The Parts of Hiking Boots

If you really want to be a savvy hiking boot buyer, you need to learn and understand the names of the different parts of a hiking boot. We’re going to try to help you do exactly that.

Just check the list below if you are interested in a specific term or scroll down a bit and learn about hiking boots from the ground up.

The 13 Basic Parts of a Hiking Boot: An Alphabetized List

Obviously, different folks break down the parts of hiking boots in different ways. But we consider the 13 parts below to be the basic components of a hiking boot.

  • Bootstrap
  • Collar
  • Eyelets
  • Heel counter
  • Insole
  • Lining
  • Midsole
  • Outsole
  • Rand
  • Shank
  • Toe cap / Toe box
  • Tongue
  • Upper

The Parts of a Hiking Boot: Plain English Explanations

You may have already noticed that many of the terms applied to hiking boots are a bit weird, and relatively few are entirely intuitive. But don’t worry – we’ll try to skip any unnecessary jargon and keep things simple.

We’ll start at the bottom and work our way up.

The Soles of Hiking Boots

In the broadest sense, the “sole” of a hiking boot is made up of four different layers, all of which work in concert to protect your feet from the ground, and provide stability, traction and comfort. We’ll discuss the individual layers of your boot soles in greater detail below.

Outsole and Lugs: The Bottom of Your Hiking Boot

The outsole of your boot is the (usually rubber) part that contacts the ground. Outsoles are carved to create numerous blocky segments (called lugs or a lug pattern), which help provide traction.

Different boots are made from slightly different materials, and each offers its own set of benefits and drawbacks – none are ideal in all situations. Nevertheless, harder outsoles generally provide better durability, while softer outsoles provide superior cushioning for your feet.

Lug patterns differ too, but the primary thing you’ll want to focus on is the spacing between the lugs and the terrain you typically hike. The muddier the trails are, the wider you’ll want the lug pattern gaps to be.

Midsole & Shank: The Hidden Meat of the Sole Sandwich

The shank is a thin strip of metal (or a combination of materials) situated between the outsole and midsole. It’s primarily included to provide stability to the bottom of the boot.  

The midsole is the oft-forgotten layer of hiking boot soles. Sandwiched between the outsole and insole, it provides the bulk of the cushioning and support for your foot.

Midsoles can be made from a variety of materials, but the two most common are polyurethane (PU) and ethyl vinyl acetate (EVA). There are a number of differences between the two materials, but the most notable is that EVA contains tiny air bubbles, which help to reduce the weight of the sole (and therefore the overall boot). These air bubbles also provide a bit of extra cushion and “bounce.”

PU midsoles, on the other hand, are firmer and heavier, though they tend to continue to provide cushion for a longer period of time than EVA-based soles do.

So, if you want a boot that is as light and comfy as possible, you should probably look at boots with EVA midsoles first. If you’re looking for boots that’ll last a long time, PU-based insoles may be a better bet.  

Insole: The Soft Part That Your Foot Rests On

Also called the footbed, the insole is the removable layer of cushioned material that directly contacts your foot (well, socks). Insoles also provide arch support, which helps ensure comfort and stability (particularly during long hikes).

Boot insoles may be made from a variety of different materials, including fiberboard, foam, or nylon. Some are even made from leather. The materials used (and to a lesser extent, the construction method employed) all provide different pros and cons, ranging from more efficient insulation to superior odor control. However, it is difficult to make many broad generalizations about them.

Note that while your hiking boots will almost always come with insoles, you can remove the included ones and replace them with after-market insoles, which are designed to serve various purposes. You can even purchase custom-built insoles, which are designed for your specific feet.

The “Main Part” of the Hiking Boot

Having discussed the soles, we can now move up from the ground a bit and talk about the other portions of the boot, including the upper, lining, tongue, eyelets and collar.

Upper

The upper of a hiking boot is the part that covers the foot and ankle. The upper may be made from leather, synthetic fabrics, nylon, plastic, or a combination of these materials.

You’ll want to match the type of fabric used in the boot’s upper to your intended activity and climate. For example, if you’re going on day hikes in the American southwest, you’ll want to prioritize things like low weight and breathability. And this means you’ll likely want to start your search by looking for boots with nylon uppers.

