Hiking Shoe Comparison
When choosing the right footwear for the trail you have many choices but first you must decide what type of shoe, or boot, you prefer. The following are you choices with what type of terrain they are suited for.
Hiking boots are the traditional footwear worn by backpackers but have become less popular over time. Their heavy weight is their main drawback but they are also stiffer in general than newer hiking shoes. On the plus side they are incredibly durable and will last many years while also being nearly impervious to the elements.
Mid Trail Shoe
High Trail shoes are a recent attempt to combine the ankle support of a hiking boot with the light weight and breathability of a light trail shoe. These are a great choice for longer trips with a heavy pack.
Light Trail Shoe
The tradition Trail Shoe is a very popular choice for lightweight backpackers. They are more durable than trail runners and are often waterproof. While they tend to have more support than trail runners they don’t offer the ankle support of high trail shoes or hiking boots. As such I would not recommend light trail shoes if you will be carrying loads of more than 25 lbs or on unimproved terrain. Since my pack almost always weighs less than 25 lbs and I hike mainly well maintained trails in national parks, these are my favorite shoes.
Trail runners are pretty much the same as running shoes but with an “all-terrain” tread meant to grab the ground. As such they carry the same pros and cons of running shoes. They are lightweight and breathable but don’t protect you from the elements and are not that durable. They are best for…wait for it…trail running. However, they are also a good choice if you will be walking a well maintained trail in good weather conditions.
Barefoot shoes can be a lot of fun. Not only do they feel great but they are very lightweight. I would say the same advice applies to barefoot shoes as trail runners in that they shouldn’t be worn on longer trips where you will be carrying a lot of weight. Another disadvantage of barefoot shoes is that they take time to get used to. If you haven’t been wearing them on a daily basis six months prior to you backpacking trip I would not recommend them.
For a long backpacking trip I would go with waterproof mid-hiking shoes. They will give you the support you need to carry the extra weight while still being lightweight and breathable. For a day or weekend trip with good weather and a light pack I would definitely choose light hiking shoes.