Boots or shoes for trekking in India?

For most trekkers, it has been drilled into our heads that - “trekkers wear boots”. That’s just what you do. You require toughness, ankle support and water protection. Right? Let us dig deep into these reasons to try and find out if they still hold.

Trekking boots are tough

They are tough because trekking boots are intended for everything from an easy grade trek to a technical trail where you would have to spend days kicking steps in the snow. However, this tough build also makes them heavy and I am yet to meet a trekker who enjoys carrying more weight than he or she must carry. Many studies have been done on footwear and the generally accepted rule of thumb is that one gramme on your feet equals five grammes on your back. So, every half a kilo that you save on your footwear, equates to an extra two days of food in your backpack. It is as simple as that.

Trekking boots are waterproof

First and foremost, there is no such thing as completely waterproof. Waterproof is a myth perpetrated by marketing departments. Any boot will get wet after being exposed to long periods of water immersion. Leather and Gore-Tex boots resist water better than shoes that do not have a water-resistant coating. On the flip side, water-resistant boots take much longer to dry out. As an example, my non-waterproof trail running shoes dry out in three hours using my body heat after they have been completely submerged. Meanwhile, my leather and Gore-Tex boots take over eight hours to dry. Another thing to consider is that any boot with a waterproof coating will inherently vent less air than a non-waterproof shoe. Less venting means clammy feet, which means a higher chance of getting blisters.

Trekking boots give ankle support

One of the reasons most people prefer heavy boots is because they think boots offer better ankle support. Ankle support is overrated unless you are lugging a very heavy backpack. Your ankles are anatomically made to provide lateral movement. Locking them in means transferring that shock to your knees. However, your knees are not optimised for lateral movement and this leads to knee aches when walking over a hard surface.

So does that mean hiking boots are as useless as an ejection seat on a helicopter? The answer to that is still - No. Remember the precondition for the argument was: three-season, non-technical trek, with a light to medium backpack. On tougher trails and that may involve walking on snow or glaciers or in cold weather you will require boots that are heavier, stiffer and reinforced at the toe. This is because their function is to

  • kick steps in the snow
  • be crampon compatible and
  • keep your feet insulated and warm in the snow

So if you are still confused over your choice of footwear for a trek, the chances are that you need to research the conditions of your trek a little bit more.

In conclusion, meticulously research the terrain and conditions you will encounter on your trek. This means going through travel logs, blogs, magazines, Google maps (especially satellite and terrain view), meteorological data and elevation charts. The more informed you are, the better equipped and lighter your backpack shall be. If your research leads you to believe that most of your trekking is going to be a non-technical, three-season trek with a light to medium weight backpack you may just be more comfortable in lightweight hiking shoes.