When buying hiking boots, remember that what’s on the inside is as important as what is on the outside. Generally, hiking boots have four components. This includes the upper boot material (including the rand), mid-soles, out-soles, and crampon compatibility. By understanding these components, you can make the best choice when choosing hiking boots for your next adventure.

Upper Boot Material

The upper boot material can be made out of many types of materials. Generally, you’ll see leather, a synthetic material, or a mixture of both. To break it down even further...


  • Leather materials can include full-grain, split-grain, or nuback
  • Full-grain leather is stiff and is generally more durable. The material is also waterproof but is also more expensive.
  • Split-grain leather is softer and more breathable. However, it is less waterproof and not as durable compared to full-grain leather.
  • Nuback leather is actually full-grain leather that has been sanded to resemble suede. It has more flexibility than full-grain leather but is less waterproof.


  • Synthetic material can include cordura, nylon mesh, or polyester
  • It is usually a combination of materials.
  • Overall, the material is lightweight, dries faster, and is less expensive.
  • The material wears down faster than leather materials and is not naturally waterproof. For waterproofing, it requires a membrane which wears down over time.


Either made of ethyl vinyl acetate (EVA), which weighs less, or Poly-Urethane (PU) which lasts longer. The quality of the mid-sole is very important, as it’s a major source of cushion, stability, and support.


The bottom of the shoe, which provided traction, which is very important in moist conditions and steep slopes. The bumps on the bottom of the shoe are called lugs. Shoes made for muddy conditions have wider lugs. Shoes made for difficult terrain and slippery conditions have deeper lugs. Light-weight shoes made for on-trail hiking will have shallower lugs.


Crampons are necessary if you are planning a mountaineering trip or hiking conditions with ice or snow.

Other Features

Look for these other support features that help keep your hiking shoes stable.

  • Thermoplastic Urethane - Also known as TPU, it is both flexible and stabilizing. Also protects against abrasion from debris.
  • Protective Plates - A flexible layer of protective inserts between the mid-sole and out-sole. This layer protects your feet from bruising and provides additional forefoot stability.
  • Shanks - Shanks are what give the midsoles of hiking shoes their stiffness. Shanks are made of nylon, plastic, or steel. Most mountaineering boots and backpacking hiking boots have steel shanks for maximum load-bearing support. Light-weight hiking boots usually don’t include a shank.

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of hiking boots and their components. For more information on hiking shoe components, or any other advice on hiking in general, visit us online or at your local Sun & Ski Sports.