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Hiking boots - Are they REALLY necessary?

Original Post
Matthew Storm · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2017 · Points: 187

LOTS of people consider hiking boots absolutely essential for any kind of hiking. And trail brochures at national parks will tell you not to set foot on a trail without them. But honestly, I never really liked them. They seem too heavy, clunky, and uncomfortable compared to a simple pair of sneakers. And lately, that's ALL I will wear on a hike. I've hiked smooth trails, rocky trails, steep trails, and cross country with sneakers. I've climbed 13000 and 14000 peaks and boulder hopped in sneakers. Even walked through snowbanks. But not once did I ever feel like something was missing or that my safety was in jeopardy because I wasn't wearing hiking boots. All of this makes me wonder - are they REALLY necessary? Or are they more of a personal preference? Some say they will prevent a sprained ankle. But if you are going down, is a boot REALLY going to hold your leg strong enough to keep your ankle from twisting? And even if it could help, is it REALLY worth it to put up with all the negatives (ie increased weight, decreased comfort, increased chance of blisters, etc)?

Lou Poulas · · Lake Hopatcong · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 1,520

My hiking life improved once I started using boots.  I am a day hiker so the weight doesn't really impact me much.  My main benefit has been grip, comfort, and to a lesser extent support.  I hike mostly in northern NJ which can be very rocky and the grip and support is very noticeable.  A decent pair of boots is usually comfortable too.  Again, this is only from a day hikers perspective.

Mikhaila Redovian · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2015 · Points: 5,804

Matt - great question! It's definitely a personal decision as nobody will kick out out of the wilderness if you're not wearing the proper footware :) That being said, if you're day-tripping, I've found a light-hiker or pair of sneakers to be equally as up to the task as a pair of boots. However, when I tend to go on backpacking trips where my pack will be pretty heavy, or if I'll be navigating rocky terrain, the boots do tend to help. Even if it's preventing little things like getting pebbles in the shoes, or kicking my own ankles, I think the boots make a difference. Especially in rocky areas like the Adirondacks, the stiff sole is also helpful for those "teetering" moments where my pack might be dragging me in a direction that I don't want to go! 

But your notes about comfort are totally valid. Some days, I can't wait to put on camp shoes or flip flops after being in a stuffy pair of boots. I would go with what's most comfortable for you! 

Jeff Hester · · Berkeley CA | Bend OR · Joined Aug 2016 · Points: 0

It's a matter of personal preference. On day hikes, I hike almost exclusively in trail runners. This year, I used Altra Lone Peak 3.0 trail runners exclusively on numerous peak hikes and backpack trips in Colorado, Oregon and California. No blisters at all. 

As for ankle support, most people concede that strong ankles are the best support. 

There's still a place for boots, however. If there is winter mountaineering required (i.e. crampons) boots are essential. 

Eric Poulin · · Tacoma, WA · Joined Jul 2017 · Points: 54

I believe that hiking sneakers and boots all have there place depending on preference and each given scenario. Similar to what Mikhaila stated, I tend to wear hiking sneakers for day hikes and boots for overnight trips. Wearing boots with a heavier pack gives me more stability and the ridged soles hold up against impact on rough terrain with added weight from your pack. Additionally, as my personal preference the boots give me an additional sense of comfort when the trail conditions are poor or the weather turns to bad. On a day hike, you can most likely suck it up or turn back to the warmth of your car, but when you're in the wilderness for a few nights, keeping your feet warm and dry is VERY important. And as Jeff mentioned boots in more technical winter conditions are a must. 

I strongly believe that you should always prepare for the worst when you're in the wilderness and perhaps being caught in a nasty storm whether it be in early spring or mid summer gortex boots would be important to me. Another note I will add, but is open for discussion, is that quality boots can put on "more miles" in their life span when compared to hiking shoes. I have hiked in the NH White Mountains and WA Cascades most frequently, so perhaps weather conditions and terrain have led me to favor boots. 

Paul W · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2017 · Points: 0

They're necessary if they're necessary.  They aren't if they're not.  That's your call.

I used to hike almost exclusively in running shoes, and I've backpacked for days with a heavy pack in running shoes.  Worked for me then (decades ago).  Now, if I'm hiking on rocky trails my feet seem to mold around the rocks and it makes me feel like my feet bones will dislocate.  So I wear hiking shoes with stiff soles, because that's what works for me now.  When I'm doing search and rescue, and we're on a steep scree or talus slope off trail, I couldn't function without leather boots and stiff soles and good tread, what with rocks constantly rolling underfoot and just needing a platform to stand on.  So it's really dependent on the individual circumstances.

My one odd experience with boots was that I once had a pair of legendary boots I assumed would work well for me, and for some reason after a few hours they'd cause intense pain on the outsides of my ankles.  I have never heard of them doing that to anyone else.  So, as I've said twice, see what works for you, and learn from experience.  And carry dry socks!

Mark Bridges · · Michigan · Joined Sep 2017 · Points: 0

I agree with Jeff - it's only your personal preference. Few days ago I checked Reddit and found that some hikers using different types of shoes. Thus, you can use whatever comfy for you. 

California Girl · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2017 · Points: 0

After 200 miles on the  Appalachian Trail with a full pack in Chacos,  would say boots are one of many options, as are running shoes. I have never found a pair of boots that fit my EEEE feet and supported my falling arches. My current Keens are light boots, almost wide enough, but lack arch support. Try out various option on day hikes with whatever pack weight you will carry on a longer hike. Find what works for you and wear it outside often.

Gerry North · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2017 · Points: 0

I think it depends on what the plan is.  When I'm sticking to trails it's usually a good low hiker for comfort or just to keep my feet cool.  I know a couple of distance trekkers who wear strap sneakers with the tongues cut out.  One of them doesn't even wear socks.  Of course, you should see his feet.

When I'm going to be out for an extended trip and/or there's going to be a lot of bushwhacking and/or I'm planning on getting up into the granite it's gotta be boots.   When going cross-country you can run into bogs and slides and other obstacles in the most unexpected places and boy, do boots really payoff.  Also, I've been snowed in in July twice and I'm really glad I had hardy footwear then.  But then again,  when I was a kid we used to do this thing we called survival hikes for days out in the Los Padres and we wore Keds or went bare foot with no problems.  I guess I go with the consensus.  It's personal preference.  But I echo Eric in ALWAYS prepare for the worst.  The "best laid plans..."  and all that.  You're going to run into it sooner or later.

Ben traval · · USA · Joined Oct 2017 · Points: 0

I must say that you all guys have shared really nice stuff. I like this a lot and will like to say that keeps sharing with all like this. 

jt Grodno · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2016 · Points: 0

Whatever type of shoe you use it's important to find a brand and model that work for your particular feet. Years ago I bought a pair of European boots that were beautifully crafted, but because they didn't fit my feet well, they were useless to me. Once I found a brand that fit the shape of my feet better (toe box especially) I was able to hike in comfort.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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