Hiking Boots vs Backpacking Boots (What’s the Difference)

When searching for the perfect pair of boots for your next trip, you may come across two options: hiking boots and backpacking boots.

If you are new to hiking or trail shoes, you may wonder what sets the two types of boots apart and which one would be the best fit for your needs.

To assist you in making an informed decision, our team of hiking experts has highlighted the critical differences between backpacking and hiking boots, including the various types available on the market, and provided a comparison between the two.

Quick Summary 

  • Backpacking boots offer more support for heavy loads and rugged terrain, while hiking boots prioritize lightweight and comfortable materials.
  • Hiking boots may have less durability over time, while backpacking boots are often made with durable materials to withstand extended trips.
  • The decision between hiking boots and backpacking boots should be based on the type of activity, the weight of the load, and the level of support and durability needed.

What Is the Difference Between Hiking Boots and Backpacking Boots?

a hiking boot and a backpacking boot side by side comparison

Hiking boots are lightweight and flexible, prioritizing comfort and agility for shorter hikes, while backpacking boots are sturdier, offer greater ankle support, and are designed for multi-day treks with heavy loads.

Let’s see the key differences when it comes to their features.

1. Ankle Support

Trekking boots give more ankle support, with more outsoles and taller uppers to protect the ankle from twists and sprains on uneven routes.

Hiking boots typically have a lower-cut midsole, a design that allows for greater mobility but sacrifices some ankle and arch support.

Here is a list of top ankle-support hiking boots during our testing procedures.

2. Traction

Both offer excellent traction on a variety of surfaces, but trekking boots typically have a more aggressive tread pattern, providing a better grip on rocky and slippery routes. This increased traction comes at the cost of some flexibility.

3. Weight

Hiking boot is generally lighter in weight than trekking boot, as they are made for a shorter length of hiking with less gear to pack around.

Trekking shoes have additional support features over hiker does, elements such as a sturdier sole, making them heavier but better suited for more challenging routes with heavy backpacks.

4. Waterproofing

Both hiking and trekking boots can come with waterproofing features, but backpacking boots typically have more advanced technologies and materials, such as Gore-Tex.

This kind of foot protection gear is important, especially on overnight trips. Hiking boots may have basic waterproof features.

5. Comfort

Both can be comfortable and supportive, but leather hiking boots tend to be more flexible, offering greater mobility. Backpacking boots prioritize support and are more durable than leather boots, which can make them stiffer and less comfortable for shorter trips [1].

6. Durability

Trekking boots are designed to withstand the rigors and wear of extended trips with heavy loads and hard-on, so they tend to be a bit more durable.

Hiking boots often have thicker and sturdier materials, such as leather or synthetic fabrics, that can handle rough routes and rugged terrain.

7. Breathability

a closeup of merrell moab 2 vent hiking boot, known for its increased breathability

Hiking boots prioritize ventilation to prevent feet from becoming too hot and sweaty while trekking boots prioritize foot protection.

It’s important to consider the terrain and temperature before choosing between a normal boot or a more rugged backpacking boot, especially if you expect you’ll be off-trail for miles or carrying a full pack or backpack with extra weight.

For short hiking, a light enough boot or a shoe with good ventilation and some water resistance may be sufficient.

8. Versatility

Hiking boots are usually lightweight that can be used for a range of outdoor activities, from day hikes to short trips.

Backpacking boots and mountaineering boots are more specialized and these boots are best suited for extended trips with heavy loads, but may not be as comfortable or practical for shorter hikes.

Here is a list of the most comfortable lightweight hiking boots that we tried during our testing procedures.

9. Stability

Trekking boots prioritize stability, with features like a stiffer rubber sole and taller upper, to provide more support and prevent ankle sprains and other injuries while hiking footwear options have a lower cut outsole and are generally a bit more flexible, sacrificing some stability for greater mobility on a less challenging route.

10. Warmth

Backpacking shoes may be better at providing warmth as they are often designed with insulation to keep you warm in cold conditions. However, hiking boots may have also basic insulation.

11. Dryability

Backpacking boots are designed with better dryability features than hiking boots. This can include moisture-wicking and breathable linings and quick-drying fabrics that help prevent wetness from sweat and rain.

Hiking boots may have basic moisture-wicking features, but may not be as personally comfortable or effective at keeping feet and ankles dry.

Related Articles:

How to Decide between Backpacking Boots and Hiking Boots?

river crossing while hiking in Canada
Courtesy of Dru!
  • The route you plan to hike on is a crucial factor in choosing the best gear. For a rugged and rocky landscape, backpacking boots with stiffer soles and taller uppers give greater stability [2].
  • For forest trails or less challenging routes, hiking boots with more flexibility and lower cuts are more suitable, as they allow for greater mobility.
  • The weight you are carrying is important, especially on climbing and longer treks. Trekking boots offer greater support and durability for carrying heavy loads, while hiking boots are lighter and more flexible for carrying lighter loads.
  • It’s important to choose gear that fits well and gives adequate support but is not too heavy.
  • The weather of your hike is important when deciding what kind of gear to wear.
  • Waterproof backpacking boots with insulation are best for wet or snow.
  • For dry, breathable hiking boots with minimal insulation are better to prevent overheating.
  • Your experience level is one factor to consider. For beginners, hiking boots with more flexibility are a better choice, as they allow for greater mobility and are easier to break in.
  • For advanced hikers, backpacking boots with firmer soles and taller uppers give better support for longer and more challenging hikes.
  • For longer distances, backpacking boots with more support and cushioning are recommended to reduce fatigue and prevent injuries.
  • For shorter distances, hiking boots with lighter weight and more flexibility are better for ease of movement and comfort.

Verdict – So, What to Use?

Backpacking boots are the best bet for rough routes and off-trail hiking as they give more ankle support. However, for most day hiking on well-maintained trails, a standard hiking boot is more than sufficient.

Hiking boots offer greater flexibility and are generally lighter, and more comfortable, making wearing them ideal for most outdoor experiences.

In summary, unless you are going off-trail mountaineering, long-distance backpacking, or traversing rough terrain, wearing a hiking boot is recommended for most hikers due to its great versatility, comfort, and longevity.

Here is a list of top hiking boots that performed very well during our tests.

Jennifer Strom

Jennifer Strom

Jennifer Strom has been a writer for over 20 years and an outdoor and hiking enthusiast for most of her life. After spending much of her career in the corporate world, she decided to freelance to spend more time with her family and explore new places. You will find her always looking forward to her next weekend adventure and writing guides that help others make the most of their own hikes and time outdoors.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *