What's the Difference Between Hiking Boots and Hiking Shoes?

What's the Difference Between Hiking Boots and Hiking Shoes?

Even just the word ‘hiking’ can be enough adventure for some. For others, like myself, getting outdoors is an obsessive hobby, filled with planning, reading material, and exacting the gear we use to do all of the activities we want to. Ask any of my friends: when we’re not hiking, we’re talking about hiking, and when we’re talking about hiking, we’re often talking about new and interesting gear, and what gear would be best for what great adventure.

If you’re looking to replace your hiking footwear, or get a first pair, a common question to ask is whether or not you can opt for hiking shoes (AKA trail runners), or if you should stick with the traditional hiking boots. You don’t have to do anything. There are people who hike the Appalachian Trail barefoot. But to help make your outdoor adventure as enjoyable as possible, we’re taking a look at the differences between the two most popular footwear options to choose between if you’re planning a hike so that you can make an informed decision that best fits your needs.


Hiking boots are designed with wide and thick soles and a higher rise, to give you the support you need. Whether that means carrying a pack that’s heavier, or if you’re of a body type that requires more support from your shoes, hiking boots will be there for you. For novices, they are a stable option to help find your footing on the rockiest terrain, and they are great for forging rivers, or if the mud is abundant where you’re headed. Overall, hiking boots will provide you with stability and traction so you can just enjoy the sights.The downsides are they are kind of heavy.

The issue with hiking boots is, they’re awfully heavy and maintain a large profile. This means if you’re going on a short hike and then headed into town, you’re going to be packing a big footprint. They also are more of a struggle to get on or off, which frustrates me when I’m hiking to go climbing, kayaking, or rafting.

While you can’t go wrong with hiking boots, heed this advice: break them in before you hit the trail.

Vasque GT LTE

What's the Difference Between Hiking Boots and Hiking Shoes?

The Vasque GT LTE is my go-to pair of boots. Vasque makes quality boots, and these are lightweight so you still get many of the advantages of a hiking shoe. Also, since they’re monotone, they are stylish enough to wear when you’re in town. They are waterproofed all the way up to your ankles, come with a Vibram sole, and breathable so you can wear them no matter how long you’re hiking.


If you’re hiking in the summer, and the terrain isn’t too extreme, I’d opt for hiking shoes. Hiking shoes have much more breathability than hiking boots, so your feet will stay drier. They also have a way shorter break-in period than hiking boots which means less blisters! The main advantage of hiking shoes is that they’re lightweight. If you’re moving quickly, taking them on or off, or don’t want to feel bogged down by your shoes, it’s definitely worth investing in a pair.

While they do have nice traction, the ankle support often just isn’t there. If you’re navigating rocky outcrops, make sure you’re sure of your footing. They are also less durable in general than hiking boots, and you’ll need to replace them more often.

HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat 4 Gore-Tex

What's the Difference Between Hiking Boots and Hiking Shoes?

These include a more accommodating forefoot than most shoes, and come with an added midfoot support as well to keep your ankles as stable as possible. The ride is cushioned (Hoka is known for their cushioning) yet stable, and the Vibram sole will grip just about anything you need it to, even in the sloppiest of conditions.