Hiking boots come in a plethora of shapes and sizes. Even using the word “boot” no longer encompasses all of the different options available to the foot conscious outdoorsman. Hiking Shoes, Hiking Sandals, Cross Trainers, Ultra-lite Boots – combined with all the of the different types of brands, materials, and styles it is enough to give anyone who grew up with two brands, who both offered the stiff leather variety, some serious Paradox of Choice.
What are the differences? When are hiking shoes appropriate and not heavy boots? Are they worth the price difference?
We’ll start with some basic features of each and then elaborate on which conditions demand which type of “boot”.
It may come as a bit of a surprise to some, but hiking sandals can be a great option for a casual hiker. Sandals are super lite, which means you aren’t going to expend as much energy moving your feet over the course of the hike. They are also perfect for water crossings or as foot liberating camp shoes. Many people prefer a sandal with some kind of toe guard to help protected against miscellaneous rocks and roots. For most, hiking sandals are best used for short well maintained trails or as a lite back up when their primary boots are temporarily out of commission.
Look for sandals with similar features to most good hiking shoes: stitch materials, tough soles, and good arch supports.
Trail Shoes or Hiking Shoes
Trail shoes are all the rage in hiking communities due to their compromise between comfort and functionality. They are sturdier than your average running shoe because of their thicker soles and leather reinforced fabrics while at the same time are lighter and more comfortable than standard hiking boots. Because of their versatility, trails shoe styles have started to become part of a more mainstream fashion. Be sure to double check standard quality measures such as stitching, arch support, waterproofing, and lace design so as to avoid buying shoes that look like trail shoes but don’t function in the same way.
Trail Running Shoes
Saucony Adapt Trail Shoe
Trail running has also exploded in popularity in recent years. Shoes designed specifically for trail running are similar to standard trail shoes with a few subtle differences. Most trail running shoes have a bit more padding, tough soles, and slightly more ankle support. These shoes can be quite expensive, so if you aren’t planning on running up the mountain, you can probably go with a standard trail shoe.
Mid-weight Hiking Boot
Mammut Teton GTX Hiking BootMany people would just call this “a hiking boot”. A mid weight boot is what most people think of when they think of hiking footwear. They have extra ankle support, stiff foot support, and reinforced leather or synthetic outer layer. They are versatile and rarely feel like overkill on a trail of moderate difficulty. Sure, they will be a bit heavier, but unless you are using them on a multi-day, long term trek, you probably won’t even notice. Don’t forget to look for staple signs of quality: Waterproof outside, good stitched soles, and a Gore-Tex inner lining.
Remember to give yourself a few days to break in new boots. While modern Mid-weight boots take significantly less time to break in than their 30 year old all leather grandparents, you should still dedicate three to four days to breaking in your new Mid-weight boots.
For the true trail blazers in the crowd, these boats are for you. Quite literally, unless you plan on spending a significant amount of time out in the woods where there are no blaze to follow, it is hard to justify a heavy boot. However, if you do fall into the category of serious boulder climber or rugged bushwhackers, you know that a heavy boot can be your best friend.
A good heavy boot should feel like a cross between mountaineering boots and a hiking boot. They should provide extra grip with knobby soles and possibly a crampon on the lip. The ankle support should not only protect your ankle from twisting but also protect it from briars and any water or mud if you are unfortunate enough to find yourself in a situation where mud protection is necessary.
Of course, for all of this protection you pay a price, both physically and financially. Heavy boots are, well, heavy! The extra metal, rubber, and leather that go into making them great at keeping you high and dry also makes them cost more and over time, will weigh you down. Don’t expect them to be super comfortable either. These kinds of boots are designed for hard work and will be overkill for anything else!
When do I need hiking boots?
1) When trails are particularly rocky, covered in roots, or are made uneven by other objects in the trail.
2) When the trail is wet.
3) When there the possibility of rolling your ankle is high.
4) When trails are exceptionally steep.
5) When hiking in the snow.