Hiking Boots or Shoes: Do I Really Need Hiking Boots?

The great dilemma – do you really need hiking boots? Or can you use hiking shoes? Or do you even need hiking shoes? This guide will sort it all out for you, but the short answer is that you probably don’t need hiking boots. Hiking shoes or trail runners will be a better bet for most hikers. I’ll walk you through all the options and when it makes sense to use each one. If you want to see which specific models I recommend, check out my current gear page (updated ).

  • Why You Might Need Hiking Boots
  • When a Trail Runner or Hiking Shoe Works
  • Conditions For Heavy Hiking Boots
  • Alternative Options You May Not Have Considered

The great dilemma – do you really need hiking boots? Or can you use hiking shoes? Or do you even need hiking shoes? This guide will sort it all out for you, but the short answer is that you probably don’t need hiking boots. Hiking shoes or trail runners will be a better bet for most hikers. I’ll walk you through all the options and when it makes sense to use each one. If you want to see which specific models I recommend, check out my current gear page (updated November 2022).

FYI ➤ Big REI Sale On Now Including Big Discounts on Hiking Tech Like inReach / Garmin Watches

This guide’s recommendations are based on my experience trying lots of different hiking footwear over thousands of miles as a professional hiking guide. My experience is echoed by most long-distance PCT and AT hikers who hike day after day. No gear company pays me to push a specific shoe or solution.

CharacteristicsRecommended ForTop Pick
Hiking ShoesComfortable and durableGood for hikers wanting protection and good valueSee Latest
Trail RunnersLightweight and very comfortableGood for hikers wanting most comfort and best performanceSee Latest
Waterproof HybridsDryer with more protectionUse for winter or cold weather hikingSee Latest
Hiking BootsHeavy but very durableHikers wanting very long life and maximum protectionSee Latest

I’m going to explain what really matters in hiking footwear, but if you just want to read about each option, scroll down a bit until you reach the section on Hiking Shoes.

What You REALLY Need in Hiking Footwear

Hiking=shoes Wet

Believe it or not, but your feet may be better protected like this than if they were behind big hiking boots. Photo Sangudo

When you’re picking hiking footwear, these are the factors that are important:

  • They should protect your feet. That means no cuts or damage to your feet from the elements.
  • They should be comfortable. You should be able to use them without getting blisters.
  • They should be lightweight. You will step thousands of times when you hike. Every ounce saved on lifting your feet is more energy to hike farther.

What About Ankle Support?

On paper, a high-cuff hiking boot biomechanically supports the ankle. But my experience hiking with packs of up to about 40lbs has been that it doesn’t matter. And research has shown that not only does it not matter, but it can even make your chance of rolling an ankle worse. If you’re carrying so much weight that your ankles are buckling, then you’ve got too much weight on your back. If you roll your ankles a lot, do some ankle strengthening exercises.

Do Water-Resistant Shoes Help?

Waterproofing is another concept that looks good on paper but in practical terms doesn’t do as well. And that goes for “breathable” waterproofing like Gore-Tex too. I won’t go into all the details, but after thousands of miles I can tell you that you only really need it when hiking in the winter.

Instead of keeping water out, let it in. Shoes with very breathable uppers mean that your feet get wet easily, and they also dry quickly. In practical terms, out on the trail, this means that your feet are dryer and are less susceptible to blisters. If you look at any PCT or AT hiker, they almost all use breathable shoes today. So when you choose your hiking footwear, go with breathable uppers and not the waterproof version.

When water-resistant shoes get totally wet, they get waterlogged and heavy. Breathable shoes never get waterlogged.

Don’t Forget About Good Socks

hiking socks

Use proper hiking socks that are seamless with reinforcing and extra cushioning in the high-use areas.

Get a wool sock that is tough and dries quickly. When conditions are sloppy wet, I’ve also used waterproof socks, and they work great. Socks come in different weights that equate to warmth. When it’s hot, go thinner. Also, note that heavier socks can fit tighter in a shoe and cause blisters from too much friction. If you buy hiking footwear for the winter (more later), go a half-size up to allow for thicker socks.

