Mountaineering boots vs hiking boots — that is the question.
If you have an adventure in the mountains ahead of you, then you might be wondering what kind of footwear you need. The wrong footwear and the wrong fit can easily lead to blisters, sprains, blackened toenails, and even plantar fasciitis among other problems. None of that is something you should experience if you can help it. It is better to do your research beforehand so that you can start your journey on the best foot possible, literally.
The big question that determines what type of footwear you need is, what kind of adventure are you going on? If you expect to be in an environment with steep inclines, ice, and snow, and there might be a need to use crampons or skis then mountaineering boots are most appropriate. These are also appropriate if there might be ice climbing and technical climbing, somewhat like what you might expect on Everest.
In a hurry? Here’s the test winner after 10 hours of research:
And here’s an overview of the best mountaineering boots and hiking boots on the market today:
On the other hand, if you are going for long distances through elevations and environments reminiscent of the Appalachian Trail in which distance and speed matter then hiking boots are more your speed. These are the boots you think of when you think about backpacking, hikers, and day hikes.
In some cases, an adventure calls for both environments, what then? Well, there are two major solutions to that. You can have one pair of footwear, probably hiking boots or light hiking/technical approach shoes, for your approach to the mountain. Then when you begin the more mountaineering intensive portion of your journey you can switch to more robust mountaineering shoes. The other solution is to have one pair of all-around trekking footwear that can do the trick.
It isn’t so easy to just pick one option over the other though. The basic approach is that if you will be spending a lot of time on snow, ice, glaciers, and technical terrain then you need proper mountaineering boots. These come as plastic boots, high altitude boots, and other varieties though. The plastics are a stiff boot that is basically for very wet snowy places over an extended time while the high altitude ones are all about keeping your toes alive in the frigid and deadly world of high altitude mountaineering. These climbing boots and technical boots can easily be overkill if all you need are some good leather boots or hiking shoes.
For the purposes of this guide, we are going to explore the top recommendations for general all-purpose hiking boots and the top recommendations for general all-purpose mountaineering boots. As these things often go the selections will be subjective to a degree. If you are planning any kind of high altitude mountain climbing you should get professional advice in person so someone can tailor suggestions to your specific needs. When it comes to hiking and mountaineering, proper preparation and safety are the number one rule.
Best Mountaineering Boots – Overview
1. La Sportiva Nepal Evo GTX
- The 3.2 mm one-piece silicone impregnated leather upper offers excellent durability and fit
Bring on the ice, the snow, the glaciers, and the steep mountainous terrain. The La Sportiva Nepal Evo GTX can take it all. This mountaineering boot is a perfect example of all the ways a hiking boot is different and why you need the right equipment. La Sportiva is a company that describes itself as mountain based and family-run. Located at the foot of the Dolomites in Italy they have been making some of the best technical exploration gear around for almost 89 years.
In La Sportiva Nepal Evo GTX they have created a great mountaineering boot. In one fell swoop, this boot is breathable, waterproof, and insulated thanks to its Gore-Tex® membrane. The material is specially designed to repel liquid water while still allowing water vapor to pass through.
They have also trademarked an innovative 3D Flex™ ankle and a removable and adjustable tongue. This makes for a comfortable, supportive and customizable boot that can be adjusted for all sorts of adventures. Many mountaineering boots can be too rigid and uncomfortable, so having one with versatility in comfort and movement while still offering ankle support is a big deal. There are some people who have tried the boot though and report the tongue actually bites into the top of the foot. This might be a matter of sizing or how they are laced too.
The boot is also equipped with a Vibram® sole and Impact Break System™ along with an insulating 9mm Ibi-Thermo insole. This all amounts to a boot that has a strong grip, even on ice, and one that can keep the soles of your feet warm while on that ice. The overall quality of this boot even earned it the Editor’s Choice Award from Climbing Magazine.
Mountaineering in something of this quality doesn’t come cheap, however. The sticker price sits at $525.00. You do get what you pay for in this case, and possibly more. If you are heading into the ice and snow of high elevations the proper footwear can make all the difference. It is a major determining factor in the risk of falls and frostbite at the very least.
