Introducing: Are Combat Boots Good for Hiking?  

Are combat boots good for hiking? Use hiking boots if you prioritize comfort, traveling lightweight, or excellent traction. Combat boots are a fine alternative for long hikes, especially if the terrain is fairly flat and you have adequately broken them in. 

Kendall and I hike hundreds of miles yearly, and I use my Columbia Newton Ridge hiking boots.  However, Kendall works for the Air Force and has put a lot of miles on his military boots.  Both can be used for hiking, but each has pros and cons. 

Traditional hiking boots tend to prioritize comfort and are often made with a padded interior. They are also more lightweight and prioritize excellent traction.

Combat boots are built to walk long distances carrying a heavy load, have good arch support, and are durable. However, they tend to have a longer break-in period and offer less padding.  

Both combat boots and hiking boots are made for various weather conditions and offer ankle and arch support. Finding the perfect boot will depend on personal preference and specific trail conditions. 

Hiking Boots vs Combat Boots: Key Differences

What are the main differences between tactical boots and hiking boots?  Both are made for long-distance walking.  However, combat boots are specifically made for military personnel, law enforcement officers, or others needing to walk long distances with heavy loads.  

Because of their military use, combat boots are required to follow specific regulations.  Hiking boots are more specifically tailored for outdoor activities on mountain trails, and they emphasize comfort.  

Hiking boots tend to be lighter and made of a combination of leather, suede, and mesh. Combat boots are heavier, often made of polyurethane or ethylene-vinyl acetate, and come up higher on the ankle. 

Both combat boots and hiking boots are durable, offer ankle protection, and are made to withstand uneven terrain.  And, there are so many types of boots that you’ll likely be able to find something that fits your needs (whether you decide on traditional hiking boots or combat boots).

side photo of a combat boots and a hiking boot
Both combat boots and hiking boots are durable and have ankle support

Pros and Cons of Combat Boots Depending on Trail Condition

Hiking boots are better for day hikes, hot hikes, and hikes with slippery trails.  Combat boots could be better for longer, flatter trails with a heavy load.  

However, the bottom line is that, really, you’ll be most successful wearing what your feet are used to if you hike everywhere in your combat boots and love them; great!  

Here’s a table summarizing the pros and cons of combat boots vs hiking boots for different trail conditions. 

Trail Conditions/SituationsHiking BootsCombat BootsBest Choice
Loose Gravel or Slick RockHiking boots often have superior traction and a grippier outsole, which is great for scaling slick granite or descending a loose dirt trail.Combat boots also have thick rubber ‘lugs’ to aid with traction.  However, they do not do as well on slick rock or gravel.Hiking Boots
Water CrossingsThere are waterproof options in both hiking boots and combat boots, although hiking boots tend to be lighter-weight and will dry faster. Good-quality combat boots are often waterproof, although they tend to take longer to dry out if wet.Hiking Boots
Long, Flat Trail with a Heavy PackHiking boots are better if you are trying to minimize weight. Combat boots can be better if you want superior cushioning and durability.Tie
Insects, Thorns, or Stinging NettleHiking boots tend to rise just above the ankle bone.  While a good-quality hiking sock will protect the ankle from insects and stinging plants, the leather upper of a combat boot offers superior protection.Because combat boots lace up well above the ankle, the leather or synthetic upper provides fantastic skin protection against insects, thistles, and stinging plants.Combat Boots
Concrete or AsphaltHiking boots provide good support but will wear out faster than combat bootsCombat boots are specifically made to walk many miles on concrete and will last longerCombat Boots
Weather ExtremesBoth traditional hiking boots and combat boots can be great for harsh conditions, although traditional hiking boots tend to breathe better in hot weather.  Look for waterproof and insulated brands. Waterproof leather boots are the better option for extreme conditions as they will insulate well.  For cold weather, the higher ankle length will help keep out the snow.Tie

Combat Boots vs Hiking Boots Based on Hiker Type

What type of hiker you are will influence which type of footwear is best for you.

