. I am/was afraid of my ability however research showed me that 80 year olds, people in wheelchairs, people with strokes, and solo people do the walk so I figured I could and I reckon you could too. I am going in April 18.

      • Clive on March 5, 2018 at 4:48 pm

        Hi Judy.
        I walked the Camino in April 2017. I did a lot of walking before, which was a great benefit to me as l walked my boots in, you really don’t need boots on the Camino, a good set of walking shoes, boots are heavy, after two weeks of walking l did get a blister so l bought a pair of sandals and walked in them for 10 days. I did make a big mistake as l forward my boots to Santiago for me to collect when l arrived there as boots are a heavy weight to carry. It did snow on the mountains and sandals are not the best in cold weather which lasted for 3 days. Loved the Camino

    • Serena Petronio on March 9, 2018 at 8:43 pm

      On our Camino just over a year ago, we met and walked with a 71 year lady, she managed better that we did and we were 10 years younger. She has already returned and done another leg of the Camino. If you are fit and walk every day you will be fine, find your pace, where you are comfortable, if you are too tired, stop and carry on the next day..
      we are going back next month and I cant wait.

  20. Emily Parker on November 14, 2017 at 5:26 am

    We did the Camino partially back in 2012 and yep having waterproof and breathable footwear is absolutely essential. Pretty solid advice right here!

  21. Clare Taylor on March 7, 2018 at 9:14 am

    I would suggest that you have good, comfortable boots that have enough life in them to complete your Camino. Changing your boots along the Way is usually an emergency measure and to be avoided if possible. Your socks and your boots/trail shoes should be a pleasure to slip on in the morning. The fit is most important as your feet may well swell during the walking especially as the weather can be very warm and changeable. A half size above your usual should give your toes wiggle room and prevent the horrible black toenails caused by pressure or touching/bumping at the toe end of your footwear. And… When you rest let your feet feel fresh air and if your socks are very damp change for dry socks before you continue. Sock washing is your first job at the end of walking each day. Your feet are your very best friends, cherish the. I walked from St Jean Pied de Pirt to Santiago without a blister. Buen Camino

  22. olga cordero on June 22, 2018 at 2:01 am

    Hello, Brave People!
    My husband-69, I-64, my niece-39, and a good friend-68, are walking the camino for the first time ever in mid-May into June (30) days, 2019.
    We are doing our research! Nonetheless, questions are coming up as I read all of your experiences. If it is not too much trouble, anyone have answers to my following questions?:

    I have a bunion on my left foot. Did any of you walk the camino with a bunion and how did that work out?
    Many boots are mentioned. What brand name would you suggest?
    Walking poles are also mentioned, as needed. What name brand is best?
    Socks-what light wool brand name?
    Boots: best brand name?
    Backpack? best brand name?

    Personally, I plan on taking only the minimum, essentials in my backpack. What would be the essentials?
    One other friend would like to join us, but is asking about taking restroom breaks often and if port a potties are along the way.

    Any feedback is great! Thank you.

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