Hiking boots and sock drying on EBC trek in Nepal with Ama Dablam in background

The best hiking boots for trekking in Nepal

Sep 27, 2022
Reading time: 22 minutes

Your hiking boots are without doubt one of your most important packing list items for a Nepal trekking trip. We discuss what to look for in hiking boots so that you can choose a pair that's just right for you for trekking in Nepal.

Well done for properly researching your hiking boots! Please read on as you need to find a pair early so that you can wear them in properly before your Nepal trek.

Choosing a good pair of hiking boots isn’t about choosing a brand, as there are many excellent brands out there. Instead, it’s about two things:

  1. Looking for boots that can handle the conditions you’ll likely experience when trekking in Nepal.
  2. Knowing what to look for in a boot to suit your feet.
Pur. Trekkers on path between Yak Kharka and Thorung Phedi, Annapurna trek (1)

Nepal treks are no walk in the park

We answer the first question below where we discuss why you need hiking boots – not hiking shoes – to trek anywhere in Nepal. We then answer the second question when we discuss the anatomy and characteristics of good hiking boots.

Finally, we also address whether or not you need crampons, and the types of bootlaces that are best for trekking.

You need warm, comfortable, durable and water-resistant hiking boots to successfully and safely trek in the Himalayas of Nepal.

Why you need hiking boots, not shoes

We definitely recommend hiking boots over hiking shoes when it comes to trekking anywhere in Nepal. Nepal has the extreme artic world of the Himalayas as well as hot and humid jungle in the south.

Backpack, hiking boots and socks on low wall with Annapurna mountains behind, Nepal

You want quality hiking boots, not shoes, for tackling a trek in Nepal

Consequently, the terrain in Nepal is rough and varied, and can include navigating your way through or over roots, rocks, streams, mud, slippery grasses, scree, ice, snow, and more! So a quality pair of hiking boots is a must. 

Hiking boots offer greater warmth than hiking shoes, which is important when trekking in the Himalayas where conditions are harsh. 

Hiking boot anatomy

Knowing some basic hiking boot terminology will help you in your search for the best hiking boots for Nepal. Take a look at the hiking boot infographic below to familiarise yourself with the anatomy of a standard hiking boot.

Diagram labelling the different parts of a hiking boot

Infographic of a hiking boot

Characteristics of good hiking boots

There are so many different types and brands of hiking boots – both in-store and online – that shopping for them can be a bit daunting. The best way to enter the fray is to do so with some sound guiding principles.

With this in mind, we give you a breakdown of what to look for when shopping for hiking boots under the following three categories: 

  • The upper boot
  • Fit
  • The soles

But first, an important caveat. Much like nutritionists have different ideas about what you should eat to be healthy, hiking boot experts have differing opinions as to what boots lead to the happiest and healthiest feet.

Further to this, as research advances, we’re sure there will be different advice and industry standards to come in the future! With that being the case, we present both sides of the argument where debate exists to help you make up your own mind.

You forget about your feet when you're wearing good hiking boots, and can just focus on the trek and the scenery. This is exactly how it should be!

The upper boot

When it comes to the upper portion of a hiking boot, there are a few things to consider, as follows:

  1. Fabric
  2. Weight 
  3. Toe caps
  4. Insulation
  5. Ankle support

1. Fabric

Hiking boot fabric is a very important topic. But it’s worth noting that there’s no ‘best’ fabric. What works well for one person might not be ideal for another. That’s why we can’t declare any one boot the best boot on the market. It’s all about you deciding for yourself based on expert opinion and knowing your own feet. 

The two main hiking boot fabrics are leather and synthetics. And the two main concerns when it comes to boot fabric are breathability and absorbency.

Unfortunately, the more waterproof a boot, the less breathable it is. This means you usually have to settle on a compromise between the two. So here’s the 411 on leather and synthetic hiking boots ... 

Leather 

Leather is an excellent choice for many trekkers. Many who have leather hiking boots swear by them.

Leather hiking boots on a rock, best hiking boots for Kilimanjaro

Some leather hiking boots

Leather hiking boots are often made with full-grain leather, reverse full-grain leather, or nubuck.

Leather is a natural fibre (often cowhide) that makes very tough and long-lived hiking boots.

All leather boots are breathable, as animal skin has pores. But if you wax them enough they can become waterproof. This is important if you're trekking in the alpine conditions of the Himalayas, as well as for trekking in the wet jungle of southern Nepal.

