Traditional Leather Hiking Boots: Pros and Cons
Traditional leather hiking boots have been around for years. Some hikers swear by them; others swear at them.
- Pro: Traditional backpacking boots offer ankle support for rugged conditions, especially for hikers with weak ankles or poor balance.
- Pro: Leather boots are a good choice for hikers with heavy packs.
- Pro: Leather boots are durable and can be resoled and repaired so they last for years.
- Pro: Leather boots are waterproof, and come up high enough above the ankle to keep sand and mud out of the boot.
- Con: Traditional boots are heavy – up to four pounds per pair, which makes hiking more tiring.
- Con: Leather boots are more expensive than the alternatives.
- Con: Stiff heavyweight boots are more likely to cause blisters, and they need to be broken in.
- Con: Leather boots are bulky to pack in luggage.
- Verdict: Not usually necessary, but a good choice for hikers with weak ankles, heavy loads, or those going into rough conditions where durability and support are important.
Lightweight Trekking Shoes: Pros and Cons
Lightweight trekking shoes look and feel a lot like running shoes, but they are usually a better choice because they have stiffer soles with better traction for slippery trails.
- Pro: Trekking shoes are lightweight, which means the hiker exerts less effort to lift them.
- Pro: Trekking shoes pack more easily into luggage.
- Pro: Trekking shoes are less expensive.
- Pro: Trekking shoes are a good choice for hot weather and deserts hiking.
- Con: Because trekking shoes don’t cover the ankle, blister-causing dirt and sand can creep in.
- Con: Trekking shoes don’t offer as much support, making them a poor choice for hikers with heavy packs.
- Con: Hikers with balance issues or weak ankles might need the support of an above-the-ankle boot..
- Con: Trekking shoes aren’t waterproof, making them poor choices for wet or snowy conditions, especially if kicking steps into snow banks is necessary.
- Con: Trekking shoes are the least durable.
- When used in deserts and grasslands where thorns and grass-seeds abound, shoes with mesh sections can allow debris to penetrate through the shoe, which can cause blisters.
- Verdict: Great choice for day hikers. A viable choice for long-distance backpackers with strong ankles who have managed to minimize the weight of their packs.
Leather-Fabric Hybrid Hiking Boots: Pros and Cons
Leather-fabric boots combine the best of both worlds. They are the best choice for hikers who trek in a variety of conditions. Leather-fabric hybrids have leather for support and fabric (usually Cordura) for flexibility and breathability.
- Pros: Hybrid outdoor boots need less breaking in than leather boots. (Note: they can cause blisters if not broken in at least a little).
- Pro: Hybrid hiking boots come up over the ankle, keeping dirt out and offering ankle support sufficient for most hiking conditions.
- Pros: Hybrids are rugged enough to handle uneven terrain, scree, and even kicking steps into snow.
- Pros: Hybrids offer ankle support, though not as much as leather boots.
- Cons: Hybrids are not waterproof, and in wet conditions can become heavy.
- Cons: Hybrids are heavier than trekking shoes, and are not necessary for day hikers on easy terrain.
- Verdict: Good choice for most backpackers hiking in a variety of conditions.
These three categories of hiking boots give today’s backpackers a choice of footwear for any conditions (although specialty boots are also available for mountaineering and extreme cold weather). As a rule, most backpackers today choose leather-fabric hybrid boots. Day-hikers lean to trekking shoes, as do ultralight backpackers who prioritize light weight over support or durability. And a few traditionalists stick to leather boots, valuing their stability and ruggedness.