With real leather, luxury laces, and thick rubber soles, Doc Martens are among the most durable boot brands you can find. With such high-quality materials, these boots may seem ideal for hiking, but that is simply not the case.
Doc Martens boots are not recommended for hiking; their thick leather and heavy soles make it difficult to navigate mountainous terrain, increasing the likelihood of getting blisters and even nerve damage. Doc Martens are more suited for level terrain or day-to-day city life.
Martens lovers everywhere will agree that, when it comes to daily wear, these shoes do not disappoint. Still, if you’re looking for a good hiking boot or wondering why your Doc Martens aren’t suitable, there’s a substantial amount of conversation on the topic. Let’s dive in.
Doc Martens and Hiking
Technically, you can hike while wearing Doc Martens; it’s not impossible. If the trail is gentle, mildly sloped, or generally flat, your Martens will be just fine. The real issues arise when you are hiking on rocky, sloped terrain. Most hikes, or at least all of the ones with the best views, will have rougher terrain. The design of Doc Martens boots then becomes problematic.
Doc Martens were originally designed during World War II with the intent of creating a comfortable, durable work shoe for factory and law enforcement workers. Since these boots have such a hardy history, it might seem like they are the perfect shoes to withstand mountain wear.
However, because of the thick leather, tight lacing, and heavy rubber soles, Doc Martens will actually increase your chances of getting blisters while you hike. The material and the weight of these boots will rub against all of the pressure points in your feet and ankles, causing painful friction wounds on the skin.
Another issue with hiking in Doc Martens is that they are heavy—3 to 4 pounds per pair, to be exact. With the average hiking backpack being anywhere from 20 to 50 pounds heavy, and with the strain of constant, uphill climbing, the last thing you want to deal with is heavy footwear. Ideally, hiking shoes should be lightweight, allowing you to move freely with minimal effort.
Lastly, Doc Martens are not at all breathable. Yes, the sturdy leather is wonderfully waterproof and perfectly warm during the winter, but it has little to no breathability. Sweat and dirt will get completely trapped within the boots as you hike, and your feet will get uncomfortably hot with no relief. Hiking boots should have plenty of circulation and airflow; otherwise, your feet get uncomfortable, numb, or even swollen.
So, Doc Martens are a fantastic day-to-day work boot—even a killer fashion statement—but that does not make them good hiking boots. Instead, enjoy flashing your Martens as you travel to and from work, run errands, or attend local events. They’re sure to catch the eye and be recognized as a fantastic footwear choice. But if you wear them on the mountain, you’re asking for a miserable time.
Outdoor Work and Wear
So, Doc Martens aren’t suited for hiking; what about outdoor work and wear in general? The answer to that question is a resounding yes: Doc Martens were originally designed to be the ideal shoe for manual labor. They’re comfortable, protective, and have an incredibly long lifespan for a pair of shoes. With thick stitching, solid molded PVC soles, singular cuts of high-quality leather, and manual craftsman assembly, Doc Martens are the ideal work boot. Some models even have steel toe protection, making them great for factory work or contracted labor.
For a closer overview of how Doc Martens are made and why this 1960s shoe remains a modern industrial favorite, check out this video from the original factory:
Best Hiking Boots
Whether you’re a trail runner or a hiker, there are several fundamental characteristics you’ll want to look for when choosing the ideal shoe. The more time you take to ensure that you’ve chosen the right shoe for you, the better experience you’ll have out on the trail. Let’s take a look at why each of these characteristics is so essential.
- Fit – It might seem obvious, but the fit is everything. No matter how well the boot is designed or what it is made of, if it doesn’t fit your foot, it’s not going to serve you well. When shoes are made, the very last step is securing the shoe around a foot-shaped mold that will ensure the shoe fits a certain size and type of foot. The last step for a manufacturer should be the first step for the buyer: Fit first, then take a look at the rest of the materials.
- Traction – Traction prevents your feet from slipping as you try to run along the trail or scale the mountain. Each big-name hiking boot manufacturer has its own patented tread pattern, but many of them are comparable in function. What really matters is that the tread on your boot increases the amount of outsole traction, or the amount of rubber surface area that grips rough terrain and separates the shoe from the sole of your foot. The rockier the terrain, the thicker you want the tread to be for optimal traction.
- Breathability – This is something that many hiking boots lack; all of the attention is on the durable build, and breathability takes a backseat. But, believe the experts when they say that your best bet for avoiding skin problems (rashes, infections, blisters) is ventilation. Find a boot with mesh layers that will absorb unwanted moisture and allow your foot to breathe as you climb. If you’re hiking in cold/snowy climates, then you’ll want waterproof boots. Otherwise, the more breathable, the better.
- Weight – You’re already wearing a heavy backpack and carrying all of your hiking gear, or potentially even camping gear—the last thing you want to deal with is heavy feet. Your feet are the farthest away from your hips, meaning any unnecessary weight will generate added muscle strain. Lightweight hiking boots are ideal when it comes to navigability.
- Comfort – Comfort comes down to the level of cushioning afforded by the boot. Layers of cushioning enhance the spring in your step by giving your body an energy return for each impact. It also lessens the impact of the forces acting against your body as you hike by absorbing and redistributing the shock.
- Support – This is a feature that generates a lot of debate among hikers. You want hiking boots with a good amount of support, but not with so much stiffness that it restricts your movement. Ideally, a hiking boot should have arch support and ankle support, keeping your feet from twisting or rolling in any unnatural ways on uneven terrain. The level of rigidity in the boot should depend on the preference of the hiker, but the most important thing to remember with stiff shoes is to break them in before taking them on a hike.