If you’re like me, once you find the perfect pair of hiking boots and have correctly broken them in, you never want to give them up.
However, all hiking boots have a lifespan, and if you wear them too long, they will no longer provide you with the structural stability and protection your feet need. Even though it would be nice, you’ll likely never find a new pair of hiking boots that lasts forever.
Luckily, your favorite pair of old boots will give you some clear indicators that it’s almost time to trade them in.
As a frequent hiker, I’ve been through my fair share of boots and can easily recognize when I need to buy new hiking shoes. Keep reading for some of my best advice on what to consider when deciding when to replace hiking boots and what to look for in your new pair.
How Do You Know When You Need To Replace Your Hiking Boots?
You need to purchase new hiking boots when your current pair looks exceptionally worn, has numerous visible cracks, no longer keeps your feet dry, no longer provides proper ankle support, or has other damage that cannot be repaired by yourself or a professional.
Usually, hiking boots last for a few years, and here are 10 signs you need to consider when determining if your pair of hiking shoes or boots need to be replaced.
1. The Hiking Shoes Look Extensively Damaged
Check the overall appearance of your hiking boots. If your hiking boots just look like they’ve seen better days, chances are that they have.
Although all shoes experience some ‘general wear and tear that don’t affect their performance, hiking footwear can be different because of the extreme conditions and terrain in which you wear them.
I’ve noticed that even if my hiking boots are just excessively dirty, it affects their performance. Dirt and mud built up can make the boots feel stiffer and less breathable and affect overall comfort.
If you give your shoes a good cleaning and find that they still look dirty and grimy, they may just be at their end of life.
I also check for damage and wear on the lacing loops, worn laces, the upper and stitching, the heel of the boot, ankle support, midsoles, and insoles. These things provide good indications that it’s time for new hiking boots.
2. The Shoelaces Are Frayed Or The Eyelets Are Broken
Although you can easily replace worn-out shoelaces on hiking boots, a pair of laces starting to fray or break may indicate that you need to check your boots for other damage.
If, after examining the boots, you determine that the problem is only a set of worn shoelaces, try switching them out first to extend the life of your boot.
I take this time to also look over the eyelets and lacing loops of the boots.
If I notice either of them starting to split apart or break, I know that I won’t be able to tie the boots on as tightly as I need to, which compromises the shoe’s safety.
I once had my laces break while hiking, and trust me, you don’t want to be out on the hiking trail when your lacing loops or eyelets decide to give out, and trust me, they will eventually break.
3. Your Hiking Boots Cause You Discomfort
Even if your hiking boots felt extremely comfortable when you first bought them, any signs of discomfort while hiking suggest that it’s time to consider a replacement. Take into consideration how your feet feel, not only while hiking but also after the hikes.
If you’re experiencing foot pain after taking off the boots, it’s usually a sign that they no longer provide your feet with the right amount of protection.
Additionally, if you notice your feet getting blisters or rubbing while walking, it indicates that the protective cushioning is not doing its job very well.
Make sure to check the ankle support as well. Any pain or discomfort in this area can indicate worn-out ankle support and is a valid reason to buy a new pair of boots that provide good ankle support.
4. The Shape Of The Hiking Boot Has Changed
The shape of your hiking boots is one of the most critical things in terms of the stability and protection the shoes provide your feet.
If your hiking boots start to look warped or their overall shape seems different than it used to be, it’s one of the telltale signs that it’s time to run to the store. Check all areas for changes in shape, including the ankle collar and the uppers.
I’ve pushed some of my favorite pairs of hiking boots to the limit, and the one thing I’ve noticed is that if they start to lose their shape, they no longer do the job well.
5. There Are Rips Or Tears In The Uppers
Of course, with all the different terrain you might hike, your footwear will likely rub against rocks, branches, trees, and other obstacles.
Anytime you notice rips, tears, or holes in the leather or synthetic upper, the boot is starting to lose its integrity, and you will likely need a new pair sometime soon.
You don’t want to risk damage to your foot during a hike because of a ripped upper.
Also, I’ve noticed that these rips and cracks can compromise the boot’s waterproofing, meaning that your feet could get wet and cold during a hike, leading to further problems.
Check the lacing loops as well for any small rips or tears. As I mentioned earlier, damage in this area could give you problems with securing the boots on your feet. These things all indicate that it’s time to replace hiking footwear.