Newer HikerHiking boots are the best option for newer hikers who need more time to break in a new pair of boots.Combat boots, due to their lack of padding, tend to take longer to break in.  This is not ideal for newer hikers.Hiking Boots
Hikers Needing Their Boots to Last for a Long TimeHiking boots tend to prioritize comfort over longevity.Combat boots are made specifically for longevity.Combat Boots
Hikers with Weak AnklesHiking boots, with their thick padding, provide superior ankle protectionAlthough combat boots lace up tightly around the ankle and offer good protection, the thick padding of a hiking boot is better for those with ankle problemsHiking Boots

Combat Boots vs Hiking Boots: 11 Shoe Components

We’ll run through each of the main shoe components, and the most common differences between hiking boots and combat boots.

For this comparison, we used my Columbia Newton Ridge hiking boots and Kendall’s Gore Tex combat boots (some of the best military boots out there), the features of which are similar to many other brands of hiking boots and combat boots.

1. Shoe Height and Ankle Support

Hiking boots tend to have a lower ankle height. Depending on your preferred shoe type, you’ll be able to find lower-cut hiking boots that are similar in height to sneakers. Or, you can opt for a six-inch rise that comes just above the heel bone.

Combat boots, on the other hand, tend to lace up well above the ankle.

So, which is better for ankle support? Both provide ankle support, although the combat boot’s thinner upper fabric allows for more ankle motion. In contrast, a hiking boot’s padded, stiffer ankle provides better protection against twisting your ankle on the trail. 

the ankle support of a combat boot and a hiking boot
A hiking boot generally has stiffer ankle support, but both offer ankle protection

2. Outsole

The shoe’s outsole is the rubber/bottom portion that contacts the ground. Rigid rubber soles tend to be more durable but heavier. Softer outsoles offer more cushioning, are lighter, and wear out faster. 

Hiking boots generally have a lighter-weight rubber outsole that is durable yet flexible, great for ascending steep dirt trails.  Many also have featured heel break outsoles (when the tread on the heels is different from the tread on the arches and forefeet)

Combat boots tend to have a heavier, less flexible sole.  This outsole is more durable and great for long distances on concrete, but it is not as flexible for steep trails.  

3. Tread/Lugs

The tread or lugs are the bumps on the bottom of the outsole that provide grip and traction on hiking surfaces.  

Both hiking boots and combat boots are constructed with traction-giving lugs, but hiking boots tend to focus more on contoured, extra-grippy traction.   

the tread of a hiking boot and a combat boot, one factor to consider when deciding are combat boots good for hiking
Hiking boots will often have more contoured, grippier traction for steep trails

4. Midsole 

The midsole is the part of the boot between the rubber bottom portion and the insole.  This component provides most of the cushioning and impact absorption and is made of rubber, polyurethane, or ethyl vinyl acetate. 

Hiking boots tend to have a midsole made of responsive foam or ethylene vinyl acetate (a material with air bubbles for impact absorption).  

On the other hand, the midsole of combat boots or tactical boots tends to be made of a more dense rubber or polyurethane.

rubber midsole of a combat boot
Combat boots often have heavier rubber midsoles
midsole of a hiking boot
The midsole of a good-quality hiking boot is durable yet lightweight

5. Insole

The insole is the interior bed of the shoe that cushions the foot and supports the arch.  These can be made from foam, nylon, or other synthetic materials. 

A good insole with adequate arch support is critical for those looking for the best hiking boot for Achilles tendon problems or those who suffer from plantar fasciitis. 

The insoles of hiking boots are often removable and can be replaced with custom orthotics, a big advantage over most combat boots. 

6. Shoe Upper

The upper is simply the outer portion of the boot that covers the foot and ankle.  This can be made of rubber, suede, or other synthetic fabrics. 

