Hiking Boots vs Shoes (Side-By-Side Comparison)

With so many different options for hiking boots or shoes on the market today, I often get asked which type I prefer to wear and why. I always tell people that all different kinds of hiking shoes have pros and cons, and it comes down to personal preference and comfort. 

However, the debate about hiking boots vs hiking shoes still seems to continue, with many experts preferring one option over the other. In my experience, I find that many casual hikers can get by just fine with a good pair of hiking shoes.

Nevertheless, if you’re planning on tackling more strenuous trails or hiking in extreme or rugged terrain, you will likely want to invest in hiking boots. 

Keep reading to learn everything I know about whether to wear shoes or boots for hiking and the reasoning behind my opinions. 

Quick Summary 

  • Although they have advantages and limitations, both hiking boots and shoes make an excellent choice to wear when heading out on an adventure. 
  • Choosing whether to use a hiking shoe or boot largely depends on preference, terrain, distance, and the weather of your hike. 
  • If you can only purchase one type of shoe for your hikes, choose a light hiking boot that you find comfortable. 

What Are Hiking Boots? 

a pair of hiking boots

Hiking boots offer great ankle support, traction, and good protection against the elements. Hiking boots will generally be stiffer than other types of hiking shoes.

You’ll often find them made out of leather and treated with waterproofing protection to prevent your feet from getting wet.

You’ll also need to break in a new pair of hiking boots before wearing them out on the hiking trail, and they tend to last longer than other types of hiking shoes, like trail runners. 

I have a pair of leather hiking boots that I love, but they cost me a lot of money, and I generally reserve them when I need to hike in winter conditions or on exceptionally rocky terrain.

For easier hikes, I lean more toward my less-expensive hiking shoes. I would never wear my hiking shoes while backpacking through the mountains in winter, but I would likely opt for them instead of my hiking boots when tackling a moderate hike in good weather. 

If you are planning to go Appalachian Trail or to any other long-distance trail, I suggest you wear shoes instead of hiking boots or something lightweight with good tread.

Do I Need Hiking Boots? 

You only need to invest in a good pair of sturdy hiking boots if you hike a lot on rocky or uneven terrain. Hiking boots are also necessary if you do a lot of winter hiking or often trek in icy conditions.

They keep your feet warm, dry, and well-protected against hazards such as sharp rocks. You may also opt for hiking boots instead of shoes if you have foot conditions requiring extensive arch support or a lot of ankle stability due to weak ankles. 

I also tell people to consider how many miles they tend to hike yearly. If you generally only hike less than 100 miles annually and most of the hikes aren’t technical, you may not need highly durable hiking boots.

However, if you’re a serious thru-hiker or a long-distance hiker who tackles that many miles in a month, mountaineering boots are a good investment for their increased durability alone. 

What Are Hiking Shoes?

a pair of hiking shoes

Hiking shoes are low-cut hiking boots that don’t wrap above the ankle. They have many of the same traction and protection features as regular hiking boots but tend to be more lightweight and require less time to break in and feel comfortable.

They’re good for moderate hikes and preferred by many recreational and casual hikers.

Many hikers also like these lightweight hiking shoes because they can quickly go into a backpack without adding a lot of extra weight. You likely don’t want to wear them when wearing very heavy loads as they have less ankle support. 

You’ll also find that hiking shoes are easier to fit than hiking boots, and you typically purchase your regular shoe size, leaving just a little extra room for your toes.

Generally, hiking shoes do not require as long a  breaking-in period as boots do because they feel pretty comfortable right out of the box. 

However, a drawback to this type of hiking footwear is that it isn’t as durable as mountaineering boots and does not offer the same ankle support or protection against the elements (like snow).

However, a drawback to this type of hiking footwear is that it isn’t as durable as mountaineering boots and does not offer the same ankle support or protection against the elements (like snow).

However, a drawback to this type of hiking footwear is that it isn’t as durable as mountaineering boots and does not offer the same ankle support or protection against the elements (like snow).

You’ll replace these shoes more often than your hiking boots, but they are typically less expensive.

Do I Need Hiking Shoes? 

Most hikers who typically stick to moderate, less intense terrain will likely enjoy wearing a pair of hiking shoes on their adventures.

I like wearing my lightweight hiking shoes during the summer whenever possible because they help keep my feet from getting sweaty on really hot days.

They also work well if I need to wade through water a bit, such as crossing a small stream because they are made of gore-tex and mesh, which makes them very quick drying. 

What Is The Difference Between Hiking Boots And Hiking Shoes? 

hiking boots vs hiking shoes

The main difference between shoes and boots is their weight, ankle support, and the terrain and climate for which they are primarily intended.

Hiking boots remain the gold standard for long-distance hikers who often tackle very technical and intense terrain, such as steep climbs and rocky hiking trails, and work well in winter weather.

They have a high cut that wraps above the ankle and is best for supporting heavy backpack loads.  

Hiking shoes are similar to hiking boots in terms of foot protection but are low-cut and don’t wrap above the ankle, so they provide less ankle support. They tend to be more lightweight and require less time to break in and feel comfortable.

Hiking shoes are good for moderate hikes and preferred by many recreational and casual hikers, but you likely don’t want to wear them when wearing very heavy loads. 

