Are Hiking Shoes Necessary? Points to Consider

After a few in-depth articles I wrote about hiking boots, I’ve started asking myself – are hiking shoes necessary? It bothered me that I wasn’t sure which to recommend when it comes to different kinds of terrains or hiking trails. I’ve been using hiking boots for most of my hikes. Nevertheless, I felt that they were not entirely suitable for some them. Sometimes my feet got soaked with sweat, while in other cases I’ve been experiencing horrible ankle pains. In which scenarios should one get hiking shoes instead of hiking boots or trail runners? I hope my article will be able to answer at least that.

A couple of days researching brought up a few answers.

Hiking shoes are necessary since they work great with day hikes, provide excellent support for casual hikers, and may also be used for trail running – mainly because they are lightweight, breathable and dry fast. 

In opposed to what most people think, in several cases, they might provide a better grip than boots and cause fewer ankle pains.

Suitable For Day Hikes

Let’s say you are planning a hike which is not exaggerated long – maybe just a couple of days, or perhaps even a single one.

In that case, hiking shoes are a perfect choice. My rule of thumb is – if you go simple, you should also buy simple. 

Hiking boots are excellent; however, they are better for long hikes, which require that additional endurance. Besides, you should also take into account the hiking terrain conditions.

Hiking shoes are a better choice if the trail doesn’t feature overwhelming obstacles, such as stream crossing or high incline climbs with a lot of rocks.

In a case your trail is considered secure and mainly plane, you would do just fine with hiking shoes.

Quickly Drying

Hiking boots may take forever to dry – that is something I am personally familiar with.

There is nothing more uncomfortable than placing your foot into a wet, cold leather when you are just about to start your hiking day.

I’ve tried all kinds of techniques to dry them out – hanged them on tree branches, used different types of towels and one time even used a hotel heating machine.

In opposed to these, my hiking shoes used to dry much quicker. That is mainly due to their structure, which featured mesh from the sides. 

In addition to that, hiking shoes are skinny and less bulky than boots, which may also be in favor of quick drying.

Why is quickly drying matters that much? Well, in addition to personal comfort, dry shoes are less likely to cause blisters.

Moisture and ongoing friction are the two main reasons for blisters occurrence and may haste bacterial growth and infections.

For that reason, I would highly discourage you from hiking in wet footwear and suggest you consider getting hiking shoes if that would be the case.

Weighs Less Than Boots

That one is pretty obvious, yet, is still very often neglected. Hiking shoes are in the middle regarding weight, between hiking boots and training shoes.

Training shoes do not provide the support, traction and grip hiking shoes do on the trail. If you are serious about hiking, you should get a little more professional and get hiking shoes or boots.

Nevertheless, when it comes to hiking, one significant factor is the footwear weight. In opposed to boots, hiking shoes do not feature an ankle collar, nor feature a thick outsole at the bottom.

Instead of solid leather, which is a common characteristic of boots, hiking shoes usually feature a mesh from the sides, to maintain ventilation. That, in turn, will be another reason for their lightweight.

While hiking boots weigh around 3 lbs on average, hiking shoes may get to 1 pound or even less. Now, you probably think to yourself: “Oh well, that is not much of a difference.” 

In that case, you might find a study made by the United States Armed Forces interesting.

The study, which was published in 1983,  focused on energy costs, comparing lightweight athletic shoes to leather military boots.

At all three speeds, the study showed that oxygen consumption, which is correlated to energy loss, was much higher in the large footwear group.

With all that said, there are some lightweight hiking boots on the market. If you decide to go with boots, I highly suggest you pick one of those. 

Good For Trail Running

Let’s face the truth – hiking shoes are an expensive purchase. I feel somewhat sad when I buy stuff for a single-use.

Even when I know I would probably use it again in the future; I hate that my purchase is just sitting in my closet corner for months.

Well, the good thing about hiking shoes is that they are also suitable for other activities, such as trail running. They aren’t as lightweight as train runners, yet, from my experience, they do perfectly well on that matter. 

What about hiking boots? They are terrible when it comes to trail running. They are bulky, heavy and way too supportive for that kind of activity, in opposed to hiking shoes.

If you already own train runners, and you wish to get yourself the type of footwear which would endure winter conditions – get yourself hiking boots.

Nevertheless, if you are new to hiking, and have no appropriate footwear, I suggest you start with hiking shoes.

Great Support For Casual Hikers

Let’s say you plan on hiking, yet, you don’t want to get too serious about it.

Maybe you are on a road trip and wish to make only several stops for short hikes, or perhaps you want to make a weekend trip with your family.

Well, hiking shoes would be perfect for these kinds of activities. Hiking boots, in the other hand, are more expensive and may be too supportive for a casual hike. 

That extra support may pressure you feet unnecessarily, and you might start feeling ankle pains.

What about trail runners? Well, if you own a pair, and only wish to make causal hikes without camping – they could do the work.

Nevertheless, most trails, even casual ones, tend to have rocks and inclines to pass. In that case, hiking shoes would be much better, since they provide a better grip and shock absorption in opposed to trail runners.

Breathable Without The Ankle Collar

One significant, noticeable difference between hiking boots and shoes is the ankle collar. That feature was meant to answer several requirements during your hike.

First, it ensures that dirt stays out when you walk. We all know that annoying tiny little rock which always slips in – I couldn’t count how many times that happened to me.

