It’s not hard to comprehend why outdoor enthusiasts gravitate toward a pair of leather hiking boots for their excursions. They are capable of withstanding all sorts of harsh trail conditions while protecting your feet at the same time. This piece of gear is also engineered to last long, especially when it’s properly taken care of. All of these boot qualities help you have a safer and fulfilling hike.
The two most common types of leather hiking boots for men and women
Day hiking boots
Day hikers are usually preferred for trips that don’t exceed a single day. The leather portion of this gear’s upper is typically paired with mesh panels, textile, or synthetic fabrics. The mishmash of these materials reduces the footwear’s overall weight to help you travel faster.
Day hiking boots commonly use either a suede or nubuck upper. This type of leather makes it easier for the footgear to be broken in. Some leather day hiking boots can even be worn straight out of the box. However, day hikers offer lesser support and durability than burly backpacking boots.
Backpacking boots are beefier and heavier than their day hiking counterparts. Their stiffer soles and robust uppers are packed with various technologies to help you last a multi-day hike. These features also grant an improvement in support, traction, protection, and durability.
The best backpacking boots are equipped with full-grain leather uppers while some use a combination of nubuck or suede and synthetic layers. The former is very resistant to wear and water while maintaining its sturdiness.
The different compositions of leather hiking boots
Full leather hiking boots. Footwear models under this category feature an upper made mostly of leather. These mid-cut or high-cut full leather hiking boots are often used for treks that call for the use of a backpack. The tough nature of leather, especially its full-grain variant, imbues a high level of resistance to damage and exposure to moisture. Also, the best all leather hiking boots usually have an upper with minimal seams.
Leather hiking boots with mesh panels. Some leather hiking boots for men and women are equipped with an upper that combines leather with several mesh panels in its construction. This combination helps reduce the footwear’s overall weight without sacrificing durability or protection. The mesh panels also allow air to enter the gear and improve its breathability. This kind of upper is mostly found in day hiking boots and select backpacking boots.
Leather hiking boots with synthetic or textile materials. This type of boot employs a leather upper with synthetic or textile sections. Again, the use of these materials grants lightness to the footwear and reduce its overall cost.
Synthetic leather hiking boots. Select hiking boots use an upper made of synthetic leather. Some variations of this material include polyester and nylon. These footwear models are generally cheaper than authentic leather hikers because they are weaker and less-resistant to water. In order to address this weakness, synthetic leather hiking boots come with waterproof liners to keep your feet dry. Moreover, this material is also known as vegan leather because it doesn’t use products of animal origin to come up with the final product.
Eco-friendly leather hiking boots. There is a lot of confusion between synthetic and eco leather. To put simply, eco-leather is still sourced from animal skin. It’s just that the tannery process uses less energy and produces a small amount of waste in manufacturing this material. Certain hiking boots use this kind of leather along with textile fabrics.
The types of materials used in the best men's and women's leather hiking boots
Full-grain leather is widely known as the most durable form of this material because it’s made from the strongest portion of an animal’s skin. In particular, the calfskin’s top layer is chosen because of its eye-catching visual quality and remarkable resistance to damage. Full-grain leather doesn’t require any sanding too during the tanning process which makes the result more refined.
While full-grain leather hiking boots use the calfskin’s outer layer, split-grain uses its bottom part. This versatile material can be processed according to its size and thickness once its top layer has been removed. On the downside, split-grain leather doesn’t look as good as its full-grain counterpart because of the hide’s underside portion was used. It’s also a notch lower when it comes to durability and resistance to water.
Nubuck leather is created when the calfskin’s outer layer is sanded. This process creates a velvet-like surface that’s also durable and resistant to wear. The disadvantage of this leather variant is that there will be visible imperfections on its surface. This is a result of the nubuck’s outer layer being sanded from the outside. Leather manufacturers apply dye on its surface to make it smoother and cleaner.
Unlike nubuck, the calfskin’s inner layer is sanded to create suede leather. This method produces a leather variant that’s cleaner and smoother than nubuck. The downside to suede is its reduced resistance to wear, tear, and the elements than other types of leather.
Synthetic leather is created when raw materials from the earth are processed to produce polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or polyurethane (PU). These industry-developed materials don’t need much preparation during the manufacturing process. The result is a product that looks similar to authentic leather but is more prone to water damage and abrasions.
The pros and cons of using leather hiking boots for your adventure
Leather hiking boots are often preferred for multi-day trips. Most variations of this footwear offer substantial performance and protection when you’re hitting the trail. Here are various reasons why you should go with this pair of boots for your upcoming hike.
Protection. Hiking boots that employ leather uppers are tougher and more resilient. This material can withstand abrasion better than synthetics or textile fabric. As a result, your foot is protected from sharp rocks, exposed tree roots, and other kinds of trail obstacles that can hurt it.
