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Gear Guide Boot Buying Guide, OutdoorPlaces.Com



OutdoorPlaces.Com Boot Buying Gear Guide


It is a point that some will argue.  The most important piece of equipment you will ever buy is the piece that touches the ground, your footwear.  Sure the right pack is very important, as is the right clothes, a good compass, and an accurate  map.  But you can have the best equipment in the world in the most comfortable pack, get a blister on your heel, and you are not going to be going anywhere fast.  With so many choices of styles, materials, and prices, we attempt to make sense of it all in the OutdoorPlaces.Com Boot Buying Gear Guide.

Usage Styles

Trail Runners

On Trail

Off Trail


Boots for hiking and outdoor activity come in a number of usage styles that manufacturers use to describe how their boot has been designed to be used.  The footwear needs of a day hiker with a fanny pack are very different to the backcountry trekker with 70 lbs. on their back.  Boots come in four basic flavors of Trail Runners, On Trail, Off Trail, and Backpacking.  Selecting the right boot requires you to decide on exactly what you are planning to do.

Trail Runners
Trail Runners are typically used on improved trails.  They are the perfect boot for day hikes on paved National Park trails, a stroll through the local state park on improved trails, or if you plan to mountain bike to a destination and then do some hiking upon reaching it.  They range in style from highly modified sneakers to trail shoe models and are made in both synthetic and leather materials.  Typically they only offer moderate traction, are made of ankle high or below ankle construction, and are not the ideal selection for scrambling across boulders or maneuvering on a rock strewn trail where ankle twists or cuts to your footwear are possible.  Also, they are typically not very waterproof and are down right terrible for slogging through mud or crossing streams.  Due to the lack of support for the foot and ankle, and they are not a good choice if you plan to carry more than a light day pack.  They will only offer limited supplemental warmth, and should be considered a 2-1/2 season boot.  Technical Scramblers would fall between Trail Runners and On Trail.

On Trail
On Trail boots are best for use on improved and maintained trails.  They are the perfect boot for anything a Trail Runner will do, plus hiking on a variety of maintained trails with a pack up to 30 pounds.  They range in a variety of styles and can be made from leather, synthetic, and waterproof synthetic materials.  Offering stiffer soles than Trail Runners with typical better traction, they are a good boot for more difficult trails or when a degree of climbing across rocks may be required.  They are typically constructed as ankle high or above ankle, and may offer protective rands on the toes to help stop abrasion and cuts.  They are not superior by design in waterproof abilities, but can handle some mud or a quick hop across a small stream and still keep your feet reasonable dry (with proper treatment before entering the field).  They will offer limited supplemental warmth, and should be considered a 3 season boot.  Technical Scramblers would fall between Trail Runners and On Trail.

Off Trail
Off Trail boots are best for use on a variety of surfaces, weather conditions, and terrains.  Due to their stiffer soles and heavier construction, use on a paved trail with no pack can be tiring.  They are an ideal choice when there is no trail or when path finding abilities may be required.  They are typically constructed of leather or durable/waterproof synthetic materials like Gore-Tex.  They offer superior traction and support, and are an ideal choice when carry a pack of up to 45 pounds.  They are typically above ankle in construction, have protective rands over the toes, and some will offer features like waterproof linings.  When properly treated, they offer solid waterproof protection, and are good for slogging through mud or small stream crossings.  For improved waterproofing consider investing in gaiters.  Some models with proper linings and design can offer excellent supplemental warmth (ALWAYS check with the manufacturer) and can be used if properly designed and treated as a four season boot.

Backpacking boots are best for use on rough surfaces when carrying a heavy load.  Due to their heavier weight and stiff soles, most people will find that a heavy backpacking boot is a liability on a day hike or on a paved National Park Trail.  They are the ideal choice if you plan to carry a heavy pack (in excess of 30 pounds) for more than a couple of days.  They are typically constructed out of full leather or high quality synthetics like Gore-Tex.  They offer good traction and superior support.  Only models that offer above ankle support should even be considered, protective rands, linings, and waterproof features also should be a must.  When properly treated and augmented with gaiters, backpacking boots are the ideal choice for wading through muddy or wet conditions or when frequent stream crossings are expected.  Models designed for cold weather and offer the ability to attach crampons are also called, Mountaineering Boots.  If you plan to hike in extreme conditions, then you should consider models designated as Mountaineering Boots which offer heavy insulation and traction designed for icy and snowy conditions.  Backpacking boots when properly designed and treated can be used as a four season boot.

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