If you’re just starting to discover the precious gift that is the great outdoors and taking your baby steps toward serious hiking but you are still unsure whether you need hiking shoes or hiking boots, stay tuned, because by the end of this article you are very likely to have your answer.
Why would you get dedicated hiking footwear in the first place?
You might wonder about the benefits of footwear specially designed for hiking over your regular shoes, and why would you even consider paying considerable amounts of money if aforementioned advantages aren’t all that significant.
First of all, those advantages are crucial, so the second question is left moot. Hiking footwear is specially designed and manufactured to tackle rough conditions. We’re talking wet and boggy environments, sharp and loose rocks and tree roots, difficult terrain, and extremely cold or hot weather. Ordinary shoes or boots are designed for flat surfaces without many irregularities. That’s the most important difference between the two categories.
That being said, let’s see what makes hiking footwear better equipped for rough conditions:
- They ensure better shaft stability, reducing the chances of rolling your ankle
- They feature special lacing that will allow for more adaptive approach
- They are often highly waterproof and water-resistant
- Their soles are coarse-structured, provide better traction, and better protection from anything sharp underfoot
- Thicker lining will keep your feet much warmer during hikes in the cold weather
- They’re very robust and more structurally sound than your regular shoes/boot since it’s expected to last through some pretty heavy-duty usage
That’s just naming a few of a number of reasons you’ll want these on your feet even if you’re a hiking veteran. There’s no bigger truth in hiking than the fact that a successful trip starts and ends with your feet. And well choosen hiking boots or shoes can make or break that very trip.
Introduction to hiking boot and shoes
In order to fully grasp the titular concepts, we’ll need to know a bit more (or anything at all) about hiking boots and shoes.
Shoes for hiking are made with ease of movement and comfort in mind. They’re generally made of lighter materials like suede and nylon, with some leather reinforcements that also serve as protection from abrasions. Break-in time is minimal, and they’re very flexible. Hiking style shoes have unfortunately become very popular for general purposes, so we have a market that’s flooded with models that look like they’re good for hiking when they’re actually far from it.
Real hiking shoes will offer great support for your feet and arches. They’ll also keep pebbles and dirt away, and usually have some degree of waterproofing. Low cuts will lessen the ankle support, and are good for well-trimmed trails since there’s no scratch protection around your ankles.
And then there are trail runners. They’re designed for running, have extra padding, tougher soles and more support. They also cost a bit more.
More protective and supportive versions of hiking shoes is a nice way to put it.
We’ll be talking about two types that interest us the most:
- Mid-height boots – It’s the most common choice of backpackers and hikers. They’re good for any terrain as long as it’s not extremely rugged. Typically manufactured out of leather or synthetic with leather reinforcements. Break-in time is longer, and it can take up to a week. They’re a solid choice for any trail, and ankle support and stiffness will come in more than handy during longer hikes. They should be completely waterproof, probably featuring GTX lining. Basically with these you’ll be trading lighter steps for extra support and safety
- Heavy boots – Off-trail blazing and boulder hopping will certainly merit a pair of these. They are the bridge between boots for trail hiking and those for mountaineering. They often have some mountaineering features themselves, like crampon lips, for example. They ensure optimal protection from foot injuries and twists while being completely waterproof and breathable at the same time. They are pure overkill for regular hiking, but a good idea for some extreme conditions. They are sturdier, less comfortable, and more expensive. Plus, breaking them in will take a while.
How to choose???
First, you need to ask yourself two questions:
- What hiking type do you have in mind? – Think about the terrain you’ll be going through, the weather you might encounter, your hike’s length, and your packing weight
- What’s your skill level? – If you’re a beginner, more support is an excellent idea. You’ll need sturdier boots to go where experienced hiker can go with lighter models. It’s all about developing leg muscles and getting them used to the hiking movements.
So, with these two questions in mind you’ll be using hiking shoes if:
- You intend to stick to shorter hikes and well-defined trails
- You don’t have a lot of weight
- You’re a seasoned hiker with some weight and/or going for more rugged trails
Hiking boots are best used if:
- You plan a longer hike over rough terrain
- You’re carrying load that’s moderately heavy
- You’re an occasional hiker or a beginner in need of extra support for your less-developed muscles
- You’re prone to tweaked knees or rolled ankles
Some additional tips
Here are some extra pointers when choosing hiking footwear, be it a shoe or a boot:
- Lighter shoes/boots mean your legs will work less. Still make sure they offer enough support though
- Moisture inside your footwear is not an option! Make sure it’s waterproof but also breathable
- You’ll need arch support, especially with heavier loads. Feet laying flat under pressure means pain
- Ankle support is of the essence, moreover for beginners. Also, make sure to get footwear with toes protection
- Make sure at least some amount of flexibility is there, especially if you’re packing heavy. You’ll want a full range of motion from your shoes/boots
- MAKE SURE THEY FIT PERFECTLY, if shopping online read some reviews and “see” if people are saying that the model is true to size
Even if you do make a mistake or two along the way, when you get to that trail you’ll understand why every buck spent was worth it.
One edge a shoes has over a hiking boot – VERSATILITY
One major advantage I’d like to stress (speaking from experience) is the versatility of a hiking shoe.
If you get a pair of boots that’s all they will ever be, boots.
On the other hand, over the decades of hiking and being active in all sorts of sports (I used them as tennis shoes, running, they’re even a good pair of wresting shoes).
I see the versatility of a sports shoe that can also be used for hiking as major plus.
A good example for that is the Adidas AX2 – I put these through all sorts of challenges and they are still alive and well. They don’t look great but in terms of the structural integrity of the sole they are still going strong.
Food for thought
If I have to leave you with one thought here it would be that your shoes or boots are the last thing that you would want to save on, take it from a serious hiker. After all, that’s what the Sole Labz is all about – helping you make the right choice.
Keep your feet safe and healthy.