Last Updated on 11/04/2023
In this article, we debunk the hiking boot ankle support myth by sharing scientific research and our own experience. You will learn whether wearing hiking boots for ankle support is true or not.
It has been assumed for many years that hiking boots provide ankle support that reduces the chances of rolling an ankle while hiking on unstable terrain. But is ankle support in hiking boots really necessary? In this article, we’ll explore the myth of ankle support in hiking boots and whether it’s actually beneficial or not.
What is the Hiking Boot Ankle Support Myth?
Hiking boots with ankle support are designed to provide stability and protection to the ankle while hiking. The ankle support comes from how hiking boots lace up so that the heel is pulled into your foot and the material around the ankle tightens.
However, there is a growing debate about whether ankle support is really necessary or if it’s just a myth. After all, there has been little research done on the subject, and if it was such a big problem, why don’t athletes wear boots? To understand if you would be better of with hiking boots or if sneakers and trail running shoes will work as well.
The Importance of Ankle Support in Hiking Boots
Hiking boots with ankle support provide additional stability and protection to the ankle, reducing the risk of ankle sprains and other injuries. This is especially important when hiking with a heavy backpack on uneven or rocky terrain. Without ankle support, the ankle has more freedom to twist or turn, which can lead to painful injuries.
The Myth of Ankle Support in Preventing Injuries
While ankle support is important, there is a myth that it can prevent ankle sprains and other injuries. Research shows that ankle support may not be as effective in preventing injuries as previously thought. In fact, ankle support can actually increase the risk of injury by restricting the natural movement of the ankle.
Another argument I have seen on Reddit is that by not relying on ankle support, The muscles, tendons, and joints will become naturally stronger and more resistant to injury. I can’t find any studies to back this up but it does kind of make sense.
The Anatomy of the Ankle
To understand why ankle support may not be as beneficial as previously thought, it’s essential to understand the anatomy of the ankle. The ankle is made up of bones, ligaments, and tendons that work together to provide support and mobility. When the ankle is restricted in movement, it can increase the risk of injury, as the ankle is not able to respond to changes in terrain.
The Benefits of Minimalist Footwear
Minimalist footwear is designed to promote natural foot and ankle movement, allowing the body to move more freely and reducing the risk of injury. Research shows that minimalist footwear can be beneficial for hikers, as it allows the foot and ankle to move naturally while providing protection from the elements.
Other benefits of not falling for the hiking boot ankle support myth are that sneakers and minimalist footwear are lightweight, fast drying, comfortable out of the box, and much cheaper than boots.
Alternatives to Hiking Boot Ankle Support
If you are not comfortable wearing hiking boots with ankle support, there are alternative options available. Strengthening the ankle through exercises and stretches can reduce the risk of injury but takes time and dedication. Wearing an elasticated ankle support compresses your foot and ankle to provide support the same way a hiking boot would.
A slightly far-stretched alternative is to use two hiking poles or even just one to take the weight off your ankles and provides stability in case you stumble. Choosing the right shoe size and the fit is also important, as ill-fitting shoes can increase the risk of injury. Here are the alternatives in a bullet list:
- Hiking Boots
- Strength Exercises
- Stretching Before a Hike
- Compression Sock
- Two Pairs of Socks
- Hiking Poles
Common Hiking Injuries to the Ankles
Despite taking precautions, hiking injuries can still occur with hiking boots, ankle supports, or well-trained muscles. Ankle sprains are a common injury among hikers, but other injuries, such as blisters, cuts, and bruises, can also occur. Proper technique and conditioning can help prevent injuries, but only boots will protect your ankles from abrasions.
Ankle sprains are a common injury while hiking due to uneven or loose terrain and the potential for missteps. Hikers often encounter rocks, roots, and slippery surfaces, which can lead to rolling or twisting the ankle when you least expect it. The worst kind of ankle sprain is when your foot gets jammed in a crevis or between two rocks, and you try and twist it out – ouch!
Additionally, carrying heavy backpacks can increase the likelihood of a sprain by altering a hiker’s balance and placing more stress on the ankle joint.
Cuts and Bruises
Cuts and bruises frequently occur during hiking expeditions as a result of encountering sharp rocks, brambles, or other debris on the trail. Mini rockslides on steep mountain slopes can be very painful if one hits you right o the tip of your ankle. Falling or bumping into obstacles can lead to these types of injuries, and wearing inadequate protective gear can increase their prevalence among hikers.
You can wear thick wool socks, which will help a little, or wear two pairs of socks for double the protection. Leg gaiters are the next level up in terms of protection and will save you from 99% of small cuts and grazes.
Blisters are another common injury for hikers on the ankle, primarily caused by constant friction between the foot and hiking boots. Ill-fitting footwear or damp socks can exacerbate the issue by creating more opportunities for rubbing. Proper foot care and the use of moisture-wicking socks or blister-prevention products can help minimize the risk of developing blisters while hiking.
Boots aren’t the only villain, though. Low-cut trail shoes can also cause a blister on the underside of your ankle if they are at the wrong height for your foot shape.
Are Boots Safer Than Shoes for Hiking
While ankle support may seem like a necessary feature in hiking boots, the myth that it prevents ankle sprains and other injuries is not entirely accurate. Research shows that ankle support may actually increase the risk of injury by restricting the natural movement of the ankle.
Instead, hikers should focus on strengthening their ankles through exercises and choosing proper footwear that allows for natural foot and ankle movement. By taking these steps, hikers can reduce their risk of common hiking injuries and enjoy their time on the trails.
All that being said, I will continue to hike in ankle-supporting boots whenever my backpack weighs over 10 pounds.
Here are some common questions about the hiking boot ankle support myth:
Is Ankle Support Necessary for All Hikers?
No, ankle support is not necessary for all hikers. It depends on the individual’s level of experience, backpack weight, and the type of terrain they will be hiking on. There are other benefits to hiking boots other than ankle support but it is a big one.
How Can I Properly Fit My Hiking Boots?
Proper fit is essential for preventing injuries. When purchasing hiking boots, make sure to try them on with the socks you will be wearing while hiking. Ensure that there is enough space in the toe box to wiggle your toes slightly and that the heel is snug but not too tight.
Are There Any Exercises I Can Do to Strengthen My Ankles for Hiking?
Yes, there are several exercises that can help strengthen the ankles for hiking, including calf raises, ankle circles, and resistance band exercises. Consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new exercise program, though.
Can Minimalist Footwear Help Prevent Ankle Sprains?
Yes, minimalist footwear can be beneficial in reducing the risk of ankle sprains by promoting natural foot and ankle movement. The idea is that with cushioned soles, you place your heel down first when walking, but the natural movement of walking is to be more flat-footed or on your toes.
What Should I Do if I Experience an Ankle Injury While Hiking?
If you experience an ankle injury while hiking, it’s important to stop and assess the injury. Don’t blame your footwear and instead, elevate your foot for 5 minutes and then try and apply some kid of compression so you can make it to the end of the trail or back to the car (whichever is closest).
Rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) can help reduce swelling and pain when you get home. Seek medical attention if the injury is severe or does not improve within a few days.
hiking boot ankle support myth