Letting go can be hard. Especially if you’ve been through lots of ups and downs together and come through the other side smiling.
Sometimes however we just need to accept it’s time to move on. But when exactly is the right time to end such an important relationship such as that between your feet and your beloved hiking boots?
Well read on and I’ll give you a few very clear red flags that it’s time to find yourself a new pair of foot friends.
The Danger of Old Hiking Boots
A shoe is a shoe is a shoe no? Hmm. Not quite. Your average pair of sneakers will have a lot of bells and whistles to make them look nice but which might not perform a function other than earning style points.
Not so the mighty hiking boot. Each aspect of a hiking boot construction serves a specific purpose, from the stitching to the eyelets. Each is as important as the other to the overall structure and stability of your foot.
Damaged or old boots can increase the risk of the following:
- A Not Very Enjoyable Hike: Old boots can let in leaks and increase the risk of blisters. These might not sound too bad but after miles and miles, soggy toes and sore skin can ruin anyone’s day out in the hills.
- Slipping and Tripping: Worn treads can lead to a loss of traction on more challenging parts of the trail or under adverse weather. This can lead to slips and trips and nobody wants to be that guy.
- Injuries: Hiking can be a perilous endeavour. We may not think of it as such but if a worn out ankle support in a pair of old boots leads to a twisted ankle you might be out of action for a few weeks, or worse.
How Far Not How Long
How long do hiking boots last isn’t exactly the best way of looking at things. If you bought a pair of hiking boots a decade ago but you never took them out of the box then chances are they are still good to go.
A better question is how far. If for instance, you run a hiking blog like HikerHero you might hit the trail harder than average and might be due a new pair much quicker than someone else who only goes for a hike once in a blue moon. So how far is far enough?
Is Mileage Important?
Most sites will tell you that a quick rule of thumb is that anywhere over 500-1000 miles of hiking you should be looking to replace your hiking boots.
But who keeps an exact account of their mileage? Unless you are a very diligent record keeper you likely have no idea how many miles your hiking shoes have covered.
Plus not all boots are created equal, the quality of the boot is very important as is the proper care. Lightweight hiking boots made from cheaper synthetic materials will show fatigue much sooner than a well-loved full-grain leather boot.
So how do you know if you need a new pair? Well, there’s only one way to know for sure, you’ve got to pay attention to the telltale signs of wear and tear.
The Tread Is Worn
The tread of your hiking boots works similarly to the tread of your car tire. If it gets too worn down and smooth, you will start to lose grip and be at greater risk of losing your footing.
So take a look at the bottom of your hiking shoe. Are all those formally crisp ridges now smoother than your dad’s bald head?
If so, that might explain why you’ve been falling over so many times recently.
Smooth treads are a very clear sign you need to get yourself some new hiking boots.
There’s no hard and fast rule as to how long the tread will last, it very much depends on the boot and the user.
High-quality materials used in more expensive boots will typically last longer but high-mileage hikers will burn through treads much quicker than your typical Sunday stroller.
The Ankle Support is Tattered
One of the most essential components of hiking boot construction is the ankle support. It provides you with the confidence to leap from rock to rock knowing your boot isn’t going to let you down on landing.
If your ankle cuffs simply look a bit scuffed then it might not be a problem. Scuffed cuffs could just be a cosmetic issue.
However, it could also be a sign of a structural weakness. Give them a good inspection, and make sure they aren’t bendier than feels appropriate.
Damaged ankle support could lead to increased ankle rubbing leading to sore skin and blisters. Or even worse sprained ankles etc.
The Stitching Is Coming Out
A common failure point for well-used hiking boots is the stitching. Quite often this is cosmetic and nothing to worry about.
But if the stitching comes loose it can also mean bad news for the waterproofing your hiking boots offer.
On top of that loose stitching can impact the structural integrity of a shoe and increase the likelihood of aching feet.
As with most things in life, the stitching on a quality pair of hiking boots will last longer than that of cheaper boots. Cleaning boots regularly will also extend the lifespan of stitching.
Your Feet Are Soggier Than Usual
This is connected to the last point about stitching. If you find yourself avoiding puddles where once you could splash through them carefree for fear of soaking your toes then it’s probably time to replace your hiking boots.
Even if there isn’t a visible hole or noticeable failed stitching there’s a chance your boots are so worn that moisture can simply seep through.
Taking proper care of your boots, using waterproof sprays etc., or simply following the instructions given by hiking footwear companies can all help extend the waterproofing and lifespan of your boots.
You Can See Your Toes
This probably should go without saying but if you are out for a merry hike in the hills and you look down and can see your toes looking back up at you then something is amiss.
A gaping hole at the end of your shoe is a fairly clear sign that it’s time to replace your worn-out hiking boots.
