If you are getting into hiking, buckle up and get ready to be mansplained to.
Everywhere from REI to the Zealand Hut is chock full of people who know things about stuff, and really want to tell you about it.
Sometimes these people know actual stuff. Other times they don’t.
I’ve heard someone explain that waterproof boots are bad for long distance hikes because they trap water inside the boot. I’ve heard that the whole hiking boot industry is nonsense because you can really just hike in Converse All Stars. And, of course, there were those couple years when people thought hiking in Vibram FiveFinger sandals (the ones with creepy toes) was the best thing for the feet (Vibram later settled a class action lawsuit related to false advertising for the FiveFinger Sandals).
Now that that piece is out of the way, here are some suggestions when it comes to boots.
Get yourself some ankle support. A mid height boot is ideal. There are a lot of hiking shoes on the market, but they do not provide the support needed to prevent a hiker from rolling their ankle on the trail. Boots are better than shoes, and they will break in. So even if they are uncomfortable when you try them on, they will usually loosen up over the ankle
Your boots must be waterproof. If your foot gets wet on the trail, and your sock becomes saturated you could get trench foot rather quickly (a good reason to bring extra socks even if your boots are waterproof)
Look for Vibram rubber (I know I hated on this company earlier but the hard rubber they produce for hiking boots is unmatched)
Try not to worry too much about “out of the box comfort”. Most boots need to break in, especially those with leather uppers.
The tread is not as important as you might think it would be. Some companies include multiple rubber compounds in the tread. The idea is that the harder rubber will do most of the work while hiking (supporting the foot), and the softer rubber will grip onto flat and slippery rock surfaces. I have never owned a boot with multiple rubber compounds, but Evan has, and he is lame. The specific tread pattern does not need to be particularly crazy, like what you might find on a boot by Oboz, to grip well.
The material on the upper exterior of the boot should match the time of year you intend to use the boot. Fabric uppers with massive vents are ideal for spring, summer, and fall, (just switch up the socks), however, I would not recommend them in the winter. Boots without vents may function well as all season boots, provided you are not a very sweaty person.
Eventually this site will carry reviews of specific boots.
For the time being I give you the best all season boot I know of. (Disclaimer Staff Writer does work in the footwear department of an LL Bean).
The Gore-Tex Leather Cresta Hiking Boot by L.L. Bean ($249)
This boot uses a Gore-Tex waterproof liner. Gore-Tex is great because it is breathable. The Gore-Tex fabric is filled with holes small enough to allow water molecules out as a gas, however, the holes are too small to allow liquid water in (because of cohesion of water molecules if you're into science and stuff).
The leather upper and gusseted tongue further ensures that water will not penetrate the boot.
The leather upper provides excellent support for the ankle, that will be personalized to your leg.
This is an old school hiker. It will not be comfortable when you try it on. The leather will be stiff and the rubber will be hard. It takes a long time to break these boots in, but it is worth it. (applying a leather treatment will accelerate the process in the upper, it will still take a long to break in the soles).
There is a trend in the hiking boot industry to produce “out of the box comfort”. This helps retailers sell boots, but it does not improve the comfort or quality of the boot. Boots that must be broken in will often provide more comfort, support, and durability long term.
The sole is thick Vibram rubber, and the insole provides comfort and considerable arch support.
The Cresta Hiking Boot can be used summer to winter. I’ve strapped it into my snowshoes several times. Over two years I have replaced the original insoles once, otherwise, they are flawless.