The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of gear

How We Tested Hiking Boots

Friday October 23, 2020

Our testers spent many months and many miles hiking through a wide range of terrain types to discover precisely how each one of these boots performed. We trekked across the Western United States, in the high deserts and rocky peaks of the Sierra Nevada range, to the wet temperate rainforests and sub-alpine meadows of the Pacific Northwest. Our test locations included the flanks of Mount Baker and the trails of the North Cascades National Park, the summit of Mount Whitney, the Palisade peaks of the Sierra Nevada, and the rough and durable granite expanses of Yosemite National Park. Several boots also made it to Peru for testing in the desert and volcanos found there.

We hope this extensive review helps you find the perfect boots and...
We hope this extensive review helps you find the perfect boots and allows for many miles of happy trails in them.
Photo: Ryan Huetter

We tested these contenders over a range of terrain types and weather conditions so that we could accurately record feedback on each pair under a set of testing metrics. Below we identify these parameters and discuss the testing methods that we used.

Comfort


Comfort is largely a personal, subjective criterion since everyone's feet are different, but we were able to look at the fit of the shoe and how effective the lacing system was for a range of foot sizes. The quality of the included insole was noted, as some of the boots had footbeds that should be immediately swapped out for quality aftermarket products. The ankle padding was factored in, as some boots used thin material that bit into the ankle, and the amount of cushion in the sole factored in to comfort on long hikes. We paid attention to foot comfort on our test hikes, noting where and when we got any blisters as a result of rubbing or poor ventilation.

We trekked through talus and trails to see how comfortable each pair...
We trekked through talus and trails to see how comfortable each pair of boots are in these environments.
Photo: Ryan Huetter

Stability


We tested each pair of boots on tough, off-trail slopes with scree, talus, slabs, and grassy traverses to see how they performed when on uneven ground. We noted how well they supported the ankle, resisted rolling and edged into the dirt, snow, or rock. Boot height was taken into consideration as well as the lower cut models did not give the same high ankle support though offered a higher degree of ankle articulation, which did translate into a more climbing ability in the steeps.

Scrambling routes in the mountains provide a great testing arena for...
Scrambling routes in the mountains provide a great testing arena for many of our boots.
Photo: Ryan Huetter

Water Resistance


Since water resistance is a top concern for many hikers, we sloshed through streams and creeks and stood in lake shores to test how quickly the boots kept water out. Each of our test models, with one exception, uses a waterproof/breathable membrane designed to keep water out while also allowing perspiration to pass through. We were able to test the efficacy of these membranes by hiking in warm conditions on the trail and then seeing how moist our socks became.

We test our boots in the natural environments they are designed for.
We test our boots in the natural environments they are designed for.
Photo: Ryan Huetter

Weight


Weight was the easiest to test for and involved us taking each one of the boots and weighing them on our scale (in size 11 US) to test against the manufacturer's claimed weights. We found there were benefits both gained and lost by wearing lightweight or heavyweight boots on our hikes.

Traction


To test traction, we sought out situations that would best test the boot's grip. On steep scrambling routes, we found which rubber compounds best stuck to the rock, and we saw which boots stuck or slipped on wet and muddy trails. With a very snowy and wet season in our main testing area, the Sierra Nevada, we found lots of firm snowfields, muddy slopes, wet creek crossings, and steep rock to climb on our test hikes.

Real-world testing happening on Crystal Crag in the Sierra Nevada...
Real-world testing happening on Crystal Crag in the Sierra Nevada. That rubber better be sticky!
Photo: Ryan Huetter

Durability


We put hours of rugged use into these test boots and began to see some of them show signs of weakness that we could pass onto you. Admittedly, two months is a rather short test period, but it was long enough to see the beginnings of the issues consumers might find and corroborate the findings of other users and reviewers.

After a full season of use, boots that at first seem tough can...
After a full season of use, boots that at first seem tough can already show heavy wear.
Photo: Ryan Huetter

Over the course of many miles both on the trail and off we found which boots rose to the top across all of our metrics and which ones were best suited to specialized uses. We had a lot of fun putting these boots through their paces so that you can find the right ones for your needs, and get out there and have an adventure of your own with the right footwear.