Hiking Shoes – Good Bet For Most People

Hiking Shoe Ventilated

The Merrel Moab hiking shoe, a long-time favorite of many hikers. Notice the beefy soles and uppers, much like a hiking boot. This version is “ventilated” or breathable, allowing water in but also allowing your feet to dry quickly.

Hiking shoes take the best elements of hiking boots and trail runners and combine them into one. They are lighter and more comfortable than hiking boots, but generally offer the same level of protection (minus the cuff around your ankle). Hiking shoes are designed to last longer (about 800 miles or 9-18 months for most folks) than a trail runner but are usually a little heavier because of the extra protection. They’re also a bit stiffer than a trail runner. Overall the durability, lighter weight, and and protection offer the best balance for hikers.

I took my first pair of hiking shoes on a 14 mile hike in Yosemite right after buying them. Absolutely no issues at all. Very comfortable for the entire hike, my feet felt like they could have kept going, while the rest of me, not so much. – Hiking Shoe Review

Trail Runners – The Best Bet For 3 Seasons

Trail Runner

Trail runners offer the same rugged and aggressive grip while being lighter and more minimal on the upper.

If you want the best option and are okay getting new shoes every 500 miles or so (6-12 months for most folks), go with trail running shoes. They are lighter and more “springy” than hiking shoes. Trail runners have more breathable uppers than hiking shoes, but offer less protection. If you’re bushwacking off-trail, trail runners are probably not the best bet. But the lightness and comfort make hiking feel like you are walking down the street in sneakers.

Some trail runners have problems with durability and will last much less than 500 miles. But you can and should get around 500 miles out of them. Read the reviews before you buy and check out my trail runner pick (used and tested by me).

The lines between a hiking shoe and trail runner get more blurry as shoes evolve.

Shoes Or Trail Runners?

Water-Resistant Hybrids for Winter

Hybrid Winter Boot

A hybrid offers more upper protection and is “almost” a hiking boot.

When I hike in the winter I go with a water-resistant hiking shoe / hiking boot / trail runner hybrid. It keeps my feet warm in the snow and offers good protection. If the snow level is higher I’ll wear a pair of gaiters as well to keep snow from going into my shoe. The life of these is similar to a trail runner but usually lasts longer since most people don’t do as much winter hiking than in the rest of the year.

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Hiking Boots

Hiking Boots

The beefiest option are hiking boots. They’re not light but they are like wearing armor on your feet. This model, the Asolo Fugitive, I used for 8 years before they fell apart.

If you just want the maximum protection and a shoe that will last (potentially) for thousands of miles, go with a hiking boot. I don’t wear them anymore, but when I did they were though as nails. Overall they’re heavier and require more energy to hike with. If you are going off-trail or want something very beefy for all conditions, including winter, a hiking boot is a good choice.

Difference Between Hiking Shoes And Running Shoes

difference between hiking shoes and running shoes

The philosophy of “you do you” is something we’re firm believers in. Whatever shoe keeps your feet happy and gets you out on the trail is the one you should go with. If you’re going to hike in a running shoe, make sure it’s the right shoe for the job. Running shoes are designed for running, not walking.

They’re designed to help you run faster and more efficiently than you could on your own. That’s why they’re called “running shoes” and not “walking shoes.” Running shoes aren’t meant to be used as walking shoes, and they shouldn’t be worn while walking either. You should always wear shoes that are appropriate for your fitness level and the type of terrain you’ll be hiking on.

For example, if you are a beginner, you probably don’t need a pair of high-heeled hiking shoes. But if your goal is to get to the top of Mt. Rainier, then you will need to wear hiking boots.

Table of Contents

What makes hiking shoes different?

Hiking shoes are designed to last longer (about 800 miles or 9-18 months for most folks) than a trail runner but are usually a little heavier because of the extra protection. The best balance of performance and comfort can be found in theDurability, lighter weight, and and protection. If you’re looking for a pair of hiking shoes that will last you a long time, look no further.

Can I wear hiking shoes everyday?

Yes, you can wear hiking shoes every day. They support your feet through all the surfaces so that they feel light as air and keep your feet dry. It is possible to bring this trend into a casual dress and wear hiking shoes for a day at the beach. Hiking shoes are a great way to add a little bit of style to your everyday outfit.

Can I wear hiking shoes for walking?

