The debate over hiking boots vs. backpacking shoes has been a mild one in the past few years. This is not a major issue, since many backpackers and hikers have switched to hiking shoes. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone hikes in hiking shoes. Hiking boots are still very popular and are not obsolete or outdated, contrary to what some might have you believe. This article doesn’t argue for either side, but it does make some observations about the differences between these types of footwear.

Here are some statements from hikers, backpackers and writers about hiking boots vs. walking shoes. These statements were gleaned from several articles on the topic, as well posts on blogs and in forums.

Hiking boots weigh more than hiking shoes.
Walking shoes that are lighter than hiking shoes can reduce strain on the feet and legs over long distances.
Boots can be restrictive
Boots last longer than other footwear.
Boots last longer than shoes.
Boots provide better ankle support than most people realize.
Boots are more prone to water than shoes.
Shoes are more comfortable for feet.
Boots are more expensive than shoes.
Boots take longer to break in.
For snowy conditions, boots are more suitable.

These are only 11 statements that I have read over the years. Many people seem to agree that shoes are the best. Hiking shoes are fine for some people. This is again a matter of which shoes match up best with the terrain that you are traversing. For certain conditions, hiking boots may be better suited than trekking boots. In other circumstances, hiking shoes are superior to boots, which I believe is also true of hiking shoes. These are my observations.

Hiking boots weigh more than shoes. I agree. There are many types of hiking boots available, including full-grain leather and split leather. However, boots tend to be heavier than hiking shoes. Different types of boots are made for different conditions. This is why you should consider whether to choose boots or shoes.

Because hiking shoes are lighter, they take the strain off your feet, legs, and back. I agree. The U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine conducted a study many years back that found that carrying 1 lb of weight on the foot required as much energy as 6 lbs of backpack weight. It is obvious that hiking shoes would reduce wear and tear because they are lighter.

Boots can be constricting. I believe this is something that each hiker can control. On most of my hikes, I wear lightweight hiking boots. They don’t restrict my feet.

Boots last longer. I am partial to a yes but reluctantly. A pair of boots may last longer than a pair shoes depending on what style they are. The heavy leather boots made for mountaineering will outlast any lighter boots or shoes. The sole of this type of boot can be resoled multiple times, which proves that it will last longer than the boot. I have seen people wear out boots faster than they do shoes. The life expectancy of a shoe or boot is determined by how they are worn.

Boots last longer when wet. This depends on the boot type. When the boots are very wet, heavy leather boots can take a while to dry. A pair of lightweight hiking shoes can dry in about the same time as light boots made from fabric or nubuck leather. Drying time is determined by the amount of materials used in the boot/shoe and the materials themselves.

Boots do not provide better ankle support. Boots can provide better ankle support depending on the style. Boots with a higher cut can provide better ankle support and more leverage for cross-country or uneven trails.

Boots are more water-resistant than shoes. This statement is absurd to me. The boot will protect your feet better than a low-cut shoe if you are wearing high-cut boots. This is what I find obvious. Pairing this pair with gaiters will make it more difficult for water to get in your boot and your feet.

Shoes are more comfortable for feet than shoes. Another point that I agree with. A hiking shoe will feel lighter due to the thickness and amount of materials used in its construction. Shoes may be better if you are hiking in extremely hot and dry areas.

Boots are more expensive than shoes. This is generally true. Boots can be purchased for anywhere between $120-170. The average cost of shoes is $30-120. However, boots last a lot longer than shoes and you can spend less on them.

Boots are more difficult to break in. Yes, heavy leather boots. This characteristic is almost identical to the lightweight hiking boots available today. This is where I give shoes the edge.

For snowy conditions, boots are more suitable than shoes. Boots are better suited for snowy conditions where there is a lot of accumulation. However, I have seen and heard of hikers who still wear hiking boots with only a few inches on the ground. It shouldn’t be a problem if you are just passing through this area. For winter hiking in snow-country, it is foolish to not wear boots.

It all comes down to personal preference. There is no right or wrong way to decide which shoe or boots to use for hiking. It all depends on you. It all depends on you. All of these are dependent on your hiking style and personality. Try on several shoes and boots at your local outfitter before you make a decision. After you have made your decision, go out and get started! You don’t have to be happy with the purchase, but as long as it doesn’t cause pain, you can keep them until you need a new pair.


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