Hiking boots are absolutely essential for any kind of hiking. However, these days this no longer means something made from stiff leather that gets waterlogged and takes a year to break in!
Modern hiking boots take full advantage of mewer, lighter materials that still offer support and grip but are much lighter and more comfortable. Materials like Gore-Tex now allow them to be almost entirely waterproof and breathable materials make hot weather hiking so much nicer too.
If you want to see our recommendations of the best hiking boots, have a look here >>
When Do You Need Hiking Boots?
If you’re hiking in extreme conditions, just be sure that your feet are 100% protected. And good hiking boots will definitely offer a maximum level of protection. These boots protect your feet and keep it dry, and keep your feet comfortable.
Reasons to Get Hiking Boots
- Ankle support and protection
- Highly durable
- Better Grip and Traction
- Better for cold weather
While thinking about hiking boots most of us assume that they are heavy and stiff-soled, but over time they became much more user-friendly. It’s an excellent choice for rainy or snow conditions because their high uppers can be tucked under waterproof pants to keep away the moisture.
What’s the difference?
Let’s see the main differences between hiking shoes and boots after that decide which one will be the perfect footwear for your needs.
The durability of the shoe depends on the materials used, the most common materials for hiking footwear is leather and synthetic. If you love to hike on rough terrain then don’t go for the synthetic boots, rather pick the footwear with leather uppers. If you’re packing heavy, then it’s good to pick the robust footwear to withstand all the weight applied on the shoe.
This is the most important factor for heavier hikers and beginners because while hiking on rough or rocky terrain, ankle support is much needed. So in that case hiking boots will be better than shoes, undoubtedly hiking boots provide great stability and ankle protection, perfect for undertaking rough terrains.
When we talk about stability, it’s slightly confusing because it all depends on the midsole. Hiking shoes are constructed with EVA midsoles which don’t offer good stability, but boots work better in this situation. Check the midsole material and choose the one that suits your taste.
Traction is better for boots as they have thick and deep lugs, and their outsoles are made of rubber that grips perfectly onto rocky surfaces. Hiking shoes feature less sticky rubber outsoles and less aggressive lugs specially designed for hiking.
It depends on the type of materials used in making the footwear. Synthetic uppers are more breathable than leather uppers; pick the shoe that has breathable mesh uppers to stay comfortable for a long time.
Types of Hiking Boots
Generally hiking footwear falls into one of the following categories
- Hiking shoes – only suitable for light day hikes on well-maintained trails
- Lightweight boots for day hiking and fastpacking
- Midweight options that work well for most backpacking trips
- Heavyweights for rough terrain or hauling a large load on big trips
Hiking shoes have become increasingly popular in recent years; they are softer and flexible than boots. Hiking shoes are made of breathable material that dries more quickly than leather. And if you are a frequent traveler, then this would be the better choice for you since they’re lighter, more compact than boots, and easier to pack.
While you can get these cut below the ankle, we would only recommend these if the trails are incredibly flat! The extra support of being over the ankle is a must in our opinion – there is nothing worse than turning your ankle (or worse) miles from help.
You do see many people out wearing trail running shoes. We would only advise this if you are going to be traveling very light. These are not designed to support you and a pack on a long hike.
They are great for those people that are looking to run, but running and hiking are different…
Lightweight Hiking Boots
Now we are into what I would term “proper” hiking boots! Lightweight boots are generally cheaper and offer some great value for new hikers.
Since most people looking at this type of boots are not going to be lugging 50-liter packs around they will supply enough support for a day or weekend hike.
However do not expect to find the high-tech materials like Gore-Tex or the materials to wear quite as well as their more expensive brethren.
They will also not be as stiff structurally or quite as supportive, but as long as you are aware of this when planning your hikes, they make some of the best value buys on the market.
Midweight Hiking Boots
These boots have enough support to hike with a decent load but without feeling like you are doing it with a block of concrete on each foot!
Generally stiffer than the lightweights, but the solid support underfoot makes them much more stable, while not being excessively stiff.
While they are generally a notch higher on price, this is accounted for by the better quality materials. This allows the greater stiffness, but not much more weight and materials like Gore-Tex to come into the mix. This ensures that while more expensive, they are generally more robust making the initial outlay a good investment in the long run for keen hikers.
The quality materials and good compromises are the reason why our favorite all-around boots tend to come from this category. It is also very competitive, so backpackers and serious day hikers can find some very good all-round hiking boots at very reasonable prices.
Heavyweight Hiking Boots
For anyone that has not seen the latest generation of boots, the heavyweights are the ones that generally still look like “classic” hiking boots. Often featuring full leather designs, they generally weight several pounds and take more wearing in than some of the others.
These boots are generally built to handle heavy packs and tough terrain. They are usually built to last, so if you are happy with the lack of flexibility, they can make incredibly good long term investments.
In addition, if you like to hike with a baby carrier, this style of boot is heaven-sent as the extra support is just what your arches will need.
This support is also what makes them so good for steep, terrain as it stops your heel dropping so much and the soles provide amazing grip.
The sturdy materials and Gore-Tex make them an excellent choice for wet, cold and snow, and some even come with strap-on crampons. The flip side is that in hot conditions, you may find your feet getting a bit toasty
Finally, while incredibly long-lasting, they will take some wearing in. SO before you hit the trail seriously, take some time to break them in properly.
If you are not one for heavy packs or technical terrain, then you may find mid-weights are better suited to you. However, if you want the toughest of the tough, get a pair of these and you will have a pair of boots that will last you for years to come.
Should you buy hiking boots or shoes? For rocky trails, hiking boots are perfect; if you plan to hike on forest trails hiking shoes will be better. Choose the one that suits your needs the most.
Matt Green, is an avid hiker and lover of the great outdoors. He is always planning his next big trip or hitting the trails for a solo hike.
He’s traveled extensively to many remote regions and has plenty of experience exploring various terrains, and stories to tell.