Put simply, walking boots are more rugged footwear designed for rough terrain and long distances, while walking shoes tend to be better for lighter walking on established routes in kinder conditions. However, there is some crossover, and personal preference plays a part too.
From clambering up scree slopes to fording shallow waters, there are plenty of challenges underfoot when you’re hiking, and anything you can do to enhance comfort and minimise the risk of injury has to be worth your consideration. So when it comes to footwear, you should probably choose specialist walking boots or shoes designed to make your outdoor experience the best it can possibly be. If you’re concentrating on your sore feet and ankles, you won’t be taking in the beauty and splendour nature has to offer, and that alone is reason enough to choose wisely.
Walking boots vs walking shoes
Before we look at the differences, let’s take a look at what walking boots and walking shoes have in common. Both are designed to be rugged and capable against a range of ground surfaces. They’re also designed to keep your feet dry and protected against conditions you’re likely to encounter.
The most important thing they have in common is a sturdy sole with plenty of grip. Just like tyres, the grip is designed to make sure you get a firm footing on all sorts of surfaces, from snow and wet grass to sand, soil and stone. You will also be climbing and dropping relatively steep inclines, and the grip keeps your feet where you intend them to be.
Second, they will have superior insulation and cushioning on the inside. You’ll be taking millions of steps in them, and it’s vital that you have a good degree of damping to protect your joints. You don’t, however, want them to be so soft as to make you lose the feel of the ground beneath you, which is vital for a firm footing and safe walking. The insulating layer is an added measure to stop freezing or wet ground from affecting your toes and feet.
Both will also be sturdy and tough, as you could well be putting them through a punishing time as you trek around your chosen terrains. Your feet must remain supported from twisting and excessive stretching while maintaining sufficient flexibility.
Finally, a degree of waterproofing is vital. Ideally, some sort of wicking or semi-porous material like Gore-Tex should help to drive away sweat while keeping you dry from puddles, mud, wet vegetation and snow.
Now, let’s look at how they differ.
The first thing you’ll notice when you see a pair of walking boots and shoes side by side is that the boots have higher sides (uppers) that extend beyond the ankle. Essentially, this is the thing that marks them out against shoes, but it’s an important distinction because it brings several key benefits over shoes:
They offer superior support to the ankles and reduce strain on this vital joint over long distances.
They allow around seven or more lace eyelets, so you can lace the boot in various ways to stiffen and loosen the pressure on certain parts of the foot.
The high sides mean you can walk in deeper water and snow without getting your feet wet.
Your ankles are better protected against knocks and scrapes that are part of walking in rocky or woody environments.