When searching for a new pair of boots to take on your next hike, you may be met with 2 options: hiking and mountaineering boots. If you are new in the trail shoes or hiking world, you may be thinking about what the difference is between the two, and what would suit your needs best.
To help you make your decision, our team of hiking experts has outlined the critical difference between mountaineering boots and hiking boots, so you can make the best-informed buying decision.
We will cover the different types available on the market, and compare the two, answering your top questions about these two boots.
Let’s get into it.
What is a Mountaineering Boot?
A mountaineering boot is a type of outdoor footwear designed for use in harsh alpine environments, with a rigid structure, crampon compatibility, and insulation to keep feet warm and dry.
These boots are often high-cut and made of durable materials like leather, plastic, and synthetic fabrics, and are specifically designed for use in mountaineering, technical ice climbing, and other high-altitude activities.
Types of Mountaineering Boots
There are several types of mountaineering boots, each designed to cater to specific conditions and activities. In this section, we’ll discuss the four main types of mountaineering boots.
1. Single insulation
Single-insulation boots offer the optimum mix of technical features, comfort, and thermal protection. They are a comfortable and great option for low-level mountaineering but are not suitable for big expeditions and extreme climates.
2. Double Insulation
Designed for extreme conditions like winter mountaineering or high-altitude climbing, double-insulation mountaineering boots have a thicker insulated lining, providing warmth in cold temperatures .
We often found the midsole and insole are also thicker, offering more support and stability.
3. Full Shank
Full shank mountaineering boots are the most rigid and supportive type. They feature a full-length shank extending from the heel to the toe, providing maximum support and stability on technical terrain .
After conducting experiments with these boots, we found them to be ideal for activities like technical ice climbing or mixed climbing.
4. 3/4 Shank
Similar to full-shank boots, 3/4 shank mountaineering boots have a shorter shank that extends up to the arch of the foot. This allows for a little more flexibility underfoot so is most appropriate for summer treks or in milder ice terrains.
These boots are lighter and can scale rocks fairly well, but it is not advised to attempt significant ice climbing in these.
What is a Hiking Boot?
A hiking boot is a type of outdoor footwear designed to provide support and protection to the foot and ankle during hiking, while also having features such as waterproofing, breathability, and insulation to enhance comfort and performance in different weather conditions.
Hiking shoes and backpacking boots are typically lighter and more flexible than mountaineering boots, with a lower cut and softer sole. They are created for activities such as hiking, backpacking trips, and camping, where the terrain is less harsh and the winter weather conditions are more moderate.
They are often made of breathable materials such as mesh and synthetic fabrics, and provide good traction on uneven surfaces and various surfaces.
Let’s look into this a little further.
Types of Hiking Boots
1. Based on Weight
We have found from using lightweight hiking boots that they offer better protection, support, and durability than a standard running shoe or trail runner. We find the design offers excellent traction and stability for a lightweight shoe.
These are a great option for hikers who are looking for traction and durability without the weight or bulkiness of a traditional boot.
These boots strike a balance between weight and durability. They are sturdy enough to tackle rough terrain, yet not too heavy to weigh you down.
These boots are designed specifically for hikers who require extra support and protection on rough terrain. While they are heavier than the other two types, they are durable and provide excellent ankle support.
Read More: How Much Do Hiking Boots Weigh
2. Based on Ankle Support
Low-cut hiking boots offer the greatest range of motion whilst walking, but the lack of ankle support means ankles are at risk of injury. They are ideal for people looking to hike on even surfaces or trail runners.
Mid-cut boots rise to just above the ankle. They offer more stability than low-cut boots and more flexibility than high-cut boots. We think these are great options for hikers looking for that happy middle ground.
High-cut boots offer support just above the ankle bone, with laces that reach the top of the boot so you can keep the inside of the tongue snug to your leg. The high rise of these boots keeps your feet dry in mud, rain, or snow, and offers the most support of hiking footwear.
Read More: Do You Need Ankle Support for Hiking?
What’s the Difference Between Mountaineering Boots and Hiking Boots?
Mountaineering boots are designed with a rigid structure, high-cut design, and features like crampon compatibility and insulation to withstand the harsh conditions of alpine environments.
