The Ultimate Guide to Colorado Hiking Boots for 2021

Consider this post your complete guide to hiking boots in Colorado–from what’s important in a hiking boot to some of my top recommendations, and everything in between!

Man hiking on a trail in the red and green San Juan mountains overlooking two lakes of green and blue color

Do I need hiking boots for Colorado?

If you’re planning a trip to Colorado or if you just moved here, you may be wondering if you need hiking boots for your time in Colorado.

The answer to that question really depends on what you’re planning to do and on your personal preferences!

If your trip to Colorado includes plans to hike, you’re definitely going to need some sort of hiking shoe. 

I have witnessed many tourists on the trails here walking in flip flops or a similarly inappropriate shoe. And when I see this I typically am thinking about how they’re going to regret that later when they’ve got gnarly blisters or their feet are in pain for the next few days of their trip.

So you definitely need an appropriate hiking shoe if you’re going to hike, but hiking boots are not the only option.

Hiking boots vs. Trail runners vs. Hiking Sandals

When it comes to shoes for hiking, the usual options are hiking boots, hiking sandals, and trail runners.

They all have their pros and cons and different times when they are the best option.

Hiking Sandals

Hiking sandals, such as Tevas or Chacos, are a great option for many people on summer hikes. In particular, if you’re planning to cross through streams/rivers multiple times on a hike where your feet will be completely underwater, hiking sandals are your best bet. You don’t want to have to constantly be taking off your shoes, and waterproof hiking boots only go so far when it comes river crossings. 

Unfortunately though, many people find that hiking sandals are not a great fit for them, especially on longer hikes. Because you’re not wearing socks (read more about socks in a later section!), your feet might be more prone to blisters (although not everyone has this issue)! 

If you do choose to go with hiking sandals, make sure to break them in and test them out ahead of time!

Top hiking sandals for Colorado

While a full review of hiking sandals is outside the scope of this Colorado hiking boot post, here’s a quick snapshot of some of my top men’s and women’s hiking sandals for hiking in Colorado.

Photos above from REI website

Trail runners

Trail runners are a popular option for hiking in Colorado when you want a lighter weight option. This is the biggest benefit to trail running shoes as opposed to hiking boots. 

The biggest drawback to trail running shoes when compared to hiking boots is the lack of ankle support. 

As someone who has hiked a lot in Colorado, I find that the ankle support is crucial. A lot of our trails are very rocky and uneven, and there is a lot of scree (loose soil) on mountains when going downhill. I have been saved many times by the ankle support of the mid-height boots.

That said, for many hikers, speed is important and the lighter weight can make a big difference to some. It really depends on personal preference and what is right for you.

Top trail runners for Colorado

While a full review of trail runners is outside the scope of this Colorado hiking boot post, here’s a quick snapshot of some of my top men’s and women’s trail runners for hiking in Colorado.

Photos above from REI website

Hiking boots

As I mentioned in the section above on trail running shoes, hiking boots are really my go-to when it comes to hiking footwear for Colorado.

A mid-height boot will offer you the type of ankle support that trail running shoes and hiking sandals cannot offer. 

I also like the durability of hiking boots, and how long a good pair will last. A quality pair of hiking boots can last hundreds of miles and years of use, and I cannot say the same for other types of hiking shoes. 

Personally, I don’t like having to find and break in a new pair of hiking shoes, or having to spend the money on a new pair either. So all in all, hiking boots are my personal preference. 

But this may not be the case for everyone, so at the end of the day you’ll need to weigh the options and decide what’s right for you!

What to look for in a good pair of hiking boots

There are a few essential qualities you want to look for when considering buying a pair of hiking boots, and I’ve listed them here for you.

Waterproof

Even if you’re not planning to get your feet wet on your hike, you need waterproof hiking boots. You never know when you’ll get caught in a downpour or walk through bushes that are wet with morning dew.

Wet shoes means wet socks, which means blisters. Not good! 

Look for shoes with GoreTex, which is the common material used in shoes and clothes that makes it waterproof.

Good tread

Having a shoe with good tread is essential when you hike! You need a sole that will grip the terrain, so you’re not slipping or sliding as you walk.

Lightweight

Although less essential than the other qualities listed here, a lightweight boot will make your hike more enjoyable. It’s not something you notice right away, but trust me after a few miles, and especially at higher altitudes (where your limbs will start to feel heavier on you), you’ll appreciate the lighter weight.

