I’ll admit it. I get attached to boots. And if you’re anything like me, it takes total destruction to be convinced it’s time to replace them.
But knowing when to replace hiking boots will save you from a shoe breakdown on the trail and eliminate the risk of injury from worn-out shoes. The most common reasons for replacing hiking boots include:
- a split or breaking midsole
- stitching is separating
- new pain or discomfort
- worn-out or broken tread
Hiking boots don’t need to be pretty and often look worse for wear when still structurally sound. This article explains what to look for in worn-out boots to help you decide if it’s time for a new pair.
When to replace hiking boots
To me, replacing a pair of hiking boots is like replacing the tires on my truck. Justifying spending the money is a challenge if the rubber still meets the road and hasn’t reached a dangerous level.
Just like my off-road tires, when I most need the grip and safety, is when I realize I waited too long.
How long should hiking boots last?
You should get at least 500 trail miles out of your hiking boots. Whether you hiked those miles in one hundred easy trails or twenty strenuous treks will influence if it’s sooner or closer to 1000 miles.
The style and quality also add noticeable variance to the rule.
Differences in hiking boot quality.
Since hiking trails range from well-maintained flat paths to rocky and rugged steep switchbacks, it’s no surprise hiking boots also vary in type and quality.
You can find hiking boots ranging from heavy, high-end construction costing $400 or more to the standard lightweight $110 pair.
For example, the $430 Rio boot by Danner — a gold standard in hiking boots — has a full-grain leather upper that integrates the shank, midsole, and lasting board into a single piece. Reducing the extra material and stitching makes the single-piece construction lightweight and long-lasting.
Lightweight boots are commonly constructed with leather suede and mesh to reduce weight and increase breathability. The outsoles are specialized rubber fused with the shank and midsole, making them rigid but flexible.
Boot manufacturers like Danner, focused on the high-end side of boots, will replace the sole and repair the boots for a fee. Danner charges between $100 and $280, ranging from a simple repair to a full refurbishment.
Signs it’s time to replace your hiking boots
After hiking 500 miles, you’ve taken roughly one million steps in your boots. That’s millions of sharp rocks poking and scraping the outsole and a million small shifts of your foot against the insole and padding.
A million steps also perfectly broke your boots in to fit your feet — and you’re probably a bit attached. If your boots show any of these signs, it’s time to fall in love with a fresh new pair.
Are you encountering new pain or discomfort?
With the constant wear from your toes and heel rubbing against the inside of your boot, it’s common for padding and insulation to deteriorate, causing pain or irritation.
Excessive movement inside a boot can also result in toe numbness or painful hiker’s toenails.
If you feel aches in your feet or joints after hikes, continued wear can compress the padding below your feet, losing the cushioned protection needed.
Did the eyelet or lacing loop break?
If you can’t tie your shoes properly, are your feet really being protected? Don’t get me wrong, I’ve wrapped a boot in gaffing tape to get a few more uses out of them, but at what risk?
Furthermore, once one eyelet or loop breaks, the extra pressure on the subsequent loops often leads to another break.
Is the tread worn or broken?
Even with today’s rubber technology extending the life of hiking boots, in the end, nature will always win. Your contact with the ground and confidence in each step is vital for a safe hike.
When you start to lose grip or pieces of a lug, it’s time for a replacement.
Has the midsole or shank split, cracked, or deteriorated?
Many hiking boots today use UVA foam or polyurethane (PU) midsoles due to their shock absorption and flexibility while remaining lightweight. But polyurethane can undergo hydrolysis, a chemical reaction that causes the PU polymer to crumble.
It typically takes many years for hydrolysis to occur, but exposure to moisture can accelerate the chemical reaction. Always store your boots in a dry space and avoid damp basements or the back corner of a closet.
Is the stitching separating?
Have you ever seen a basketball player completely blow out a shoe? It’s uncommon, but with such great force from sprint to stopping, the stitching separates from the midsole leaving a foot dangling out of the front and side.
Now imagine the force of your hiking boot slipping from a rock or on loose gravel during a descent. It only takes one weak stitch to allow the stress to rip out the rest, and landing on a basketball court is much better than sharp rocks and dirt.
Tips for maintaining your boots
I drive a dirty off-road pickup. And when people comment I should clean it, I ask what for? It’s only going to get dirty again. You would think the same applies to hiking boots, but the dirt and dust build-up can lead to excess wear and tear.
After dry hikes, I use my leaf blower or air compressor to blow away dirt. But after a muddy or wet hike , wash your boots well.
Verify the manufacturer’s approved cleaning instructions first, but a brush and some water can typically do wonders.
Store your boots in a warm, dry space when not using them. By placing boots in the corner of a basement or in the sunlight through a window, you can further deteriorate your boots and reduce their lifespan.
Nobody likes replacing something that still works. But if you’re risking your safety by wearing worn-out boots, they don’t work anymore.
As hikers, we face endless risks on the trail, and we don’t need to add new dangers to the list. If you break a leg or ankle because your boot fell apart, you now risked your hiking group’s safety to help you back to the car.
When you consider other hobbies like woodworking, replacing blades and buying expensive tools is constant. Not to mention the wood itself.
Our most essential tool is our footwear. And knowing when to replace hiking boots is as important as replacing a dull saw blade.
Did you decide it’s time to replace your hiking boots? Share this story on social media to help others learn about the safety of replacing boots.