Are Hiking Boots Necessary? The Answer May Surprise You

are hiking boots necessary

So, how important are hiking boots, anyway? You may have friends who tell you that you absolutely need a pair of hiking boots to enjoy your time on the trails. Then, you have other friends who say they never wear hiking boots and just wear running shoes instead. And then you have those who only go hiking with open-toed sandals. So, what’s the story? Are hiking boots necessary to enjoy the trails, or can you get away without them? Let’s find out!

Do Hiking Boots Make a Difference On Your Hikes?

On the surface, it may not seem like hiking boots would make that big of a difference. They are, after all, just boots, right? Well, yes and no. While they are just boots, they are also designed specifically for hiking. Simply put, this means they have features that other types of boots don’t have that can make your hikes more enjoyable, safe, and comfortable.

So, what are these features that make hiking boots so great, you ask?

  • Hiking boots usually have thicker soles than other types of shoes. This helps protect your feet from rocks and roots you may step on while hiking.
  • They typically have excellent traction, which can help you keep your footing on slippery or uneven surfaces.
  • Hiking boots also tend to be higher than other shoes, which helps to protect your ankles from rolling. However, there is some debate about hiking boots and ankle protection; you can read more about that here.
  • They often have a waterproof or water-resistant coating, which can come in handy if you run into any puddles on the trails or plan on traversing through creeks or rivers.
  • Lastly, they’re made to last. Hiking boots are designed to stand up to the rigors of the trail. They are made from tough materials that can withstand scrapes, scratches, and bumps.

When Are Hiking Boots Necessary?

With all that being said, hiking boots are clearly fantastic for hitting the trails. But, do you really need all those extra features, all the time? Definitely not.

So, we shouldn’t be asking, “are hiking boots necessary?” but rather, “when are hiking boots necessary?”

So let’s figure this out.

If you are going for a short hike on a well-groomed trail, you may not need all the bells and whistles that hiking boots offer. In this case, you could probably get away with wearing running shoes or even open-toed sandals.

What do I consider a well-groomed trail?

A well-groomed trail is one that is free of obstacles, such as roots and rocks. It is also even and not too steep. If you are going to be doing a lot of uphill or downhill hiking, you may want something with more support than running shoes can offer.

In general, the shorter and easier the hike, the less necessary it is to wear hiking boots.

On the other hand, if you are going on a longer or more difficult hike, such as an off-trail hike, you’ll probably want to opt for hiking boots.

If you are going to be doing a lot of scrambling or bushwhacking, you will most likely want a good pair of hiking boots to protect your feet and ankles.

In general, the longer and more complex the hike, the more you should consider a pair of hiking boots. And even then – they aren’t absolutely necessary. But they’ll definitely make for a more enjoyable hike.

Another factor to consider is the weather. Waterproof or water-resistant hiking boots can be a literal lifesaver if you are hiking in cold or wet weather. Plus, there is nothing worse than having cold, wet feet for hours on end.

Disadvantages of Hiking Boots

So I just wanted to go a little more in-depth on some of the disadvantages of hiking boots because I think it’s important to know both sides of the story.

One of the main complaints people have about hiking boots is that they are heavy and bulky. This can make your hike more difficult, especially if you are trying to cover a lot of ground. But really, it’s no different than any other heavy-duty boot. As a matter of fact, some hiking boots are actually quite light, relatively speaking, of course.

Another complaint is that they can be hot and sweaty, especially in warmer weather. This is something to consider if you are hiking in the summer. In this case, you might want to look for a pair of hiking boots with breathable panels or choose a lighter-weight boot if you really need one.

Another downside is that they can take longer to break in than other shoes. This means you may have to suffer through a few blisters and sore spots before they start to feel comfortable. But, once they are broken in, they should be good to go.

Lastly, hiking boots can be expensive. And this is probably the reason why this question is asked so many times. A good pair of hiking boots can cost you upwards of $200. But, if you take care of them, they should last you many years. But like I said, depending on the type of hikes you like to do, you may never need a pair.

Hiking Boots Vs. Hiking Shoes Vs. Trail Runners: Which is Better?

In general, hiking boots offer more support and protection than hiking shoes and trail runners. They are also typically heavier and bulkier.

Hiking shoes, however, are lighter and usually more comfortable right out of the box. But they don’t offer as much support and protection as hiking boots.

Trail runners are similar to hiking shoes but are even lighter and have a more aggressive tread pattern. They also typically don’t offer as much support as hiking boots.

So, which is better?

It really depends on what you need. If you are going on an easy day hike, you might be fine in a pair of hikers or even trail runners.

If you are going on a longer or more difficult hike, you might want to consider a pair of hiking boots.

And if you are planning on doing any bushwhacking or scrambling, you’ll definitely want a pair of hiking boots to protect your feet and ankles.

To help you sort it all out, I made a handy reference guide covering most of the important features you’d look for in a hiking shoe or boot, and trail runners. Each section is ranked from 1 out 5, with 5 stars being the absolute best, and of course, a 1 star being the worst, comparatively speaking.

Hiking Boots Vs Hiking Shoes Vs Trail Runners Comparison Guide

Hiking BootsHiking ShoesTrail Runners
Break-in Period⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Ankle Protection⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Warm-weather hiking⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Cool-weather hiking⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Rocky Terrain⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

What’s the Difference Between Hiking and Backpacking Boots?

Another question that gets brought up a lot is the difference between hiking and backpacking boots. So if you’re contemplating bringing boots on your next hike, but don’t know the difference between these two types, here’s what you need to know.

Generally, hiking boots and backpacking boots are pretty darn similar. The main difference is that backpacking boots are usually a little beefier and have a higher ankle to provide more support.

The main distinction between the two would be that backpacking boots are meant for carrying a heavy load over long distances, while hiking boots are more versatile and can be used for day hikes, short backpacking trips, and even some light scrambling.

But, other than that, they are both designed for the same purpose – to provide support and traction on the trail. As a matter of fact, some places use them interchangeably. So again, this is something that really boils down to personal preference and your intended use.


So, there you have it. Now you know everything you need to know about bringing hiking boots on your next hike.

Do you need a pair for your next hike? Or will a pair of trail runners suffice, or even running shoes suffice? Try them all out, see how you feel on different types of trails, and you’ll quickly figure out what works best for you.

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