Anyone who knows me knows that I’m outdoorsy up to a point. I love being outside, I spend half my summer in a kayak out in the sea and I walk. A LOT. However, a lot of my walking is done on city streets or very decent trails. Anything more strenuous could still be handled by a pair of runners. Like Samaria Gorge shown below. It’s one of the most stunning mountain passes in Europe but it does not require hiking boots (or walking poles, and yes, I’m looking at you, speedy German tourists that refused to slow down to enjoy the view and rushed the rest of us!).
In fact, the seriously rocky trail is actually easier to navigate in something light as you have better balance. You do not plough through Samaria Gorge, you dance through. The rocks on the ground are really wobbly and likely can’t support your weight AND stay stable at the same time.
So as you probably figured out I don’t (yet) own a pair of hiking boots. However, I am doing the Lares trek in Peru in 3 months and by all accounts, my trusty pair of Asics will not cut it here. Although if you are looking for running shoes, check them out, I’ll never buy another brand again, they’re that awesome.
This means that for the past month or so I have tried on every hiking boot in Ireland (well okay, maybe not every boot, but we’re getting close). This journey required HOURS and HOURS of research so if you are hunting for your first pair of hiking boots let me lend you a hand.
Tip 1: choose your upper
Upper is effectively what the boot is made of, so everything except the sole. You will want good waterproofing unless you’re trekking the Sahara desert. so choose Gore-Tex or brand’s own waterproofing. With brand’s own, be careful as you can trust the good brands like Merrell, Lowa, Keen etc. but some of the others may not have a decent waterproof technology of their own. Do the research before buying. Amazon one star or two-star reviews are a fabulous source of this as some reviews on shop pages can seem a bit too positive.
The other decision is whether to go with all leather exterior or the synthetic materials that have some mesh built-in for breathability. Usually, synthetic with mesh will do a good job unless you’re planning to hike through really bad conditions or really wintery conditions.
Last decision on the upper is how much ankle support you need. In most cases, a mid boot will do (one hook ankle) but if your ankles are super flimsy you might look into a higher mid boot with a 2 hook ankle (Lowa Renegade GTX® Mid Ws is a good example).
Tip 2: choose your
This is the make or break decision. Your sole needs to be able to handle your terrain. Get one with a Vibram sole if you can get it. Some brands do good own versions. Keen and Salomon would be the main two using own-brand soles and they do a good job.
The second part of the sole dilemma is the grip and thickness. Research how rugged the terrain will be and choose adequate soles. Too thick will be difficult to walk in, especially if you’re not used to hiking boots as you will no longer feel the ground and keeping balance can be an issue. The sole must have deep enough lugs to provide traction (from what I learned, anything less than 4mm, don’t even bother with it) and also the sole structure needs to provide grip (so the less smooth surface you’re looking at, the better).
Now the fun part…
TOP 5 boots for beginner hikers (the ladies edition)
Merrel Moab 2 Mid GTX (gent’s version also available)
Moab stands for Mother-Of-All-Boots™ (yes, they trademarked it) and they don’t mess around. Light but still sturdy they’re a versatile boot that should handle most things you throw at it. They sport a Vibram sole and Gore-Tex waterproofing, 5mm lugs and a decent grip sole (though there are grippier offerings out there, this should do for most hikes).
It’s a single hook ankle and the ankle support is not great because of the combination of ankle height and the highly flexible materials. If your ankles are at risk like mine these might not be your boot but for most people, the extra flexibility will add comfort.
The sole is a little thin so these will be great for feeling stable on the ground. If you are sensitive to feeling your terrain underfoot or planning for multiple day hikes please watch out for this.
There’s not a huge lot to say about these as they’re a solid, good light hiking boot. Anyone who’s in the market for their first pair or a secondary light hiking boot should at least check these out. They’re a staple in the hiking community.
Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX (gent’s version also available)
Okay, this is one of the best fitting boots I tried on (including a really inventive ramp test). They’re one of the best boots for the ankle-challenged (and mine are a little hypermobile so this was high on my list) as the support is really solid, the ankle is narrow and not chunky which means these hug your leg very well. I tested these TRYING to bend my ankle at various angles and it didn’t allow my ankle reach any positions that would be potentially dangerous while on a rocky trail. They look quite clunky on your feet but they don’t feel particularly big. There’s good arch support and they are definitely one of the sturdier ones on this list while still breathable. One downside? They’re kind of pricey but the new model of these is coming out around now so the 4D 2s should be on sale in a lot of places. Hunt around if they fit you well.