The upper of hiking boots is often made with full-grain leather, suede, or mesh.  Depending on the brand, the upper of a combat boot can be made of leather, polyurethane, or ethylene vinyl acetate.

The uppers of my Columbia boots and Kendall’s Gore Tex combat boots are made with a combination of leather and mesh.  

leather side view of a combat boot
The upper of a boot (the portion covering the majority of the foot) will often be made of leather, suede, or other synthetics

7. Lining 

The lining of a hiking or combat boot is the inner material between the outer upper of the boot and the foot/ankle.  The lining provides cushioning and helps to absorb sweat. 

The lining of hiking boots is often padded and made of mesh fabric. However, many tactical or combat boots do not have a padded lining. This is one reason why combat boots often take longer to ‘break in’ and can feel uncomfortable for a while. 

top view of the red lining of a hiking boot
The lining of good hiking more cushioned than that of combat boots
top view of the thin lining of a combat boot
Combat boots have a thinner, less-cushioned lining

8. Tongue

The boot tongue is the piece that sits between the laces and the foot and protects the laces from pressing into the front of the ankle.  Hiking boots often have a padded tongue to go along with the padded lining, whereas combat boots often have a thinner, less-cushioned tongue. 

The comfort and protection of a padded tongue can make a big difference in how many miles you can hike in a day.  

hand holding the cushioned boot tongue of a Columbia hiking boot
These Columbia boots come with a cushioned tongue, protecting the top of the foot

9. Toe Box

The toe box is the front area of the boot that covers the toes and is often reinforced for added protection.  Both hiking and tactical boots (along with many good-quality work boots) will likely have a reinforced toe, meaning that this toe area is lined with a hard plastic shell to protect against impact.

toe box of a hiking boot and a combat boot
Both hiking boots and combat boots will have a reinforced toe box

10. Side Zippers

Many combat boots come with size zippers (depending on the brand, Kendall’s do not).  These can be handy for getting the boots on and off more quickly without unlacing the entire ankle area. 

11. General Aesthetic

Many hiking boots are made to look good, while this tends not to be a priority for combat boots.  If you want to wear your hiking boots in other situations, like around town or on a hiking date, go for hiking boots over combat boots. 

Alternatives to Tactical Boots or Hiking Boots

Trail runners, regular tennis shoes, and hiking sandals are the best alternatives to hiking boots or combat boots.

Trail runners are my go-to choice for shorter trails that don’t have rocky terrain or uneven surfaces. They don’t offer ankle support, but they are incredibly lightweight and have excellent traction. 

an Altra trail runner shoe next to a blue hoka tennis shoe
Altra trail runners and other high-quality tennis shoes (like Hokas) are my number-one alternative to hiking boots

Running shoes are another great option for newer hikers or when your hike is more of a walk. Depending on the brand you choose (I love HOKAs and Brooks), regular tennis shoes or running shoes can have superior arch support. I’ll often switch to my running shoes when my plantar fasciitis flares up.    

Hiking sandals are good for easy hikes with water crossings.  Boots are a better choice for rocky or steep trails because they don’t provide ankle support or protect your toes. 

All three options are much better than duck boots, flat casual shoes with no additional support to the arches or ankles, or regular sandals.  None of these do well on rough terrain, and you’ll be more prone to injury.   

Are Combat Boots Good For Hiking: FAQ

Are Combat Boots Good for Walking?

Yes, combat boots are made for walking long distances carrying heavy weight.  Combat boots are durable, provide ankle support, and have a cushioned midsole.  However, they do take longer to break in than regular running or tennis shoes. 

What Boots Are Best for Hiking?

The best boots for hiking are waterproof, lightweight, provide excellent ankle support, and have a lightweight shock-absorbing midsole.  Some of the best hiking boots include Columbia, Merrell, and Salomon.  These boots are made for rugged terrain and are the kinds of boots to look for. 

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