You have to be a little bit old school to understand the significance of red laces on hiking boots. Nowadays, red laces on a pair of hiking boots are just as common as black laces or grey laces. Hiking boots with red laces were once the norm and now it’s a product of past significance.

The truth is, most hiking boots don’t have red laces, at least not anymore. Researching the topic isn’t going to gift you with a lot of answers but the general consensus is that hiking boots manufactured with red laces make up about 15% of all hiking boots.

Some negative connotations go along with red laces and hiking boots as well, but more on that later. The significance of red laces and hiking boots is largely a thing of the past, however, it does seem to be making a bit of a comeback.

Why did red-laced hiking boots become fashionable?

These boots were made for walkin'
Photo by Ellena McGuinness / Unsplash

Red laces with hiking boots started as a simplistic way to separate a person’s hiking boots from their work boots. That’s all there was to it and, after some time, it kind of morphed into a fad with a lot of staying power.

Now, even though red laces are no longer the end all be all of hiking boots fashion, there is still a strong degree of understanding and tradition behind them. After all, there are several advantages to red laces, both past, and present.

  • Red laces were designed to help separate work boots from hiking boots
  • For hunting purposes, they stand out, like orange hats and vests
  • Red laces hide dirt and mud more effectively
  • Red laces are traditional and recognizable amongst the hiking community

Earth tones tend to cancel each other out and the addition of red laces may look unusual to the uninitiated but they actually hide the elements of the hiking trail very well. Dirt, debris, clay, and red mud tend to blend right into the laces. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wash them, however, because they get just as dirty as any other shoelaces will.

They’re also good for hunting since they stand out like the orange safety vests that hunters wear to warn other hunters they are in the area. It’s a visual cue to keep hunters from mistaking another hunter for a deer.

There are several, old-school brands and even some new ones that still produce the classic hiking boot look with red laces.

Some of these brands have been around for a century or more and their lineups feature some modern looks and styles. However, they haven’t forgotten their roots and they all maintain several lines of classic hiking boots that are just dying for some red laces.

Red laces are also well-recognized by hikers and having red laces on your hiking boots is nothing out of the norm in those circles. Fortunately, style is cyclical and what was old and outdated yesterday is the new norm tomorrow and it looks like hiking boots with red laces are coming around for their moment in the sun once again.

Should you use red laces with your hiking boots?

Shoelace knit into a heart shape in the depiction of love and marking of valentine.
Photo by Emmanuel Ikwuegbu / Unsplash

That’s entirely up to you but there are a lot of good reasons to buy a solid pair of hiking boots with red laces. Also, there’s the advantage of standing out a little bit in a forest of earth colors when you happen to cross a hunter’s path.

There’s nothing like a bright and shiny bit of red shoe lacing to keep a JUDO point razor arrow tip out of your rear end. Take that how you will but the statement alone probably elevated red hiking boot laces on a lot of hiker’s lists.

If you’re a lover of history, there is a good deal of positive, historical reasoning behind using red laces. The pinnacle of red laces lasted three decades, from the 60s through to the end of the 80s.

It was a matter of simplicity. Back then, manufacturers didn’t have the enormous number of tools, materials, and manufacturing processes at their disposal that they do today. Hiking boots were manufactured in much the same way as working boots, not only in functionality but in aesthetic and physical design as well.

There were a few subtle differences, however. Of course, working boots had the option of having steel toes inserted as well, which made them a lot heavier than hiking boots. But even without the steel toes, hiking boots were generally lighter than work boots.

Work boots often had a leather tread while hiking boots had rubber soles, which wouldn’t last nearly as long in a work environment as they would on the trail.

The problem was, that lighter or heavier, both pairs of boots pretty much looked the same, regardless of the manufacturer, so red laces became a mainstay.

Red laces do have some unfortunate associations

For whatever insane and ridiculous reason, red laces became associated with another, more reviled tradition, that of the skinhead culture. It’s an unfortunate and unrelated aspect of red laces, however, in skinhead culture, two things separate their choice and those of hikers.

The first was the fact that skinheads always wear work boots rather than hiking boots, with steel toes so they can use the boot as a weapon. The second is how they laced their boots, using a ladder pattern rather than crisscrossing the laces.

While their choice of red laces (sometimes white laces as well) shouldn’t have any association whatsoever with the red laces that hikers like to wear, some people who don’t know the difference between a hiking boot and a work boot might make the wrong assumption.

The longstanding tradition of hiking boots and red laces

As we mentioned above, red laces have been a thing with hiking boots since the 60s, with the mid-70s and early 80s probably the pinnacle of the practice.

The biggest reason that red laces are no longer as mainstream as they once were is not that it’s simply an outdated, out-of-fashion look. All of the above reasons for using red laces are still every bit as legitimate as they were four decades ago.

The difference has been the glut of new and highly popular outdoor show retailers/manufacturers rising to the top, diluting the once prevalent pool of hiking boots with red laces. All of the following are highly popular hiking boots retailers that don’t push red laces much in their marketing:

Now, some of these brands will certainly have red laces in their hiking boot lineup. The difference is, that it’s not a dominating aesthetic.

These outdoor apparel and hiking boot manufacturers are dominating the industry right now, especially with their positive attitudes toward environmentally sound manufacturing and an eye towards sustainability.

That doesn’t mean you can’t still find some hiking boots with red laces or you could always replace your laces with red ones whenever you feel like ordering a pair.

All 8 of the above brands manufacture outstanding hiking boots and with the new-look designs and features, replacing the original laces can be a lot of fun when you’re mixing and matching with bright, red laces.

Classic hiking boots with red laces

There are still plenty of options to go with here, especially if you like Danner and Timberland, both of which are high-quality brands that frequently put together some sweet hiking boots.

The Timberland 1978 Waterproof Hiker is an amazing hiking boot. It’s also about as old-fashioned as you can get, in terms of aesthetics of course. The material that goes into the boot is as premium as it gets.

That includes a waterproof membrane and anti-fatigue footpads that you can remove whenever you want. The outsoles are extremely thick and they give this boot a ton of longevity.

It’s a limited edition boot and will run you about $250, however, there are deals galore out there so you can probably find them at a much better price.

Then there is the Merrell Sugarbush, which advertises with a set of blue laces (usually) but also sells pairs that come with red laces. This is also a classic aesthetic that belongs in the 80s but is built for 2022.

The Sugarbush is a waterproof hiking boot that features the Merrell M Select Dry tech. The leather lining is entirely antimicrobial and the insole is constructed of soft sheep leather.

For being a modern hiking boot brand, Merrell knows how to reach back a few decades to please its old-school fans. There’s also the Danner Mountain Light Cascade Clovis Boot. Danner has been around the block and they know their business when it comes to quality hiking boots.

Final thoughts

Hiking boots with red laces may seem new to those who are just setting out on their very first hiking adventures. However, red laces and hiking boots have enjoyed a healthy relationship for the better part of half a century now and, with the way things look, another half a century is on the horizon.