Even though hiking shoes and boots are for walking over rough terrain, they can be used to walk on the street or in casual circumstances. It is possible to provide more support by walking in hiking shoes. Hiking shoes are heavier than regular shoes and can wear out quickly.

Hiking boots can also be worn as a casual footwear option. They are lightweight and comfortable, but they are not as durable as hiking boots. If you are looking for a lightweight hiking boot that will last you a long time, look no further.

Can I use hiking shoes for gym?

If you’re going to the gym to work out on the treadmill or do some weights, trail running shoes will work just fine. If you’re planning to do an aerobics class, trail running shoes will work, but they might not give you as much cushion as you’d like.

Why are hiking shoes better than sneakers?

A hiking boot’s components are usually more tear resistant and offer better protection for you foot. You can hit your foot against rocks, thorns, and other obstacles on a hike. The materials on a hiking boot will help to protect your foot from these types of injuries. Hiking boots are made from a combination of leather and synthetic materials. Leather is the most common material used to make hiking boots.

It is a natural material that has been used for thousands of years to provide protection from the elements. Synthetic materials such as nylon and polyurethane are used in the construction of the boot. These materials are not as durable as leather, but they are much more breathable and can be worn for longer periods of time.

Is rubber shoes good for hiking?

Rubber boots are suitable for a variety of conditions. A pair of rubber boots can protect you from the mud and keep you dry if the ground is wet. If you want to keep your feet dry while hiking, you can use a waterproof boot. These boots come in a wide range of colors and styles, so you’ll be able to find one that fits your style and needs.

What is the difference between a hiking shoe and a walking shoe?

Hiking boots are more resistant to wear than walking shoes. It gives a lot of foot support and reduces the risk of strain when hiking over rough terrain. If you’re looking for a pair of hiking boots that will last you a lifetime, look no further. We carry a wide range of styles, colors, and materials for you to choose from.

Can you wear hiking shoes everywhere?

Hiking boots can be worn for everyday use. They provide great ankle support, breathability, traction, and many other great features which allow you to tackle any walking surface from tile, carpet, asphalt, and concrete as the areas you are most likely to encounter.

If you’re looking for a pair of hiking boots that will last you a lifetime, you’ve come to the right place. We carry a wide variety of styles and colors to choose from, so you can find the perfect pair for you.

How long should a pair of hiking shoes last?

Consumers should replace their hiking boots every three to six months or every 350 to 500 miles, depending on the terrain they are hiking on. This is a good rule of thumb, but it does not take into account the weight of the boots and the amount of wear and tear they will experience over the course of a lifetime. If you plan to hike more than a few hundred miles a year, you may want to consider replacing your boots more frequently.

The best boots for you depend on a number of factors, including your weight, the terrain you will be hiking on, and how often you intend to wear them. To help you choose the right boot for your needs, we’ve put together a list of boots that meet the following criteria: They are comfortable and comfortable to walk in.

Most boots are designed to be worn for long periods of time, so they should be comfortable enough to keep your feet warm and dry while you are out and about. They have a low profile, which makes them easy to put on and take off. These boots should not be too high or too low in the front or back, as this can make it difficult to get in and out of them and keep them in place.

Are jeans good for hiking?

No jeans are suitable for hiking. If you’re going to be hiking in the rain, cold weather, or very hot temperatures, you should invest in a pair of good hiking pants. It’s a pretty bad choice to wear jeans because they are bad at a lot of things.

If you’re going to wear jeans, it’s a good idea to buy them from a reputable brand that has been around for a long time and has a reputation for quality and durability. You’ll also want to make sure that the jeans you buy are made of a material that won’t stretch out over time, such as cotton or polyester.

Do I Really Need Hiking Shoes?

Whether you’re just getting into hiking or have been exploring trails for years, you’ve seen advertisements and testimonies for the benefits of hiking shoes. But, the cost of official hiking shoes may make you say, “eek” since it’s around $100 for a new pair. So, do you really need hiking shoes?

hiking-shoes-in-a-puddle

Hiking shoes are not strictly necessary to go hiking. If you’re going for a mild or short hike, you can get away with wearing normal running shoes, trail shoes, or any other active shoe. Even if you’re going for a longer hike (5 to 10 miles) you can still get away with regular active shoes. However, certain terrain and distances make hiking shoes much more important.

