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Are Hiking Boots Really Necessary? When to Not Wear Them

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My answer to the question “Are hiking boots really necessary?” is yes. If you’re actually hiking and not just going on day hikes or taking a nature walk, wearing hiking boots is necessary. 

Adult and child hiking boots outside

Hiking boots do provide better support and protection for the feet and ankles, especially on rough terrain. Most hiking boots are also more durable and can last longer than regular shoes. Daddy Critter has had the same pair of hiking/hunting boots for over 10 years. 

On the other hand, they can be heavy and cumbersome, and they are not necessary for all types of hikes. Many experienced hikers prefer to wear trail running shoes or even sandals, depending on the conditions and the difficulty of the trail.

Why Hiking Boots Are Important

When it comes to actual hiking, the right footwear is essential. While you may be tempted to wear your regular sneakers or shoes, wearing hiking shoes or boots can make a significant difference in your overall hiking experience. 

Here are some reasons why hiking boots are important:

Protection

Shoes in general are designed to protect your feet from various elements, including rocks, roots, and uneven terrain. A hiking boot provides a sturdy barrier between your feet and the ground, reducing the risk of injury.

Support

High top boots offer excellent support for your feet and ankles, which is especially crucial when hiking on uneven terrain. They are designed to keep your feet stable and prevent them from rolling or twisting, reducing the risk of ankle sprains or other injuries.

Traction

Hiking shoes and boots are designed with rugged soles that provide excellent traction on various terrains. This feature is particularly important when If you’re hiking on slippery or wet surfaces, you’ll want something with good traction as it can prevent slips and falls.

Durability

Hiking boots are built to last, with durable materials that can withstand the wear and tear of hiking. They are designed to withstand harsh conditions, making them an excellent investment for frequent hikers.

Backpacking

If you plan on backpacking, hiking boots are even more critical. The added weight of a backpack can put extra strain on your feet and ankles, making supportive footwear and ankle protection even more important.

When you’re carrying a heavy load, even the backpack carrier counts, at the end of the day you’ll want foot comfort before everything else. 

Hiking boots are an essential piece of gear for any hiker. A good hiking boot will provide protection, support, traction, and durability, making them a wise investment for anyone who enjoys spending time in the great outdoors.

Pros and Cons of Hiking Boots

If you’re actually hiking and putting in long miles on rough terrain, I believe you need hiking boots. If you’re not going to wear hiking boots, you should at least wear hiking shoes of some kind. 

I know there are people who don’t like to wear shoes, and that’s probably fine for hanging out at the campfire, but if you’re going on an actual hike, here are the pros and cons of hiking boots. 

Pros

  • Ankle support: Hiking boots provide better ankle support than regular shoes, which can be especially helpful on rugged terrain or when carrying a heavy backpack.
  • Waterproof: Many hiking boots are designed to be waterproof, which can be a lifesaver if you encounter rain or streams on your hike.
  • Durable: Hiking boots are typically made of sturdy materials that can withstand the wear and tear of long hikes.
  • Traction: Hiking boots often have better traction than regular shoes, which can help prevent slips and falls on slippery or uneven surfaces.

Cons

  • Bulky: Hiking boots are often bulkier and heavier than regular shoes, which can make them less comfortable to wear for long periods of time.
  • Breathability: Some hiking boots are not very breathable, which can lead to sweaty feet and discomfort.
  • Cost: Hiking boots can be expensive, especially if you opt for a high-end pair.
  • Not always necessary: Depending on the type of hike you are doing, hiking boots may not be necessary. If you are doing a short, easy hike on a well-maintained trail, regular shoes may be just fine.

Ultimately, whether or not you need hiking boots comes down to personal preference and the type of hiking you plan to do. If you are planning a longer hikes or challenging hikes with rough terrain and changing weather conditions, investing in a good pair of hiking boots is your best option. 

However, if you are just sticking to easy trails your comfortable tennis shoes will work just as well.

