There is a big debate raging in the world of hiking between those advocating soft-shell hiking shoes versus the traditional, heavier hiking boot. Every hiker knows lightweight-hiking allows you to romp up those steep mountain ascents in good time, but should you switch to shoes for your next trip?
Let’s take a look at both boots and shoes considering their main pros and cons against several crucial characteristics.
Hiking shoes are lighter, usually half the weight of tough-shell leather hiking boots. Shoes are made of soft-shell synthetic materials without ankle side supports. The difference in weight when hiking thousands of steps is significant, even more so when hiking uphill. You feel like jogging up and running down.
This entirely depends on the terrain. On flat to gentle rolling hills the shoes feel best, however your feet will feel less sore in boots over rocky trails and mountains. Boots have reinforced soles, stiffened with varying thicknesses of metal bars, to prevent the impact of rocky terrain over distance. In medium / 3 season boots and heavyweight / 4 season the amount of stiffening increases to provide an all-year-round boot allowing hiking in snow and ice, attaching crampons and carrying big packs.
Only boots with a waterproof membrane such as gore-tex would be sure to keep your feet dry in a day of heavy rain (though shoes can also be waterproof especially when worn with gaiters).
With boots and gaiters you can cross streams and shallow rivers safely knowing that no water will get in.
In cold weather, through snow and on ice the tough-shell of boots and the stiffened sole offer greater warmth and hiking capability.
Hiking boots have ankle side supports that help to protect your ankle against twists and sprains from slips/falls when on the mountain or crossing rocky or wet terrain or rivers. When a slip/fall occurs it is far less likely that you will twist or damage your ankle versus shoes. Also, the tough-shell protects the foot from knocks against rocks and the stiffened sole protects the sole of your foot from jagged rocks.
Because shoes offer less support than boots you should initially only use shoes on easy good terrain and build up slowly to greater distances so that you ensure that your ankles are strong enough to take the strain especially when they have been used to boots.
Hiking shoes have a place in hiking however in general they are more suited for hill walking and for summer hikes.
Hiking boots offer far more advantages over shoes, feel more comfortable and are usually safer over all terrains.