The pros of leather boots are as follows:

  • They’re tough, resilient and durable. 
  • They can withstand abrasive action much better than synthetic fibres.
  • A good pair of leather hiking boots can last years, even decades (though you may need to replace the soles). 
  • They can be made waterproof by waxing them regularly. 
  • They’re warm in cold weather.
  • With time they mould to your feet and become very comfortable.

The cons (or possible drawbacks) of leather boots are:

  • They tend to be more expensive than synthetic boots.
  • They take a while to break in. 
  • The more waterproof you make them, the less breathable they become. 
  • They require more care and maintenance than synthetic boots.
  • They’re heavier than synthetic boots.

Synthetics

Synthetic boots are any boots constructed from a human-made fabric. Many synthetic hiking boots are made from synthetic leather, nylon or polyester. Many seasoned trekkers use synthetic boots and find them to be excellent.

Purple hiking boots in jungle of Nepal

Synthetic hiking boots in the jungle of southern Nepal

Here are the pros of synthetic hiking boots:

  • They tend to be cheaper than leather boots (we all have a budget).
  • They’re quicker to break in.
  • They also require less maintenance.
  • They’re very breathable, which helps in the prevention of blisters.
  • They’re lightweight.

The cons of synthetic boots are:

  • They aren't waterproof.  
  • They’re not as tough and durable as leather boots. 
  • They’re not as warm as leather boots.

Water-resistant vs water-repellent vs waterproof

A quick word on the matter of absorbency. You’ve probably heard the terms water-resistantwater-repellent and waterproof. You might even have thought they’re synonymous. Not so.

Trekking boots on a rock

Some synthetic hiking boots will keep your feet drier than others

Waterproof materials are completely impermeable, so not a drop of water can get through. Water-repellent fabric is one step down, as it keeps most water out, but isn’t entirely waterproof. A water-resistant fabric is the least reliable – you might say it discourages water, but that’s all.   

Please note that ‘water-resistant’ doesn't mean the same thing as ‘water-repellent’, and ‘waterproof’ has yet a third meaning.

Depending on where and when you're trekking in Nepal, waterproof boots may be a necessity. If you trek high in the Himalayas, for instance, you need to be prepared for snow and ice. And if you trek in the jungle of southern Nepal, you need to be prepared for dew, rainfall and such. Having a waterproof boot is very helpful here, although a water-repellent one might be sufficient in some cases.

If you're intending to tackle the Everest Base Camp trek, you might like to read Best time to trek Everest Base Camp.

 

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2. Weight

You want to avoid boots that are too heavy for you to walk comfortably for long stretches. On most multiday treks in Nepal you hike for hours each day.

Nepal Annapurna Circuit trek group photo

A group of Follow Alice trekkers on the Annapurna Circuit

As mentioned, leather boots tend to be heavier than synthetic boots. We suggest when trying on the boots that you walk around the store for some time, lunging, squatting, air kicking and just generally putting on a show to help you ascertain if the boots are the right weight for you. 

In fact, some stores have treadmills you can use to help test out the boots. These are a fantastic resource and we recommend taking the time to really test out the boots on them.

Hiking boots on trekker looking at mountain landscape in Nepal

Your trekking boots should be like a second skin

Note that a boot may not feel heavy when standing in the store, but after hours of walking it could become troublesomely heavy. We suggest you ask the sales clerk for advice in this regard.

 

3. Toe caps

A toe cap (or toe shield) is a hard surface wrapped around the outer edge of the toe box. Some toe caps are even made from steel.

The toe cap is an important feature that helps to protect your precious toes (and the boot fabric) from things like falling rocks, thorns and bashings.

Hiking boots and leaves

Toe caps are added to softer hiking boots to help protect your toes from being bashed or squashed

Not all hiking boots have toe caps – if the material is already tough enough, like certain leathers, then they’re not necessary. But if buying boots made with a relatively soft fabric like Gore-Tex, be sure to purchase ones with quality toe caps.

4. Insulation

The inside lining of hiking boots is important as this determines to a large degree the warmth of your feet while trekking. This is very important on a Himalayan trek where you walk in alpine and often even arctic climates.

Crampons on hiking shoes on Cho La, Nepal

Insulation is absolutely vital when trekking in the Himalayas of Nepal

The materials used to line the insides of boots vary, including fabrics like leather, microfibre and insulated or vegan lining. Synthetic linings can sometimes lead to extra sweating and bad odours. 

Winter hiking boots tend to use fluffy lambskin or insulated lining. Such boots are fantastic if trekking in the high Himalayas. However, they could be overkill for certain other hikes, or for the lower portions of hikes such as the Everest Base Camp trek. When worn with thermal socks, regular hiking boots that have a standard inner lining will see you through most Nepal treks just fine. (Remember, we're not talking about mountaineering in this blog post – just trekking.)