Lowa Renegade GTX® Mid Ws (gent’s version also available)
Okay these actually broke my heart. They’re incredibly comfortable while being crazy supportive, Vibram sole and Gore-Tex waterproofing and the ankle support is as solid or even better than the Salomon Quest 4D AND it’s more comfortable. So why the heartbreak you say? They’re €200. Usually not something a beginner wants to shell out on a pair of boots when they’re not sure they’re committed to hiking often. I did the usual ramp tests on these and the toebox was super comfy for my incredibly long toes, my foot didn’t move around or slide forward and with the upper of these boots, you can put them through just about anything. As you can see the sole on these is a good bit thicker than the previous boots I talked about (even the Salomon’s I think). You might struggle to figure out where ground is on difficult terrain so trying them on in a place with a ramp and really testing them out is a must. If you are buying the boots for a difficult or multiple day hikes test them out several times before heading on your trip to make sure you are comfortable walking in these without having to watch your every step.
Keen Terradora Waterproof
Let’s get a bit controversial here. If you ask a hardcore hiking enthusiast if these are a good boot for hiking in the mountains they will laugh in your face. However, the point is that you are not a hardcore hiker, you’re a beginner. You need something comfortable so you don’t fall on your face because your feet couldn’t tell where the ground was. You may need to pack light and spending 70% of your trip in hiking boots because you don’t have room for normal shoes in your backpack is your equivalent of hell. You may be doing half day hiking half day city exploring with no stops at the hotel room to change. The list goes on.
Terradoras are being marketed as an all surface shoe. They have a decent grip with 4mm lugs that still does well on city pavement as well as hills and rocks so it could be your main shoe for a trip. The mid ankle is not high but it will provide some support. However, they are quite low, light and flexible so if ankle support is a concern for you, move onto the next shoe right now. I did.
The waterproofing is solid using Keen’s own technology and the boots themselves are flexible and light which means no adjusting period for your feet – you can still walk on autopilot and gawk at the views. I tried them on this morning and they feel like a pair of runners, maybe lighter (I use the clunky running shoes with lots of cushioning).
For me, they were a resounding no due to the lack of support for my ankles and feet. However, I would probably really like them as a general travel shoe. As a hiking boot, I agree with the hiking junkies, it’s not great for mountain hiking. To get a second opinion, I reached out to hikers on Instagram to see what they thought. The consensus was, they’re stellar boots. One woman hiked up Table Mountain and Lion’s head in South Africa in these (spoiler: really rocky terrain) and she loved them and had no problems. The waterproofing held up brilliantly through both rain, and a trek up a waterfall.
In short, if you are planning to do some light hiking in forests but will still spend a significant portion of your time exploring cities, look at these before buying a pair of hefty boots like the Lowa Renegades. You might not need them. Try on Terradoras, ask advice in store, watch out for grip and support issues. If you appreciate how light these are but either the grip or the support isn’t good enough for you, check out the Merrel Moab 2 Mid next.
Price note: don’t pay full price for these. They’re not worth the €140 or so, but I am seeing a bunch of these on sale for half price. At that price point, this would be a lovely all rounder shoe for travelling.
Salomon Women’s Quest Prime GTX (gent’s version also available)
I feel like this one is a middle ground option. It is also the hiking boot I chose for my trip to Peru so you can definitely say I LOVE these.
It’s a sturdy boot without being too clunky or thick, it provides GREAT ankle support without immobilising it. They look bulky but don’t feel bulky despite having a very roomy toebox (which I adore). Gore-Tex waterproofing is combined with Salomon’s own Contragrip sole.
Does this sound familiar? It should because most of these features are also included in the pricier Salomon Quest 4D 2 boot. The chassis in Quest Prime is not the revolutionary 4D but they do sport Salomon’s Advanced Chassis with molded shank that performs well. While my feet could tell it was a different sole I did not think it was a worse sole. It is actually more flexible so despite the sole being quite thick, you will have no problem dancing from rock to rock on the really tricky terrain. According to Salomon these shoes were built for speed and you can definitely feel it. I didn’t try it yet but I am pretty sure I could run in these.
While on the ramp my foot did not slide towards the front on the descent and there was no additional pressure on my ankle.
One downside is that the round laces have a lot of slip to them and will loosen or come undone without a strong double knot (and maybe even with it). Test that out and be prepared to replace your laces.
They’re light and have no break in period (just like all the boots mentioned here with the possible exception of the Lowa Renegades). I found people who hiked the Appalachian Trail in these and were very happy (and still had solid boots at the end of their adventure). They’re also on sale in a lot of places at the moment so they’re worth checking out!
Honourable mention goes to…
Merrell Siren Q2 Sport Mid GTX
This is another lightweight option if the Keen Terradoras are not sturdy or comfortable enough for you. These have better ankle support as they are higher but the boots are still very flexible (so not fro ankle challenged). Beware, the lugs are only 3.5mm so if Terradoras didn’t have enough grip these might not do too well either but they’re a really nice light hiker if you’re sticking to easy to moderate trails. Like the Terradora, I would only recommend buying these on sale.
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I do not own any of the product photos.
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