When you’ve got the right tool for the job, tasks become much easier. Hunting deer with a derringer would be a wee bit more challenging than with a scoped .308 rifle, and nobody in their right mind would rather chop firewood with a Swiss Army knife than a sturdy ax. Footwear is no different, yet it’s not uncommon to see casual hikers headed down a trail in a pair of sneakers … or even flip-flops.

If you want to avoid bruised, battered, blistered, and aching feet on outdoor excursions, a supportive pair of boots is a must. But as a quick Google search or trip to any local retailer will tell you, there’s a seemingly endless array to choose from. On one end of the range, so-called “lifestyle” boots are usually intended to look fashionable and do little else. On the other end, high-tech mountaineering boots are probably far beyond what you need, unless you regularly don crampons and scale glaciers. The happy medium between these extremes is represented by hiking boots.

A trusty pair of hiking boots can easily handle short treks, weekend camping trips, and long-term bug-out situations. This footwear will reduce the risk of injury by protecting your feet from impacts and your ankles from rolling; comfort and support over rough terrain will be far superior to that of running shoes or cross-trainers. Most importantly, your little piggies won’t feel like they’re ready for the slaughterhouse after a few hours of walking with a fully loaded pack.

In order to track down some versatile hiking boots that meet these standards, we requested sample pairs from six leading manufacturers. These pairs were then evaluated by three of our staff members: this author, network manager John Schwartze, and former head editor Patrick Vuong. Our variations in height, weight, and foot size helped us gain perspective on this selection of footwear. Read on to see if these boots fit your backcountry needs.

Gray Man Shoes

While hiking boots are ideal for rough trails and steep inclines, they’re not the best tool for everyday wear in the city. If you stomp around the office or grocery store in a set of mud-caked heavy-duty boots, you’re likely to appear out of place and clearly broadcast your preparedness. So, in addition to the six boots we tested here, we examined six shoes that fit the “gray man” philosophy — footwear that won’t appear unusual in urban areas, yet offers more toughness and capabilities than an ordinary pair of sneakers.

You can read our complete Gray Man Shoe Buyer’s Guide online here

Breaking-In Your Boots

Ever wonder about the best way to break in your new pair of boots, avoid blisters, and maximize comfort? There’s more to it than you might think. Contributor Andy Schrader addressed this topic by testing two new pairs of footwear: the Garmont T8 Bifida tactical boot, and the Le Chameau Condor LCX hunting boot. He also shared some initial wear tips from a boot designer, and used these tips to evaluate how each boot fared during the break-in process.

This guide is available now exclusively here.

Hiking Boots

  • hiking-boot-buyers-guide-ariat-terrain-001

    Ariat Terrain

    Make & Model - Ariat Terrain
    Materials - Full-grain leather upper, moisture-wicking liner, gel-cushioned footbed, ATS composite shank, EVA midsole, Duratread rubber outsole
    Colors - Brown Oiled Rowdy, Distressed Brown, Cordovan, Sunshine
    Sizes - 7 to 13 including half-sizes; D or EE. Women's sizes also available.
    MSRP - $105
    URL - http://www.amazon.com

    The texture of the sole isn't as aggressive as we'd like, but held up to hiking on steep, sandy trails respectably.

  • hiking-boot-buyers-guide-asolo-fugitive-gtx-001

    Asolo Fugitive GTX

    Make & Model - Asolo Fugitive GTX
    Materials - Suede and nylon upper, Gore-Tex liner, Lite 2 composite footbed, Duo Asoflex lasting board, mono-density PU midsole, Asolo Synchro rubber outsole
    Colors - Black/Gunmetal, Gray/Black, Gray/Gunmetal, Wool/Black
    Sizes - 7 to 14 including half-sizes; wide fit available
    MSRP - $250
    URL - http://www.asolo-usa.com

    This company is owned and operated by the Zanatta family, whose members have been producing shoes in the town of Nervesa della Battaglia for four generations.

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    Danner Light II

    Make & Model - Danner Light II
    Materials - Nubuck leather and 1,000-denier nylon upper, Gore-Tex liner, removable Airthotic PU instep, fiberglass shank, recraftable Vibram Kletterlift rubber outsole
    Colors - Brown, Dark Brown, Matte Black Kevlar
    Sizes - 7 to 14 including half-sizes; B, D, or EE. Women's sizes also available.
    MSRP - $380
    URL - http://www.danner.com

    In contrast to the $100 boot we reviewed at the start of this guide, the flagship Light II represents the top end of our guide's budget spectrum.

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    KEEN Targhee EXP Waterproof Mid

    Make & Model - KEEN Targhee EXP Waterproof Mid
    Materials - Performance mesh upper, KEEN.Dry waterproof liner, removable EVA footbed, nylon shank, dual-density EVA midsole, KEEN all-terrain rubber outsole
    Colors - Black/Steel Gray, Bungee Cord/Brindle, Mulch/Burnt Ochre, Magnet/Dress Blues, Olive/Black Olive
    Sizes - 7 to 17 including half-sizes; wide fit available. Women's sizes also available.
    MSRP - $140
    URL - http://www.keenfootwear.com

    We've had good experiences with KEEN footwear in the past, as the company clearly knows how to produce shoes that balance ruggedness and comfort at an affordable price.

  • hiking-boot-buyers-guide-lowa-renegade-gtx-mid-001

    LOWA Renegade GTX Mid

    Make & Model - LOWA Renegade GTX Mid
    Materials - Nubuck leather and Cordura nylon upper, Gore-Tex liner, ATC footbed, MonoWrap support frame, hard stabilizer, double-injection DuraPU midsole, Vibram Evo rubber outsole
    Colors - Black/Black, Gray/Green, Sepia/Sepia, Slate/Olive, Stone/Brown, too many others to list
    Sizes - 7.5 to 15 including half-sizes; B, D, or E. Women's sizes also available.
    MSRP - $230
    URL - http://www.lowaboots.com

    This boot destroys the notion that supportive footwear has to be as heavy and restrictive as a pair of cement shoes.

  • hiking-boot-buyers-guide-salomon-quest-4d2-gtx-001

    Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX

    Make & Model - Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX
    Materials - Nubuck leather and textile upper, Gore-Tex liner, EVA shaped footbed, 4D Advanced Chassis dual-density EVA midsole, High Traction Contagrip rubber outsole
    Colors - Detroit/Black/Navajo, Iguana Green/Asphalt/Dark Titanium, Fossil/Rain Drum/Humus
    Sizes - 7 to 14 including half-sizes. Women's sizes also available.
    MSRP - $230
    URL - http://www.salomon.com

    Salomon started 70 years ago as a ski manufacturer and has since built a worldwide reputation for making high-quality footwear and outdoor equipment.

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