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I wonder about the breathe ability of low (=ankle high) versus high (=20cm above the ankle) hiking shoes.

Do high shoes breathe less in the area of the foot (and not the shin)? What are the mechanisms of breathing of the shoe i.e. what moves the air, moisture in and out of a shoe?

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2 Answers

It would depend on the shoe. A full leather shoe would "Breathe" less because the air has more difficulty circulating all the way down to the toe and back. However, on a good "breathable" shoe, it wouldn't matter so much. My fast drying breathable shoes are all mesh with the vast majority of airflow coming straight through the shoe. For those, low versus high does not matter at all.

If you're going for breathable shoes, the focus should be primarily on the material. The height of the shoe won't be a significant factor.

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That's my question: do boots breathe through the shoe/leg interface or is all the breathability through the boot material. And what forces the air through it? –  Vorac Dec 4 '13 at 15:25
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They breathe some, but not a significant amount. –  Russell Steen Dec 4 '13 at 15:45
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I assume that by hiking shoes you mean robust hiking shoes which are more or less closed (i.e. not consisting of mesh material or the like). In terms of breathability it is also a huge difference if the shoe consists just of leather or fabric or if it has some breathable membrane such as Gore Tex.

If you consider a shoe without a membrane that shall be somewhat waterproof then it won't breathe very much at all as keeping water out in most cases also means keeping moisture in. In this case the only "breathing" –or better ventilation– mechanism is the air that is "pumped" and sucked through the shaft via the movement of the foot within the shoe. for this process you might have a slight advantage if the shoe is lower but I would guess that whenever a shoe reaches to or above the ankle there is significantly less ventilation through the shaft than with a shoe that ends below. With lower shaft shoes you might be able to regulate this to some (small) extent by lacing the shaft not too tight (as long as the conditions allow for it).

With a breathable membrane the driving force is the gradient in moisture and temperature between inside and outside the shoe. This gradient causes moisture to pass the membrane and should be totally independent of the shaft height.

To sum it up: if the shoe has no breathable membrane, a lower shaft might be slightly better, but maybe not so much that you really notice it. For a membrane equipped shoe, shaft length should not change anything at all in terms of breathability.

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Sounds like an answer to me. One more point I' d like to add: When you high ankles (higher shafts), it is bound to breath little (as you elaborated). Even what kind of a socks you put on would be a performance changer. In that sense it is very likely that you would look to take off your shoes more frequently than usual. And that would cause blisters in most of the cases. An advice here would help, that: See the terrain, decide how much mud you gonna walk through, how much sharp descend you are gonna make, how rough or grassy the terrains is, and pick your shoes! –  WedaPashi Dec 5 '13 at 6:19
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