The Debate Over Hiking Footwear Made Simple


The Debate Over Hiking Footwear Made Simple
Personally, I believe that the debate over hiking boots vs trail runners is fueled more by personal preference instead of practicality.  Both options can be equally-beneficial as long as we are wearing the right footwear for the conditions that we expect to encounter.  Instead of worrying about which one is the best option, consider a few things that will help you to choose the right footwear for your particular needs in general.
Weight
Did you know that for every pound that our footwear weighs, it's like adding another 10lbs to our backpack?  Our legs have to work harder to lift that extra weight with every step, and added weight can also change our center of gravity.  This forces us to develop a different posture and rely on certain muscles, particularly in the back, to offset this effect and give us more balance. 
While trail runners are much-lighter than boots, they also lack the strength and support necessary for navigating challenging terrain.  However, they can reduce fatigue and boost endurance on well-maintained trails.  When shopping for boots, make sure that you are picking a pair that is as light as possible, because every pound that you save can translate into less strain.
Toe Crunch
One of the problems with boots vs runners is that they often cause our toes to bunch together.  Runners can expand and conform to the shape of our feet better than boots, and this can make all of the difference in the world when it comes to allowing us to take comfortable and stable strides.  However, runners can stretch and quickly become too loose, whereas boots are more durable.  In either case, it's important to make sure that there's plenty of toe-room in your footwear in order to minimize cramping and blistering as you walk. 
Heel Friction
A lot of people tend to think that shoes are better than boots when it comes to conforming to the shape of the feet and minimizing friction that leads to blisters.  However, choosing footwear that has a good design and provides a good fit is the best way to minimize blistering.  It will take longer to break-in a good pair of boots, but they are more-likely to retain their support for longer periods of time than runners.  On the other hand, a good pair of trail runners won't need to be broken-in at all in most cases. 
No matter what you choose, remember that good socks and finding shoes or boots that conform to the contours of your feet play the biggest role in keeping blisters at bay on the trail.
Drying and Ventilation
Very few boots can provide us with ample ventilation during a hike or for drying out quickly afterward.  This is one area where trail runners reign supreme.  However, the same vent holes that allow heat and moisture to escape also allow for seepage whereas boots are more water-resistant by nature.  On the other hand, boots trap moisture and heat, and this can make the hike itself rather uncomfortable while taking longer to dry once you're finished. 
Don't let the footwear debate make things more complicated than they need to be.  At the end of the day, there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to boots or trail runners.  The trick is to choose footwear that is appropriate for the hike in question while giving you the best protection and overall comfort, and these tips can help.