If you really want to be a savvy hiking boot buyer, you need to learn and understand all the names for the different parts of hiking boots. 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 17 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 17 parts below to be the basic components of a hiking boot.
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.
Hiking Boot Outsoles and Lugs
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 hiking trails are, the wider you’ll want the lug pattern gaps to be.
Hiking Boot Midsoles & Shanks
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.
Hiking Boot Insoles
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.
You can always upgrade your boots’ insoles! We’re partial to Superfeet Trailblazer Comfort Hiking Insoles.
Hiking Boot Uppers
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.
Hiking Boot Linings
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.
Hiking Boot Tongues
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.
Hiking Boot 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.
Hiking Boot Collars
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.
Hiking Boot Bootstraps
Usually made of nylon or leather, bootstraps are nifty little pull tabs located at the back of the boot. They’re attached to the boot collars and feature loops that are big enough to accommodate a finger or two — the better ones tend to be roomy, as it’ll allow you to get a good grip.
The purpose of bootstraps is simple: They give you a great “handle” you can use to pull your boots on.
Bootstraps are minimally helpful to downright unnecessary on many of the comfier low-rise boots. But they’re appreciated to mandatory for boots that rise up pretty far. They’re also great for boots that are a bit stiff.
Hiking Boot Toe Caps & Toe Boxes
The toe cap and toe box are often confused with one another, so we’ll discuss them both here.
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.
But while the toe cap is clearly a physical thing, the toe box, is more of a concept; it 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.
Hiking Boot Rands
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.
Hiking Boot Heel Counters
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).
Hiking Boot Mud Guards
The mud guard (which is not always included) is a strip of fabric or rubber that sits just above the rand.
The mud guard is primarily intended to offer additional protection from dirt and debris. However, it may also help prevent water from entering the boots.
Hiking Boot 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 hiking trip.
Need some replacement laces? We love Sof Sole Waxed Boot Laces.
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.
Just be sure to learn how to break in your new hiking boots, and you’ll be all set!