Last Updated on 25/03/2023
In this guide, we answer the question, why are hiking boots important? You will learn the benefits of wearing a high-top boot vs sneakers or trail shoes. We also share the compromises you have to make with a heavier boot and when hiking boots aren’t so important.
When selecting hiking footwear, it’s important to consider factors such as comfort, protection, and weight. A good pair of hiking boots should shield your feet from cuts and damage caused by the elements, be comfortable enough to wear for extended periods without causing blisters, and remain lightweight to minimize fatigue during long hikes. Additionally, hiking boots provide sturdy ankle support and better insole cushioning, which are essential when tackling rugged trails and carrying heavy loads.
Why Are Hiking Boots Important
The reason I think hiking boots are important is for the protection they provide when hiking with a heavy backpack. Not only are they the best option for keeping your feet dry, but they also protect you from rocks and support your ankles. I’ll elaborate:
Waterproof hiking boots with a quality membrane will keep your feet dry when it rains, when walking through wet grass, and when crossing shallow streams and puddles. It is important to keep your feet dry to avoid getting blisters. You can use gaiters to help with this but a good pair of hiking boots is a better investment, in my opinion.
The difference between hiking boots and shoes is that boots extend up your pant leg which keeps the opening protected from rainfall. With shoes, water can get in between the gap where your pants end, and it doesn’t take a very deep puddle for your foot to become completely submerged.
Because hiking boots can be made with much thicker and heavier materials than sneakers can, they offer much more foot protection. Especially on your toes and lower foot, which are vulnerable to sharp rocks and rock slides. Many leather hiking boots will have something called a rand, which is like an extra strip of rubber that runs above the midsole. Take a look at the Meind Burma Pros for an example.
The thicker materials also extend onto the sole, which can have a much deeper tread with more long-lasting rubber. This extra weight from the sole and thick leather can be accommodated because of the extra support you get around the ankle of a hiking boot. The thicker sole not only lasts longer but protects the underside of your foot from bruising on those 20+ mile hiking trails.
Hiking boots that can be tightened around and above the ankle, for me, always provide so much necessary support when hiking with a backpack. I have tried trail runners, sneakers, Crocs, Dr Martens, trail runners, neoprene socks, you name it. Boots are the safest choice of footwear for most people.
If you have strong ankles and prefer the nimbleness of shoes, then all the power to you, but I am not so blessed. If I don’t wear boots, I almost always end up twisting an ankle or tweaking an old injury. If I am on a short day hike without a heavy pack, then I can wear trail runners all day long. But for serious hiking, I think boots are important. You might disagree, which is fine; please let me know in the comments.
Other Benefits of Hiking Boots
Some other reasons why I think hiking boots are important are:
Hiking Boots Can Reduce Injuries
Hiking boots provide better support and stability compared to other types of footwear, like sneakers. Ankle support is crucial for long hikes and uneven terrain, helping to reduce the risk of injury. This is especially important when carrying a heavy backpack, as hiking boots help distribute the weight evenly and maintain balance.
Another injury I have gotten with sneakers but not hiking boots is sharp rocks grazing my ankles or on loose ground, rocks falling onto my ankle – which really hurts!
There is a never-ending debate about whether hiking boots cause fewer blisters than low-cut shoes. I think everyone is different, and just because something works for you doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for everyone. If boots give you more blisters than shoes, then it could be the boots you have aren’t a good fit, or it might be that shoes work better for you, and vice versa. For me, I get less injuries with boots on.
Hiking Boots Can Have Better Traction and Grip
The soles of hiking boots are designed with thick lugs that bite into the soil and provide excellent traction on a variety of surfaces. This allows you to maintain your footing on slippery rocks, steep inclines, and other challenging terrains. According to REI Co-op, hiking boots often offer better grip compared to rugged trail runners and I agree.
Hiking Boots Have Long Lasting Durability
Hiking boots are built to last and can endure tough conditions, protecting your feet against cuts, bruises, and other damage from the elements. Where sneakers and trail runners may only last 600 miles if you’re lucky, hiking boots can last many thousands of miles if you maintain them. That’s another reason why hiking boots are important – you can maintain them with oils and treatments much more easily than with synthetic shoes.
Hiking Boots Get More Comfortable With Age
Investing in comfortable, well-fitting hiking boots is essential for a positive hiking experience. They should allow you to walk long distances without getting blisters and should be lightweight so as not to hinder your ability to move freely. While synthetic sneakers and trail shoes are often very comfortable out of the box, they degrade fairly quickly and tend to dramatically decline in performance after not much time.
