Hiking Shoes or Hiking Boots: A Buying Guide and Reviews

Your feet keep you on the trail, so you have to treat them well. One way to do this is to wear hiking shoes or boots appropriate for the terrain. Choosing between a hiking shoe and a hiking boot can be tricky if you are unsure of the benefits and drawbacks of either. This article will help you choose wisely which type of hiking footwear, the shoe or the boot, is better for you.

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muddy hiking boots and hiking shoes on a forest trail for the pin about hiking shoes or hiking boots
guide de chaussures de randonnée

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The Importance of Proper Hiking Footwear

Wearing proper footwear while hiking will help reduce the risk of accidents or injury. Trails can get muddy and slippery, and the rugged rocky trails can give your feet a beating. Likewise, mountainous terrain will test your balance and stability. You want your feet to help bring you up the mountain without adding the danger of slipping because of inappropriate footwear.

Proper shoes will keep your feet dry. You will appreciate this when hiking long distances or on the trails during a rainstorm.

The appropriate hiking shoes will absorb and soften the constant shocks of a rugged trail on your feet, ankles and knees. This is even more important when backpacking and carrying an extra load. In addition, your lower body will thank you if you wear proper hiking shoes or hiking boots.

Hiking footwear has soles specially made for the trail. As a result, they have more grip and are usually much better at preventing falls due to slips, especially in wet conditions.

Proper sizing is just as important. Make sure that your shoes or boots are the correct size for you. If they are too big, they will blister your feet, and if they are too small, you might lose a toenail.

Hiking Shoes

Pros of choosing a hiking shoe

  • Hiking shoes are generally lighter. 
  • They won’t be as warm as boots, especially if you hike on hot summer days. 
  • Their soles’ grip will help with traction, control and stability on the trails.
  • A hiking shoe generally gives you more agility than a boot.

A hiking shoe will be the best choice if the trails you hike are well-groomed paths or on less technical terrain.

Features to look for when choosing a hiking shoe

You want grip, traction, flexibility, and cushioning from the shoe’s sole.

Also, inquire about the breathability of the shoe’s material. Waterproof or water-repellent material is always a plus.

When trying a pair of hiking shoes at the store, walk around in them. Try different styles to feel how they fit and which is more comfortable.

Some specialty stores, like Mountain Equipment Company, will have a makeshift steep incline to mimic a steep hill. Go up and down this incline often to ensure the shoes properly fit. The toes may touch the front of the shoe on your way down but should not be squeezed against the front of the shoe. Walking up, your heel may come up slightly but not too much, as this may cause blisters after a few kilometres on an uphill trail.

My favourites

I have been hiking for years and have owned a few hiking shoes. Some I liked, some I loved. Here are three of my favourite hiking shoes.

Salomon  X Ultra 4 hiking shoe

Salomon X Ultra 4 Gore-Tex

I fell in love with these hiking shoes after my first hiking trip with them. Whenever I am not backpacking or scrambling up a mountain, I wear my Salomon.

  • light
  • breathable
  • provides stability and grip
  • waterproof
  • cushioning to make them extra comfortable
  • protective toe-cap
  • price range 180$-200$ (buy from Amazon)

Merrel Moab2 hiking shoe

Merrel Moab 2 or 3

These shoes are known for their comfort. They offer a good grip, and I can confidently hike on rugged trails without fear of slipping.

  • suede leather and mesh for breathability
  • waterproof
  • protective toe cap
  • cushioning and maximum support
  • provides grip, traction, and stability
  • price range 150$-170$ (buy on Amazon)

keen targhee 3 hiking shoe

Keen Targhee III

Though less light than the Salomon shoe above, the Keen Targhee is robust and can tackle any trail.

  • waterproof
  • breathable and comfortable
  • offers grip and traction
  • odour control
  • wide fit
  • price range 200$-220 $ (buy on Amazon)

Hiking Boots

Pros of choosing a hiking boot

  • Boots generally offer better support for your heels and ankles.
  • They offer stability and traction on technical terrain.
  • Most will feature a slip-resistant sole with excellent grip.
  • The soles are sturdy to protect your feet and toes (most have a toe-protect feature). 