Good fit

Last but definitely not least, you need a pair of hiking boots that fits your feet well. Everyone has a different shape of foot, so this is going to be different for every person, but it is absolutely crucial that you get a hiking boot that fits well.

You don’t want a shoe that is either too small or too big. If your shoe is too tight, it will start rubbing and create blisters. If it’s too big, your foot will move around in the shoe and again that rubbing effect will cause blisters. Also, if your shoe is too long, as you’re going downhill your toes will start jamming into the front of the shoe, which can cause bloody or bruised toenails. Not pretty!

In particular, you want to focus on the fit in the toe box and the heel, as these are the most impacted areas.

My top picks for Colorado hiking boots

Now that we’ve covered what to look for in a hiking boot, I wanted to share some of my top picks for hiking boots that are great for Colorado hikes.

Lowa Renegade GTX

The Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Hiking boot is my current hiking boot of choice. It offers great comfort right out of the box and provide solid ankle support, without feeling overly constrictive.

The other thing I love is how many different colors this boot comes in. I’ve never seen a pair of hiking boots with so many color options (Reed/Honey color is pictured here).

Although these boots are a little pricier than other options, they are well worth it.

Women’s Lowa Renegade GTX boots

Men’s Lowa Renegade GTX boots

Brown leather Danner hiking boots with flat red laces worn by a girl in skinny jeans with a wooden floor background

Danner Mountain Light Cascade

These classic leather boots from Danner have been around for decades and are trusted by many experienced hikers I know. They also have a great look to them, and I love the red laces!

They are more expensive than the other boots on this list but they can be resoled which increases their lifespan. They are very sturdy and made to last a long time.

Women’s Danner Mountain Light Cascade boots

Men’s Danner Mountain Light Cascade boots

La Sportiva brown leather women's hiking boot

La Sportiva Nucleo High II GTX

I am a big fan of this hiking boot as well. It was the most highly rated boot on REI’s 2021 Best of Hiking Boots Guide

This boot has everything you could want. It is lightweight, waterproof, durable, has great ankle support, and offers excellent traction for rocky trails in Colorado.

Women’s La Sportiva Nucleo High II GTX boots

Men’s La Sportiva Nucleo High II GTX boots

KEEN Targhee III

If you’re looking for a more budget friendly hiking boot option that still meets all your basic needs, this is the shoe for you.

It is waterproof, comfortable, lightweight, and pretty durable considering the price.

Women’s KEEN Targhee III boots

Men’s KEEN Targhee III boots

Salomon Quest 4

These hiking boots were designed to be a sturdy, supportive boot for longer treks. They are a little bit higher of a boot than most on this list, offering even more ankle support.

They are waterproof and offer a thick tread for rough terrain like we have here in Colorado.

Women’s Salomon Quest 4 boots

Men’s Salomon Quest 4 boots

Photos above from REI website

Why hiking boots alone aren’t going to cut it…

Any experienced hiker will tell you that although having a good pair of hiking boots is absolutely essential, there are a few other accessories that are JUST as important. 

Let’s break them down.

Socks

Having a good pair of socks is as important as having a good pair of shoes.

Avoid cotton socks, which take a long time to dry. Wool socks are what you want to look for.

You also want a sock that is tall enough for your hiking boot and thick enough to provide some cushioning but not so thick that your boots fit too tightly.

If you can, it’s usually a good idea to bring an extra pair of socks with you too. If for some reason you get caught in a rainstorm or step in a creek that is just a little too deep and your socks get wet, you’re going to be in blister hell without a dry pair of socks.

My favorite brand of hiking socks is Darn Tough. They are high quality and also offer a lifetime warranty on their products. 

Back when I was first getting into hiking, I asked for a recommendation from a more experienced friend about what brand of socks to buy and she recommended Darn Tough to me, saying she “had strong opinions about hiking socks.” At the time I actually laughed a little about that as it was kind of a funny thing to say, but years later, I completely agree with her!

Sock liners (for long Colorado hikes)

Sock liners help to wick away moisture from your foot to the outer layer of your sock.

Personally, I found sock liners to be a game changer for blister prevention on longer hikes. Even with wearing good boots and socks, I would still have some blister issues on hikes that were 7-8 miles or more in length. If you’re planning to do longer hikes, sock liners are well worth the investment!

Check out sock liners at REI.

Photo of brown hiking boots with purple shoelaces and Kahtoola microspikes on rocky Colorado ground

Microspikes (for Colorado winter hikes)

If you’re going to be hiking in Colorado in the winter, in many cases you need to be prepared that there could be snow on the trail.