Hiking boots made from tough leather often need a little bit of breaking in (which I do inside the house in case I need to send them back) but once you get a good fit, they only get better with age. This gives you a happy feeling every time you go to put them on because you know they are going to feel even better than the last time you wore them.
Hiking Boots Are Better in Winter
Boots are a much better choice of footwear to go hiking in winter than shoes are. They provide more warmth and protection against cold weather like snow, cold temperatures, rain, and muddy ground. Winter hiking boots will have a layer of insulation as well as a waterproof membrane to keep your toes warm when it is freezing out. In addition, insulated hiking boots are more common than insulated shoes and so there is more choice to pick from.
Downsides of Hiking Boots
When deciding how important it is to wear hiking boots, you need to weigh up the good and the bad points to come to a reasonable outcome. Here are some of the things I consider to be negative points for hiking boots, but never-the-less, compromises I am willing to make:
Hiking Boots Are Heavier than Trail Shoes
Most Hiking boots are heavier than most trail shoes; that is just a fact. The compromise you have to make for better durability and protection is that your feet will feel heavier. The extra weight makes them feel more clumsy, which is why lightweight shoes feel so nimble. I heard some silly statistic like every ounce on the foot burns X many calories while hiking, but I can’t remember the numbers.
Hiking Boots Are Hotter in Summer than Trail Shoes
In summer, hiking boots really make your feet sweat as much more of the heat generated by them is trapped inside. With a low-cut trail shoe, hot air, and moisture are able to escape much easier, so your feet don’t get so hot. Breathable footwear is certainly recommended in locations where the temperature gets above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, whether that is shoes or boots.
Hiking Boots Are More Expensive than Trail Shoes
In general, a high-end pair of hiking boots can cost two to three times as much as a low-cut shoe from the same brand. There is more material, and the materials are often thicker with added layers of protection, but a new pair of hiking boots costs nearly as much as a month’s rent.
When Are Hiking Boots Not Important?
There are times when hiking boots are less important, or put another way, times when breathable trail shoes are more beneficial. It’s important to note that your choice of footwear should be based on your individual comfort, experience, and the specific conditions of your hike. Always prioritize safety and choose footwear that offers the appropriate support, protection, and grip for the terrain you’ll be encountering.
Hiking boots may not be as important in certain situations, but it’s essential to consider the specific context and your personal preferences before making a decision. Here are some instances where hiking boots might be less important:
No Heavy Backpack
If you are only carrying a small pack with a bottle of water and a rain jacket, then you don’t need as much ankle support. Hiking with nothing at all is great if you know it will only take a few hours, and you can have a drink when you finish. Normally you will have a few small items and a bottle of water you’ll want to take with you. But once you start packing your tent, sleeping bag, and a couple of days’ food supply, the benefits of hiking boots become more important.
Easy and Well-Maintained Trails
If you’re hiking on a well-maintained trail with little elevation change and relatively even terrain, you may find that lightweight trail shoes or even sneakers provide sufficient support and protection. I really enjoy doing short hikes in lightweight rail runners as much as the next guy but as soon as the terrain gets rocky or boggy, I start wishing I wore my boots.
Warm and Dry Conditions
In warm and dry environments, hiking boots may be less essential, as you may not need the additional insulation and waterproofing that they provide. Instead, you might opt for breathable trail shoes or sandals for better ventilation. You can get breathable hiking boots that don’t have a waterproof membrane which is what I prefer, but if you don’t need the ankle support, then trail shoes and sneakers can keep your feet much cooler.
Some ultralight backpackers prefer minimalist footwear, such as trail running shoes, to save weight and allow for faster movement on the trail. It is true that you don’t always want heavy-duty hiking boots for long-distance trails, as they feel like you’re swinging hammers on your feet by the end of the day. On long-distance trails, I will use lightweight boots and accept the fact that they will need replacing more often.
Familiarity with Terrain
If you’re well-acquainted with a particular trail and its conditions, you might feel comfortable wearing less protective footwear, such as trail shoes or sneakers. If you know there are no boggy areas, river crossings, or loose scree, then you can feel confident wearing whatever you like. The benefit of hiking boots is that they can handle anything.
Why are hiking boots important? To keep your feet dry, protected, and supported on mountain trails or with a heavy backpack. That’s why.