Both experienced hikers and those just starting can use either type of shoe based on their preference and the type of hikes they’re completing.

New hikers might benefit from starting with a more lightweight hiking shoe before using up too much energy lugging around bulky boots.

Read more: How Much Do Hiking Boots Weigh

Pros And Cons Of Hiking Boots 

When choosing boots for hiking footwear, consider the following advantages and disadvantages. 

Advantages of Hiking Boots: 

  • Good durability 
  • Good ankle Support 
  • Provides foot protection 
  • Excellent traction 
  • Provide warmth in winter conditions 
  • Keep your feet dry in wet conditions 

Disadvantages of Hiking Boots: 

  • Heavier than other types of hiking footwear 
  • Require a breaking-in period to mold to your feet properly 
  • Take a long time to dry if they get wet 
  • Harder to pack in your backpack because of their weight 

Pros And Cons Of Hiking Shoes 

If you’re thinking about a hiking shoe, here are some things I recommend that you consider before choosing this type of hiking footwear. 

Advantages of Hiking Shoes: 

  • Very comfortable and has good cushioning for your feet 
  • Lightweight and easy to pack without adding too much weight 
  • Breathable shoes that help keep your feet aired out 
  • Quick drying materials
  • Less chance of getting blisters from your foot rubbing  

Disadvantages of Hiking Shoes: 

  • Not as durable as traditional hiking boots 
  • Provide little ankle protection, so not the best for steep trails where you might roll your ankle  
  • Less protection for your foot on rough surfaces 

Features to Consider When Choosing Hiking Boots or Hiking Shoes

When trying to decide between hiking shoes or hiking boots, I always tell people to consider all of the following important criteria to make the best choice for their needs. 


Shoes will always provide significant weight savings over boots. You may need the heavier weight of boots if you climb mountains or trek over very rugged trails. Also, consider if you hike a lot in the winter when a heavier boot provides much-needed warmth.  


Leather boots will require extra care to keep them looking their best and also take a long time to dry if they get very wet.

Most hiking shoes are made of gore-tex and other breathable materials that make a comfortable choice for many types of hikes and work well in warmer conditions. 


Hiking boots will typically last 500-1000 miles of hiking, even for challenging hikes or going off-trail.

However, even the best hiking boots will need replacement more often than that. Boots also tend to have protective toe caps built in that help make them last longer, especially if you walk up or downhill.  

On the other hand, hiking shoes usually have a more limited lifespan, anywhere between 100-500 miles less.

Ankle Support 

No doubt, stiffer boots provide you with better support for your ankles than even the best hiking shoes would ever do.

So you always need to consider just how much support you need based on your feet, ankles, and other special considerations when determining if a hiking shoe would give you enough support. 


If you’re often scrambling, climbing mountains, going off trail, or tackling technical topography, you will likely want to wear stiffer boots instead of lightweight hiking shoes or other types of footwear.

Most trail runners and similar types of shoes are best for well-maintained trails.   

Waterproof Options 

You will find both waterproof boots and shoes available on the market. However, you may opt for a boot if you frequently hike in mud or rainy conditions and, of course, if you’ll hike in an area with a lot of snow. Boots will work better at keeping water out of your shoe, especially from the top. 

Related Articles:

Hiking Shoes vs Hiking Boots —Which One To Choose?

As you can see, both types of footwear have their advantages and disadvantages. I’ve frequently used both and have my favorite “go-to” pairs for each type. Of course, deciding on the best option often depends on personal preference for most hikers. 

If your budget is limited to choosing only one pair, I personally recommend finding good hiking boots. Some of my top picks are Merrell Moab 3 Waterproof and Merrell Moab 3 Mid.

The brand offers excellent options that tend to be light and some that are a cross between a boot and a shoe. 


What’s So Special About Hiking Shoes?

Hiking shoes give you more support, comfort, and a bit more protection than regular shoes, which is important when hiking because you don’t want to end up with blisters, tired feet, or other problems. 

Can I Wear Running Shoes for Hiking?

You shouldn’t wear regular road running shoes for hiking, as they don’t provide as good performance on these types of trails. However, you can wear trail running shoes on hikes because they’re designed both for running and the types of terrain you’ll encounter. 

Do Hiking Boots Make a Difference?

Hiking boots make a big difference on long hikes or very technical conditions. They also make a difference for hikers who put extensive mileage on their footwear throughout the year.  

What Is the Difference Between Trekking Boots and Hiking Boots?

A trekking boot is a hiking boot used in very harsh terrain (ice, snow, etc.). You can generally use the term interchangeably, although some people consider hiking boots to include less rugged options as well, like a hybrid or mid-height boot.    

What Are the Advantages of Trail Running Shoes Compared to Hiking Boots?

Wearing trail running shoes instead of hiking boots brings several advantages. Trail runners are lightweight, providing agility and speed. They offer excellent breathability, keeping feet comfortable during intense activities. Additionally, their design allows for improved flexibility and natural movement on trails.

Christina Utz

Christina Utz

Christina Utz is a professional writer, mountain addict, and hiking enthusiast. She successfully finished a rock climbing class and a wilderness survival course, and by the age of 24, she hiked more than 1800 miles and finished over 260 different trails! Her expertise in hiking and outdoors helped numerous people to fulfill their adventurous spirit!

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