Welcome to our fourth installation of Ask a Pro, where guides from Wildland Trekking, offer professional advice for life on the trail.
What shoes do I wear in the mountains? This is a common question from our clients at Wildland Trekking, and it’s also a popular debate among hikers.
Ultimately there is no right answer as to which is a better choice for hiking. There are a lot of considerations when picking your trail footwear. Here’s what I like along with tips I recommend so my friends and clients may find their ideal boot or shoe.
These days, as a 37-year-old, part time trekking and mountain guide, I mainly choose a low-cut, lightweight hiking shoe like the Sawtooth II. But that wasn’t always the case.
When I was in my teens and 20’s, I went hard! I challenged myself a lot in the mountains and got hurt and injured often. Back then I would carry 50-60 lb. backpacks for 30-45 days at a time and I strained and sprained my ankles numerous times before one of my mentors told me, “Whatever you do, be gentle and deliberate on your body when you are in the mountains. Go slow, to go fast.”
During that time, I wore high-cut, leather boots that provided a lot of support when carrying a heavy pack. Most everyone did.
Pros and Cons of Mid-Hikers
Here are some pros, cons and environmental considerations for choosing a high-cut boot.
- More support on your ankles when carrying a heavy pack
- More protection from the elements. i.e. rocks, snow, shrubbery, etc.
- Appropriate for novices or in-experienced mountain travelers
When might you want a taller, more supportive boot?
- Larger expeditions or Backpacking trips where you may need more foot support.
- Colder, rainier, muddier, snowier locations such as Alaska, Patagonia, etc.
- Environments where there are NO trails and you will be bushwhacking
- If you are partaking in technical activities and need crampon or ski adaptability.
They are heavier than low cut shoes and can feel clunky.
They restrict mobility making travel inefficient and slower.
When NOT to wear a mid boot?
- Locations where you will be hiking on trails; I do not think you need a high-cut boot if you will be solely walking on trails.
- Lighter and allow you to move more efficiently
- I have the ability to flex my ankles and the rigidity of High-cut boot makes me more prone to injure again.
Pros and Cons of Low Hiking Shoes
Nowadays, I know my backcountry systems better and what I ‘need’ to carry; as a result, my packing is much more efficient and lighter. Because I have past weak ankles from past injuries, wearing a low-cut shoe enables my ankles to flex more and improves my balance.
Additionally, I go with the low-cut more frequently for weight savings.
Pros and Cons of a Low Hiking Shoe
When might you want a low hiking shoe?
- Trails, Trails, Trails!!!
- Carrying less weight (day packs, 20-30 lb. backpacks); Overnights
- Dry climates such as the desert, summer in the Rocky Mountains, etc.
- Less support
- Feet can get cold easier if you have adverse weather
When should you NOT wear a low hiker?
- Locations that have adverse weather.
- Hiking off trail
- Large backpacking trips
Another thing to consider is boot and shoe fit and the tread of the shoe. You want your boots/shoes to be comfortable, but in order to maximize their comfort you need to use them.
There is a sweet spot between 3 and 15 trips (3-10 days in the mountains) where the shoes are performing best. Initially they will be rigid and new. You need to break them in.
Finally, I do not recommend wearing running shoes as they do not perform well in muddy and slippery environments. I know from past experience.
There are certainly pros and cons to both, low and high-cut shoes. I encourage everyone to experiment with both types of shoes and to figure out which type you prefer and for what environment. It is always good to mix it up and try different boots to fit your unique foot and style of mountain travel.
Seth Quigg is a hiking and backpacking guide for the Wildland Trekking Company.