The Ultimate Hiking Boot Glossary
Are you a hiker or backpacker looking to deepen your understanding of hiking boot terminology? Check out our glossary.


Hiking boot terminology can look and sound an awful lot like a foreign language. And if you hate feeling like a freshman who’s lost with every new word like “crampons” – yes, that’s a word – then it’s time to school up and learn the basics when it comes to hiking boot lingo.

If you want to be the guy or gal who knows what they’re talking about when it comes to hiking boots or hiking boot accessories, take a few minutes to study our glossary.

Table of Contents:

Blisters - The bane of every hiker's existence. They look bad and feel worse. Avoid at ALL costs.

Collar – Top rim of the boot (above, on, or below the ankle).

Crampons – Attachable metal spikes for the bottom of hiking boots. Used for mountaineering on snow or ice for improved traction.

D-rings – A form of hook used on boots for lacing, shaped like a D. Easy to adjust the tightness of your boot, but prone to ripping out of the boots upper.

EVA (ethylene-vinyl acetate) – Used to craft light and cushy hiking boots midsoles. Most often the cheaper option compared to other midsoles.

Eyelets – Circular holes on the boot’s upper where laces come through before reaching hooks. Most durable form of inlet, but difficult to adjust.

Full-grain leather – An extremely durable and abrasion-resistant hiking boot upper. Great waterproofness compared to other uppers and built for extended backpacking trips with rugged terrain.

Heel brake ­– Built into some outsoles around the heel section of the boot. Gives improved traction that prevents slippage.

Hooks – Lining the top of hiking boots, hooks are used when lacing up the boot. Easiest to lace, but are prone to catching brush, bending, and breaking from impact.

Inlets ­­– Part of the boots used for lacing up the boot. Come in the form of D-rings, hooks, or eyelets.

Insoles – Addition to boots that can help with a boot’s fit, comfort, or support. Boots do not come with insoles and must be purchased aftermarket.

Insulation – Used in mountaineering and backpacking boots to enhance warmth and heat retention. Meant for cold weather settings.

Lug pattern – Found on the bottom of your boot (outsole), lug patterns will vary depending on the boot and will provide varying degrees of traction.

Membrane – Layer of fabric between the midsole and outsole in waterproof boots (like the GORE-TEX membrane). Gives a boot waterproofness and breathability.

Nubuck leather – Sanded or buffed full-grain leather that resembles suede and is fairly flexible compared to other hiking boot uppers.

Outsoles – Bottom of the boot that’s meant to give you prime traction when you’re out on the trail. Heads up, Vibram will be the primary outsole you’ll see on hiking boots.

Plates ­– Thin inserts between the midsole and outsole, sometimes below the shank if it’s there, and designed to give additional support/protection from rocks and roots.

PTFE membrane -  Also known as the GORE-TEX membrane, PTFE (ePTFE to be exact) is a linear polymer consisting of fluorine and carbon, first discovered by Bob Gore. This GORE-TEX membrane is used to produce your favorite jackets, gloves, and hiking boots.

Rands – Most commonly placed on waterproof and breathable boots, rands are a rubber surrounding the entire foot or just the toe area. Designed as an extra line of defense against water and rocks/abrasion.

Shanks – A piece of material inserted between the midsole and outsole for added stiffness. Helps distribute weight for load-bearing.

Spacer – Layer between the inner lining and the outsole. Opens up airways to enhance the breathability of boots.

Split-grain leather – In combination with nylon or nylon mesh, split-grain leather is lightweight and breathable compared to other leather uppers. Often less waterproof and more susceptible to abrasion.

Synthetics – Upper that comes in the form of nylon, polyester, or synthetic leather found in common boots. Synthetic uppers are cheaper, lighter, and more breathable, but lack the durability of other boot uppers.

Tongue – Flap that covers the inlet of the upper and goes underneath the laces. Keeps water, dirt and debris from entering the boot.

Upper – Upper part of the boot intended to support and keep your foot snug. Look for uppers that are waterproof and breathable.

Vegan – Boots that refrain from using animal products or by-products. Yes, they do exist!

Waterproof – Boots outfitted with a membrane or upper that keep your feet dry.

Phew. That should do it!

Now that you’ve skimmed through the list, take that newfound knowledge with you the next time you plan on buying a pair of hiking boots and be prepared to (maybe) impress the boot expert.

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