Hiking Shoes vs. Hiking Boots
(and the Resulting Confusion)
By RJ Fleming
Many people routinely do easy walks in low-cut, running or trainer-type shoes when on their own or on less-demanding terrain, however for any organized group outing or serious hike such shoes are not acceptable. Inappropriate footwear is an injudicious choice when safety or group inconvenience are at stake. On group outings or serious hikes, low-cut, lightweight shoes are too risky to wear due to the fact an ankle injury to a single individual could have serious consequences upon the group as a whole. Running shoe companies, in particular, have sought more market-share during the past decade by expanding into the area of ‘hiking footwear’. However, many companies have done little more than re-color and/or rebrand some of their running shoes and trainers as ‘hiking shoes’, when in reality they do not provide the stability and support required by demanding terrain. One common characteristic among unacceptable shoe styles is that they are low-cut and expose the ankle to injury.
Contrary to conventional wisdom and some marketing propaganda, ‘hiking shoes’ is an oxymoron in our experience. To guarantee safety, hiking should be done in boots designed with a high top, completely covering the ankles. It is unfortunate that some shoe manufacturers have misrepresented their products and misled buyers by referring to low-cut shoes as boots; this is why all MNGS preparatory notes specifically state that hiking boots must be a “high top” model. Not only do low-cut shoes fail to protect the ankle, but in some instances low-cut shoes can actually contribute to the possibility of sprained and injured ankles when worn on rough, uneven trails. On uneven surfaces an ankle can be bent obliquely over the hard upper edge of a low-cut shoe and result in a severe ankle injury.
To be fair, there are various kinds of ‘hikes’: a 3 km walk along the lake on a nice smooth path; a 7 km walk across varying terrain but on a well-worn trail; and then there is a 20 km mountainous hike over all types of terrain including smooth trails, rocky paths, rough and eroded trails with roots, shifting scree slopes and boulders. The last example represents the type of terrain encountered on many typical mountain hikes, and these require serious boots, not trainers or running shoes. Low-top shoes cannot handle rough terrain and trails while protecting the ankle bones, tendons and ligaments of the foot. A hightop boot protects the entire foot from unanticipated twists and turns that can quickly pull or tear ligaments that support the ankle. High-tops might also protect the ankle from stone bruises, shifting rocks, etc.
Every hiker should consider that if a shoe is low-cut, looks like a trainer or running shoe, it should not be worn for any serious hike of distance, load carrying or mountainous treks. If it looks like a high-top hiking boot, it most likely is perfectly fine and can be used. Among proper high-top hiking boots there are a variety of models offering different levels of rigidity, weight and support – these should be chosen according to the anticipated use. Hiking boots are the single most important investment you will make prior to a trek, so protect your feet and your holiday by using serious footwear. Feel free to send MNGS a photo of any footwear you wish to use on a hike or trek to see if it is acceptable, and to receive suggestions on rentals or purchases.
NOTE: This article is the property of MatterhornNepal-GuideSource Treks & Expeditions (P) Ltd. and is copyrighted. No part of this article or information may be used without full attribution and prior written consent of MNGS.