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(The Gear Loop) - There aren't many decisions in a hiker's life as important as picking up the right pair of boots. When you're halfway through a 10-mile hike up a mountain, you need to be safe in the knowledge that they're not only going to protect you from a painful limp home but will also stop you from slipping off the side and into the perilous abyss. Or just a small ditch on the side of the road.

Alas, there's no one-size-fits-all boot that will cover you for every possible hike. So the key is to find footwear that works for you, whether that's weekend walks in the local forest or multi-day hikes across the Andes. A lightweight hiking boot may be perfect for those shorter jaunts in the summer months, but as soon as things get more technical and the weather turns sour, you're going to need something that'll be up to the task ahead.

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Of course, there are plenty of boots that strike a nice balance between the two, so, unless your focus is on a specific form of hiking, most people don't need to fork out and buy a whole rack of different options. Although being presented with such a thing is always nice, isn't it? 

When testing hiking boots we look at a number of key features, those include things like waterproofing, grip, warmth and durability. Here we run through our best picks for hitting the outdoors in comfort, safety and style.

The best hiking boots to buy in 2022

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Inov-8 Rocfly G 390

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For

  • Comfortable upper
  • Impressive grip

Against

  • Minimal protection in upper
  • Thin upper may struggle in colder temperatures

The Rocfly G390 - so named because it weighs in at 390 grams - is essentially a hiking boot/trail shoe hybrid designed to offer the support and build of a hiker, while feeling light and versatile when hitting varied terrain at speed.

To create a boot that can be agile without sacrificing build strength, Inov-8 has incorporated Graphene technology into the midsole and outsole rubber. Claimed to be 200 times stronger than steel, the material is used to increase durability while maintaining a high level of flexibility, allowing the foot to move freely.

In testing, we've found it works incredibly well, the soft breathable upper gives the boot a relaxed feel while the responsive cushioning that sits in the midsole takes the brunt of the impact, especially when you’re powering down the steep side of a mountain.

The feature that really won our praise, however, was the "Graphene-rubber" outsole. Whether we were walking on wet mud, hard stone or technical rocky climbs, it managed to grip the worst we could throw at it with confidence.

The main downsides for us - and there aren’t many - are the limitations of the upper. Although comfortable, the thin material lacks the protection needed for scrambling, and we found that the boot would quickly let in water when walking through wet, boggy ground.

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Lowa Explorer GTX Mid

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For

  • Thick protective upper
  • Formidable outsole grip

Against

  • Cumbersome for daily walks
  • Lacks breathability for warmer hikes

When the weather becomes more extreme or you need to tackle technical terrain, this powerhouse from Lowa is one of the best options out there. Packed with a smorgasbord of essential features, it's a boot that's built to keep you safe on routes where sure-footed scrambling is a necessity.

The thick suede upper delivers a high level of protection against rocky surfaces and works alongside the tape lacing system to ensure a secure locked-down fit. The result is a stable positioning for the foot that holds in place when hiking across variable surfaces. In addition, there's a tough TPU toe cap - a welcome addition when you need to do some rock hopping, and a Gore-Tex Performance waterproof membrane to keep the feet dry.

The lightweight "DynaPU" midsole does an impressive job in adding a subtle level of cushioning without affecting stability, and there's a Vibram "Rock Trac Evo" outsole that has a smart design at the front and heel of the boot to help with clambering up and down smoother rock surfaces.

For romantic evening walks by the lake, the Lowa Explorer GTX Mid may be a bit on the cumbersome side, but for advanced hikes when you need to trust your gear, it's a hugely impressive and reliable piece of kit.

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Hoka One One Anacapa Mid Gore-Tex

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For

  • Comfortable upper
  • Heavy cushioning for long hikes

Against

  • Poor outsole grip
  • Minimal upper protection

The futuristic-looking Anacapa Mid Gore-Tex is a boot that excels over long-distance day hikes when your primary focus is comfort. Not surprising for a brand famous for its maximally cushioned running shoes.

On lighter trails, the Anacapa Mid Gore-Tex is a true delight, taking the brunt of every step with a thick wedge of EVA midsole foam and cradling the foot in a plush, padded upper. We also found that, despite that soft padding, the width of the base manages to make the boot feel really stable and secure.

The leather upper has a nice step-in comfort that hugs the foot without feeling too restrictive and Hoka has incorporated Gore-Tex waterproofing to ensure the inside of the boot remains dry in the rain and when walking through wet foliage.

Unfortunately, if you're looking for something with the versatility to handle technical terrain, the Anacapa Mid Gore-Tex is a bit of a one-trick pony, lacking the upper reinforcement for scrambling or an outsole that instils confidence when it comes to gripping rocks or steep ascents.