That said, you certainly could opt for winter hiking boots if you plan to do most or many of your future treks in very cold conditions. Just be sure to pack other walking shoes (like a secondary pair of non-thermal hiking boots) if you're also going to be hiking in warmer climes on the same trek.

5. Ankle support

It’s important to think about your ankles when choosing hiking boots. One busted ankle could mean the end of your Nepal trek. For this reason many advocate choosing high-cut hiking boots.

High-cut boots have a high collar that wraps around your ankles to offer them support. You want to find boots that have a nicely padded collar as these are more comfortable for the ankles as well your shins and lower calves.

Hikers wearing hiking boots and sitting on the grass

These hiking boots have a high cut for ankle support

If you’re unused to high-cut boots, note that they can take a while to get used to. This is another good reason to spend plenty of time in your boots before heading to Nepal! 

The very best ankle support

It’s worth saying that the very best ankle support is strong ligaments and muscles in the feet and lower legs.

Those who argue for a more ‘natural’ type of hiking boot say that artificial ankle support is actually unhelpful. They point to the fact that no ankle support can completely immobilise your ankle (to prevent sprains or breaks), and argue that you don’t actually want this anyway.

The argument against ankle support will likely ring prettily in the ears of those who hate high-cut boots! If you do choose to go with low-cut boots, be sure to still go with proper hiking boots, not regular trainers. You want the other characteristics of good hiking boots (like insulation and toe caps) to be in place. 

Fit

The fit of a hiking boot is crucial. You’re going to be spending long hours in your boots every day, so the best hiking boots for trekking in Nepal are, naturally, ones that fit your feet very well. 

woman tying her hiking boots

Finding the right fit of boot is critical to happy trekking

While shopping online can be tempting (especially when you find a sweet deal), you’re left on your own when the boots arrive to determine if they’re a good fit. It’s better to have someone who’s bread and butter is shoes to help you find the just right pair. So we strongly suggest that you into a reputable outdoors store to find the best hiking boots for you.

Ideally you should only try on hiking boots after having walked around for a few hours as your feet will have swollen a bit by then.

When thinking about fit, we suggest you pay attention to boot size as well as the toe box.

Boot size

While you may be someone who is usually a size 6, for instance, don’t let that number stick in your head when shopping for hiking boots. Keep an open mind about what size you should purchase. For starters, the sizings of each brand may not be identical. And secondly, you often need a bigger boot size to your normal shoe size. More on that in just a moment.

A good guide when looking for the right size hiking boot is the index finger test. This test says that when your boots are on and laced, you should be able to fit your index finger between your (sock-clad) foot and the back of the boot. You want a boot that protects your feet but doesn’t distort or overly confine them. Ideally, you want a boot that allows for some engagement with the ground while still offering protection. 

Female trekker walking up stone steps in Nepal

You tackle old stone steps on many treks in Nepal

Wear your socks when choosing your boots

It’s important to take your hiking socks with you when you visit the outdoors store to buy your hiking boots. If you don’t have appropriate socks already, ask the sales clerk to give you appropriate pairs to try on with the boots, and then buy those too. 

Note that trekking in the Himalayas means you'll probably be wearing a pair of sock liners and a pair of thermal socks each day. This means you need boots that are large enough to fit a sock liner as well as a thick thermal sock. This is another reason why you may end up buying hiking boots that are a size (or half a size) larger than you expected.

Woman walking along a dirt path in brown, worn hiking boots and long grey socks

You want to break in your trekking boots using the same socks you'll wear when trekking in Nepal

Did you know? Many people have slightly differently sized feet. In fact, around two thirds of the world’s population have unequal feet! Experts say that if your one foot is half a size bigger than your other foot, you should buy shoes to fit your bigger foot. This makes sense. Remember the saying …

If you want to forget all your other troubles, wear too tight shoes.

The toe box 

The hiking boots of the past few decades have mostly provided relatively narrow (or tapered) toe boxes that keep your toes pressed relatively close together. (The toe box, as you saw in the infographic above, refers to the front area of the shoe that houses your toes.)

Some now argue for the superiority of a wide toe box that allows for natural toe splay. Toe splay refers to how your toes naturally spread out when you walk barefoot. Toe splay is important in helping you to maintain balance.

Old brown hiking boots and socks on a tiled floor

These boots have a wide toe box

When a shoe reduces or takes away toe splay, it often compensates for the reduced balance by giving you a wider front sole. But is this ideal? Narrow toe boxes can sometimes lead to nasties like ingrown toenails, neuromas or even dead toenails.