Stability. Although this quality has more to do with the overall construction of the boot, the leather upper remains a critical factor regarding stability. This material molds better to the shape of your foot better than synthetics. As such, your ankles will get better support when you go over uneven terrain.
Water-resistance. Leather hiking boots, especially the full-grain variant, possesses impressive resistance to water. You no longer need to worry about light wet trail conditions, such as drizzles, when you have a pair of leather hiking boots on.
Durability. Concerning longevity, leather has the upper hand against synthetic or textile hiking boots. As a natural fiber, leather is recognized for its sturdy nature. The best leather hiking boots can last years, granted they are maintained properly.
Look. Although it still comes down to your personal preferences, leather hiking boots are known to be very stylish, especially its full-grain version. These hikers exude ruggedness that can handle rough trail conditions.
As beneficial as these qualities are, a pair of leather hiking boots also possess some aspects detrimental to your excursion. Here are several arguments that go against the use of this footgear.
Weight. Leather hiking boots are heftier and heavier than those with synthetic or textile uppers. The additional weight on your foot can add extra fatigue, especially if your hike lasts more than a day.
Stiffness. Leather hikers need a given amount of time to be broken in properly. Even then, these boots won’t be as flexible as other types of footwear with softer uppers. You’ll need to exert additional effort to overcome uneven ground conditions. Those looking for hiking shoes will have better agility than using a pair of mid-top or high-top hikers.
Warmth. Leather hiking boots aren’t that breathable because of its water-resistant nature. Heat is easily trapped inside this gear, and excess moisture is retained for the duration of the trip. This quality is disadvantageous if your hike is set in a warm environment.
Leather hiking boots with Gore-Tex membranes
The modern foundations of the leather hiking boots started in the 1930s when Italian shoemakers took military footwear used in World War I and adapted it for recreational use. During the following decades, advancements were implemented to address comfort, cushioning, water protection and breathability. It wasn’t until 1979 when Danner and Gore-Tex released leather hiking boots that are both lightweight and waterproof. This innovation spurred a lot of people to take up this activity, sparking an outdoor revolution in the process.
As of the present, numerous outdoor gear companies have their respective catalog of waterproof leather hiking boots. These Gore-Tex-equipped hikers are equipped with a membrane that contains more than a million pores on its surface. This microporous design prevents water from penetrating the liner. It also allows heat and moisture vapor to pass through, making these boots breathable. As such, leather Gore-Tex hiking boots are ideal to wear in both warm and wet environments.
How to take care of leather hiking boots
Keeping your leather boots clean after every hike should be a regular thing. Otherwise, they will be susceptible to cracking and scuffs. Here are some simple tips on how to make this kind of footwear last longer.
Remove the laces before washing them. This step gives you access to those hard-to-reach areas inside your gear.
Get a soft-bristled brush so you can gently wipe every trace of dirt and dust from your boots.
Place your leather hiking boots under running water while washing them with a mild cleaning solution.
After cleaning all the dirt and debris off your full-grain leather hikers, applying conditioner on them should be the next step. This solution helps restore the upper’s luster, prevents it from drying out, and maintains its waterproofness. A coating of durable water repellent solution is sufficient for suede and nubuck leather hiking boots. Keep in mind to apply this product while your footwear is still damp.
Leave your leather hiking boots in a spot with low humidity and a normal temperature. You can even use a fan to speed up the drying process.
Do remember to keep your gear far from any direct source of heat, such as hair dryers or sunlight. Exposure to these heat sources will cause the leather upper’s quality to suffer.
15 best leather hiking boots
Merrell Ontario Mid Waterproof
Merrell Ontario 85 Mid Waterproof
Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX
La Sportiva Nucleo High GTX
Danner Mountain 600
Vasque Breeze III GTX
Salomon Quest Prime GTX
Columbia Newton Ridge Plus II Waterproof
Timberland Euro Hiker
Merrell Zion Mid Waterproof
Merrell Moab FST 2 Mid Waterproof
Timberland Mt. Maddsen Mid Waterproof
Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX
Keen Gypsum II Mid Waterproof
Timberland White Ledge Mid Waterproof
Paul loves adventure. Over the past 20 years, he has climbed, hiked, and ran all over the world. He’s summited peaks throughout the Americas, trekked through Africa, and tested his endurance in 24-hour trail races. He has worked in the outdoor industry as a whitewater and hunting guide, gear tester, copywriter, and outfitting specialist at places like The National Outdoor Leadership School, No Barriers USA, and Sierra Trading Post. He has been quoted in NYMag, NBCNews, and Business Insider to name a few.
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