Alternatives to Hiking Boots

When it comes to hiking, there are many alternatives to traditional hiking boots. Depending on the type of trail, weather conditions, and personal preference, you can wear trail runners, hiking sandals, normal shoes, or running shoes. 

Each option obviously has its own advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to consider the pros and cons before making a decision.

Trail Runners

Trail runners, or trail shoes are a popular alternative to hiking boots, especially for those who prefer lightweight and flexible footwear. They are designed to provide good traction on different terrains while allowing for more natural foot movement. 

Merrell Moab 2 Vent Hiking Shoe
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A trail shoe or hiking shoe is also breathable and can be a good choice for hiking in warm weather. I own a pair of trail runners and I like the thick soles if I’m going on a short hike.
However, hiking shoes may be too breathable and let sand or water in. 

I seriously regret wearing hiking shoes on our hike into Havasupai falls. The trails there are covered with fine sand and by the time we made it to camp I had at least 7 blisters. If I’d worn my Danner boots, I would not have had that problem. 

Hiking Sandals

Hiking sandals are another option for warm weather hiking. They offer good breathability and can be very comfortable. 

Some models also provide good foot protection and traction, making them suitable for moderate trails. However, hiking sandals may not be the best choice for trails with rocky terrain, and they will not provide the same ankle or foot support as a hiking boot.

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I’d choose hiking sandals if I was hiking in or near water. I would not wear hiking sandals as a hiking shoe on a long hike as they tend to give me blisters.

Normal Shoes

Your everyday shoes, such as sneakers or tennis shoes, can also be used for hiking, especially on easy or moderate trails. They are often lightweight and flexible, and some models can be quite protective and supportive. 

However, normal shoes may not have the hard sole or insoles needed for more challenging terrain, and they may not be as durable as hiking boots or trail shoes.

I would only suggest wearing normal shoes on a short nature walk or a walk on the paved campsite road.

Running Shoes

Running shoes are designed specifically for running and are usually lightweight with good foot support. Normal running shoes can be a good choice for most paths and trails, especially if they offer good breathability and versatility. 

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I wear my regular running shoes on moderate to long walks on pavement or a hard packed dirt trail. If I’m going to be scrambling over rocks, I choose a hiking boot instead.

Running shoes are perfect for a long run, but if you’re hiking long distances, you’ll want a higher level of protection. 

When choosing hiking footwear, it’s important to consider the type of trail, weather conditions, and personal preferences. Trail runners, hiking sandals, everyday shoes, and running shoes can all be good choices depending on the circumstances.

When Not to Wear Hiking Boots

Whether hiking boots are necessary obviously depends on various factors. 

I don’t recommend wearing hiking boots for anything that isn’t an actual hike, such as:

  • A casual walk around the campgrounds
  • Walking on the beach
  • On a boat where you might fall into the water
  • Shopping for deals on camping equipment
  • Short walks on flat even terrain

When You Should Wear Hiking Boots

I wear my hiking boots for all hiking activities:

  • Uneven terrain 
    The ankle support of high-top boots is tailor made for rough ground and rocky terrain. Don’t let ankle injuries ruin your camping trip.
  • Walking off trail through underbrush
    When you go off trail, you never know what you might step on or in, so I always wear hiking shoes or boots when walking through the brush.
  • Backpacking
    If I’m carrying a lot of weight on my back, my feet tend to get tired quickly. My hiking boots are the most comfortable pair of hiking shoes I own.
  • Wet Conditions
    A lot of good boots are waterproof and offer good protection from rain storms, rivers and muddy terrain. 
  • Prone to Ankle Injuries
    You’ll want better protection and extra support if you’ve had ankle injuries in the past. High tops and stiffer boots will make a huge difference.

Ultimately, the decision to wear hiking boots or not should be based on your personal preferences and trail conditions. I believe that if you’re going on an actual hike, you really need hiking boots and not your everyday shoe.

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