Hiking Boots or Trail Shoes?

Mountain hiking in boots and trail shoesHiking and Backpacking in trail shoes

My old leather boots on the right in these pictures are more than twice as heavy as my trail shoes on the left. I had read somewhere that if your backpack weighs over forty pounds, you are better off with boots for ankle support.

I also remember reading (and know from banged up knees) that extra weight on your feet tires you out and makes you vulnerable to trips and falls.

Here’s the thing: Pack light and you can wear trail shoes, otherwise known as hiking shoes, instead of heavier boots. For me, wearing trail shoes rather than boots has made a big difference in how I feel at the end of the day. I haven’t hiked in boots for almost seven years and have much more energy on the trail. If I keep my pack weight ( includes food, but not water) at not over thirty pounds, I’m fine in a well-built trail shoe.

Remember, we are not talking “sneakers.” We’re talking supportive trail shoes, which are sold at the major hiking and outdoor stores. Although boots keep getting lighter as Gore-Tex replaces leather, trail shoes  have become more versatile and are built to last. And they are quick and convenient.

For a comprehensive summary of trail shoes, see this article on low-cut hiking boots in Backpacker magazine.

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6 thoughts on “Hiking Boots or Trail Shoes?

  1. Hiking boots, hiking boots. I have trail shoes for road walking, birding … but for real hiking, I want my feet in a cast.
    I’ve been hiking for over 40 years and have never had a sprain or break. Let’s hope this continues.

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    • Danny Bernstein – how do you know that you would have had sprains or breaks in trail shoes? I have been wearing trail shoes for 25 years and have had no injuries either but I am able to travel lighter and more easily along the way. Significant support doesn’t come from the height of the boot extending over the ankle – ankle suport has nothing to do with the height of the shoe. Ankle support comes almost entirely from how stable a shoe keeps your arch and heel. Unless you’re planning some specific routes that require the extra stability, hiking in lightweight trail shoes is easier and safer – and more enjoyable. Remember that each pund saved on your shoes is equivalent to 5 pounds saved on your pack. Happy hiking!

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  2. Hi Ray, thanks for this post. I know you’ll be helping many out there who have almost the same problems like I did. If you pack light, you’ll only have to worry about finding the trail shoes that suite you best. They are generally lighter and save you a lot of strength.

    I have been hiking the Utah National Parks with my trail shoes for about 5 years now, with no problems at all.

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