There’s a reason why most experienced hikers don’t hike in tennis shoes.
I would go as far as to say that it’s downright dangerous.
And although I used to be one of those people who thought they could get away with hiking in sneakers, I quickly learned the hard way that proper hiking boots are a must if you want to make it through a hike safely and comfortably.
#1 Hiking boots traction
The traction on hiking boots is incomparable to that of tennis shoes.
When you’re hiking, you need all the grip you can get to avoid slipping and falling – and believe me; it’s not as difficult as it sounds.
I’ve seen people fall on easy trails simply because they were wearing shoes with poor traction.
Even I slipped several times because I wore the wrong footwear in my early days as a hiker.
Hiking boots have a lugged sole designed to grip the ground, whether hiking on rocks, dirt, or mud.
On the other hand, tennis shoes have a smooth sole that offers very little traction.
So if you want to avoid slipping and falling, hiking boots are the way to go.
Tip: In my other blog article, you can read more about hiking boot soles.
#2 Your ankles need a boot they can lean on
Hiking boots offer much more support than tennis shoes, especially if you’re hiking on uneven terrain.
The last thing you want is to twist your ankle because your shoe couldn’t provide the support you needed.
Hiking boots have a higher ankle collar that provides stability and prevents your ankles from rolling.
They also have a stiffer sole that gives you more support when walking on uneven ground.
So if you want to protect your ankles, hike in boots, not sneakers.
I will note here, however, that an ankle protector on a hiking boot is still not a guarantee to avoid injury.
You need to develop a sense of how you move in the open and do your part.
Even the best boot cannot help you if you are not paying attention to your step.
Tip: In my other post, I take a look from the other side and explain why you don’t always have to wear hiking boots.
#3 Stones and roots do hurt when colliding with the foot
It’s annoying and can be quite painful when you bump your foot against a rock or root while hiking.
This problem is often underestimated, and it happens quite often to beginners.
But it’s even worse when you’re wearing tennis shoes because they offer very little protection.
On the other hand, hiking boots have a thick sole that cushions your foot and protects it from impacts.
I have even heard stories where some have stubbed their toe inconspicuously, resulting in a fracture.
These small fractures are often not noticed when the foot is warm.
Because of this ignorance, a small hairline fracture on foot can become a big pain when the foot has cooled down.
So if you want to avoid pain while hiking, boots are the way to go.
#4 Nobody wants wet shoes on a hike
Wet shoes on a hike are annoying and can also be dangerous.
If your shoes are wet, they will lose traction and increase the risk of slipping and falling.
They will also make your feet cold when you hike, leading to hypothermia, which can be fatal in extreme cases.
Most hiking boots are made from waterproof materials that keep your feet dry, even in the wettest conditions.
So if you don’t want to hike with wet feet, make sure you wear boots, not sneakers.
#5 Boots are more comfortable
This is a matter of personal preference, but I find hiking boots much more comfortable than tennis shoes.
They are designed to be worn for long periods and offer more support and cushioning than sneakers.
They also have a higher ankle collar that prevents debris from entering your shoe, which can be quite uncomfortable.
I’m not saying that hiking boots are the most comfortable everywhere.
Each shoe has its special field of application, and when hiking, you should wear hiking boots to achieve the greatest comfort.
But that is, as already mentioned, a personal assessment.
On some trails, I find my trail runner more comfortable.
#6 Tennis shoes won’t last
Another reason to choose hiking boots over tennis shoes is that they will last much longer.
Hiking boots are made from tough materials that can withstand the elements and the wear and tear of hiking.
Tennis shoes are generally not made to be used for hiking.
They are made for running on pavement or playing tennis on a court.
So if you use them for hiking, they will break down much faster than hiking boots.
I’ve seen it happen many times – people buy a cheap pair of tennis shoes and try to use them for hiking.
They might last a few hikes, but eventually, they will fall apart.
Hiking boots are made to last and give you many years of service if you care for them.
Of course, you can wear tennis shoes on a light hike on pristine trails through the forest.
But as soon as it goes into rough terrain, you must expect that the tennis shoe will fail.
