My family and I are just embarking on the journey that is long-distance hiking. We’ve lived in an urban setting for so long that we knew we’d need a lot of gear to really take advantage of the wilderness that is now all around us. I’ve always assumed hiking boots were necessary for proper, safe hiking. I thought you needed the sturdy ankle support, deep tread, and waterproof uppers of hiking boots. It turns out, though, that most thru-hikers (those who cover thousands of miles every year) reach for their running shoes instead of hiking boots.
Light is Right
If you have ever picked up a pair of hiking boots, you have probably noticed that they weigh quite a bit. Running shoes, on the other hand, are designed to be light so you can move quicker. It seems like a no-brainer that extra weight slows you down, but carrying around extra pounds on your feet, specifically, burns up to six times more energy than carrying that weight on your back. Since hiking boots weigh an average of three pounds, trading them in for running shoes (which usually weigh around a pound or less) can save you 8-12 pounds from your pack. For the serious hiker, this makes a huge impact, but even for a weekend warrior, this can mean the difference between going strong all day or calling it quits after lunch.
Your Feet Are Never Really Dry
The other big (supposed) advantage to hiking boots is that they are waterproof, allowing you to walk through streams and tackle inclement weather. This is all well and good, but there are two problems.
First of all, very few pairs of hiking boots are truly waterproof. Most have seams that let in water if your feet are submerged. Even if you have one of the genuinely waterproof brands, over time small tears in the fabric will let water in. And even if you manage to avoid that, in truly wet weather, water will run down your legs and into your shoes. In addition, your feet sweat in waterproof boots because there is no airflow. Now you’ve got soggy feet trapped inside a moist shoe, which can lead to blisters, foot fungus, and other treats. Add in the fact that wet hiking boots weigh even more than usual and you’re dealing with a heavy, wet mess.
You’re better off in running shoes that breathe, particularly the mesh or woven designs that dry quickly. Even if your feet get wet, they’ll dry quickly and be much more comfortable than a hiking boot.
Ankle Support Comes From Within
One of the things hiking boot proponents harp on the most is ankle support. The idea is that the rigid, high-top cut of the boot, along with lacing hooks and padding, helps to protect your ankle from injuries. This sounds good in theory, but studies show that unless you already have an ankle injury, you don’t need additional support (and if you have been injured, chances are you’d need a medical brace, not a standardized boot).
Besides this, since boots are heavier and more awkward than running shoes, they may actually cause more injuries. You become clumsier in heavy boots, especially those that aren’t broken in yet.
Doctors insist that if you really want to have supported ankles, make sure to do stretching and toning exercises to build up muscles and protect your ankles. This support keeps your joints strong which prevents injury.