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There are some benefits to wearing hiking shoes and there are times when you want to choose hiking shoes over your regular day shoes. Especially if you are considering getting into backpacking and more intense hiking, investing in a pair of hiking shoes may be a good idea.

By the way, as an Amazon Associate, I earn when buying qualified products through links on my site.

To find out when you need hiking shoes and why they are important, read on.

When Do I Need Hiking Shoes And When Can I Skip Them?

The kind of shoes you need for hiking really depends on the hike you’re planning. If your hike is going to be short (less than 3 miles) and on a paved path, you can get away with wearing your everyday shoes or sandals. If you do choose sandals, however, stay away from anything with a large heel because your feet will definitely get sore and you might trip.

If your hike is going to be longer (between 3 and 6 miles), you want to wear shoes meant for activity. More often than not, these shoes will be lightweight, breathable, and provide more support than shoes that aren’t designed for movement. This could one of the following:

When you’re choosing which shoes to wear on your hike, you might want to consider the condition of the trails. Many people invest in hiking shoes (or at least designate a pair of older running shoes) to hiking so that they can protect their everyday shoes from the wear and tear of trekking the trails. Plus, if you want to avoid getting your shoes muddy, a pair of hiking shoes may be the way to go.

In short, if you’re going to be on rough terrain, no matter the distance, then you may want to get hiking shoes. I have hiked in running shoes many times over the years, but now I own a pair of Keen’s Voyageur (REI here, or here on Keen’s website) hiking shoes and they make a tremendous difference. The amount of foot protection you get in hiking shoes is huge in comparison to regular running shoes. If I’m going up a mountainside with switchbacks and rocky trails, I’m wearing my hiking shoes.

What Kind Of Shoes Do You Need For Hiking?

The shoes that you often use for hiking are hiking shoes, hiking boots, and trail running shoes. For an easy way to see the differences and when you’d likely wear them, we put together a table for comparison.

ShoePhysical CharacteristicsWhen Should You Wear Them?
Trail Running ShoesLightweight, comfortable, and good supportWill provide some of the best performance and will be lightweight for easier hikes or trail runs. Can be used in casual hiking or even in mid-distances if you have strong ankles. Some (more extreme) hikers only wear trail runners.
Hiking ShoesComfortable, durable, good protection, better supportGreat for all hikes and every kind of terrain. Hiking shoes can be used for both casual and long hikes on established trails. Not adept for muddy terrain, but hiking shoes can take a beating.
Hiking BootsHeavy, good protection, most support, and durableGood for lasting a long time and hiking in rough and wet/snowy terrain. Better for the hiker who hikes up the sides of mountains and needs better ankle support and grip.

What Shoes to Wear Hiking

Even though you don’t necessarily need hiking shoes, you do need a shoe that will protect your feet and support your body. Otherwise, you may trip, twist an ankle, get blisters, or have a sore body and feet. So when choosing your hiking shoes, just make sure you choose shoes that have some form of support.

Hiking sandals do exist, and these can be good for tame trails or canoeing and kayaking trips that don’t require much walking. However, because they don’t have closed toes your feet might get scraped if you’re hiking on a rough or rocky trail. One popular brand is Chacos (REI). These gigantic, tough-soled sandals are worn by some in every condition, but it’s definitely an acquired taste–some find them uncomfortable in all-day hike situations.

All in all, there are many options for shoes to wear when hiking, but there are a few things you should keep in mind. The most important factors when choosing shoes for hiking include:

  • Comfort. You’ll be walking a lot in your shoes, so you’ll want them to be comfortable and not hurt your feet.
  • Lightweight. You don’t want to feel like you’re lifting a boulder with each step.
  • Protection. When hiking on rough terrain, you want shoes that will protect you from stray branches and rocks.

A bit more on protection… The sole of the shoe is an extremely important part. For running shoes, the sole is actually very thin and flexible. If you step on a pebble in running shoes your foot can feel the pebble and map out the pebble’s size and roughly its shape. In hiking shoes, if you step on the same pebble, you won’t be able to feel the pebble as well.

