Hiking Boots or Hiking Shoes: How to Make the Right Choice


March 14, 2021


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Hiking is an activity that can be enjoyed all year round and is accessible to all – whether you’re a beginner who’s taking your very first hike, or a seasoned explorer reaching for new heights. Learn more about the 5 criteria to consider to make the right choice when shopping for a hiking boot or a hiking shoe.

Check out our Hiking Guide to discover more tips about this popular activity that can be done both in summer and winter.

Hiking boots and shoes

In this article, you will learn more about :

  1. Length and frequency of your hikes
  2. The type of terrain on which you’ll be hiking
  3. Your needs and habits
  4. Features and materials
  5. Your level of comfort while trying on your hiking boots or shoes
  6. A Practical Checklist

1. Length and frequency of your hikes

Do you go hiking very rarely, fairly frequently, or almost every weekend? Do you prefer short jaunts of a couple kilometers, or longer treks of over several days? Asking yourself these pertinent questions can certainly help you make an informed choice.

For rare or infrequent, short-distance hikes, you’ll need something that’s lightweight, comfortable, and that has a good quality-price ratio. In this case, starting with a pair of hiking shoes isn’t a bad idea. If you see that you start to go more often, you can then opt for more durable hiking boots. Be careful not to confuse hiking shoes for trail running shoes, as they are designed differently.

For more frequent, long-distance hikes, you’ll need good support, comfort, traction, weather-resistance, absorption, and durability.

2. The type of terrain on which you’ll be hiking

Depending on the type of terrain and trail, you’ll need agility as well as stability. The lower collar on hiking shoes is good for flatter trails that are lower in altitude, and that don’t require as much balance and support at the heel. Hiking shoes are often designed with lighter materials for good freedom of movement that won’t compromise your pace.

When at a higher altitude, rockier or rugged terrain, you’ll need better heel support for stability during inclines. Hiking boots are more suited to this type of hike.

3. Your needs and habits

If you are looking for more freedom of movement despite your high frequency of hiking outings, you’ll want to opt for a hiking shoe nonetheless.

If you have a wider foot, there are different models that exist that offer wider sizes to suit your needs.

Favour a hiking boot that is more rigid if you are going trekking or are planning to carry a heavier load on your back.

If you have been trusting a certain brand over many years, you may decide to continue on buying from this brand, or even to branch out and try a different brand offering some of the same characteristics.

No matter your needs, the important thing is to discuss them with a Sales Consultant in order to help you make the right decision for you.

4. Features and materials

The outsoles are generally made of rubber, a material that absorbs shocks and offers good heel support. Make sure that you also have the option of being able to add crampons to your boot or shoe, if needed.

Some models also have rubber tips and welts. Although this isn’t an absolute must, they protect the tips of your boots, and also offer extra waterproofing.

As far as the insole goes (on the inside of the boot), select good EVA (Ethylene-vinyl acetate) or polyurethane padding. The latter is a bit denser than EVA.

Finally, for the upper, select breathable, synthetic materials or leather (Nubuck or full grain leather) that offers water-resistance and easy maintenance. Almost all boots offer water-resistance, but make sure that the model you are looking at has a Gore-Tex® membrane for instance.

5. Your level of comfort while trying on your hiking boots or shoes

While trying on your footwear of choice, keep these key elements in mind.

  • No matter whether you’re choosing hiking boots or hiking shoes, comfort is key. As feet have a tendency to swell when walking, select a model that allows you to move your toes within your shoe or boot. Otherwise, you risk bringing yourself great discomfort if you make a selection that’s to narrow.
  • Your shoe or boot must remain in place on your foot. When you try on your footwear on an incline, your heel should touch the ground if you are ascending and your toes should not touch the tip of the boot when you are descending.
  • Hiking boots should offer good heel support – your heel should not fly around freely within your shoe – without being too tight around your heel.

Keep in mind that lightweight hiking boots and shoes can be worn right out of the box, whereas hiking boots usually need to be broken in before a long hike. Wearing them a few times during short hikes can make all the difference before the big day.

A Practical Checklist

Consult this checklist that outlines the differences between hiking boots and hiking shoes.

Hiking shoes:

  • Lightweight materials
  • Collar under the ankle
  • Freedom of movement
  • High breathability
  • Designed for short hikes over short distances, and fairly even terrain

Hiking boots:

  • Heavier and more rigid materials
  • Collar higher than the ankle
  • Stability and excellent heel support
  • Durability
  • Designed for longer hikes over long distances, and for leveled or rugged trails

Ready to begin your search and assessment of the various models offered in our stores before taking the plunge? Happy shopping!

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