- Breathable and waterproof Gore-Tex® membrane
- An innovative 3D Flex™ ankle
- Equipped with a Vibram® sole and Impact Break System™
- Editor’s Choice Award from Climbing Magazine
- The boots are not cheap
- The adjustable tongue might bite into your foot
2. Scarpa Phantom Tech
It would seem that many of the best mountaineering boots in the world are Italian made by old hands in family-run businesses at the base of the Dolomites. Scarpa is just that and has been around since 1938. The company is still run by and employing members of the same Parisotto family that came through its doors in 1942. For decades they honed their craft in their little region of Italy and then, in 2005, they opened a North American headquarters.
It is companies like Scarpa that make picking a top mountaineering boot hard. The quality is so top-notch, so consistent, among many of the Italian boot makers that you can almost pick at random. You shouldn’t, of course, but it’s good to know that quality isn’t lacking.
With the Scarpa Phantom Tech, you get a beautiful lightweight boot that is ready for almost any mountaineering situation. The upper portion of the boot is loaded with high tech materials like Cordura® and Kevlar® for starters. Kevlar® is the same material that goes into bulletproof vests to stop the bullets, these boots are that tough.
The outsole is made with Vibram® while the insole is reinforced with carbon fiber and EVA. This makes them tough, lightweight, and still capable of gripping well on snow or ice. An Outdry® and Primaloft® combination for the lining also keeps the boot well-insulated, warm, and breathable.
This all comes together to form a mountaineering boot that people swear by. The only downside reported by some is that lacing them up takes a bit of learning and practice at first. Like you might come to expect with true, high-quality mountaineering boots though the price is higher than some alpine tundras. Through Amazon, the boot is yours for a whopping $699. As previously mentioned these boots are an important investment for any serious mountaineer. The prices are usually in the high hundreds because of the quality of materials and construction that goes into them.
- Lightweight at 835 g
- Cordura® and Kevlar® Uppers
- Vibram® outsole and carbon fiber/EVA insole
- Outdry® and Primaloft® lining
- The boots are expensive
- There is a learning curve in lacing them up
3. Arc’teryx Acrux AR
- Upper Material: [membrane/laminate] Gore-Tex (3-layer), TPU laminate
Arc’teryx is a company born of the mountains in Canada. Founded in 1989 in North Vancouver, British Columbia the company predicates its success on its ability to iterate. Every product they make they are testing it in the real world. Test, modify, test, modify, repeat. As users of their own product from the initial testing stages through to completion, the folks at Arc’teryx know what works. They also happen to have a flair for intrigue and style with their name and logo coming from one of the earliest known birds, the Archeopteryx.
The Arc’teryx Acrux AR mountaineering boots have a lot going for them. So much so in fact that they were given the American Alpine Institute’s Guide’s Choice Award in 2017. These boots have three layers of breathable, insulating, waterproof Gore-Tex® on the outside with an additional waterproofing treatment of TPU. Then there is even more Gore-Tex® layering inside in the form of the removable liner. Your feet are staying dry.
Putting these boots on is a breeze too. Lacing them is easy and closure is aided by an independent velcro strap and watertight zipper system. The inside of the shoe is fitted with a custom-molded Ortholite™ footbed for comfort and arch support and below that you have a lightweight carbon fiber insole along with a Vibram® outsole providing excellent support and traction.
The only downsides to these boots are the price and, according to some, a lack of rigidity in the sole. These boots go for a high price but that probably is no surprise given the trend in quality mountaineering boot prices.
- Awarded the American Alpine Institute’s Guide’s Choice Award in 2017
- Multiple outer and inner Gore-Tex® layers
- Easy lacing
- A custom-molded Ortholite™ footbed
- Vibram® outsole and carbon fiber insole
- These are the most expensive mountaineering boots on the list
- The sole might be too flexible for some
Best Hiking Boots – Overview
1. Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX
- Waterproof backpacking shoes: Designed for maximum traction on mixed terrain, the Quest 4D 3 hiking boot features our 4D Advanced Chassis to help guide the foot & reduce fatigue, even on the roughest...
When it comes to hiking boots you want comfort, stability, and water resistance all in a breathable lightweight non-slip structure. That can be a hard balance to strike sometimes but the Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX hiking boots manage it very well. Beginning in the little French Alpine town of Annecy and slowly growing from there Salomon has become a key name in the world of outdoor activities. Their initial focus was on skis but their expertise has only grown from there.
The Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX is all about stability and comfort. With Gore-Tex® membranes keeping water out while also maintaining some breathability, the boots work to keep your feet dry. Stability is managed with a unique Contragrip® TD outsole that increases traction on varied terrains and a 4D Advanced Chassis™ allows the foot greater control.