In contrast, hiking boots are built with a lighter and more flexible design, a lower cut, and features like good traction, breathability, and cushioning for comfort during long hikes on moderate terrain and trails.
Their outward appearances can be very similar to one another, but hiking and mountaineering boots are, in fact, quite different. Here are some of their differences:
Commonly, the best mountaineering boots are made out of a combination of robust rubber, plastic, leather, and synthetics. Mountaineering boots are designed to protect against the harshest of climates, so the materials are often top quality for this, which is reflected in their price.
On the other hand, hiking boots are typically made of leather, synthetic fabrics such as nylon and polyester, and waterproof and breathable membranes such as Gore-Tex or eVent.
Mountaineering boots have thicker and stiffer outsoles with an aggressive tread pattern to provide better traction on snow and ice. Hiking boots have softer, flexible outsoles for comfort on trails.
The midsole is the section of the shoe that separates the outsole from the upper fabric. Hiking boots commonly have a soft, flexible midsole to provide comfort while trekking. Mountaineering boots are very stiff because rigidity is necessary to support the shank insert.
Mountaineering boots are compatible with crampons, and spikes that attach to the boot sole for better traction on snow and ice.
Most hiking boots lack this feature and are not suitable for crampon use.
However, you will still be able to attach crampons to some hiking boots.
Mountaineering boots are heavier due to their robust construction, offering better support and protection for feet on rocky and icy terrain.
Hiking boots, on the other hand, are lightweight and comfortable for shorter distances and extended use.
Mountaineering footwear requires a high-top fit that sits above the ankle to provide the required support to the hiker.
Whereas a high-top design is not necessarily required for hiking boots, there are high-cut hiking boots available on the market for those choosing to climb rugged terrain.
How to Decide Between Hiking Boots and Mountaineering Boots?
Deciding between hiking and mountaineering boots will largely depend on the environment you are planning on trekking. In this section, I will unpick what shoe is best for each environment.
Hiking boots are best for low-level mountain trekking, where you need more support than trainers can provide, but less stability and support than is necessary for scaling ice and glaciers.
Mountaineering boots are designed for technical climbing of icy and snowy terrains, in conditions of cold environments where other shoes would be unsafe to wear.
However, for hiking in snow, you can also attach a good pair of hiking microspikes to your boots as they provide better traction on icy or slippery terrain, which can help prevent slips and falls.
Mountaineering boots are designed with top-quality materials to ensure your feet stay dry and warm while trekking through extreme conditions. Hiking boots still offer a fantastic layer of protection against the elements, but the protection is inferior to a mountaineering boot.
Experience level is also crucial. If you’re a beginner or intermediate hiker, hiking boots are usually sufficient. However, mountaineering boots are likely the better choice if you’re an experienced hiker or mountaineer tackling more challenging terrain.
For more information, see our guide on the best hiking boots for beginners.
Hiking boots are generally lighter and more comfortable for shorter hikes, while mountaineering boots may be necessary for longer, more strenuous hikes that require more support and protection.
Comparison Table Between Hiking and Mountaineering Boots
Which Footwear Is the Right One for You?
Drawing from our experience, the choice of footwear best suited to you will depend on the type of adventure you have in mind. If you are hoping to scale ice-covered mountains or explore hidden glaciers, mountaineering boots are what you need.
If you are expecting to comfortably wander along mountainous paths, crossing streams and muddy paths as you pass, some premium hiking boots are for you.
Yet, if you’re still having trouble choosing, in another article we’ve reviewed and chosen the best hiking boots for snow to assist you.
While mountaineering boots are suitable for high-altitude treks with challenging terrain and weather, they may hinder mobility and comfort for day hikes on well-maintained trails, where regular hiking boots are more appropriate.
In mountaineering, there are two primary types of footwear used: mountaineering boots, which are heavy-duty and designed for use with crampons on snow and ice, and approach shoes, which are lighter and more flexible for use on rocky terrain leading up to the climb.
Mountaineering boots are designed to accommodate crampons and have special welts on the heel and toe areas to securely attach the crampons. Attempting to use crampons with regular hiking boots or other non-mountaineering footwear can be dangerous and increase the risk of slipping, falling, and injury.