Adventure ClothingBackpackingCamping

Trail running shoes versus hiking boots: Footwear options for your next hike

March 14, 2022

Many come to Bill Jackson’s Shop for Adventure to get help fitting footwear for their adventures. When one thinks of hiking footwear, there is an image of big clunky heavy boots. In the past number of years there has been a shift to lighter options. Technology in both footwear and other gear has given us the ability to decrease the weight and burden upon ourselves. Read on to see what possibilities there are for you.

Truck analogy

Footwear (and backpacks as well) are like trucks. They are designed for certain loads and terrain. Consider the variety available in trucks. The range goes from light duty pickup to one ton. The heavier the truck is the more it can carry. Also some are made for road duty and others for off road.

This idea goes for boots and shoes as well. Some are for urban everyday while others offer more stability and support for trail. Most everyday shoes will not protect the bottom of your foot from roots and rocks. One will feel those with every step. Not so bad for a short walk, but over the length of a hike may cause fatigue and pain.

Weight vs. Structure

When looking for hiking footwear, everyone always looks for light, but this feature although a pro also has its cons. There is a spectrum of hiking shoes and boots out there. It is best to look at them as shown in the illustration shown. Consider your hiking needs.  Are you day hiking or backpacking? If carrying a backpack, how heavy is it? How difficult is the trail you wish to hike?

Traditional hiking boots

Many consider old school hiking boots as heavy and clunky.  Of course, the manufacturer doesn’t make them heavy just to torture you.  A more appropriate way to look at it is that they are more structured.  Like a one ton truck, this structure gives the boots more stability when on rough terrain or loaded with weight (when backpacking). Years ago, pack weights often exceeded 50 pounds. That is why boots were so heavy then.  Recent advances in materials have made equipment and clothing much lighter. Packs never need to go much over 40 pounds, and with discipline can be less than 30 pounds. This has lead to the development of boots that are almost sneaker like. The newer style boots are lighter, but still have support and protection underfoot.

Trail running shoes

Many hikers go even further towards light by wearing trail running shoes.  This type of footwear is essentially a running shoe with hiking shoe qualities.  Using these for hiking really requires an understanding of the pros and cons.  Yes they are light and give you more sensitivity to the ground giving more agility. Trail runners are not made to carry heavy loads and have no ankle support.  Not a problem for the day hiker, but for backpacking requires ultralight loads 30 pounds or less. Being ultralight is a discipline requiring the purchase of more expensive light gear and doing with less. One carries only what they need meaning less food and less creature comforts.

If you have issues with your ankle, there are boots that are essentially trail runners with ankle support. There are options.  Also, many that choose low cut shoes for hiking prefer them to be non-waterproof. Walking through puddles etc., the shoes dry quicker if not waterproof. If you use ultralight boots, you can step in deeper puddles without getting your feet wet.

Boot fitters

Consider purchasing your footwear from a brick and mortar store like Bill Jackson’s. Outfitters like us will have experienced staff to find the best fit possible. We use tools of the trade like Brannock Devices to measure feet, and incline ramps to test footwear fit. Remember, this is a purchase that can make or break you adventure. Even with the best fit, there is a break in period in which the shoes or boots become less stiff, and feet become accustomed to the new footwear. As always, if you have any questions contact us at 727-576-4169 or email . Happy Trails!

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