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(The Gear Loop) - Whether they’re shielding you from bruising rock abrasion on technical scrambles, repelling a particularly ferocious Lakeland downpour or keeping you rooted to the ground on a sinuous, slabby ridgeline, the best hiking boots are like guardian angels for your feet.

Where hikers are concerned, boots are simply the most important bit of outdoor gear. A durable pair should last you for many, many adventures and, thanks to today’s highly competitive market, hiking boots have never performed so well or looked as good as they do now. Brands are also upping their sustainability game too, crafting pairs constructed from recycled or environmentally conscious materials.

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What separates the best hiking boots from the rest? Firstly, most boast a waterproof membrane to keep the drink at bay. Then there’s the outsole, where you can expect sticky rubber and directional lugs that allow you to grip all manner of surfaces with confidence. Ankle protection is also key, which is why many boots feature a high cut for additional stability on rugged trails.

Of course, the best hiking boot for you will depend on your adventure style. Summer speed merchants who love bounding from one peak to the next will need something markedly different to winter expedition backpackers. There are hiking shoes and boots to suit every approach and for different times of year too. At the bottom of this feature is a guide to what to look for when buying, if you’re in need of extra advice.

The best hiking boots to buy

Inov-8Best Hiking Boots 2021 photo 3

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.

LowaBest Hiking Boots 2021 photo 5

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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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. 

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Columbia Peakfreak II Outdry Waterproof Walking Shoe

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For

  • Waterproof
  • Great looks
  • Breathable construction
  • Lightweight
  • Grips well in the wet

Against

  • Not as much ankle protection as higher cut boots

Columbia has been crafting outdoor gear from its Pacific Northwest home since 1938, testing and refining its creations in the surrounding mountains. With its Peakfreak IIs, it has forged a lightweight, low cut, waterproof hiking shoe that’s great for day walks on technical terrain, while boasting trainer-style good looks for the pub afterwards.

The Peakfreaks IIs feature Columbia’s proprietary OutDry waterproof membrane that keeps the rain at bay but also allows excess heat and moisture to escape. This is a crucial attribute for a pair of lightweight hikers like this, as the last thing you want on a summer day hike is cooked feet. 

The upper locks the foot down effectively for stability on the trails, while the midsole features single density foam that cushions the foot for all-day comfort. Reinforcement at the toes and the heel provide protection from scrapes with rock, while hexagonal lugs give excellent grip on a variety of surfaces. Meanwhile, the outsole’s sticky rubber gives solid traction on dry slabs and on boulder-strewn terrain.

All in all, the Peakfreak IIs are the ideal shoe for day hiking in summer and the shoulder seasons. Their low cut means that they are less suited missions where you’re carrying heavy loads and winter walkers will want something more rigid and with more insulation. 

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Keen Ridge Flex Waterproof Hiking Boots

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For

  • Innovative flex tech enhances efficiency
  • Solid waterproof credentials
  • Comfortable for mile after mile

Against

  • Outsole doesn’t grip wet terrain brilliantly
  • Chunky looks
  • Relatively heavy

Keen’s Ridge Flex boots raised a few eyebrows when they were first unveiled in 2021. This is thanks to their proprietary Bellows Flex Technology, which has been likened to features found in an accordion’s bellows.

The idea behind this technology is to expand the lifespan of the boot and to lower the resistance to the roll of your foot, increasing energy efficiency with each stride. The feature is found in two places on this boot version, one on the ridge just below the laces and the other on the back of the heel. Where other boots crack and weaken over time with repeated compression and expansion, the Bellows Flex here absorbs this problem, thus eliminating it.

So that’s the USP, what about the other SPs? The Ridge Flex is full of other tried-and-tested Keen tech, such as the Keen.Dry waterproof membrane and the Keen.All-Terrain outsole, which features sticky rubber for traction on rock and multi-directional 5mm lugs for taking on muddy terrain. It’s worth noting though that the lug design doesn’t grip boggy ground as well as some of the competition. 

The upper combines leather and synthetic mesh with a compression-moulded EVA midsole. This makes the Ridge Flex’s very comfortable, breathable and well suited to hiking missions throughout the year. In summary, they’ve got plenty in common with Keen’s flagship Targhee boots but the additional bendy boon of the Bellows should mean they last you for many adventures too.

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On Cloudrock Edge Raw

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For

  • Designed with sustainability in mind
  • Sleek looks
  • Exceptionally comfortable
  • Water and windproof
  • Relatively good value

Against

  • White won’t be for everyone
  • Won’t look new for long
  • Not suited to winter adventures

We had previously featured Swiss brand On’s excellent Cloudrock Waterproof hiking boot in this guide thanks to its supreme comfort and sleek, modern design. Since then, we’ve updated this to the Cloudrock Edge Raw. What is it that gives this boot the edge over its sibling? Sustainability.

The striking white appearance is their most obvious facet. The reason for this is that the Edge Raw’s materials are completely un-dyed, which reduces the impact of their construction on the environment. They are also high in recycled content too.

However, there’s more to these excellent boots than a tick in the green box. On’s trademark outsoles caused a stir when runners first got their hands on them in 2014, with some saying that they felt like running on clouds. The same "cloud" elements are at play here too, absorbing the impact of each step on the trails and propelling you onwards.  Meanwhile their durable Missiongrip sole’s traction patterns grip most surfaces well, though their lug design is not ideal for muddy trails.

They’re also fully waterproof and feature a lightweight, stripped back design. Their padded liners and reinforced tongues make for supremely comfortable days on the trails. All in all, this is a unique hiking boot boasting solid environmental credentials. However, it probably wouldn’t be anyone’s first choice for tackling boggy ground.

Toomas Tartes/UnsplashBest Hiking Boots 2021 photo 9

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 and Alex Foxfield. Editing by Leon Poultney.