Loc: Washington State, King County
OM, since you listed some benefits to shoes, I thought I'd list where I think shoes have the advantage and where boots might have the edge:
Best protection from stubbed toes, twisted ankles, things falling on or banging into feet
Typically waterproof, good in wet weather, in snow, or (quite) shallow streams
Provide better ankle support, increasingly important as pack weight increases
Best for kicking steps in snow, and some allow the wearer to use full 12-point crampons
higher top boots less prone to trail debris getting inside boots make some people feel more secure, protected
More durable (though more expensive)
Lighter weight --- “A pound on your feet is like five pounds on your back”
Breathe better; waterproof boots are too waterproof in both directions, the resulting internal hot sauna encourages blisters
Faster drying when wet; once boots get wet through, they stay wet
Little or no break-in needed
Reduces or eliminates need or desire to carry separate footwear for in-camp use and/or for stream crossings
less expensive (though less durable)
In choosing between shoes or boots, what was once a pretty "black & white" decision has become quite a spectrum of gray scale. There are fairly light and low-topped hiking “boots” that are quite shoe-like, and there are relatively high-topped waterproof shoes that have excellent traction.
IMHO, some, but certainly not all of the "knocks" on lighweight shoes just aren't all that valid because if the change in attitude they bring. I'm just not convinced that heavy boots provide all that much lateral stability, whereas wearing trail runners strengthen my ankles. My feet and ankles are in better shape to deal with the demands of the trail. I was much harder on my feet in boots. I stepped heavily and had a false sense of security with regard to my ankle stability in them. Because I wear trail runners, I'm more conscious of foot placement, which does more for ankle stability and sheer pounding/bruising/scratching of my feet than heavy boots ever did. Keeping my feet dry just isn't a concern, and I am able to wear crampons if needed. A pair if lightweight and inexpensive Dirty Girl or Levagaiters takes care of trail debris.
In cool, wet weather, even slogging through spring snow, I find my feet are warmer sopping wet in runners because the musculature is engaged the blood is flowing. Short of hard-core winter hiking, I can't imagine a situation that would convince me to go back to the boots.
Like OM, I was dubious when I first made the switch. My first trip was a 4 day trip in June in the Winds. The trip consisted of postholing through snow hoping to find an unfrozen lake in which to fish. No luck, but my feet were fine!
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
Good list, Brian, except that I disagree with the ankle support. My experience (with easily turnable ankles and a history of a couple of severe sprains) is that any ankle support provided by boots is strictly psychological. Having something around your ankle feels good, but unless the boot tops about your ankle are completely rigid (not allowing any bending of the ankle), they will not provide any sideways support. That's unless you have found boots with excellent pronation control built in--and that's provided by the footbed, not the boot tops. I already mentioned that I really tested my first trail runners by deliberately trying to turn my ankles, and couldn't do it. The same trial wearing boots almost resulted in an injury.
I still use my boots for hiking in snow. Should I be hiking through scree (I don't, for fear of injuring my dog), boots would be nice, too. For minor stuff like gravel and loose soil, low-rise gaiters do just fine to keep them from getting into my shoes.
Edited by OregonMouse (01/26/1002:50 PM)
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view--E. Abbey
Loc: Washington State, King County
"Good list, Brian, except that I disagree with the ankle support."
Yup, this is something I don't have a lot of experience with, being mostly a shoe-user myself. I think this too might be a "gray scale" area: downhill ski boots offer a great deal of ankle support, but I wouldn't care to walk too far in a pair!
I listed ankle support because I find that boot proponents often list that as a primary benefit, not from any personal need or experience.
In terms of other benefits of higher top shoes or boots for scree and such: I suggest that an appropriately selected gaiter can provide at least some of the same benefit, with less weight and more flexibility (i.e., wear it when needed, leave it off when not).
I am somewhere in the middle, and will attest to OM's statment about ankles - I also tend to turn 'em easy, and I'd say I definately find I do not turn them *more* easily in good trailrunners. I still wear boots most of the time If I expect off trail, lots of rockbashing and stuff. but not always.
for example, I did west coast trail on vancouver island two years ago in a pair of montrail hardrocks, this was after much soul searching and I did it *for* my ankles. The main reason was that I knew WCT was very wet, rough, and muddy. With the trailrunners, when I started hiking through mud I *knew* my feet were going to get wet, and so therefore didn't try to dance down logs, hop from rock to rock or perform other such trail ballet to keep my boots from getting it. I could just plow through and go on. This approach *did* work. I had wet feet, which a rinse of the shoes and socks on getting out of the mud onto the beach mostly cured. My feet and socks dried off quickly in decent weather. I did NOT turn an ankle in a lot of very rough trail.
OTOH, I do like boots and gaiters for rougher trail, off trail, or perpetual rainy sog. So I still use both quite regularly. my choice still really depends on my mood, weather, and what I'm willing to tolerate. On dryer trails in the rockies I find I'm often in trailrunners for on-trail stuff. off trail and unfamiliar places I have my hanwag's and full gaiters. Snow, forget it.. boots and gaiters or mukluks.
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