The first thing you’ll probably notice upon picking up a hiking boot is that it’s heavier than the standard shoe. Made of sturdier, layered materials and with tread, a hiking boot can’t help but be heavier. Given that you’re not walking on pavement or a floor but over rocks, roots and dirt, you’ll want the extra stability and protection that a hiking boot offers despite its weight.
Still, especially for day hikes, such a boot can slow you down and limit how far you go. Adding a couple of (or even more) pounds to every step you take its toll after a few miles.
You always want to go with the lightest hiking boot possible, balancing that against the benefits a heavier boot offers. Determine that by considering what type of terrain you’ll hike in. If you only do flat, well-maintained trails in dry weather, you won’t need the deep treads and the thick layers of someone hiking up and down slopes in potentially wet backcountry.
Generally, trail runners and hiking shoes will be the lightest shoes. They’re still heavier than a running shoe but also offer more protection via a thicker sole and reinforced fabrics. Most children can get by with a hiking shoe.
A mid-weight hiking boot is heavier than trail runners or hiking shoes. By offering extra ankle support, reinforced and typically waterproofed fabrics, and stiff foot support, they will be fine on a trail of moderate difficulty so long as you’re only day hiking. I personally use them for day hikes of up to seven miles.
For those on multi-day hikes or who bushwhack, a heavy hiking boot is necessary. They usually have increased ankle support and knobby soles that provide extra grip. Their construction also will do a better job than mid-weights of keeping your feet dry. When backpacking longer than seven miles or on an overnight, I grab my pair of heavy-weights.
Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.