Now, could you get it fixed? Err, maybe. It’s possible to repair various aspects of hiking boots but a dirty great hole might be beyond even the most capable cobbler.
Plus a) have you seen a cobbler as of late, and b) if you have, you will know it’s often just as cheap to buy a new pair as it is to pay to get one fixed.
You’re Feeling a Little Sole-less
Where once it felt like you were walking on clouds it now feels like you can feel every single pebble on the path. Every footstep becomes an unwanted reflexology massage.
Not very enjoyable at all is it? This likely means your sole is worn away.
Insoles are usually made of a substance called EVA foam, which provides excellent shock absorption and is pretty durable but does wear away over time.
Old boots with worn-away insoles can lead to sore feet. The good news is that before you buy a new hiking boot you can often just buy yourself a new off-the-shelf insole. Yay!
Often these off-the-shelf insoles don’t quite fit right or tend to slip a little and fail to offer maximum support. Boo!
Hiking boots will either have eyelets or lacing loops, these are the small line of holes on the top of your boot which you thread your laces before tying them up nice and tight.
Hiking boots get droopy eyelets or loose loops if they’ve been overworked for too long. Just like you if you’ve been burning the midnight oil.
Droopy or torn eyelets, or lacing loops, aren’t the end of the world in themselves. If it’s just one or two you can just skip them and your walking boots will still tie up fine.
However, it could mean you can’t tie your hiking boots as tightly which will lead to reduced stability and support. This may lead to rubbed skin and blisters as the foot slides. Or even worse, injury.
For the average recreational hiker, this is a pain but it’s arguably an even bigger issue for trail running shoes, those trail runners really need to have 100% faith that their shoe is on as tightly as they need.
Laces are usually one of the very first parts of a hiking boot to show their age. That’s because you are constantly tying them up, yanking them this way and that. Plus they are exposed on the topside of your shoe.
Is usually the plastic wrap at the end of a lace that will perish first. If you are like me then you will then bravely continue on as the lace begins to get split ends before the fraying gets so severe that you can no longer thread the lace through the eyelets.
The good news is that a frayed lace is easily replaced at very little cost. A frayed lace is also no signifier of the overall health of your hiking boot.
Buying a new pair of laces and swapping them out will have absolutely no overall impact on the integrity of your boot. Think of it like changing the tyre on your car.
Sure if your laces fail after a few weeks of use it’s probably a sign of low-quality materials but to be honest it could equally be that you aren’t tying your laces well enough.
Your Feet Are Sore Post Hike
Have you noticed joint pain or your feet aching more than usual after hikes? Well, then your old boots could be to blame.
This may feel very obvious, but humans tend to overlook the simple answer sometimes. A buddy of mine kept complaining of sore ankles, and blamed his “old age” and “holiday weight”.
It wasn’t until after he accidentally left his worn-out footwear in a car park after a hike and bought a new pair with more ankle support that he found his pain disappeared overnight.
Always Check Your Warranty
Outdoor clothing is supposed to be the opposite of fast fashion, hiking boots should last for years if shown sufficient tender loving care.
Sure if you’ve bought super cheap boots made from super cheap synthetic fabric they might not last long at all.
If you do find yourself looking to replace hiking boots then you should definitely check with manufacturer warranty. Especially if it’s only a year or less since your last purchase.
Most reputable brands and hiking footwear companies offer fairly decent warranties. However, (and it’s a big, however) what falls under manufacturer error is fairly limited.
Normal Wear and Tear
What these hiking boot company warranties won’t cover is “normal wear and tear”.
This is fair enough, if you’re an avid hiker leaping from rock to rock like a mountain goat every single day for six months straight then your boots might look older than your lazy neighbour’s ten-year hiking boots.
What’s less fair is that boot manufacturers will rarely define exactly what is considered “normal wear and tear”. So it is up to you to argue your corner and push back if you feel your boot has failed earlier than it should’ve.
Sure if your laces are frayed or your tread is starting to wear after six months of solid use that might feel reasonable, but what if your stitching is already coming loose? You might feel rightly hard done by there.
Final Thoughts: Is It Time To Give Your Hiking Boots the Boot?
High-mileage hikers and trail runners aren’t like normal folk. Scuffed and scratched footwear is often something to be proud of rather than to be ashamed about. They represent miles under the belt. They mean adventures have been had.
But clinging onto a leaking pair of hiking boots past their use-by date for sentimental reasons isn’t just a bit silly, it can lead to ruined hiking experiences and can also do your feet some damage.
So, pay heed to the advice above and give your boots a regular wear-and-tear inspection to see if they are still up to the job. If not, it’s time to splash out on some new boots.
There are no hard and fast rules, often your feet will tell you when it’s time for a fresh pair. It’s your job to listen to them.