1. Hiking shoes
Hiking shoes are a happy medium between light weight and durability that maintains support. The tread patterns that come with hiking shoes are somewhat similar to trail runners, but are much more durable. One disadvantage that comes with hiking shoes is the lack of ankle support due to the low cut design. With the right type of sole, support can be gained from the sturdiness from the inside of the shoe. Hiking shoes are geared more towards a leisurely day hikes and short weekend backpacking trips that don’t require your pack to have a heavy load, or roughly less than 20 pounds in weight.
Best For: On day hikes, moderate backpacking trips, and long distance lightweight hiking.
2. Hiking boots
Hiking boots are equipped to provide hikers with stability and support. They are a bit heavier than hiking shoes are, but they will provide ankle support where hiking shoes do not. A pair of hiking boots are ideal when hiking through rough terrain, rocky sections, and long distance backpacking trips with a heavier back (roughly twenty to thirty pounds in weight) and for beginner or occasional hikers seeking more support than can be achieved from hiking shoes. They support the ankle making it less likely to roll an ankle due to the higher ankle height ensuring overall more stability. Hiking boot heights vary from low-cut to mid-cut to high-cut, offering several degrees of ankle support and debris protection.
Best For: Day hikes, longer hikers, backpacking trip, off-trail hiking, rugged terrain, backpacking with heavy pack loads.
3. Mountaineering boots
Mountaineering boots are recommended when hiking in high alpine environments, winter hiking and climbing, and mountaineering. The boot is constructed with full shanks and sturdy soles. The boot rises above the ankle, similar to the common boot, but they tend to rise even higher than a hiking boot. Mountaineering boots are designed to have multiple layers including an insulated inner lining, a waterproof lining, full rigid shanks, and a pair of built-in gaiters. Mountaineering boots are much heavier than hiking boots, but the features they have are essential for mountaineers and ice climbing across snow and ice.
Best for: General mountaineering, ice climbing, high alpine travel, winter hiking and climbing.
what to consider
Distance and terrain
The overall length of your hike matters when it comes to choosing the right footwear, as well as the type of terrain you anticipate on encountering. For a multi-day backpacking trip you will need a sturdier boot option with good tread and ankle support rather than a short day hike with flat, unchallenging terrain.
Weather and climate
The weather and climate of the area in which you will be hiking in is a major factor when choosing the type of footwear will work best for you. If it is cold, rainy, and you antiquate to be wading through streams and soaking wet trails, waterproof boots will be essential to keep your feet dry and warm.
Upon purchasing hiking footwear, it is essential that you are properly fitted and sized so that your feet don’t hurt you while out on the trail. The way your boots fit you is arguably the #1 most important factor in your entire hiking wardrobe. In order to attain a proper fit, it is best that you try on the boot in person. Your hiking boots are designed to last you through hundreds of miles of trails. Ensuring the best fit will allow you to keep hiking in your boots and won’t force you to replace the pair often.
A new pair of boots typically require a break-in period before they are fully ready to hit the trail. Some boots are very stiff on the outer material, making a break-in time period longer. It all depends on the type of footwear you are dealing with for how long it should take to break them in properly. The overall general time frame for breaking in new boots is roughly a few hours on the trail to multiple long day hikes before they are fully broken in.