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On Cloudrock Waterproof

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For

  • Sleek, modern design
  • Comfortable midsole and upper

Against

  • Poor grip on technical terrain
  • Low stability for varied surfaces

Hiking kit design has come a long way from chunky army surplus boots and bright red cagoules, and there's no better example of a brand that's merging modern styles with outdoor tech than with On's Cloudrock Waterproof numbers.

From an aesthetical point of view, the Cloudrock Waterproof follows the popular hallmarks of On's lifestyle lineup: sleek, subtle designs that would be just as at home on a mountain as they would be in a craft brewery in Stoke Newington. But, slipped into the modern style are a host of features that mean the Cloudrock Waterproof has more than enough to tackle the outdoors post-pint.

For general walking and day hikes, the soft "Cloudtec" midsole offers an ample level of cushioning and support over lighter trails, especially when combined with the comfortable, flexible upper. There's also a waterproof membrane to protect moisture from entering the shoe and a "Missiongrip" for durability and traction.

It is, by no stretch of the imagination, a boot designed for technical climbs or multi-day hikes, lacking the grip and build to tackle tricky surfaces and the stability for varied terrain. So, if you're heading into the mountain, look the other way. However, for those that want a stylish pair of boots that can also handle lighter day hikes, they’re a great option.

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Jack Wolfskin Force Striker Texapore Mid

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For

  • Light and breathable upper
  • Comfortable and stable midsole for long walks

Against

  • Limited protection against rocky climbs
  • Uninspiring design options

Although the Force Striker Texapore Mid doesn't particularly excel in any area, its strengths lie in having a good balance of technical features, alongside a light and flexible upper design. The result is an all-weather shoe that is as comfortable tackling light walks in warmer months as it is clambering up steep ascents in the cold.

As well as a responsive midsole cushioning, there's also an added section of softer Reflex foam in the heel of the shoe to minimise impact. This comfort tech works alongside a full-length TPU plate for stability that makes the Force Striker Texapore Mid a great choice for multi-day hikes.

The lightweight textile upper may not be durable enough to tackle technical climbs and scrambling, but we've found the trade-off is a higher level of comfort and breathability than more conventional boots.

There's also "Texapor O2+" waterproof membrane that can handle anything the rain or boggy ground can throw at them and an impressively grippy Vibram outsole that's handled any surface we've thrown at it during testing. It's a great Jack of all trades. 

What to look for when buying a pair of hiking boots

Choose the right cut

Hiking boots are available in a range of levels when it comes to the height of the collar, each of which has positives and negatives dependent on the type of hiking you're going to be doing. At one end of the scale are hiking shoes, which generally finish just above the ankle and offer a greater range of movement and the ability to keep your feet cooler in warmer months. On the opposite end of the spectrum are high cut boots that finish a couple of inches above the ankle. These boots are better used for colder climates and when needing extra support over technical terrain.

Ensure the upper matches the activity

The biggest difference - and often the most overlooked - in hiking boots tends to be the material used in the upper. This can vary from thin, lightweight mesh materials to thick leather. For day hikes across light trails, the need for a protective upper on a boot is negligible, and the benefits of a flexible and breathable design far outweigh it. If your hikes are going to take you to technical terrain where there's a risk of sharp rocks or varied surfaces, having a durable upper is essential to protect the feet.

Get a grip

All hiking boot brands will wax lyrical about the grip on their latest products, but not all outsole grips are the same. Few boots grip perfectly on all surfaces so it's important to understand the focus for an individual boot. Those with deep lugs that are spaced out over the boot are generally better at tackling muddy surfaces but aren't particularly good at gripping wet rock. Conversely, boots with small lugs tend to leave you slipping around on mud and bogs like Torvill and Dean.

Prepare for the temperature

Depending on where you live - or the locations you plan to hike in - the weather has a large part to play in the boots you decide to buy. If the majority of your hiking is across the Arctic Circle, you need a boot with a thick upper that includes insulating material inside. If, however, your weekends are spent clambering across the Sahara Desert, you should be looking for a light and breathable material - albeit one that's good at keeping the sand out.

Understand your waterproofing needs

Getting boots that are waterproof sounds like a no-brainer, especially if you live in the UK, but there are good and bad points to this feature. If you're in an area where it rains all the time, make sure the technology included in the boot is reputable - we suggest looking for Gore-Tex where possible. The downside of waterproofing is that it can severely limit the breathability of a boot. If you're living somewhere warm and it rains only once or twice a month, having a pair of waterproof boots is only likely going to lead to very smelly and damp socks.

Writing by Tom Wheatley. Editing by Leon Poultney. Originally published on 27 October 2021.