6. The Insoles No Longer Provide Support
The insoles (usually made of EVA foam) provide your foot with cushioning and support. You want your shoes to do both of those things when you’re halfway through a 15-mile hike.
As the EVA foam starts to deteriorate, it will not cradle your foot the way it should and no longer provide the proper shock protection.
Although, if the boots appear fine otherwise, you can generally buy new quality hiking insoles, because hiking with bad insoles will lead to foot discomfort.
If you’re experiencing problematic aches in your feet after finishing a hike and have never experienced that before, you typically want to consider a worn out insole, which may mean it’s time for a new pair of boots.
7. The Tread Is Worn Down
The thick tread on hiking boots protects the bottom of your feet from any surface that could cause injury.
It also helps to ensure that you maintain a proper grip on various rugged terrain and avoid slipping.
If your tread wears out, it could lead to falls on the hiking trail that cause injuries. A worn-out tread once caused me to twist my ankle while walking over a slippery rock, and it’s something I could have easily avoided.
Note that some sections of the tread may wear out more quickly than others, depending on how your hiking pattern when walking.
In most cases, these wear patterns should be similar for both shoes. For me, the tread near my heel tends to wear out more quickly than the other parts.
Check the tread on both boots and see if the wear is in the same area. If any areas on the bottom of the boot feel smooth, it indicates that the tread is worn, and you need to consider replacing the shoes.
8. The Hiking Shoes Have A Worn Midsole
Many people don’t think much about the midsole, but it is another essential part of the hiking boot. If the midsole starts to crack or shows signs of excessive wear, even hairline cracks, it’s time to replace your hiking boots.
In addition, look to see if you can find any visible compression lines which definitely indicate that you need new boots.
If you continue to use boots that have cracked or worn midsoles, you risk getting blisters on your feet or returning from your adventure with unnecessary pain. It’s simply not worth taking the risk. Therefore, check your midsole often and replace your hiking boots if it’s damaged.
9. The Boots Don’t Pass The Press Test
The press test is a quick way to determine if the midsole or cushioning in your hiking boots is starting to go bad.
Simply place your thumb against the heel cushioning of the boot and press down. Your midsoles are wearing out if you can feel the ground through the heel.
You can also press around the toe area of the hiking boots. If it starts to collapse, something has compromised the support in this area, and your toes could get hurt during a hike.
A firm toe indicates that the hiking boot is still in good shape.
Check the ankle collar area as well. If it appears flimsy or lacking support, you definitely don’t want to risk wearing the boots on rocky terrain.
10. The Waterproofing No Longer Works
Most hiking footwear has some waterproofing protection to help keep your feet dry during wet weather conditions and mud puddles. If you’re finding that your feet get wet often while hiking, it’s a good indication that your waterproof hiking boots aren’t so waterproof anymore.
I’ve remedied this issue in the past by using a waterproofing spray that I purchased with the hiking footwear. However, this only makes a good solution for boots that are in otherwise usable condition.
If you notice that the waterproofing is an issue along with other problems, you might want just to buy a new pair of waterproof boots instead.
Sometimes a manufacturer will even offer a limited waterproofing warranty so that you’ll be covered for a repair or a new pair of hiking boots if your waterproofing fails within a specific timeframe.
Read More: How to Waterproof Hiking Boots
Looking To Replace Your Hiking Boots?
If you’ve checked over the condition of your old hiking boots and determined that it’s definitely time for a new pair, you’ll want to ensure that your next pair keeps for longer. Boot longevity is important, especially if your new pair is costly.
Here are some of the 2023 top-rated lightweight hiking boots I’ve found regarding construction and mileage considerations. As with any purchase, read the reviews for sizing considerations and helpful tips.
- The Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX hiking boots are flexible, comfortable, and lightweight. These high-top boots make an excellent choice for backpacking and trail walking and survive a long time.
- If you’re looking for a durable leather boot with a lot of support, consider the Nortiv 8 Leather Waterproof Hiking Boots. This boot is long-lasting, extremely waterproof, and has an excellent price point as well.
When it comes to durability, trail runners generally have less resilience than hiking shoes. The wear and tear, particularly in terms of tread wear, tends to occur more quickly with trail runners, making them less durable for extended use on rugged trails.
Wearing worn-out hiking boots can pose performance and safety risks. As the tread pattern deteriorates with age, traction on various terrains diminishes, increasing the chances of slips, falls, and instability, compromising overall foot support and protection.