A hiking boot will be the best choice if the trails you usually hike are technical on mountainous terrain. More so, backpacking boots are a good choice if you are backpacking, carrying a load on your back on rugged terrain. 

Features to look for when choosing a hiking boot

Much like hiking shoes, you will want a boot with a sole that provides traction and stability while also providing enough cushioning to make it comfortable. 

The material’s breathability is extra vital with boots, as they tend to be much warmer than shoes. Again, it is a plus if they are waterproof or at least water-resistant.

The material’s durability is also important, as we tend to wear our boots in more technical and rugged terrain. Leather often outlasts any other material. You should give preference to a boot with protective rubber that prevents premature wear.

You will have the option of a mid-length or high-ankled hiking boot. This choice will depend primarily on personal preference. I prefer the mid-length. The support is just as good as the higher boot, but the mid-length seems lighter and not as warm. On the other hand, some hikers will opt for the higher-ankled boot for maximum ankle support and the protection it might offer against ticks.

Try hiking boots, the same as described above for hiking shoes. Walk around, try more than one kind of boot, and walk up and down an incline to simulate hiking up and down a hill.

My favourites

Backpacking Boots

lowa camino hiking boots


These boots are my favourite and have carried me for endless backpacking miles. They are sturdy and comfortable.

  • breathable leather
  • waterproof
  • maximum stability and support
  • optimum cushioning for comfort
  • price range 350$-400 $ (buy on Amazon)

zamberland vioz hiking boots

Zamberlan 996 Vioz GTX

Zamberlan backpacking boots are perfect for the extra support and stability they offer. This sturdy boot will last forever.

  • durability
  • excellent grip
  • breathable leather
  • waterproof
  • extra support and stability
  • price range 350$-400$ (buy on Amazon)

Hiking Boots

salomon quest hiking boots


Yes, my love of Salomon extends to boots. These hiking boots are comfortable while providing excellent traction.

  • stability and flexibility
  • breathability and comfort
  • protective toe cap and heel
  • support for heavy loads
  • grip for rocky terrain
  • price range 280$-300$ (buy on Amazon)

vasque breeze hiking boots

Vasque Breeze AT Mid GTX

This hiking boot is fit for day hikes. It is a versatile light boot.

  • breathable
  • light
  • durable
  • waterproof
  • price range 230$-280$ (buy on Amazon)

Choosing between a Hiking Boot and a Hiking Shoe

Some hikers prefer hiking shoes, while others will opt for hiking boots. Both are appropriate. But which one do you choose when you have never worn either? 

My boots offer me more ankle support. The soles are also very rigid, which is convenient when the trail is rugged. I always wear hiking boots when backpacking or scrambling up mountains. My feet and legs need the support they offer, and I am more confident with my boots on the mountainous terrain.

On the other hand, my boots are much warmer than hiking shoes, especially on a hot summer day. So, on less rugged trails during summer, I love my hiking shoes. They are light and comfortable and still provide the grip I need on rocks or roots. 

Still wondering if hiking shoes or hiking boots are better for you?

Ask yourself these questions:

Which type of hiking will I be doing?

  • day hiking in a forest – hiking shoes
  • hiking up mountains or backpacking long distances – hiking boots

What types of trails will I be hiking?

  • mostly on packed dirt or flat trails – hiking shoe
  • rugged rocky and unstable terrain – hiking boots

Do I have strong ankles, or do they need extra support?

  • for weaker ankles needing extra support – a hiking boot

Do my feet get really hot and sweaty when I walk?

  • for a lighter, more breathable footwear – hiking shoe

You can look at my essential hiking gear list to ensure you have all the equipment needed for your next hiking adventure. If you plan a backpacking trip, the Ultimate Guide to Backpacking will be helpful.

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