two boots next to each other

Your old tactical boots are starting to come apart slowly. They've been through it all with you, thick or thin. They've climbed places you challenged yourself to reach, they've survived massive amounts of mud you never thought you'd be able to wash off and they've outlasted several other pairs. But it's time to move on, so you're looking to replace them. Perhaps the company you went with no longer makes them or you simply want to shop around. As you begin your search, you might start wondering, is there a difference between a tactical boot and a hiking boot? What sets them apart? Which should you really purchase?

When it comes time to decide on what kind of footwear you want to wear for backpacking, trekking, or hiking, you have the option to choose between tactical or hiking. But if you don't know which one is personally best for you, you often must do a lot of research. Luckily, our experts here at Tactical Distributors are here to help, giving you some of the pros and cons of both types of boots so you can make the right decision for you.

Hiking Boots

When most civilians hear hiking, they think of hiking boots. They're made rugged-looking, which can make them appear perfect for hiking. They should also be designed to provide extra stability, grip, and balance that normal footwear would not for the exploration of uneven ground.

Hiking boots often have thicker soles than regular footwear, reducing the risks of an ankle injury while adding traction and the important grip needed to remain stable on slippery surfaces.

A hiking boot will be your top choice if:

  • You prefer the comfort and ease of a low-cut model. They're perfect for day hiking or short hikes on well-traveled trails. If you're also an ultra-light backpacker, this type is perfect for the lightest weight hiking.
  • You prefer light loads or short half-day hiking trips, a good mid to high-cut boot model should fit with what you need. They tend to flex easily and require little break-in time.
  • You are backpacking for extended periods with heavier to very heavy loads on multiple trips into the backcountry, you'll want the high-cut boot that wraps around your ankles. Ankle support will be a must, and with stiffer midsoles, they're great for on-trail and off-trail travel.

What Features Make a Hiking Boot a Good Choice?

If you've decided the hiking boot is the right choice for you, then we can help you look out for the best qualities that make a good hiking boot turn into a great one.

  • Variety of midsole choices: The midsole provides cushioning and buffers your feet from shock. A good pair of hiking boots should have a selection of choices for midsole. Stiff midsole boots are perfect for greater comfort and stability, but if you're on long hikes on a very rocky, uneven terrain then you'll want something a bit less stiff and more flexible.
  • Heel break: Do the boots have a distinct, clearly defined heel zone on the bottom, or outer sole, different than the forefoot and arch? This defined heel acts like a break, slowing down any accidental slippage or too-fast decent.
  • Tongue padding: This should be ample yet resistant to prevent laces from giving you that, "cutting into skin" feeling.
  • A secure fit: They should fit snugly around the ankle with padding on both sides to prevent chaffing if wearing mid to high-cut boots.

Tactical Boots

Tactical boots are built to protect your feet under extreme stress, so imagine what they might do for you under ED conditions. Civilians have been wearing these boots for a long time now, thanks to their unique combination of being lightweight, comfortable, and providing optimal protection. They're already designed to withstand rocky, rough, and uneven terrain.

What Features Make a Tactical Boot a Good Choice?

If you’ve decided that the tactical boot is the better option for you, then you’ll want to keep an eye out for these qualities.

  • EVA or Polyurethane: Tactical boots are most often made either of EVA (Ethylene-Vinyl Acetate) or Polyurethane. EVA feels lighter and cushier, and it is more affordable while also being waterproof, shock-absorbent, and protection from anything sharp. Polyurethane is sturdier as well as more firm than EVA. It costs more, but you end up getting more durability for the price. This material is what made them a popular choice for hiking.
  • Rubber Soles: The sole of your tactical boot most of the time will be rubber. The highest-quality option is Vibram soles. Made in Italy, not only have they become the industry standard for tactical boots, but the benefits are numerous. Vibram soles can resist industrial substances, resist slippage and oil, won't mark, and are long-lasting and lightweight.
  • Clean Outsole: This can slow you down in the event of steep descent or slippage.
  • Good Grip: The crampons, or patterns in the bottom of the outsole that gives you better grip and traction. Smaller grips or crampons means they can shed any build-ups easier as you walk.
  • Protection for toes.

Which should I wear?

If you're a heavy-duty mountaineer or die-hard off-the-trail hiker going days or weeks into the wilderness, on active duty, or an LEO, you will no doubt find tactical boots to be the best overall. These boots are made to survive weather, temperatures, substances, and environments the common civilians wouldn't often find themselves in. They're meant to be the best for your feet in the absolute worst conditions.

As a civilian with a love for a few hours to a day or two hikes on the trail or well-traveled routes, the hiking boot will be exactly what you need. The variety from casual to expert is perfect and often a bit more lightweight than the tactical boot. The hiking boot works perfectly in ED situations and generally normal climates.

The pros of both boots work fantastically for anyone, but if you face the toughest mountain trails or find yourself deep trekking into areas not often, or never traveled, you'll want to go the extra mile with the tactical boots. If you can get your hands on both, it's always great to do an on-the-spot test run too, to see what fits and feels great for you. Don't forget to wear your trail socks or Merino wool socks for the most accurate fit! And check out our complete collection of tactical footwear today to find your new favorite pair of tactical boots. We always recommend the tactical Gor-tex options if you’re looking for a place to start!