Now, imagine walking on thousands of pebbles as you do when you’re on a long hike. Your hiking shoes will protect you from these pebbles which will wear out your feet and cause blisters over time. Hiking shoes makes a tremendous difference in protecting the bottom of your feet.

Can You Hike In Running Shoes?

Hiking in running shoes is perfectly normal, and many people opt to wear running shoes on their hike. But even though you don’t need specialty hiking shoes to go hiking, there are some occasions when you should choose hiking shoes over running shoes simply because of the extra protection you get from hiking shoes.

Running shoes at work on a hike

A compromise for many is trail running shoes. Trail runners are specifically designed for running on more rugged terrain, so they have more protection than regular running shoes. If you are planning on using running shoes as your hiking shoe of choice, consider looking into trail running shoes for extra support and protection.

To see exactly when you should be okay to hike in running shoes and learn the maximum distance you should hike in running shoes, check out my article here.

Can I Hike In Sneakers?

Hiking in sneakers will work great for hiking in many different scenarios and not so great in other situations. You can hike with sneakers for around 5-10 or so miles without having any problems. However, depending on the circumstance you might regret that decision for a few reasons:

  • Rubber-soled shoes (sneakers) will wear out quickly while hiking. The rubber sole of sneakers will give you traction that you’ll appreciate when you’re climbing up or down rocky slopes while hiking, but this means that all that rubber is going to come off on those rocks. If you wear your sneakers during normal everyday life, you will shorten their lifespan significantly.
  • Sneakers are often flat, not giving you a lot of arch support. This really comes down to the individual foot–some people love having flat soles, while others don’t do well with it. Overall, sneakers aren’t made from the repetitive high-stress of hiking that hiking shoes are made for.

Overall, sneakers will work great for a short hike. If you’re planning a bigger hike (longer than 5-7 miles) than you should consider specialized footwear (read the next section for some ideas of when you might need hiking shoes).

Why Are Hiking Shoes Important?

So if hiking shoes aren’t necessary, why do some people claim they make such a difference? Below we’ll go over exactly what makes hiking shoes so special.

Hiking boots are designed with hiking in mind, so they provide the comfort, support, and durability that you need to stay safe on the trail. While running shoes and other active shoes are meant to be lightweight and breathable, hiking shoes have that added durability to last longer, but will still be lighter than hiking boots.

There are several different hiking shoe designs and some of them have more or less ankle support and some are waterproof and some are non-waterproof. All in all, any given hiking shoe will have more of the following characteristics than running shoes:

  • More waterproof
  • More durable
  • Thicker and less flexible sole
  • Heavier
  • Support

Thick Material

Hiking shoes are made from a thicker material than running shoes, so you won’t have to worry that a stray branch will catch on the mesh of your shoe. Even though they are made from thicker material, hiking shoes are still rather breathable and will dry more quickly when compared to hiking boots.

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Support

Foot and ankle support are some of the key reasons why people choose to wear a hiking shoe. Because you’ll be hiking over rocks and tree roots, you need a shoe that will work with your body to protect your feet and ankles.

While many people claim that hiking boots have more support for your ankles, they may only beat low-rise hiking boots by a smidge. This study shows that when it comes to ankle support, wearing a high-rise boot may even make you more prone to rolling your ankle. So, hiking shoes with a lower rise may be the way to go.

This is kind of a controversial topic–so, you may have to experience hiking boots vs. hiking shoes yourself to find out which gives you the support your particular body needs.

Hard Sole

What hard sole shoes lack in flexibility they make up in traction, stability, and durability. Hard sole shoes, such as hiking shoes and boots, handle rough terrain much better than plush, soft sole shoes, so you can spend less time worrying about your footing and more time enjoying your hike (of course you should also ways watch your step, don’t become careless just because you got some fancy new hiking shoes).

I’ve mentioned it earlier but I’ll mention it in big bold letters: a tougher sole is extremely important when you’re hiking long distances.

Your feet can handle pebbles in any kind of shoe for a few miles. But past that, you don’t want to feel pebbles under your feet. With the thicker sole of a hiking shoe you won’t feel the same pressure on your feet which make hiking long distances possible.

