Boots while hiking, otherwise barefoot

There is this perpetual argument among walkers, hikers, backpackers, ultralighters, and trail runners – What sort of footwear should one wear.  Despite all the fervor and dogma that each expert in each group spreads, it really comes down to personal preference.

Whatever works best for you for your type of activity is the proper footwear – hike your own hike.

But you might not want to try every other option before you settle on your preferred footwear because of expense and potential for pain or injury, so here is how my search for the perfect footwear went.

I tried hiking in hiking shoes, barefoot (on a beach), in trail sandals, in water shoes, and in over-the-ankle hiking boots.  The boots won hands down!

Benefits of boots

  • Boots protect against punctures and cuts
  • Boots support the normal shape of your foot
  • Boots effectively splint your ankles so that you don’t roll them
  • To folks that complain that boots are heavy – that’s a benefit too.  You won’t need to buy ankle weights!

An actual, real problem with boots is that while splinting a joint is protective against acute injury, prolonged splinting can weaken the muscles crossing that joint, making you more prone to injury later.

So wearing boots all the time can actually make your feet and ankles weaker and more prone to injury over the long run.

Benefits of barefoot

  • Barefoot improves strength and flex of the joints and muscles of the feet and legs.
  • By working on your feet, you are working on the direct interface between our bodies and the biggest, heaviest thing we will ever have to deal with (the Earth).  the benefits will trickle throughout your body.
  • (I know – this one sounds like a stretch) It might even improve electron flow between your body and the earth, which some journals have suggested might help fix problems with a lot of the systems in your body.

Benefits of sandals or water shoes

  • They protect against punctures and cuts, and they are light and easy to put on and take off  – but they provide no support for the foot or ankle
  • They let water and sand get in under your foot, which is irritating, but conversely, they let water and sand fall out of your shoe just as easily.

My solution

  • Wear over-the-ankle boots while hiking, but otherwise, go barefoot as much as possible.
  • Auto-massage your feet every day by standing on a tennis ball for a couple of minutes.


We tried several hiking boots and eventually all of the Roaming Parkers settled on the same boot – the Vasque Breeze GTX.  Check it out!

Categories: Adventure, Hiking