You need durable, comfortable shoes for venturing out on the trail. However, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when it comes to the many footwear choices out there. There are boots available for both hiking and backpacking, so you may wonder what the difference is and what the best choice is for you.
Backpacking boots and hiking boots are not the same. They are built for different activities and have different features. Backpacking boots are designed to be worn while carrying a heavy load for long periods of time, whereas hiking boots are meant to be used for shorter trips without much weight.
There are a lot of details that go into the design and structure of these boots. Therefore, it’s important to consider the key features in each shoe and how they relate to your activity. Below, we explain everything you need to know before choosing the pair that will work best for you.
What Is The Difference Between Backpacking And Hiking?
The difference between backpacking and hiking is the duration of the trip. Hiking usually lasts from under an hour to a full day, whereas backpacking refers to longer trips that last multiple days. Due to the difference in duration, you must carry more supplies and gear while backpacking.
Hiking means walking through the backcountry or along a trail for shorter lengths of time. These trips last from a few minutes to a full day, so they don’t require you to bring camping gear for overnight stays. That means you do not need to carry a large backpack with you, and you won’t be weighed down with heavy gear.
You’ll probably end up bringing along a day pack so you can have supplies like snacks, water, and a jacket. Your day pack will weigh between ten and fifteen pounds. This is an easy load to carry for most hikers, and won’t be as strenuous as a larger pack. However, hiking still requires specialized shoes – the backcountry is tough, and your feet need support. Hiking boots are designed for the job.
Backpacking means walking through the backcountry or along a trail for longer trips that last multiple days. Since you’ll be bringing camping gear, backpacking requires the use of a larger trekking pack. You’ll need to take meals, cookware, a tent, extra clothes, and all sorts of other supplies along with you.
Your backpack can easily climb up to over forty pounds, and that can really put a strain on your knees, ankles, and feet. Luckily, larger backpacks are designed to distribute the weight of the load. Between the rough terrain and the extra weight, it’s very important to have adequate footwear. Hiking boots will not suffice, instead you need backpacking boots as they are designed for this activity.
What Are Hiking Boots?
Hiking boots are special shoes that are made for shorter hiking trips. They are designed to support a hiker’s feet and ankles on uneven ground, steep slopes, and rocky ravines. You can find hiking boots made from various materials, but the most popular are leather and synthetic mixtures.
Hiking boots are flexible and breathable while remaining durable. They focus on support and protection with mid to high-cut ankles, which are great for preventing rolls and sprains. Hiking boots usually have thinner soles and are much lighter than backpacking boots.
They also have thinner shanks to promote flexibility, and they’re easier to break in than backpacking boots. Hiking boots may not have as many additional features, but they’re tough and comfortable. They are the preferred option for those who want a lightweight shoe that is durable and strong.
What Are Backpacking Boots?
Backpacking boots are hard-hitting boots designed to be worn in the backcountry. You can use them on rough terrain over long periods of time without ruining them or hurting yourself. They carry the heavy load of a backpack and include features to support a backpacker’s body on every level.
Backpacking boots are high-rise shoes and come up around the ankle. This cushions your ankle and protects it against rolling, sprains, and strains. These boots have ultra-thick soles and shanks to increase their load-bearing capacity, so even the heaviest backpacks won’t cause foot discomfort.
Sometimes, backpacking boots have plates. These are inserted beneath the shank and add extra protection against sharp rocks, so they’re very valuable on rocky terrain. They can also have extra features for snow, ice, and mountaineering. Backpacking boots can tack on a lot of additional weight, but they’re a better option for longer or more treacherous hikes.
What Are Hiking Shoes?
Hiking shoes are a lighter version of hiking boots. They are meant for ultralight hikers as they are extremely lightweight and flexible. However, these shoes do not provide much support or protection. Therefore, they are a not a great option for novice hikers.
They are low-cut and come down around the ankle, so they don’t provide that much support. The soles are thinner to further decrease weight, and they rarely include protective plates. However, the material is much more flexible than that used in hiking boots and backpacking boots.
Hiking shoes can be a good option for experienced hikers, but they aren’t a good shoe for novice hikers. It’s easier to roll an ankle with these sorts of shoes, and you don’t want to risk injury on your initial trip. Instead, opt for shoes meant for the activity you’re participating in – either hiking boots or backpacking boots.
Backpacking Boots vs Hiking Boots
So, which type of shoe is better? The answer depends largely on you and the activity you’ll be participating in. They are designed and built for different purposes and are therefore, best suited for those specific activities. To gain a better understanding of each kind of boot, it’s a good idea to study and compare the distinct features and properties of both.
Backpacking boots are usually made of tougher materials than hiking boots. They’re designed to be more durable, so leather or a leather-nylon hybrid is the preferred option. This material is quite tough and can withstand an incredible amount of wear and tear. It can be treated or coated to be waterproof as well.
In contrast, hiking boots will usually be made of synthetics like polyester or nylon. This material is cheaper than leather and dries quicker, but it is a bit less durable. The trade-off here is that synthetics are lightweight and can be much more user-friendly. They break in easily, whereas leather can take weeks to mold to your foot comfortably.
Each type of boot comes with an insole, a midsole, and an outsole. You’ll also usually have a shank. The shank is a component inserted between the outsole and the midsole, and it helps add stiffness and load-bearing capacity. A hiking boot’s soles and shanks will be thinner and more flexible. They will usually be made of EVA, a cushy synthetic that offers comfort to hardworking feet.
