The majority of our testing occurs on the hiking trail. This is truly a hands-on review. The only way to honestly assess the performance of a hiking boot is by putting in the time on the trails. To help discover the best model for every hiker, we do the dirty work of breaking in all of these boots and putting them to work. From days spent stream hopping and meandering through alpine meadows in the Sierra high country to bushwhacking through seldom-visited canyons in New Mexico, we challenge these boots with a wide range of conditions. We wore these boots when building trails in Yosemite National Park and while doing farm work on our friends' farms. These situations provided a great opportunity to test the boots' durability, comfort, and breathability. Working on Yosemite Search and Rescue demanded that these boots be capable of traveling off-trail through rugged terrain.
We assessed the comfort of each boot by breaking them in slowly, noting any initial hot spots or pains. We made sure to note which boots broke in quickly and which ones took a long time to warm up to our feet. Additionally, we tried to make sure each boot got long days on the trail — spending a full day in a pair of shoes is a great way to assess their performance in terms of comfort. Our lead tester has wide feet, so we made sure to include foot shape and size into our comments on each model.
The support metric was tested in a similar fashion to comfort — which means lots of trail time. We assessed each boot's stiffness and torsional rigidity by twisting the boots laterally and seeing how much give each boot had. Stiffer boots will hardly bend at all, while boots with less supportive midsoles will twist significantly. We also factored in forefoot flex into this metric by gauging how much each boot flexed on the ball of the foot. Boots with less underfoot support did not perform as well on long days as those with a stable, supportive midsole. Ankle shaft height and the ability to secure the cuff around the ankle and lower leg also factored into this metric.
We test traction on granite talus fields, ancient sea beds turned into layered sandstone, and endless scree fields. Loose dirt and eroding trails are also great places to test the performance of the boots' outsoles. We also factor in a standardized traction test on a rock slab to see which boots stick and which boots slip.
For water resistance testing, we purposefully walked through ankle-deep water and not-so-purposefully got caught in downpours and hail storms. By wearing the boots while standing in water, we can make sure to catch any leakages in the uppers and compare each boot's performance side by side. We also factor in breathability to this metric by wearing the boots in warm weather and noting how swampy our feet get in these kinds of conditions.
For weight comparisons, we measured each pair of boots by hand. We also factored in the feel of each boot, since some feel much bulkier and heavier than others underfoot with a similar weight on the scale.
Durability can be tricky to assess in our three-month testing period. We were sure to make a note of any wear and tear that appeared in the most vulnerable areas — the outsides of the toe box, the soles, and the lacing system. It is in these locations that we have noticed the earliest signs of wear over the years. We also consider materials and their inherent durability.