How to decide when you really need a pair of big, bad boots Newbie hikers or those looking to replace an older pair of hiking boots often ask the question these days: Do I have to buy a pair of burly boots to hike in the woods or go backpacking? Of course not. After all, […]
How to decide when you really need a pair of big, bad boots
Newbie hikers or those looking to replace an older pair of hiking boots often ask the question these days: Do I have to buy a pair of burly boots to hike in the woods or go backpacking? Of course not. After all, there are people who thru-hike the Appalachian Trail (AT) in their bare feet.
If you asked the boot question, though, you were probably wondering: Would a pair of trail runners be an acceptable alternative—or an even better choice than a pair of heavy hiking boots? We asked footwear guru Beth Henkes in our REI Alderwood store in Washington to tell us how she helps customers decide between boots and shoes. The simple answer is that both hiking boots and trail runners will get you out on the trail, but where, when, and how you hike may impact your choice.
Henkes confesses customers today seem to have a thing for trail runners. Some are obsessed with their light weight; others love how comfortable they feel right out of the box, while the more fashion conscious might prefer the wide range of designs and colors. No one choice is right for all, though, and boots still have much to offer.
Here are the key questions for choosing between boots and trail runners:
Hiking boots generally have thick lugs to bite into soil and a rubber that grips well on a variety of surfaces. Light trail runners offer minimal grip, but rugged and off-trail styles offer similar traction to hiking shoes. Some trail runners also feature a sticky rubber compound for enhanced grip on wet rocks and logs.
Be aware, though, says Henkes, that many trail runners are actually designed to grip on the fly and they won’t have the same level of traction at a slower hiking pace. The physics change when you apply less force on each stride.
Still not sure? Here’s a quick and dirty comparison to help you choose between hiking boots vs. trail runners:
|Hiking Boots – Key Benefits||Trail Runners – Key Benefits|
|Stability||Breathability, so feet stay drier|
|Durability||Little or no break-in period|
|Foot and ankle protection||Lightweight for a fast pace, long miles|
|Slough off mud, snow and water||Versatile for multiple uses|
|Warmer for cold-weather hikes||Cooler for hot-weather hikes|
|Good all-around traction||A range of traction options|
|Hiking Boots – Key Downsides||Trail Runners – Key Downsides|
|Heavier and bulkier||Less supportive|
|Require break-in period||Will need replacing more often|
With literally hundreds of hiking boots, as well as hundreds of trail-running shoes to choose from, you’ll find a continuum of choices in each category. If you want a light, breathable option that offers excellent stability and ankle protection, you can get some lightweight day-hiking boots with mesh uppers. Or you could opt for high-top, off-trail-style trail runners.
To help you navigate through all of those choices, start by reading How to Choose Hiking Boots and How to Choose Trail Runners. Then, because the right choice also involves getting the right fit, your next stop should be an outdoor specialty store like REI, where you can spend some quality time with a footwear expert like Henkes.