I can’t tell you how often people ask me, “Do you need ankle support for hiking?” I completely understand why it’s such a common question. Choosing hiking footwear is something that you want to get right.
There are many hikers who think ankle support is an absolute necessity for hiking boots, especially on more technical trails, and others who say it really makes no difference whether or not you wear a hiking boot with ankle support or trail runners without any.
In this article, I’ll get to the bottom of both sides of the debate and provide clear-cut advice on whether or not you need ankle support for hiking.
Do I Need Ankle Support For Hiking?
There is no exact right or wrong answer to whether you need ankle support for hiking. Generally, you do not need ankle support if you don’t have any current or previous ankle injuries.
If you have an existing or recent ankle injury, you may benefit from using an ankle brace.
However, many seasoned hikers still believe that high-top boots are the best footwear for hitting the trails and that a decent amount of ankle support will help lower the risk of sprains and other ankle injuries.
Many other hikers feel like letting the ankle move around when hiking helps strengthen the ankles, preventing injury, not so much the actual hiking boot.
Because there are so many varied opinions, it can be difficult to decide what to do, and most of the time, it comes down to the hiker’s personal preference and comfort level when deciding whether or not to wear hiking boots or hiking shoes.
Additionally, a medical study found no discernible difference between low-cut trail runners and high-top boots in terms of impact.
Is Hiking Bad For Your Ankles?
Hiking is not bad for your ankles, but depending on the type of terrain that you’re walking, it can make you more prone to injury, like a twist or a sprain, than other activities, simply because of the uneven ground and steep slopes.
It is a fact that hiking can be hard on your ankles and is much harder on them than simply walking on flat ground.
If you have weak ankles, to begin with, extra ankle support may help you navigate rocky terrain or challenging trails more confidently and prevent you from getting injured or experiencing pain.
However, for most people, hiking is a great way of strengthening the ankles, and if you’re properly stretching them before you set out, you’ll be able to hike frequently without causing any damage.
5 Exercises To Strengthen Your Ankles
The best way to avoid ankle injury and keep your legs strong is to regularly perform certain strengthening exercises.
These exercises will help you keep your joints in the best condition possible and prevent twisted and sprained ankles.
Standing Heel Raises
For this exercise, you’ll need to stand in front of a table or desk for stability. Keep your feet a hip-width apart, and then slowly start to rise on your toes and lift your heels up from the ground.
Then, slowly lower your heels back to the ground. Make sure you control the movements the entire time and get as far up on your toes as possible without feeling pain. Do several sets of 10 and then take a break.
Stand facing a wall and place your palms flat against the wall. Position one leg forward and one leg backward, and bend your knees to lower your body into a sitting position. Keep holding onto the wall and leaning into it.
You should feel a stretch in the back of your calf. Hold the position for about 30 seconds and then switch the position of your legs and repeat the movements.
Negative Calf Raises
Do this exercise near a set of stairs. Stand on the bottom step of the staircase with your toes on the edge and your heels hanging off of it. Then, lift up one of your legs so that it’s no longer touching the step.
Slowly drop the back of your foot on the other leg below the step. Hold it in that position for about 10 seconds and then fully lower it down to the ground. Switch to the other foot and do the same movement.
This exercise is easy to do while sitting at a desk or watching television. Take a frozen golf ball or tennis ball and roll your foot over it.
Try to do this rolling movement for at least 10 minutes each time, 3 times a day. Make sure that you use enough force and focus on working the heels and toes.
Start this exercise in a standing position, keeping your feet hip-width apart. Lower your body down to the ground and then jump straight up. Squat again and repeat the jump several more times.
Why Do My Ankles Hurt While Hiking?
If your ankles hurt while hiking, it means that you’re not used to walking long distances on sloped or uneven ground, and you likely did not perform proper stretching before starting the hike.
The pain you’re experiencing is a sign of overuse, and if you keep hiking, you risk a potential ankle injury. If this happens while hiking, the best thing is to stop and rest for a while.
If you find that your ankles hurt often while hiking, you likely have weak ankles and may want to ensure that you’re wearing a good pair of hiking boots or hiking shoes that provide ankle support.
If there is nothing wrong with your feet, you may want to check to see whether your hiking boots are hurting your ankles.
How Do I Support My Ankle when Hiking?
Many good ways exist to ensure your ankles are properly supported while on the hiking trail. Here are a few of the recommendations that most hiking enthusiasts will suggest.
Trekking poles can help you to transfer the weight to your upper body and away from your ankles. They can also provide stability and help you balance and navigate over snowy terrain, rocks, and other obstacles without falling or rolling your ankle.
The key when using poles is to ensure that they are the size for your height. You also want to ensure that you’ve practiced using them so that you feel confident about placing the poles when you take a step.
Ankle braces provide additional ankle support and help reduce the amount of stress in that area. Although most hikers do not generally need this level of extra support, ankle braces can be particularly useful for hikers prone to ankle injuries or who often experience sore ankles when they hike.
Some hikers will use a brace in addition to a good pair of hiking boots, especially if they are still recovering from a sprained ankle and need the confidence that the additional support provides.
Ankle Compression Socks
Wearing ankle compression socks with hiking boots will provide ankle support by acting as a bit of a gentle squeeze around your legs (like a hug).
They help promote better blood flow in the leg area and help your legs battle against gravity by moving the blood more effectively toward the heart.
Many hikers who wear compression socks say that they help prevent fatigue in the muscles and decrease strain. These benefits help them to recover faster after a hike.
Make sure that you use compression socks that fit properly. The socks should fit snugly but not too tight, much like the guidelines for hiking boots.
Hiking Boots With Good Ankle Support
One of the easiest ways to support your ankles while hiking and prevent ankle injuries is to wear hiking boots with good ankle support. Many brands make hiking boots with a padded collar around the ankles and good rigidity to support the foot in other areas.
The key when shopping for hiking boots is to look for a lightweight pair so that the actual hiking boot won’t weigh you down more than it needs to, and you’ll still have the right amount of support. Heavy hiking boots can cause you more foot and ankle pain.
Tips And Recommendations
Overall, in my experience, good and supportive hiking boots are the most efficient way of properly supporting the ankles and preventing ankle injury out on the hiking trail.
Once your ankles are strong enough, you can switch to trail running shoes or low-cut hiking shoes, especially for shorter hikes.
We’ve actually compiled a list of the best hiking boots for ankle support and have tried out all of our recommendations in real-world conditions.
Inflammation can quickly turn into a more serious injury. To prevent inflammation while hiking, ensure that you’re properly hydrated and that you perform stretches or exercises before hiking to strengthen your ankles.
Ankles swell when hiking when the muscles in that area are overworked, and the blood vessels widen to allow more blood supply to the ankle area. The blood supply that flows there to keep up with the demand causes swollen ankles.
Hiking with a bad ankle is possible, but caution is crucial. Take steps to prevent ankle injuries by wearing supportive hiking boots or trail runners. You should limit the excessive ankle movement and opt for trails that are less demanding on the ankle joint.
Having strong and stable ankles is beneficial for hiking, and wearing trail shoes or proper footwear can provide adequate support. However, the belief that strong ankles eliminate the need for ankle support is a myth. In certain hiking conditions, additional ankle support can still be beneficial to prevent injuries and enhance stability.