In addition to that, the ankle collar was meant to provide additional support for your ankle. By having this, weight distribution differs a bit, so some of the pressure goes above your ankle instead.

All of this is great if you are planning on a long hike which features a lot of mud and bumps. On short walks, it would be more significant than your feet breathe.

The ankle collar does have its advantages, however, when it comes to ventilation – it wouldn’t be at your favor.

Don’t Require Breaking in

Those among you who have already bought hiking boots are probably familiar with the breaking-in phenomenon.

That is only the process in which your boots adjust to your feet individually. So why do some footwear products break-in faster than others? Why do in some cases you can wear them comfortably right away?

That would be mainly to the leather component.

The leather nature is to be a little stiff, so you have to walk around with it for a while before it breaks in. The more leather in your footwear, the longer it would take for it to fit perfectly on your feet.

Hiking shoes, in opposed to boots, tend to feature less leather, since they are usually meshed and, therefore, ventilated. For that reason, it takes almost no time to break in a hiking shoe. 

If you are a patient person, and you don’t mind too much about that issue, perhaps hiking boots will do you right.

With short hikes, in which breaking in would take forever, I suggest you get yourself a pair of hiking shoes.

In a case you already own a pair of hiking boots and looking for a way to break in them, perhaps you will find the following video useful.

May be The Solution For Ankle Pain

Hiking footwear should be supportive – this way you can feel comfortable and confident when hiking tricky terrains.

Nevertheless, that support may be one of many reasons of why you are experiencing ankle pain during hikes. The more support you get, the more pressure your feet would have to deal with. 

That is typical to ankle pain which starts towards the end of a long hiking day.

If you know you tend to develop ankle pain on hikes, perhaps you should consider getting yourself hiking shoes instead, which are much roomier and not as tight as boots.

Are Hiking Shoes More Slippery Than Boots?

To answer that question, we should first understand why hiking boots tend to be slippery. The main factor on that matter is the boots’ outsole design. 

The grooves underneath, which are the treads, are designed to provide your footwear a better grip.

If a hiking boot features a poor tread design, there is a good chance a hiking shoe that features a proper one would be less slippery. 

Another factor on the equation is the outsole rubber.

While hiking boots tend to feature a hard rubber for shocks absorption, hiking shoes usually come with a softer rubber, which is also less slippery.

In general, hiking boots are known to have a better grip than shoes. However, you should take into account each variable separately to compare the two.

What Are The Hiking Shoe Cons?

The main disadvantage with hiking shoes is that they are seasonal, and can be hardly used during winter time. 

Boots’ design was meant to prepare them for hard conditions, such as deep mud and puddles, which cannot be said about hiking shoes.

Fortunately, most hikers start their journey during summer time or spring. If you are planning on a winter adventure, I suggest you consider hiking boots instead.

In addition to that, hiking shoes are less suitable for a large carry. That is because they feature less ankle support when compared to hiking boots. 

With a heavy backpack, there is a good chance you will feel some pain or pressure at the end of a long hiking day.

That can be overcome by using a pair of trekking poles, which can be bought cheap. These will allow a proper weight distribution with the assistance of your arms.

Another con in the hiking shoe section would be the absence of an ankle collar, which may increase the likelihood of dirt getting inside. 

Although this could be annoying and might damage your hiking experience, there is a way to overcome the issue.

You may only use ankle gaiters, which are way cheaper in comparison to boots, and might serve you just as good.

If you are looking for more points of comparison, maybe you will find the video below useful.

How Should I Choose Hiking Shoes?

In my opinion, the best way to choose hiking shoes is by trying them on. When you do so, you should take into account a few crucial factors.

First, you should make sure they are lightweight – perhaps around 1 pound. As I’ve already mentioned above, that could make all the difference when it comes to long walks.

You should also check whether or not the shoes are adequately ventilated. Make a quick observation and look for a mesh from the sides. 

The more breathable your shoes are, the lower the chances for moisture to accumulate and blisters to occur.

In addition to that, I suggest you check the shoe’s outsole before finally making a purchase. 

Make sure there are proper grooves that would provide grip, and that the rubber is of high quality – from my experience, Vibram would be an excellent choice.

If you wish to order your shoes online, I do not recommend you to do so without trying them on first.

Although ordering online can be cheaper, you might get disappointed when the product finally arrives.

It would be a better choice if you have already checked your pair and found the right size, at an outdoor shop, for example.

Conclusions

There is great uncertainty when it comes to hiking shoes choosing, especially when hesitating between those and hiking boots or trail runners.

In opposed to boots, hiking shoes are usually more lightweight and breathable, turning them ideal for day hikes. They typically feature mesh from the sides and, therefore, can dry up quickly in wet conditions.

The absence of ankle collar affects hiking shoes in two different ways. On the one hand, they provide less ankle support, and therefore will not deal as good as boots when it comes to heavyweight carry.

On the other hand, less ankle support may be in your favor when it comes to ankle pains. Contrary to intuition, ankle support may induce excessive pressure in the ankle area that may worsen this kind of hurts.

When it comes to picking hiking shoes, I recommend you focus on their weight, breathability and outsole structure. If you are buying them online, make sure to measure them at the shoe shop beforehand.

Well, that would be it. If you got any insights or, perhaps, hesitations – let me know all about it by leaving a comment below!

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