If the trail is in an area that gets a lot of snow and/or isn’t heavily trafficked, then you may need snowshoes. However, if it’s a heavily trafficked trail, you’ll probably encounter packed snow. 

Checking recent trail conditions on AllTrails can help you determine what you’re most likely to encounter.

If you’ve never walked on packed snow (and we do see a lot of visitors from southern states here in Colorado!), when snow gets packed down it basically becomes slick like ice. You don’t want to hike on this for any type of distance, especially if you’re going up or downhill.

I have run into many tourists on trails in the winter, not wearing the appropriate shoes or traction for the trail conditions and seen them slipping all over the place and even falling down. It’s not safe, to put it simply. 

Luckily, this is an easy problem to fix! Bring traction with you if you’re planning to hike in the winter. 

Yaktrax are affordable and lightweight, but if you’re planning to do a decent bit of winter hiking, it is well worth investing in Kahtoola microspikes. They will last you a lot longer and the higher quality is noticeable on the trail. 

How to break in your hiking boots for Colorado hikes

Breaking in your hiking boots is a crucial step before you use them for any serious hiking.

It’s important to start slow and build up to longer hikes. 

Begin by just wearing the boots around your house, and then move on to walking around your neighborhood or a local park. 

Next, if you can, try out your boots on a short trail, such as one that is 1-2 miles in length. Ideally do a couple of these hikes, before moving on to longer hikes with your boots.

Keep in mind that although breaking in your boots is important, it’s not going to fix a bad fit or a shoe that just isn’t right for your foot. 

If you’ve given the boots the appropriate break in period and done the things listed above, and you’re still having blister issues, you may just need a different boot. It’s happened to me before.

This is where being an REI member is clutch, and it’s why I always recommend buying gear at REI. They give members an insanely generous one year return window, even for used items. So if your boots just aren’t working out, you can return them and choose a different pair. Read more on that in the next section!

Best places to buy hiking boots in Colorado

If you’re looking for where to buy shoes in person in Colorado, here are a few great options. 

PRO TIP: I highly recommend REI for buying all outdoor gear, and you’ll definitely want to sign up for a membership as well. Although a membership does cost a one-time fee of $20, this covers you for life and is well worth it. 

REI allows its members to return any gear that isn’t working out for them within a year. This means if you try out your hiking boots on a few hikes, and they aren’t working for you, you can return them. 

This extremely generous return policy is one of the best parts of the membership in my opinion (although with the coupons and dividends, it basically already pays for itself anyway).

It’s one of the reasons that I always shop at REI if I can find a product there because it’s basically a product guarantee that you will be satisfied with the money you’ve spent. You don’t get that anywhere else (that I know of). As someone who wants to feel like I’ve invested my money in the right gear that will suit my needs and last, that is huge for me.

FAQ

Do I need hiking shoes for Colorado?

If you’re planning to go for a hike in Colorado, you definitely want hiking shoes. It’s not wise to hike in flip flops or dress boots, etc. There are lots of options, including hiking boots, hiking sandals, and trail running shoes.

How do you prepare for hiking in Colorado?

There are a few things you can do to help prepare for a hike in Colorado. 

1. Choose a hike within your skill level
2. Make sure that you have your ten essentials
3. Have the right hiking gear, clothing, and footwear
4. Check the weather
5. Download your trail map
6. Review trail conditions before you go

Should I buy a bigger size for hiking boots?

No, you should buy your correct size when purchasing hiking boots. If you buy a bigger size, your foot will slide around in the shoe, and this friction will create blisters. That said, you do want to consider the thickness of your socks when trying on your shoes and determining the right size.

How many miles does it take to break in hiking boots?

How long it takes to break in your hiking boots depends on the boot itself. Thick leather hiking boots require significantly longer break-in periods than suede or other materials. For most hiking boots, about 10 miles total, while slowly building up in length, should do the trick.

Have a question about hiking boots? A favorite pair you love? Post it in the comment section below!

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Hi I’m Kim, a Denver, Colorado based photographer specializing in Adventure Elopements in Colorado and worldwide! Photographing couples on the most special day of their lives is a true honor for me. But I’ve made it my mission to take it one step further than that. When you work with me, you’re getting more than just a photographer. I’m here to help you with all of the planning resources you need to have the most amazing elopement day ever! That includes everything from assistance with location ideas, timeline planning, and lots more free resources. So you can forget the work, and focus on having fun!

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