A backpacking boot will have thicker and sturdier soles and shanks than a hiking boot. The soles will be made of stronger material, like polyurethane. Backpacking boots may also contain a plate beneath the shank, which is a thin metal sheet adding extra protection against rocks and debris. This is especially important when mountaineering, so look for it if your terrain will be very rough.
High-Cut Or Mid-Cut?
A hiking boot can be high-cut or mid-cut. Some hiking boots are low-cut, but this is a rarity. The most common cut is mid-ankle, which yields a lower weight with mid-level protection. The cut around the ankle shaves off a bit of material, but still comes up far enough to catch the ankle when it may roll. It also adds a bit of extra padding that can increase comfort during hikes as well.
A backpacking boot will always have a high cut. It will come up to fully surround the ankle joint and socket, cushioning it on all sides and preventing most rolls completely. The increased stability protects hikers carrying lots of weight and adds protection against rough terrain where sprains are likely.
A backpacking boot has better support than a hiking boot. The soles are so thick so it’s unlikely your arches will fall flat. Backpacking boots also offer a stronger toecap, with some even being made of steel for extreme conditions. You may also find steel plates along the sides of a backpacking boot for extra side support.
A hiking boot will have thinner soles that are easier to break in but provide less support. If they have any sort of toecap, it will likely be made of leather or a stronger synthetic fabric rather than steel. They rarely include steel side support, as this increases weight and volume too much. However, it is possible to find hiking boots with more support for a higher price.
Both types of shoes may come with all sorts of additional features. Backpacking boots usually come with more features than hiking boots, simply because they are designed to provide a user with the capability to perform a wider range of activities. For example, backpacking boots can come with crampon compatibility for trekkers and snow-climbers to attach crampons for mountaineering.
They may also have outsoles coated in carbon, with longer wideset lugs for digging into the ground. Hiking boots usually won’t have those kinds of features since they’re designed to be more lightweight. It’s a good rule of thumb that the more features a shoe has, the heavier and pricier it will be.
Backpacking boots are stronger, more robust, and provide more support in every way. One of the only downsides is that they weigh more. Backpacking boots use thicker material like steel for structure and leather for durability. They can easily weigh over five pounds, which can slow you down a lot.
Hiking boots are much lighter. They rely on polyester and nylon, which don’t weigh much. Since the soles are thinner, this also shaves weight off. Some ultralight hiking boots can weigh as little as two pounds or less. A lighter shoe can be a great boon to hikers, as it means less strain on the feet and less weight to lug around.
Backpacking boots are heavier and larger than hiking boots, with a much bigger volume. They are a bit more clunky and difficult to get used to. Walking in backpacking boots can be less comfortable if you aren’t accustomed to them as there’s so much additional capacity around the foot.
Hiking boots are lighter, sleeker, and much less voluminous. They have a lower profile than backpacking boots and can be worn at work and around the city as well as in nature. They can also be easier to transport and store, since they aren’t so bulky and awkwardly shaped.
Price is a tricky component to discuss, as the cost can vary wildly with both types of shoes. Generally speaking, prices go higher with backpacking boots. That’s because they’re made with more expensive materials like leather. They can also have extra features like carbon-coating on the bottom, which cost more to manufacture.
Regular hiking boots don’t have these extras, so they’re usually less expensive. The flip side is that specialty ultralight hiking boots can also be expensive. Ultralight materials cost more to manufacture so these shoes can be exorbitant. The materials themselves are difficult to source and a lot goes into the design, which further drives the price up.
Can You Use Hiking Boots For Backpacking?
You can use hiking boots for backpacking, and you can also use backpacking boots for hiking. The boots can be interchanged if you do not want to invest in two pairs or only have access to one of the pairs. However, if you choose to do this, you need to be aware of the drawbacks.
You might not be as comfortable doing a day hike in backpacking boots because of the extra weight and volume in your shoes. Likewise, you might be more at risk of injury while backpacking with hiking boots because they won’t have all the additional durability and protective features of backpacking footwear.
Hiking Boots vs Backpacking Boots: Which Should You Buy?
The type of boot you should buy depends on the type of hiking you will be doing and what features are most important to you. Consider the activities you plan to do and the additional features necessary to protect and provide comfort to your feet and ankles.
If you don’t already own any type of trail shoe, carefully consider the activities you plan on doing before making your purchase. If you’ll be doing day hikes only, there’s no need to buy backpacking boots. If you’re into long trekking adventures, then you probably shouldn’t rely solely on hiking boots to get you through.
If you want to have the option of branching out into either activity, shop around online or in an outdoor store for the specific features you think will benefit you. For example, say you’re planning to backpack the Florida Trail. You know it’s a hot climate with relatively flat and swampy terrain.
You could look for a mid-rise hiking boot with waterproof coating to get you through, and use the same shoe for hiking back home. The hiking boot will most likely work even though you’re going backpacking, because the trail conditions allow it and you’ve chosen a pair with the right features.
This will work for certain types of terrain and footwear, but you should always err on the side of caution. Buy the kind of shoe that offers the most protection within reason, and don’t skimp on safety features if you think they’re necessary. If you’re balking at the price, shop at a second-hand online store like Geartrade to get the features you need at a more reasonable cost.
Backpacking boots and hiking boots are not the same as they are each designed for a different purpose. They offer several benefits when used for their specified activity. Backpacking boots are more beneficial for longer treks, whereas hiking boots are more suited for shorter, less strenuous hikes.