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What type of hiking do you need to be doing where you absolutely need hiking boots? I'm looking to do some hiking in SE Asia and South America, but won't have room in my pack for boots. What reasons and terrain would I absolutely need to have boots for where shoes wouldn't suffice?

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I just realized maybe not all people would think what is a shoe vs what is a boot the same way. For the context of hiking footwear I would say if it's higher than the ankle and provides support in that area, it's a hiking boot. If it's made out of tough material and has a chunky grippy sole but doesn't specifically provide ankle support, it's a hiking shoe. –  hippietrail Oct 16 '11 at 16:32

4 Answers 4

up vote 8 down vote accepted

It's true you might not actually need hiking boots but you have to decide.

Personally I didn't like the kind of backpackers that seemed to have all the expensive brand name gear whether they needed it or not. Felt a bit phoney to me when I was younger. So while others had $200 brand name hiking boots I had my cheap supermarket sneakers. I also felt the blingy stuff looked like $$$ dollar signs to potential thieves.

I'm not a serious hiker but I wore plain old sneakers all over the world in my travels for twenty years, including climbing volcanoes and in snow.

This finally changed a bit when I took up hitchhiking last year. I had a heavy pack and spent a lot of time on the edges of roads which were often crumbly or wet or had a steep camber. A couple of times I came close to twisting my sneakers off my feet! Then I found myself near a cheap chain outdoor gear shop on the edge of some Polish city while they had a sale on.

For about $22 I got a decent pair of cheap non brand name non blingy functional hiking boots that are perfectly practical, that I knew wouldn't last forever, and that nobody would bother to steal.

Quechua hiking boots are definitely something I would buy again. They got me from Poland to Armenia, back to Frankfurt, up and down Korea and Japan a couple of times, and now from Istanbul to Albania and have finally started to let in a bit of water a year and a bit later. That's great value for me! I no longer carry sneakers travelling at all.

I always wear my bulky stuff while I'm actually moving about. My jeans and my biggest shoes or hiking boots and the smaller stuff in the pack. When I'm at a city or beach the big stuff stays in the room and I'll wear the shorts and flipflops.

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I concur, cheap is the way to go. Expensive ones just get torn up anyway. –  Ginamin Oct 16 '11 at 3:01
    
I was planning on wearing some type of shoes everywhere, like you said. I suppose I could buy hiking boots in whichever country I am in if I really need them... –  jjeaton Oct 16 '11 at 13:59
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I disagree Ginamin. I've had the same pair of 200 dollar hiking boots for over ten years now and I've worn them through just about every type of terrain. I would pretty much never buy cheap shoes, there's nothing more miserable than getting wet feet or blisters. Skimping in most areas is fine but the one area where it's really worth paying for quality is your shoes. –  victoriah Oct 16 '11 at 16:14
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Hence you have to decide. On my first trip to Europe I thought I was smart buying a pair of Doc Martins that would be tough in all conditions and smart enough to go out in. They were the most painful blister causing and expensive footwear I ever bought. They may have even shrunk in the cold! They also weren't hiking boots but not skimping in that case cost me much pain and much wasted money despite the very high quality. You have to weigh up your own needs and priorities and you have to decide for yourself. Can you get away without hiking boots? Yes. Are good hiking boots worth the money? Yes. –  hippietrail Oct 16 '11 at 16:22
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@victoriah I would argue that it is a misconception that expensive means good quality. Some of the quickest to wear items I've ever owned were the most expensive of the type. Finding a cheap pair of boots that fit and are made of good material is not that hard. –  Ginamin Oct 17 '11 at 5:34

It depends on how much ankle support you personally need and how heavy your pack is. If you regularly go hiking in sneakers in rough terrain with a backpack, and don't roll your ankles, then you probably won't need hiking boots. If that's not you, then bring a pair of hiking boots.

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There are two main things that good hiking boots do (and most regular shoes don't):

  • They have well-profiled and extremely sturdy soles that won't slip or break
  • They support your ankles so they won't twist

So the more uneven and rocky the terrain gets, the more you need hiking boots. I'd say that's pretty much it.

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After many miles put on my old sneakers, I wear hiking boots whenever and wherever I travel now. There is nothing so miserable as getting a hole in the sole of your sneakers in a snow storm. Now, I always wear a pair of brown leather hiking boots that have some class when I travel, so I can wear them to dinner or on a hike.

I have another set of boots that lace up nice and high that I use for climbing the craggy types of mountains such as the Pacific Asian mountains, Andes, Rockies, Alps, etc. Mountains like a Appalachians, you can probably get away with a running style shoe, bit I would highly advise against it.

Generally, you need solid ankle support if you are hiking... especially in a location where you don't know how to get help.

I would say either find a way to get boots into your pack, or ditch your shoes for a pair of socially acceptable hiking boots so you don't need to fit an extra pair or footwear in your travel bag.

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Won't be going anywhere with snow, but sounds like you recommend hiking boots for any type of traveling. When it's a 100 degrees F in Asia, you'd still recommend wearing hiking boots around? –  jjeaton Oct 16 '11 at 13:58
    
You never know when you will need to start hiking. I've been booted off buses before in Indonesia and had a long hike in front of me... I never intended to hike at all on that trip. And yes, I live in Asia and whenever I travel I wear boots and I bring a pair of flip-flops for hostel wear. –  Ginamin Oct 17 '11 at 5:36
    
+1 for ankle support - the most important thing! –  hippietrail Sep 20 '12 at 18:30

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