Whichever shaped toe box you choose, note that your toes shouldn’t touch the front of the boot. Far from it, in fact. Leave about a finger’s width between the front of the boot and your toes. If you can’t move your toes at all, they’re too confined. Your toes also shouldn’t be pressed up against the sides of the boot – again, that would mean your boot is too small.

The soles

The soles of your hiking boots are a make-or-break feature. You want soles that have good tread and are waterproof, comfortable and durable. 

Sole thickness

There are two differing views when it comes to the ideal thickness of a hiking boot’s sole. The established viewpoint is that the thicker the sole, the more protection the sole of your foot receives. A thick sole prevents your foot being injured when you step on things like sharp stones, and it endures longer. 

Another reason for a thick sole is that the more weight you’re carrying (like a heavy rucksack, for instance), the longer it lasts. The army issues thick-soled boots because soldiers often carry heavy equipment. When trekking in Nepal, you often have the option of hiring the services of a porter. When you go this route, you only need to carry a backpack with your daily items, as the porter carries the rest of your belongings and equipment. 

close up of man's feet in hiking boots walking over dead leaves among trees

These boots have decently thick soles

The other viewpoint – the challenger – is that a thick sole is too rigid and holds your foot in one position. More specifically, your foot is prevented from feeling and making micro adjustments to the demands of the terrain underfoot. Advocates for this viewpoint also argue that a thinner sole lowers your centre of gravity and so improves your balance.

Leonardo da Vinci said that the “human foot is a masterpiece of engineering”; should we be letting our feet do more of the work when hiking than the boot?

The outsole

As you saw in our discussion on the anatomy of hiking boots, the soles of boots can be divided into three parts: the insole, midsole and outsole. When looking at the outsole of a hiking boot, you want one that’s decently wide, especially in the front half, for good balance. 

The lugs of the outsole are what afford you traction, which helps you to not slip. If you’re likely to tackle treks that ask you to walk across surfaces like grasses, streams, scree or ice, then you want good traction to avoid slipping. You need decent traction for trekking in Nepal, as you could be dealing with a slippery forest floor, muddy fields, slick rocks, scree, and snow and ice in the mountains.

tread of hiking boots, best hiking boots for Kilimanjaro

You want lugs that are deep and not too close together to afford the best possible traction when hiking

Outsoles can be made from various materials like polyurethane, plastic or rubber. For a hiking boot you definitely want an outsole that’s waterproof and durable. Vibram is an example of a brand that makes quality outsoles suitable for hiking boots. Their outsoles are hardy and abrasion-resistant, so cope well with rough terrain like that of the Himalayas. 

Outsoles do tend to wear out before other parts of a hiking boot given the beating they take. But the good news is that you can often get a boot resoled, saving you ditching the entire shoe when the sole becomes too degraded. 

 

 

Outsoles can be made from various materials like polyurethane, plastic or rubber. For a hiking boot you definitely want an outsole that’s waterproof and durable. Vibram is an example of a brand that makes quality outsoles suitable for hiking boots. Their outsoles are hardy and abrasion-resistant, so cope well with rough terrain. 

Outsoles do tend to wear out before other parts of a hiking boot given the beating they take. But the good news is that you can often get a boot resoled, saving you ditching the entire shoe when the sole becomes too degraded. 

The grip of a boot matters, especially when walking on slippery ground like a mossy forest floor

The insole 

Many trekkers enjoy insoles with memory foam. As your feet heat up with walking, the heat spreads to the memory foam, which starts moulding to your feet. You also want an insole with decent arch support. Women especially tend to have insteps, and inadequate arch support can lead to foot problems.

Obviously if you’re someone who does have problematic arches, the best course of action in such instances would be to visit a podiatrist. They can offer custom-made insets if necessary. If you have such orthotics, check the sole of the hiking boot is removable as usually you won’t have room in the boot for both.

 

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Crampons

Crampons are metal frames with spikes that you can attach to the bottom of your boots to help give you fantastic traction when walking in snow and ice. When trekking in the Himalayas, you don’t need the hardcore crampons used by those engaged in mountaineering, but you often will benefit from light crampons like those shown below. We particularly recommend brining crampons if you're doing our Everest Base Camp and Three Passes trek.

Top view of hiking boots in crampons standing on ice, and trekking poles

Crampons help you to walk steadily across snow and ice

Most crampons can clip onto pretty much any hiking boot. 

