Buying a pair of boots for a backpacking trip or a hiking vacation should be done with careful consideration. Pick the wrong pair of boots and you could end up with feet ranging from uncomfortable to physically harmed with blisters or even tendon problems. It is a task that takes an investment of time and money. But hopefully, you will have this pair of boots for many years and it is worth putting a little investment in on the front end to get the best thing for you.
Here are some tips to help you in the process:
1) Go to a reputable retail store- where they have a boot department and people who know their boots and how to fit the right boot to the right foot.
2) Try on a variety of boots and walk around the store in them. Every one of us has a differently shaped foot and ankle. And every manufacturer makes their boots a slightly different shape (odd but true). That Merrell that works for your sister or best friend may not be the boot that is ideal for you. Furthermore, if that store doesn't have what you need, go to another store and see what brands they have
3) Choose a store with a good return policy. Some stores will only take your boots back if they haven't been worn outdoors. You can get a decent sense of their comfort that way, but ultimately you need to field test them
4) Buy a boot that will match your activity needs. Backpacking boots differ from lighter hiking boots; rocky steep terrain requires a different boot than flat or rolling hills. Again, going to a reputable store will help. They should ask you this question
5) Sizing: Typically you want a boot a half size bigger than your shoe size. This accounts for sock variations, as well as the natural swelling of our feet
6) Socks/insoles: Try the boots on with a sock combination you know works for you. Bring your own. Or if you wear orthotics, bring those
7) Break them in: Buy your boots early enough before your trip (usually 2+ months) to break them in. If they are all leather they will take a bit longer to break in than the cordura/nylon/part leather ones. If they are uncomfortable after a couple times of wearing them, bring them back. Every once in a while I hear a woman on a trip say that she pulled her new hiking boots out of the box, wore them on the trip and never got blisters. While possible, don't count on it for you and your boots.
8) Cost of boots: a hiking boot can range anywhere from $90 to $220 depending on the features, the style, the name brand. While a higher cost boot is not necessarily any better than a lower cost boot, don't just buy the least expensive boot in the store; get the one that fits best.
They're your feet, and will carry you far into the wilderness. Buy a pair of boots that fit, that are comfortable, and take time to break them in. It will make the hiking experience - and your feet - so much more joyful.