“Hiking boots” is a pretty generic term. We recommend a good pair of “light hikers” for most campouts and shorter hikes. Backpacking boots are much stiffer, and have more support. Backpacking boots are suggested for those carrying more weight on backpacking trips. (“more weight” can be in the backpack or around the belly).
A great pair of hiking boots is a worthwhile investment. “Investment” is the key word; great boots are expensive. And customizing them adds to the price. So we recommend a less expensive choice for youth who are still growing, and a more expensive one for adults and youth whose feet have stopped growing.
A good pair of hiking boots can be had inexpensively. Watch the outlets, sales, etc. Sierra Trading Post normally has a good selection.
A mid to tall boot is a good all purpose choice for your son’s first boot. This should be breathable, but water resistant (e.g. the boot may have goretex). The boot should be comfortable enough to wear all day, have deep treads on the bottom, and have some support.
Youth will be backpacking on one or more campouts a year, and will have an option for a shorter hike, so a full-bore backpacking boot is not required. You should put off buying the (more expensive) backpacking boots until your son wants to do a longer backpacking trip or participate in a high adventure activity.
Starting out with an inexpensive pair of boots (as with youth above) is not a bad idea. And you can go cheaper–sometimes Costco or BJs have boots that look like hiking boots that will work as an “around camp” boot. This should offer more support and protection than a sneaker, but be about as comfortable.
You will get an idea of how much camping you will do in your first year and can then decide how much boot you will need. If you decide to buy a heavier hiking boot or backpacking boot, don’t cheap out. Get the best one you can afford. This is an investment that will last many years, and properly fitting boots will help protect your ankles, knees and hip joints.
Orthotics and footbeds
Custom orthotics, even if you don’t have a foot problem, are the best way to customize a boot. A lot of pain will be avoided by providing a footbed that exactly matches your foot, and the arch support will keep your foot from flattening. Any pronation/supination will be minimized, so your leg joints will all be better aligned and your muscles will have to do less work. This protects ankles, knees and hip joings, and the muscles that attach to all of them.
Footbeds (replacement insoles) are considerably less expensive than custom orthotics. A good footbed may cost $50. Superfeet is a good brand, there are others. Footbeds will give you good arch support and may reduce the volume of a wider boot.
When buying boots, try on several brands and select the one that fits best. Remember, you can’t make a boot longer, but you can make it thinner.
If a boot is the right length, but too wide, there are a number of things you can do. A footbed like Superfeet green will reduce the volume. But you can find a lot of options in the drugstore in the foot care section. The regular foam rubber full insole or half insole (the front half) will reduce a bit of volume. However, most boots have a “heel pocket” and you should try to keep your heel in the pocket so a full insole may be too much.
A tongue pad will help keep your heel locked into the heel pocket.
The guys at “Shoe Service Plazza” on Route 6 can help you customize your boots.
Tying your boots
Its not as simple as it sounds. There are a number of methods, and some boots have more options than others. One common trick is to tie a surgeons knot at the halfway point. Some boots, like the one shown to the right, have a special hook at this point that “locks” the lace in place so you don’t have to knot it. (Its the 3rd hook from the top). If you don’t have a boot with this feature, you would know the laces between the 3rd and 4th hook.
There’s a lot of great information on alterernate boot lacing tecniques on the internet. A couple of good pages are https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/lacing-hiking-boots.html and https://www.backpacker.com/gear/common-hiking-boot-lacing-techniques