Guest post by: Jasper Baetens
People have asked me the question “Are hiking boots necessary?” multiple times over the years. I thought it was time to get the answer out there for once and for all – the best way to do this? Writing a blog post about it!
The shortest answer possible would be: hiking boots or hiking specific shoes are not necessary, but they are highly recommended.
However, truth be told, wearing hiking boots depends on a few factors:
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- How long will your hiking trip last?
- What kind of terrain will you encounter?
- What type of shoe are you considering as an alternative?
For short and easy hikes I would say that hiking boots are not absolutely necessary. For long and difficult hikes I’m almost tempted to say that they are, but then again, it kind of depends on your definition of a “hiking boot”.
For example, the last couple of years trail runners have become more and more popular among hikers. These shoes make a great alternative to hiking boots.
Alternatives to hiking boots
As I already mentioned, some alternatives to hiking boots like trail runners will make a very good replacement. However, starting a multiday hiking trip wearing casual sneakers is a whole other story.
All in all, I would say that hiking boots are not necessary, but your shoes should be somewhat optimized for hiking (like trail runners). Unless we are talking about short and easy hikes (less than five miles/easy trails).
Another type of shoe that comes to mind are approach shoes. These shoes are hybrids between hiking shoes and climbing shoes. Especially designed for outdoor enthusiasts who love to combine both activities.
A lot of people are also tempted to hike in regular running shoes. These are nowhere near as good as trail running shoes, but it can be done. It’s definitely a better alternative to casual sneakers.
Note that there are some sneakers that are almost a hybrid between a hiking shoe and a sneaker. Simply take a look at shoes like Nike Manoa, Timberland Chukka and Adidas F/1.3 LEZ shoes. These are definitely not as good as regular hiking shoes, but they are a big improvement on the casual sneaker. For shorter hikes, these types of shoes will do just fine (as long as the trails are not too technical/difficult).
Last but not least, even sandals can be a good alternative to a hiking boots. Sure, there are plenty of cons when it comes to using sandals for hiking. However, plenty of people have done it and loved it – even on long distance trails like the Appalachian Trail. This is another argument to support the statement that hiking boots are not necessary.
Features of hiking boots
Long story short, hiking boots are not absolutely necessary, but the alternatives should check a couple boxes. You should consider the following characteristics:
A debate has been going on for quite some time about traditional hiking boots vs lightweight alternatives like trail runners. Both options have serious pros and cons. Heavier boots will be able to provide more protection and are often waterproof, but the alternatives are lighter, more breathable and a lot of hikers find them more comfortable.
Another thing you should look for is ankle support. The more protection your shoe can provide, the better, especially if you’re prone to ankle injuries. Once again, heavier shoes will usually offer more support.
If your shoes are not breathable, your feet will become sweaty pretty soon. This will not only result in an uncomfortable experience it might also be the cause of blisters.
Plus, any backpackers out there can tell you, your feet will most likely get wet eventually on a multi-day trip. And you want them to dry out as fast as possible, the more breathable the material, the faster they’ll dry.
Waterproof shoes have the obvious benefit of keeping your feet dry. However, they are also less breathable than non-waterproof alternatives. There is always a trade off.
If you’ll be doing a lot of winter hiking and snowshoeing, you might want to invest in some good waterproof boots.
Reasons not to bring hiking shoes
So what could be a reason not to use hiking shoes (or at least a valid alternative like an approach shoe or a trail runner)?
You might simply not have any hiking shoes lying around… My suggestion? Simply buy a pair. There are a lot of super expensive options out there, but there are also some very solid cheap hiking boots that you can buy if you’re just starting out.
The conclusion is rather simple: Hiking boots are not absolutely necessary, but unless you are going on a short and easy hike, it’s highly recommended to wear shoes that are somewhat optimized for hiking.
In the end, some people even hike barefoot. Strictly speaking nothing is absolutely necessary when hiking. However, as an experienced hiker I can definitely say that while some things are highly recommended, it really comes down to personal preference.
For more hiking tips, check out:
- How to prepare for hiking in the mountains
- How to prevent blisters
- Tips for hiking in the rain
- Complete guide to hiking hydration
About the author: Jasper is a hiking enthusiast who has been hiking all over Europe for quite a few years. He created Hikeheaven to share experiences, research, tips, tricks and recommend products – or simply to help other hikers.