Comfort

Because hiking shoes are specifically designed with hiking in mind, they will be more comfortable after you’ve trekked for miles on the trail. One random perk of hiking shoes is that they have a rather short break-in time, so you’ll be hiking without blisters much earlier than if you were to choose hiking boots. It’s that reason why some people wear their hiking boots for a couple of months before their maiden voyage/hike.

More Durable Than Running Shoes

While you need to replace your running shoes after about 300 miles, hiking shoes are more durable and will last longer, usually around 800 miles. So even though hiking shoes may be expensive, they’re an investment that will likely last for a few years, unless you plan on hiking almost a thousand miles in one summer, that is.

These mileage estimations are super loose–but the point is that running shoes will not last as long.

So, if you’re trying to go for the longest hike you can in a day, you may want to buy a pair of hiking shoes. Have you ever wondered just how far you can hike in a day? Check out my article here to see how far other hikers have claimed to hike!

Hiking Shoes Vs. Hiking Boots

The hiking community has its disputes, and the decision to wear hiking shoes versus hiking boots is definitely one of them. We could spend hours discussing which one is better for what, but instead, we’re just going to go through the general differences between hiking boots and hiking shoes.

But before we dive into the benefits, what is the difference between hiking shoes and hiking boots?

As far as appearance, hiking shoes generally have a lower rise than hiking boots and look more like bulky sneakers. Hiking boots, on the other hand, have that higher rise around the ankles that provides extra protection. Let’s dive into the specifics.

A pair of muddy brown hiking boots. Notice the high ankle and the thick leather

What Are Hiking Shoes?

Hiking shoes are better for casual hiking and the hiker who wants a specific shoe when they go on the trails. They are more flexible than hiking boots and are often made from lighter, more breathable material. While some claim hiking shoes should only be worn in dry conditions, others say that their hiking shoes work just fine in wet conditions because they’re breathable and dry quickly.

Do Hiking Shoes Make a Difference?

As you’ve seen from our section above, the choice to wear hiking shoes is yours. There are many benefits to wearing hiking shoes, such as support, a protective sole, and thick material. However, many hikers do swear by their hiking shoes and will not hike in anything else.

What Are Hiking Boots?

Generally, hiking boots are bulky boots that are built to last. Some people even claim their hiking boots can last for hundreds and even thousands of miles. They’re usually heavier than your other shoes, but they’re designed to protect your feet from all terrains, even wet conditions. Even though they might use more of your energy to hike in, they can be good for all weather, including winter.

Do Hiking Boots Make a Difference?

We did a poll about why people think their hiking boots are worth it and got over 100 responses. Needless to say, many people wouldn’t go without their hiking boots. Below are the results of the poll:

Yes! Hiking Boots All The WayI Wear My Hiking Boots SometimesNah, I Wear Other Shoes
83%10%6%

Stats taken from an online Facebook poll.

For those who did say they wear their hiking boots for hiking, they reported wearing their hiking boots because of the following reasons:

  • Ankle support
  • Slip resistance
  • Waterproof
  • Warmth
  • Protection
  • Keeps other shoes nice

However, those who did not wear hiking boots mostly chose to go with trail running shoes instead because:

  • Hiking boots are too heavy.
  • You don’t need hiking boots for most terrain.
  • Trail running shoes have worked just fine.
  • Hiking boots are bulky and you might roll your ankle.

So even though many people do swear by their hiking boots, hiking shoes should check all the requirements and have the benefit of being more lightweight.

What Is The Difference Between Work Boots And Hiking Boots?

This is a question that I have seen on various forums, so I figured we should set the difference straight. Both hiking and work boots may look big and bulky, but they serve completely different purposes. While hiking boots are meant to provide you support as your trek rocky and uneven terrain, work boots are meant to protect your feet from injury (thus the common and heavy-steel toe).

Hiking boots have a rubber sole, so they are much lighter for walking long distances. Work boots, on the other hand, are heavy and stiff, which makes them not suitable for hiking.

The differences between hiking boots and hunting boots are similar to the difference between hiking boots and work boots, but for a full description check out this article to see how hiking boots differ from hunting boots.

Peter is a software developer who loves to take every opportunity to go outside that he can get. Peter grew up going on long backpacking excursions with his family every Summer and now enjoys staying at the beautiful Texas State Parks and swimming in the amazing Texas Rivers.

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