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I have two sets of shoes that I wear while hiking. My favorite by far are my light weight trail running shoes. I have worn them on 9 mile hikes without any break-in, and went blister free. From a comfort perspective they are simply amazing.

I also have a much more expensive hiking boot, which is made of durable leather, however every single time I wear them, even for a couple miles, I get blisters. I cannot seem to break them in to the point where they are comfortable to wear. When is it worth going through the pain to break in leather boots versus just sticking with the much more comfortable and light weight trail running shoes? I typically just day hike so my pack weight is often less than 20 lbs.

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Are you sure it's the boots? Blisters can be caused by a lot of things - the kinds of socks you wear, how well the boots fit, even if you have tramped 1,000 kilometres and long past broken in your boots. –  HorusKol Jan 24 '12 at 23:05
    
I think it's the way the boots fit, even though they are the right size. I have tried different types of socks, from wool to synthetic materials. Even the double sock method doesn't seem to help. –  Timothy Strimple Jan 24 '12 at 23:07
    
I used to have the same problem with one pair of boots (problem was, they were military issue and I couldn't replace them) - I started putting zinc oxide tape on the 'hotspots': places that I knew where blisters would form. It's all about reducing the rubbing and friction. Alternatively, it could be time to get new boots - they don't all fit everyone the same, unfortunately. –  HorusKol Jan 24 '12 at 23:10
    
Excellent question. I've been hiking in trail shoes rather than boots for some time now since they're lighter, easier, etc. But I was wondering if I was putting myself at risk... –  Hartley Brody Jan 25 '12 at 2:18

3 Answers 3

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Hiking boots excel in a few situations:

  • Extended side-hilling/traversing. Good boots take the stress off your ankles
  • People with bad ankles. The ankle support of a good boot is hard to argue with. If you have ankle problems, I don't think trail runnes are appropriate.
  • Heavy loads. Even if you don't have ankle problems, you'll get them lugging around 80+ pounds of gear :)

That being said, I wear runners 99% of the time when I hike. I don't suffer from the problems above, and having light shoes on your feet is delightful. I also appreciate the "break-in" problem and have never suffered from it in trail runners.

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I definitely can feel some ankle strain when hiking down steep inclines over an extended period of time. I will have to try my boots for that to see if it is improved. –  Timothy Strimple Jan 24 '12 at 22:42
    
If you are getting lots of blisters from your boots, it might not be very fun :) I have pretty tough feet, so have not experienced that issue with boots on shorter trips... –  Ryley Jan 24 '12 at 22:46
    
I may just need to try another boot. I didn't go cheap, but there might be some incompatibility in the shape of these that my feet don't like. –  Timothy Strimple Jan 24 '12 at 22:48

I almost always hike in tennis shoes (court shoes) if it's reasonably dry and free of snow. I use them for climbs, day hikes, and backpacking. I don't have ankle problems, so I don't the ankle support. The tennis shoes grip rocks better and have better padding than my boots. (I do carry extra socks, though, for dry feet.)

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I have replaced my tennis shoes with trail running shoes. They are my go to shoe for every day wear now! –  Timothy Strimple Jan 25 '12 at 0:01
    
I might have to try those. Ordinary running shoes don't have enough side support. –  xpda Jan 25 '12 at 0:04

I would argue you answered your own question in your first comment:

I think it's the way the boots fit

It is a myth that leather boots should require a painful bludgeoning period to break them in. You will come across all kinds of creative solutions to get you over the hump - but all of them are dealing with the symptoms of the real problem: you bought a pair of boots that don't fit well.

If you are dead-set on heavy boots - shop around. There are many brands, and they are all different. Size is just one number from dozens of factors to consider. Find your brand - and it might not be the one that looks the coolest, but it will be the one that fits right.

As for whether sneakers or boots are the way to go - as other's have pointed out, that is largely situational (terrain, weather) and personal preference. But, poorly fitting sneaks can give you just as much trouble as poorly-fitting boots.

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My current leather boots have been very nice and soft from day zero! –  Vorac Dec 11 '13 at 8:37

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