Another mild debate of the last few years in the hiking/backpacking community has been that of hiking boots vs. hiking shoes. Some don’t consider this much of a debate, as many hikers & backpackers have made the switch solely to hiking shoes, more commonly known as trail runners. Contrary to what some believe, not everyone wears hiking shoes while hiking. Hiking boots are still alive, and by no means are they outdated or obsolete, as some would have you believe. This article isn’t meant to argue either point of view, just make some basic observations between the two types of footwear.
Following are some statements made by other hikers, backpackers or writers on the subject of hiking boots vs. hiking shoes. These have been gleaned from the several other articles on the subject, as well as posts on blogs & in forums.
Hiking boots are heavier than hiking shoes.
Hiking shoes, being lighter in weight, lessen the strain on feet & legs when hiking over several miles.
Boots are constricting.
Boots normally last longer.
Boots stay wet longer than shoes.
The better ankle support which boots give is a myth.
Water enters boots more easily than shoes.
Feet are cooler in shoes.
Boots cost more than shoes.
Boots require more break-in time.
Boots are better suited for snowy conditions.
Those are just 11 quick statements I’ve read here & there over the last several years. For many it seems, no matter what, shoes win hands down. Some people hike year round in hiking shoes, that’s fine. Again, I believe this is a case of what matches up better with the terrain you’re traversing. Hiking boots are better suited, I believe, for some conditions. Hiking shoes, I also believe, provide a great advantage over boots in other situations. Here are some following observations from my point of view.
Hiking boots are heavier than shoes. I agree. Though there are varying types of materials used in hiking boots, such as full-grain leather, split leather, nubuck & synthetic, boots are on average heavier than hiking shoes. There are different types of boots made for separate conditions, and this is what needs to be considered when deciding whether or not to go with boots or shoes.
Hiking shoes, because they’re lighter, take strain off the feet, legs & back. Again, I agree. A study done many years ago by the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine revealed that 1 lb on the foot used as much energy as carrying 6 lbs in the backpack. If this is true, then it’s obvious that hiking shoes, because of being lighter, would save wear & tear on the body.
Boots are constricting. This is something, I believe, that’s completely subject to each individual hiker. I use lightweight hiking boots on most of my hikes. They aren’t constricting on my feet.
Boots last longer. Part of me leans toward a yes, but reluctantly. Depending on the style boot, a pair of boots can last longer than a pair of shoes. Heavy leather boots built for mountaineering will outlast both lighter weight boots & shoes hands down. This type of boot can be resoled more than once, proving that the sole will wear out long before the boot itself will. I’ve seen people wear out shoes quicker than I’ve worn out boots in the same amount of time. How a person walks does much to determine the life of a boot or shoe.
Boots stay wet longer. Again, this depends on the type of boot. Heavy leather boots will take a long time to dry when severely wet. Lightweight boots which are made with fabric & nubuck leather can dry in the same given time as a pair of hiking shoes. The amount of materials in the boot or shoe & the materials themselves determine drying time.
Boots don’t give better ankle support. Depending on the type of boot, they do in fact give better ankle support. Higher-cut boots can aid in ankle support & give more leverage on uneven trails or cross-country routes.
Water enters boots more easily than shoes. This statement doesn’t make sense to me. If you’re wearing either mid-cut or high-cut boots, trekking through a few inches of water, the boot will protect your feet more than a low-cut shoe. To me, this is obvious. Coupled with a pair of gaiters, water will have a more difficult time entering your boot & getting your feet wet.
Feet are cooler in shoes. Another point I agree with. Because the amount & thickness of materials used in their construction, a hiking shoe is lighter and will be cooler to wear. If you’re hiking in an area that’s extremely dry & hot, shoes may be a better choice for you.
Boots cost more than shoes. This is generally true. Average cost of boots is anywhere from $120-170. Shoes average anywhere from $30-120. Yet compared with the lifespan of each type of footwear, it’s possible to spend less for a pair of boots than for 2-3 pair of shoes.
Boots take longer to break in. For heavy leather boots, the answer is definitely yes. Yet with the lightweight hiking boots on the market today, this characteristic is very comparable. However, I do give the edge to shoes on this.
Boots are better suited for snowy conditions. If there’s quite a bit of accumulation, yes, boots should be opted for in this situation. Yet I’ve seen & know hikers that still wear hiking shoes with a few inches of snow on the ground. If you’re just passing through an area such as this, then it’s probably not going to hinder you too much. But for winter hiking in known snow-country, I believe it’s foolish not to wear some type of hiking boots.
What it ultimately comes down to is your personal preference. There’s really no right or wrong answer to which is better to hike in, boots or shoes. It depends on you. No one can tell you which feels better on your feet, which is more comfortable, or even which will last longer. These are all subject to your hiking personality, the way you hike. Go into your local outfitter and try on several pairs of boots & shoes, then decide. Once you’ve decided, get out and put those things to work! Even if you buy something you’re not completely happy with, as long as they don’t cause you pain, just use them till it’s time for a new pair.