How to Choose a Good Pair of Hiking Boots©
How to Choose a Good Pair of Hiking Boots

How to Choose a Good Pair of Hiking Boots


How to Choose Hiking Boots

Hiking: there’s a lot of that to do in New Zealand, especially if you are here on a backpacking trip or working holiday. The footwear you choose to take you through the county’s mind-blowing landscapes can either make you curse with every step or simply not think about it at all. The latter is what you are looking for, right? So choosing a pair of hiking boots or shoes that fits your feet and hiking needs is an essential item when doing a gap year in New Zealand. Find out how to choose hiking boots in this guide.

Should you get hiking shoes or boots? That all depends on what sort of hiking you intend to do. That’s why we have compiled a pro and con list of every type of hiking footwear, so you can choose what’s best for your tramping ambitions.

For more information on choosing a good pair of hiking boots, check out 10 Tips for Picking the Perfect Hiking Boots for New Zealand. And for a complete list of things to pack for a trip around New Zealand, check out our complete New Zealand Packing List.

What Material is Best for Hiking Boots?

So the store assistant has put you in front of a line-up of shoes and boots of different materials, from mesh to leather to some elaborate mixes. What does it all mean?!

  • A mesh outer-material suggests breathability, which is ideal for hiking in the warmer temperatures of spring and summer. Check out New Zealand’s climate and seasons here.
  • Leather materials will protect against all the elements: rain, cold, snow you name it. However, itis less breathable.
  • Synthetic materials like polyester, nylon and synthetic leather are lighter than leather, tend to be more flexible so you can break them in more quickly, and are cheaper than leather. However, they might not be as durable.

Whatever material you decide, make sure your boot or shoe is waterproof. Waterproofing brands like Gore-Tex, Outdry and eVent provide waterproofing with breathability. Additionally, waterproofed leather tends to be more effective than other fabrics.

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Hiking Shoes (Low-cut Model)

Hiking shoes have the same features of hiking boots, with strong durable material and good grip on the sole, but they do not rise above the ankle. While some look like trainers, others are low-cut versions of traditional hiking boots.

Ideal for: day hikes or short multi-day hikes with a backpack less than9kg. You will be sticking to well-defined trails, which is most often the case in New Zealand as the majority of tracks are well-maintained by the Department of Conservation.

Pros of Hiking Shoes

  • They are light-weight so comfortable for hikes carrying a light backpack or just yourself.
  • They will not take up too much room in your luggage.
  • Hiking shoes will have support in the soles and outer materials, making them more supportive than trainers.
  • They are made with materials which provide abrasion-resistance, so will last for many hikes.
  • No ankle support and lightweight means you can generally move faster in hiking shoes.

Cons of Hiking Shoes

  • Ankle-support is minimal.
  • Not all models are ideal for rough terrain.
  • Water is more likely to overflow into the shoe during heavy rain or walking through streams, proving any waterproofing features pointless.
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Hiking Boots (Mid-cut Model)

This is where the shoe becomes a boot and raises midway up the ankle providing more support but giving a bit less flexibility to the foot. Generally, they are higher cut versions of hiking shoes.

Ideal for: day trips or multi-day hikes over rough terrain. You are carrying a load up to 12kg and need support for weak ankles.

Pros of Hiking Boots

  • They have similar light-weight benefits of a hiking shoe.
  • There’s more ankle support than with hiking shoes.
  • You’ll find a good range of waterproof models.
  • They are more likely to have a toe cap protection.
  • Excellent abrasion resistance.

Cons of Hiking Boots

  • Usually, mid-cut hiking boots need some break-in time.
  • They are not as durable as the high-cut hiking boots.
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Hiking Boots (High-cut Model)

There are the highest cut hiking boots, which usually provide extra ankle support with a lace that wraps around the ankle. The height of hiking boots can reach as high as 13cm higher than hiking shoes.

Ideal for: hiking with heavier loads around14kg. You are facing varied and rough terrain and hiking for several days. (Need to choose a backpack? Take a look at our advice here).

Pros of High-cut Boots

  • Excellent ankle support a must if you are prone to tweaked ankles and rolled knees.
  • They will make carrying heavier loads more comfortable on the feet.
  • They are super durable and will last many, many hikes.
  • They have enough support to withstand any terrain and protect your feet.

Cons of High-cut Boots

  • These boots will slow your pace down.
  • They are often too much for day trips or walking just well-formed trails.
  • Can take a long time to wear in, which is crucial if to avoid blisters.
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Mountaineering Boots

A design that is similar to hiking boots, mountaineering boots are for the extreme hiker. The boot rises higher than hiking boots and has much stiffer soles. They can usually accommodate climbing equipment and crampons.

Ideal for: extreme environments. You’re taking expeditions over glaciers and snowy mountains,carrying a heavy backpack. You are a hardcore hiker!

Pros of Mountaineering Boots

  • The most appropriate winter and alpine footwear.
  • They are designed to accept crampons.
  • Their heavy weight allows you to withstand carrying heavy loads better.
  • Well-insulated to keep your feet warm.

Cons of Mountaineering Boots

  • No breathability.
  • They will slow you right down.
  • They are far more of a boot than you need for most of the trails in New Zealand.

The Right Fit!

So, you have chosen what type of shoe or boot you want. The most important thing is making sure they fit well, so you can avoid blisters and bruised toes. Here are our boot-fitting tips:

  • Make sure they fit well. Your heel should not raise as you step, while your toes have room to wiggle. You don’t want your toes hitting the front of the shoe as you step.
  • Try the hiking boot with the socks you are likely to be wearing when hiking.
  • Fit them in before the big trip! Do short walks in your new boots or even walk around your house or hostel in them. Some experts recommend wearing for two weeks before a big hike, especially with high-cut hiking boots.
  • When trying on the boot and wearing them in, do this towards the end of the day when your feet tend to swell. This is more representative of what your feet will be like when you are hiking.

Need more information about choosing a good pair of hiking boots? Check out 10 Tips for Picking the Perfect Hiking Boots for New Zealand.


Robin C.

This article was reviewed and published by Robin, the co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. He has lived, worked and travelled across 16 different countries before calling New Zealand home. He has now spent over a decade in the New Zealand tourism industry, clocking in more than 600 activities across the country. He is passionate about sharing those experiences and advice on NZ Pocket Guide and its YouTube channel. Robin is also the co-founder of several other South Pacific travel guides.

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