Conversely, mountaineers who will be walking through thick snow will be better served by uppers made from plastic or some other well-insulated, waterproof material.  

Note that uppers differ in the amount of coverage they provide too. Some will stop below the ankle bone and essentially resemble sneakers, while others cover the entire ankle and part of the calf; many, however, fall somewhere between these two extremes.

Different hikers prefer to wear boots that provide varying levels of coverage, and your choice will ultimately come down to personal preference. However, low-rise hiking boots will feel cooler in hot weather and allow for more ankle flexibility. They’ll also be quite light.

On the other hand, high-rise hiking boots will provide greater ankle support and tend to be warmer.

Lining

The lining of a hiking boot – the part that resides between your foot and the upper — is used to absorb sweat and provide a comfortable surface for your foot while it’s inside the boot. Most modern hiking boots utilize synthetic materials for their liners, but leather and cotton are also used by some manufacturers.

Tongue

The tongue of a hiking boot is the part that covers the top of your foot and sits between the two sides of the upper. The boot’s laces will lie directly over it (and they help keep the tongue in place).

The tongue is often made from the same outer material that the uppers are, but many feature internal padding. This helps prevent the laces from pressing into the wearer’s foot.

Eyelets

Eyelets are the holes that the laces go through. They are usually located at the top of the boot, near the ankle bone, and are generally made from metal or plastic. There’s not a lot to eyelets, though it is always wise to prioritize high-quality ones, which aren’t as likely to cause premature wear on your laces.

Collar

The collar of a hiking boot is the padded “ring” or cuff around the top of the upper. Its job is primarily to enable you to tighten the boots snuggly enough to keep debris (called “scree,” hence the alternative name for this component: the scree collar) from entering your boot without causing discomfort.

The collar is usually made of leather, nylon, or synthetic material and filled with padding.

The Outer Surfaces

Given that the outer surfaces of the hiking boot are the components that protect and insulate your foot, they’re obviously quite important. However, because they’re also the most visible portion of your hiking boots, they also serve a bit of a decorative or aesthetic function, which means they often vary quite significantly from one pair of boots to the next.

Toe Cap (aka Scuff Cap)

The toe cap is the (usually rubber) cover that protects the front of your boots from wear and tear. It must be made of very durable materials, as it’ll endure more wear and tear than any part of your boot aside from the outsole.

Rand

The rand is a strip of material that, like the toe cap, is usually made from rubber. It covers the connection point between the sole of your boot and the upper, thereby protecting the stitching from cuts and abrasions.

In some cases, the rand needn’t encircle the entire boot and is therefore only included near the toe cap.

Heel Counter

Heel counters are pieces of leather or stiff synthetic material that lie alongside the heel of the boot. They’re primarily included to improve the stiffness of the rear portion of the booth, but they also provide additional ankle support.

Not all boots have heel counters, and even those boots that do have them don’t always make them visible (they can be concealed inside the upper).

Mud Guard

The mud guard (which is not always included) is a strip of fabric that sits just above the rand. It is intended to offer additional protection from dirt, debris, and moisture.  

Miscellaneous Parts of Hiking Boots

Some parts of hiking boots don’t fit neatly into the categories discussed earlier, so we’ve put them all here.

Toe Box

The term “toe box” refers to the cup-like area at the front of your hiking boots. It’s primarily comprised of the leather or fabric upper, but it also includes the toe cap. It’s basically the “box” in which your toes sit.

Laces

Look, if you don’t know what laces are, we don’t want to go hiking with you. You’ve got to lay a little more groundwork before hitting the trail, big guy.  

But it does bear mentioning that high-quality laces are more than worth the additional expense. Even the most expensive mainstream hiking laces rarely exceed $20, and the vast majority are closer to $10. Meanwhile, the cheapest hiking laces are going to set you back at least $5.

It’s just not worth quibbling over $5 for something that could make or break your entire trip.

***

There are certainly a ton of different parts of most hiking boots, and the names of these parts are often a bit obscure. But once you familiarize yourself with the basics, you’ll find that picking a pair of hiking boots becomes pretty easy.  

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