If you don't wish to buy crampons, you can opt instead to rent a pair. Kathmandu is awash with hiking gear rental shops, so you can rent some upon arrival.

When talking about hiking boots, it’s also essential to talk about bootlaces ...

The best bootlaces

Bootlaces aren’t something most of us give much thought. We simply use what comes with a pair of new boots. And usually those do the job just fine. But should you like a little more insight into the ideal bootlaces, then read on ... 

Synthetic hiking boots, best hiking boots for Kilimanjaro

Many hikers are unaware of the importance of good shoelaces for your hiking boots

We recommend round bootlaces (like those in the picture above) over flat ones for hiking boots. Round bootlaces are a bit more durable, being able to cope with stronger knots and tugs.

Note that polyester or nylon bootlaces are more durable and water-resistant than cotton ones. Braided or paracord nylon bootlaces are super strong and an excellent option for hiking boots. Nylon laces are a touch more expensive, but they last very well.

You also want laces with aglets (plastic-coated ends) to make threading them through eyelets more manageable. Aglets have the added advantage of preventing the laces from fraying.

Close up of a leather hiking boot in the grass

This boot has aglets at the ends of the laces to prevent them from fraying – very useful

Finally, you want bootlaces long enough for the very top hooks or eyelets of the boots. Of course the laces that come with the boots you buy should be long enough for this. But if you ever need to replace your laces, measure them or take them with you to the store to ensure the new ones are the right length.

Close up of synthetic hiking boots with long red shoelaces, best hiking boots for Kilimanjaro

Long bootlaces are useful as you can tie your laces in different ways to accommodate the varying terrain and any foot or discomfort issues

Break in your hiking boots

A good pair of hiking boots is an absolute must for trekking in Nepal. With a good pair, you can forget about your feet and just enjoy the beauty and challenge of the climb. With a bad pair, your expedition can be can become miserable, even dangerous.

Since rushed purchases lead to buyer’s remorse, give yourself plenty of time to shop around and find just the right pair (hopefully at the right price). You also need to leave yourself plenty of time to properly break in the boots. 

Close up of women's brown hiking boots and baby blue hiking socks

Spend time making friends with your boots before embarking on a big trek together!

Unfortunately, quality hiking boots don’t come cheap. But speak to any seasoned trekker and they’ll tell you the same thing: hiking boots are an investment. A good pair of boots can last years, sometimes even decades.

For this reason, try to think ahead to the sorts of treks you might like to do in the future. Consider the climate, terrain and other conditions of those routes to help you decide which boot is best for Nepal as well as those treks.

Be very careful to break in your hiking boots properly before your Nepal trek. This is especially important with leather boots. Even if your boots feel super comfy when you test them out (which they should), they still need breaking in. What's comfortable in-store isn't usually comfortable after a few hours of hard hiking. 

We recommend that you and your boots cover at least 100 km together before embarking on a multiday Nepal trek.

Start by wearing the boots around the house and on short outings like to buy groceries. Gradually level up by doing some longer walks, and then eventually going on increasingly longer hikes, backpack in place.

If you try to rush the process, you’re likely to get sore feet, especially with leather boots.

A word of caution: don’t listen to the folks who suggest quick-fix remedies like soaking the boots. The very best way to break in boots is to spend lots of time in them.

Foot and toe cushions

If you find your toes are hurting or blistering – or your toenails are suffering – while breaking in your boots (or even after your boots are worn in), you might like to try out toe caps. Not to be confused with the toe caps that are an aspect of synthetic hiking boots, or with toe socks that have individual toe compartments, the toe caps we're referring to here are small gel or fabric ‘socks’ that you can slide over individual toes to protect them from friction and provide some extra cushioning.

You can also buy toe caps that simply separate the big toe from the other four. In other words, your four small toes go in one compartment, like a mitt, while the big toe has its own compartment.

If your heels are where you blister frequently, you might like look into purchasing gel heel socks for extra cushioning there.

Gel heel socks

Gel heel socks

And then of course you can also buy gel ball of foot cushions for extra padding under the balls of your feet.

Importantly, you wouldn’t try any of these cushioning devices for the first time when trekking in Nepal. No, no. Experiment with toe caps, heel socks or whatever beforehand to ensure they work as intended and don’t produce any negative side effects.

Bring on the trekking bug!

We hope we’ve helped you to find the very best hiking boots for trekking in Nepal. And not only for Nepal – we want you to invest in a pair of boots that can accompany you on many other adventures! Because once you’ve trekked in the majesty of the Himalayas, we've no doubts that you’ll have caught the trekking bug. 🐞 😄

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