Hiking Boots - What You Should Know
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Hiking Boot Types
Light Weight: Lightweight hiking boots usually consist of a split grain leather and rugged material combination. Split grain is any leather that is not from the actual outside layer of a cow's hide - better known as suede. It is more flexible than top grain leather and easier to break in. It is not as durable, supportive, or waterproof as top-grain.
Heavy Weight: For multi-day, weeklong, or longer hikes, heavyweight hiking boots are basically a necessity. They usually consist of all top-grain leather. Top, full grain leather is from the smooth outside layer of a cow's hide. It is more durable and stiffer than split grain, and fares well against water and abrasions. Full-grain also takes longer to break in than split-grain.
Heavy weight hiking boots are recommended when carrying a backpack of 45 lbs or more, or carrying any pack for an extended period of time or over rough terrain.
When choosing your full grain leather hiking boots, keep in mind the types of conditioning. Oil-tanned shoes are breathable, have conditioned leather, and are gentler on the foot, but the leather can wear down and become less supportive over time. Silicone tanned boots are more resistant to water, but are also quite stiff and take longer to break in.
Mountaineering: These rugged hiking boots are in a class by themselves, for more hardcore mountain and glacier hiking. A good amount of research and experience is recommended before venturing out into this territory - information that is not currently covered here.
There are 5 basic kinds of waterproofing methods for hiking boots.
Oil Based: Oil Based compounds soften the leather of the shoe, and can cause it to break down after time, so that the boot is less supportive.
Wax Based: Wax-based products are quite functional in waterproofing hiking boots, provided the wax is reapplied regularly. Be sure to buff the boots after applying to get rid of the excess - it can attract dirt and grime. The main drawback is that wax based waterproofers cut down on the breathablity of the boot. Your feet don't get as much air when perspiring, and once the boots are wet, they take longer to dry.
Silicone Based: Stitching and glue can break down under the high petroleum content of silicone products. Your boots will also give off fumes while drying. Silicone products stiffen the boots when exposed to low temperatures, and they do not aid in conditioning the leather. Silicone is recommended as opposed to wax based products for boots with a Gore-Tex liner, because it is more breathable.
Fluoropolymer: This type of waterproofing comes in a spray can, and has been rated the best by leading authorities on the subject. It can be used on hiking boots that have been previously treated by a different method. It dries quickly, repels stains, and does not change the appearance of most leather (always try on a discreet spot first if you are concerned.)
There are also some basic "waterproof rules" to follow when buying hiking boots.
Look for shoes with as few seams as possible. Stitched seams become weak spots as the materials degrade, inviting leaks.
If you are shopping for a hiking boot with a Gore-Tex waterproof liner, look for one that is relatively thin. Thicker liners will take longer to dry when they (like ALL boots, inevitably) get wet.
Be sure the hiking boots that you buy have a leather piece between the tongue and body of the boot, called a gusset. This helps to keep the water out.