So real hikers wear hiking boots; everyone knows that. But with the really good sneakers that have come out in the past ten or twenty years, hiking boots don’t have to be the only choice for hikers (especially dayhikers) that they once were. A good number of the hikers I see on the trail every year are wearing sneakers and seem very happy that way. Even my own group wears sneakers 99% of the time while hiking. Most of them don’t even own a pair of hiking boots.
Why? Well, I have a few theories. First, hiking boots are kind of good for only one thing: hiking. Sneakers can be worn around the house and yard, to the store, or wherever you need to go. So sneakers are a bit more diverse in their uses than hiking boots. Second, many people (at least within my own group) find that sneakers are more comfortable than hiking boots. Most cite that they don’t like the high ankle support, and when I’ve pointed out that there are lower-cut boots on the market, they smile and tell me that their sneakers are still more comfortable.
Third, hiking boots are expensive. It’s a fact of life. So are sneakers, but at least you can feel like you’re getting your money’s worth since you can wear them for more than just hiking. Fourth, hiking boots can be heavy. Personally, I find the advantages outweigh the weight, but I can understand not wanting to carry any more weight than you have to! Fifth, face it, hiking boots typically aren’t very “stylish”. Really, they’re part of a style all their own, but that style hasn’t crept into popular culture very much…after all, who would want a brown boot when they could wear a snazzy pink-and-yellow hiking sneaker? (Me, for one…I guess I’ve never been fond of the pink-and-yellow combination!)
At any rate, as good as sneakers are, I really like my hiking boots. For years, I wore sneakers and never thought twice about them. But after picking up some barely-used boots at a garage sale a few summers ago, I’ve fallen in love with them for hiking. I still have a pair of high-top sneakers as a backup pair of shoes, but for longer, more rugged hikes, I like the boots. Below, I’ve outlined some of the reasons I wear hiking boots instead of sneakers. (Note that my one con of wearing hiking boots is that they seem to tear up the trail worse than sneakers – so I have to be doubly careful on fragile ground, like tundra, to not make a mess!)
- Ankle support. Hiking boots – especially the higher-cut ones – offer ankle support unlike any pair of sneakers I’ve ever owned. This has saved my ankles a number of times, as well as just making hiking more comfortable in general.
- Comfort. I know some people don’t find hiking boots comfortable, but mine, at least, aren’t so bad.
- All-weather versatility. Unlike low-cut sneakers, I can wear them in the mud, snow, dust, slickrock, and everything in between. That means I can wear them just about year round for hiking nearby trails as well as on longer treks. The one thing they don’t do well with (without gaiters) is when the snow gets to be several inches deep…but I suppose that’s what snow boots are for. Supposedly, they’re waterproof, too, but I haven’t put that to the test 🙂
- Durability. Most hiking boots are made for the long-haul, so although they might cost more than a pair of sneakers, they’ll also last a whole lot longer. I like that. It’s a real annoyance to me to have to get new sneakers every few years and break them in, yet again…
- Adaption to whatever surface I’m on. Hiking boots grip better than sneakers; it’s just the way it goes. Whether it’s slickrock, sand, snow, or a blacktop road, boots are made to grip and not let go. (BTW, if you’re a sneaker fan and want to hike on slickrock, one of my companions found that his basketball shoes gripped really well there…if nowhere else!)
- Protection when going cross-country. I don’t walk cross-country a lot, but when I do, I try to always wear my hiking boots. They protect my feet against thorny plants, puddles hidden in the grass, stubbing my toes on stones, ankle-cutting-happy talus, and anything else I might encounter.
- Thick soles. Most sneakers aren’t made to keep your feet happy while walking across sharp rocks or talus. Hiking boots, while maybe not made for it either, at least have a thick enough sole to protect my feet.
- Protection against sand and gravel. When we’re walking through sand or small gravel, most of the group is stopping every half hour (or more often) to dump the debris out of their sneakers. In general, my hiking boots don’t let the sand come in in the first place, so I can look at the map, take a drink, relax, etc., while they try to get the annoying sand and stones out of their shoes.
They are a statement, be it good or bad. When I walk into a place with my boots, people take note, whether they think I’m a “real” hiker or think I’m putting on some kind of act (which I’m not; it’s just how I hike). So, boots can get you some respect in certain communities.
- I like them. When it comes to the end of the day, you’ve got to like the shoes you wear hiking, be they sneakers or hiking boots. Personally, I like the boots. So I’ll keep wearing them!
Do you wear hiking boots or sneakers? Why do you prefer one over the other?
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