Whether you plan to spend a whole week trekking the most difficult hikes in Zion National Park or just want to explore a few of the easier trails, the right gear makes all the difference. While you can certainly enjoy hiking without spending a dime (besides your park entrance fee, of course!), investing in a few high-quality pieces can help you stay safe, healthy, and comfortable, regardless of the type of hiking you plan to do.

One of the most important pieces of gear you need to stay comfortable on the trail is the right pair of hiking boots. But with an overwhelming number of options on the market today, finding the perfect pair can feel impossible.

If you’re ready to lace up and put your best foot forward, it’s time to learn how to find the right boots for you.

Know the Difference Between Hiking Boot Styles

The first decision you’ll have to make to choose the right hiking boots for you is what style you need. This depends entirely on the type of hiking you plan to do.

A casual day hiker who takes on a few easy or moderate trails a month won’t need the same level of durability or support as a hiker who walks and climbs miles of strenuous trails in a day. In fact, the boots that the latter needs might be too heavy or restrictive for the more casual hiker.

Most hiking boots fall into one of a few distinct styles. The first are lightweight day hikers. These often look a lot like gym shoes, but with gripping soles for scaling rocks and water-resistant or breathable fabric uppers.

Another distinct style are the high-tech, durable boots designed for serious hikers. These offer maximum support, especially in the ankle. They have thick soles designed to hold up on long hikes. Some are also Gore Tex lined or otherwise waterproof.

The final distinct styles are those that fall somewhere in between the previous two options. They offer ankle support, but without being too restrictive. Most offer a specific feature, like being thermal lined for cold weather or for being ultra-lightweight.

There are plenty of other styles out there. But understanding these styles and their benefits is important. You don’t want to fall for a boot that won’t actually suit your needs on the trails.

Consider Your Fabric Options

The type of fabrics that the upper half of your boots are constructed from will greatly affect how they feel on the trail.

For instance, if you know that you are going to be hiking in wet, rainy conditions, not opting for a waterproof fabric options will leave your feet cold and wet. But if you planned to hike The Narrows, those waterproof boots won’t do much good once the water rises above your ankles. Instead, a breathable, lightweight fabric that will dry fast is a better choice.

Synthetic fabrics dry fast, are lightweight, and are quick and easy to break in when they’re new. Soft-grain leathers are still fairly breathable, but also far more durable than synthetics. Full-grain leather is the least breathable and can be tough to break in. But it’s also waterproof and incredibly durable.

Do More Than Try Them On

You can shop for hiking boots online or in a store. But no matter how you shop, how you try them on can be the difference between finding your perfect fit or wasting your hard-earned money.

Simply trying on the shoes, standing up, and taking a few steps won’t help you feel how the boots will perform on the trails. Instead, seek to simulate trail conditions. Walk on uneven surfaces. Test the grip of your sole’s on wet surfaces. Walk a lengthy distance to see how comfortable they are.

The more you can test out your boots, the better you’ll be able to judge how they fit your feet and the type of performance you can expect.

Wear the Right Socks

They may not be the investment that your hiking boots are. However, your hiking socks are still important. And they are important both when you try on boots and on the trail.

The best hiking socks are those that are made from breathable fabrics that wick moisture away from your skin. Even if you won’t be hiking through creeks or in the rain, sweat can leave you with wet feet. Wool and synthetic fabrics are a great choice, while cotton is a poor one; it holds moisture against your feet, leaving them wet and uncomfortable.

Finding Your Perfect Pair

Now that you know what to look for, its time to start shopping for the perfect pair of hiking boots for you. The best thing you can do is start your search early. That way you’ll have time to find the right style, fit and, materials, as well as time to break them in before your big hike.