The boot itself is made from a high-quality full-grain nubuck leather while the insole uses Ortholite® technologies to provide additional molding and comfort for the foot. This is matched by the SensiFit™ system which basically helps cradle the foot in the boot in the most optimal way.
When you combine all of this what you get is a boot that you barely need to break in that fits beautifully right out of the box. This great fit and all the boot technology that goes into it does make the boot a little pricey at $230 and this has been one of the few but persistent critiques of the boots. People have also noted that the boots aren’t as breathable as others so if you’re hiking in very warm environments these might not be the boots for you.
- Gore-Tex® membranes for waterproofing
- Contragrip® TD outsole and 4D Advanced Chassis™ for stability
- Ortholite® insoles and SensiFit™ system for the best fit
- The boots are expensive
- In warm weather they might not be very breathable
2. Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX
- GORE-TEX Performance Comfort keeps feet dry
This is the second boot from Scarpa to make this list and that is simply because those old Italian bootmakers know exactly what they are doing. They have a legacy of craftsmanship and living in and around the mountains that come through in the quality of the footwear they produce. Bootmaking can be deceptively complex but when it’s done right you can tell.
The Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX is exactly the boot you would want if you are hiking in a moderate mix of rocky and snowy mountain terrain. In some ways, this boot is a little more mountaineering boot and a little less hiking boot in terms of its design and capability. In the end, it treads a line. Made from 100% Suede with a Gore-Tex® lining this boot breathes well. That breathability doesn’t make it any less water-resistant though.
A Vibram® outsole gives all the grip you would need scrambling across rocks and alpine approaches while the shoe itself weighs in at only 545g making it very light for how robust it is. The boot really is a marriage of mountaineering boot and hiking boot. Currently, the boots are going for $268.95 on Amazon making them another expensive pair of boots. That and the fact that the lace locking system has given some people trouble are the only downsides to these fantastic boots.
- 100% Suede
- Gore-Tex® lining for waterproofing and breathability
- A Vibram® outsole
- This is another pair of expensive boots
- The lace locking system has given some people trouble
3. HOKA ONE ONE Sky Kaha
With arguably one of the best hiking boot names ever HOKA ONE ONE was started by a couple of plucky French men who just wanted to make a better running shoe. Their flagship products are known for having a generously cushioned midsole and unique forward-leaning geometry that keep up your momentum when you are moving.
The HOKA ONE ONE Sky Kaha was built from those principles but also strives to embody the actual meanings of the Maori word Kaha, which are strength and support. A Vibram® mega grip hi-traction outsole helps the boot hold strong on many surfaces while the eVent waterproof bootie keeps your feet dry.
The rockered sole can be a little off-putting at first but as you ease into it you will find these boots offer amazing comfort and stability in most environments. At $220 these are the cheapest high-quality hiking boots on this list and certainly worth consideration. Some people have tried them and found the specialized soles made it too difficult to navigate off-trail terrain relative to other boots so that is worth keeping in mind.
- A Vibram® mega grip hi-traction outsole
- eVent waterproof bootie
- Rockered sole to maintain momentum
- The price is lower than the others but still pretty high
- The rockered sole can make off-trail terrain difficult for some
Since hiking boots and mountaineering boots are so distinct picking one winner from them all would be like picking between apples and oranges. For that reason, the top choice from each collection will be chosen.
For the mountaineering boots, La Sportiva Nepal Evo GTX wins the day as an all-around excellent mountaineering boot. It is the cheapest of the three listed yet it still manages to balance quality, durability, waterproofing, and breathability all in one versatile and tough boot. If you are going anywhere with snow, ice, glaciers, or technical terrain these are the boots you want.
For hiking boots, the Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX is the best from this list. The suede, Gore-Tex® lining, and Vibram® sole all come together in a sturdy boot which teeters on the edge of being a mountaineering boot itself. For rock scrambling, alpine hiking, and even a little sloshing in the snow, these are the backpacking boots for you.
In the end, the Italian bootmakers prove that they are still the best. As the oldest boot making companies featured here it only makes sense that all of that experience, and exposure to the Alps, should translate into quality. Albeit the quality comes at a pretty steep price but if you can afford it the cost is undoubtedly worth it.
Bonus tip: Check out the amazing process that goes into making hiking boots!