Buying hiking boots online can be an intimidating process. There are several factors to consider and a surprising amount of jargon. A previous post covered the basics on the three base types of hiking boots and explained the difference between: day hiking boots, backpacking boots, and hiking shoes.
Once you are familiar with the basic types of boots and the differences between them it’s time to move on the some of the technical details. This will help you sort through the jargon and understand what you are ordering when you shop online for your hiking boots.
The following list is not in alphabetical order, rather we tried to put it in the most logical sequence possible, so that one item helps lead to and understand the next.
Common Hiking Boot Jargon
Top-Grain Leather: this is genuine pure leather. It is great for its durability and support. Top-grain leather is usually used on the heave duty backpacking boots. The downside is that it isn’t as breathable as some of the other options and it takes some time to break-in.
Nubuck leather: this starts out as top-grain leather, but it is then slightly roughened up on the exterior in order to give it a veltvety texture. This results in a more comfortable but very durable material. While it still takes a little time to break-in it breaks-in quicker than top-grain leather that hasn’t gone through this process.
Split-grain leather: This is still genuine leather, but it is literally split in order to get more use out of the material, the outer layer is used for finer leather articles and the inner layers are used for boots and other rougher products. The rough layer is sometimes stamped with a texture to make it look more like an outer layer, or other times it is left raw and gives off more of a rustic look.
Most boots combine it with mesh or other materials. The advantage is that it breathes much better and is lighter in weight, not to mention that it cost less. The downside though is that it isn’t a water tight material and neither is it as sturdy.
Synthetics: Any man-made material such as nylon, polyester, or synthetic leather that is used in boots. Synthetic uppers have the advantage of being light, breathable, and cheaper. The disadvantage is that they aren’t as durable as genuine leather.
Waterproof: as the name suggests these are waterproof, not water resistant, so no water will get through these synthetic materials. This is great in the winter, or on a cool rainy day (also recommended for rainforests). However, in dry hot climate waterproof materials don’t breath as well and can be uncomfortable.
Vegan Boots: this may sound strange, but it is quite logical. Just as a vegan human doesn’t consume animal products a vegan boot doesn’t use any animal products either. Vegan boots are made entirely with synthetic materials.
Insoles (footbeds): these are the part of the boot that your foot rests directly upon. It usually is cushioned abundantly and can also be made to absorb moisture keeping your foot dry. Insoles are almost always easily removed and replaced.
Midsoles: the midsoles of any shoes or boots are the layer of between the inner and outer soles, their main function is comfort and shock absorption. Stiffness is also affected by the soles. Of course a stiff sole doesn’t sound good, however it can be a very good thing, i.e., it can give you greater stability and keeps your boot from flexing around every contour in the trail. The most common materials for midsoles in hiking boots are EVA and Polyurethane, explained below.
EVA: EVA midsoles are made from ethylene vinyl acetate, this synthetic material helps to disperse weight and provides stability to the boot. It is foam-like, lightweight, flexible, and does a good job cushioning your steps.
Polyurethane (PU): this lightweight, durable, and waterproof synthetic material is one of the most common polymers used in shoes. It makes for a very sturdy and comfortable feel.
Shanks: these are part of the supportive structure of the boot and are think inserts that are inserted under the midsole. They add to the stiffness of the boot and are used especially in mountaineering boots as they help diminish the load.
Rock Plates: these are sometimes included underneath the shank and are usually made from a firm synthetic material. They offer protection against sharp objects that protrude out of the trail and can greatly increase comfort.
Outsoles: refer to the exterior bottom of your boot. Any respectable hiking boot outsoles are made from rubber and some more extreme boots are made from a mixture of rubber and carbon, i.e., backpacking or mountaineering boots.
Lugs: these are the bumps that protrude from the bottom of your outsoles. The style of lugs that your boot uses is very important since they affect traction and how mud is shed.
Heel Brakes: these are built into some outsoles in order to give improved traction to the heel and prevents slippage during steep descents.
Crampons: are traction devices that can be installed on the bottom of your outsoles to help while hiking on ice and snow. While they are not technically part of your boots we wanted to include them here so you will understand what crampon compatible means.
Hiking boot jargon goes on and on, however, this short list should be all that you need in order to understand hiking boot descriptions when shopping online. We hope you have enjoyed this post and hope that it will help you understanding what you are buying when you order your new hiking boots online!