Hiking Boots vs. Tennis Shoe comparison
Now I will compare the two types of shoes in more detail.
This will give you a better overview of the advantages and disadvantages of each type of shoe.
- Tennis shoes are designed for running on even surfaces like sidewalks and tennis courts. They have a thin sole that is not meant for long-term use or tough conditions.
- Hiking boots are designed for hiking on rough terrain. They have a thick sole that protects your foot from impacts and provides traction on slippery surface.
- Tennis shoes offer little support and cushioning, while hiking boots are designed to be comfortable for long periods.
- Tennis shoes are not waterproof and will get wet in the rain or when crossing streams. Hiking boots are made from waterproof materials to keep your feet dry in the wettest conditions.
- Tennis shoes are not as durable as hiking boots and will not last as long. Hiking boots are made from tough materials that can withstand years of use.
So, if you’re planning on doing any serious hiking, I would recommend getting a pair of hiking boots.
They will protect your feet from the elements and the rough terrain, and they will last much longer than tennis shoes.
Of course, you don’t need hiking boots for every hike.
If you’re going for a short walk on a paved trail, tennis shoes will be fine.
Tip: Also, check out my other article – Hiking Boots vs. Trail Runners.
Know your foot
Before you decide on a pair of hiking boots, you need to know your foot.
There are three main types of feet:
- Neutral: A neutral foot is one that pronates (rolls inward) very little. This type of foot strikes the ground on the outside of the heel and rolls inward slightly to absorb shock.
- Overpronate: An overpronating foot pronates (rolls inward) more than a neutral foot. This type of foot strikes the ground on the outside of the heel and rolls inward excessively to absorb shock.
- Supinate: A supinating foot does not pronate (rolls inward) enough. This type of foot strikes the ground on the inside of the heel and rolls outward slightly to absorb shock.
Depending on your foot type, you will need a different type of hiking boot.
- Neutral: If you have a neutral foot, you will need a hiking boot with good cushioning and support.
- Overpronate: If you overpronate, you will need a hiking boot with extra support to prevent your foot from rolling inward excessively.
- Supinate: If you supinate, you will need a hiking boot with extra cushioning to absorb shock.
Now that you know your foot type, you can start looking for a pair of hiking boots.
Know your trail
In addition to choosing shoes for hiking, it is also crucial to know the trail you will be hiking on.
There are three main types of trails:
- Paved: Paved trails are made from asphalt or concrete and are typically found in parks or near urban areas. These trails are easy to hike on and suitable for all hikers levels.
- Unpaved: Unpaved trails are made from dirt, gravel, or rocks and are typically found in rural areas. These trails can be more difficult to hike on and are best suited for experienced hikers.
- Rough: Rough trails are made from very rough terrain, such as rocks, roots, or sand. These trails can be very difficult to hike on and are best suited for experienced hikers with the proper equipment.
Now that you know the different types of trails, you can choose a hiking boot best suited for the trail you will be hiking on.
- Paved: If you are hiking on paved trails, you will need a lightweight hiking boot with good traction.
- Unpaved: If you are hiking on unpaved trails, you will need a midweight or heavyweight hiking boot with good traction and support.
- Rough: If you are hiking on rough trails, you will need a heavy-duty hiking boot with good traction, support, and durability.
Are hikin boots required to stay safe walking on ice/snow in Iceland?
Are hiking boots required to stay safe walking on ice/snow in Iceland in early October?
Or will tennis shoes be ok?
The answer to this question depends on the conditions of the trail you will be hiking on.
If the trail is icy or snow-covered, it is best to wear hiking boots with good traction.
Tennis shoes may slip on icy or snow-covered surfaces, leading to injury.
However, if the trail is dry, tennis shoes will be fine.
Conclusion: Should you Hike in Tennis Shoes?
After analyzing the pros and cons of hiking in tennis shoes, the answer to the question posed in the title is, it depends.
If you are comfortable hiking in sneakers and provide enough ankle support for your needs, wear them.
However, if you are not used to hiking in tennis shoes or they do not provide enough ankle support, it is best to stick with a traditional hiking boot.
Ultimately, it is up to the hiker to decide what type of footwear will work best for their individual needs.