Boots ‘n’ shoes, boots ‘n’ shoes, I gotta have more boots ‘n’ shoes! Hiking and backpacking are great activities for getting outside and staying in shape, but they aren’t so great on your feet. If you’re making the trek, you’ll want a nice, durable pair of backpacking boots or hiking shoes so your feet feel great no matter how long you’re on the trails.
Here’s everything you need to know about backpacking boots and hiking shoes so you can choose a pair that best fits your backcountry lifestyle.
Yes, you can wear running shoes on a hike. They may be more breathable than some boots, but they won’t give you any more protection (which is a must on the trails). In fact, many companies are even designing hiking shoes that look and perform more like running shoes for more movement and fewer blisters.
Pro Tip: In addition to hiking shoes or boots, you’ll also want a nice, durable, breathable, and moisture-wicking pair of hiking socks to keep your feet dry and comfortable.
Hiking shoes are typically low-cut shoes that are lighter and much more flexible than hiking or backpacking boots. While they may ultimately offer less support, they are great for short trail hikes, especially if you aren't carrying much gear.
Pro Tip: It's important to keep in mind that the more you hike, the stronger your feet, ankles, and calves will get. This will allow these parts of your body to support themselves (and you and your load), rather than relying on a shoe for stabilization or support.
Hiking boots typically range from mid- to high-cut and tend to be heavier, more supportive and more protective than hiking shoes. While some may just be higher cut versions of hiking shoes, they will have stiffer construction and in turn, offer more support. They're durable, and great for day hikes, short backpacking trips, carrying a heavy load, or for those who need extra support or stability on the trails.
Backpacking boots are meant for multi-day trips and carrying a heavy load in all kinds of terrain and weather conditions. They're taller and stiffer than hiking boots and of course, offer more support, especially around the ankles. Backpacking boots also have thicker outsoles and are built to accommodate crampons or snowshoes. If you’re mountaineering or backpacking in the winter, crampon compatibility is essential for your safety. Backpacking boots also are much heavier than hiking boots, so keep that in mind.
Approach shoes are a hybrid of hiking and climbing shoes. They are used by climbers to get over rocky terrain to the climbing site. Approach shoes often have climbing style lacing that extends down toward the toe for better control. They also feature protective rands and sticky rubber on the soles to "grip" the rocks. Keep in mind that the sticky rubber outsole is softer and much less durable than other hiking shoes so extended hiking trips will wear it down pretty quickly.
Style and Fit
No one style will meet all of your hiking or backpacking needs. You may want to trek to your campsite in your backpacking boots and switch to a lighter hiking shoe for shorter day hikes in the backcountry, or if you're near water, perhaps a hiking sandal. Make sure you're choosing one that best suits your needs (i.e. what are you going to be wearing most?) and if your budget allows, purchase a couple different pairs so you don't have to make any sacrifices while you're out there!
Pro Tip: You’re going to be spending a lot of time in a hiking shoe or boot, so make sure that it fits well! Hiking shoes and boots should fit snug, not tight! Make sure you have room to wiggle your toes. We suggest trying them on at the end of the day (because your feet tend to swell) to find the right size and fit for you. If not, you could be prone to blisters and discomfort, and that’s not something you want to deal with on any hike.