Nearly every outdoor shoe has this sling on its heel. No matter whether it's a hiking-boot, snowboard-boot or something else.

In the left-hand side of this picture for example: enter image description here

What's the purpose of it?

up vote 40 down vote accepted

The main use is pulling your shoes on, this is particularly obvious in rock climbing shoes that will often have multiple loops so you can really yank on them. Alternatively this can be used as an attachment point.

From James Jenkins in the comments below - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bootstrapping "Tall boots may have a tab, loop or handle at the top known as a bootstrap, allowing one to use fingers or a boot hook tool to help pulling the boots on"

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    Absolutely - this is by far the most important use for me. Carrying and hanging up shoes is simple by using the laces, but when trying to pull them on, especially with cold fingers, can be impossible without these loops. – Rory Alsop May 10 '16 at 10:55
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    In the old days some shoes used to have just a tab there to grab and pull. – Erik vanDoren May 10 '16 at 13:46
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    It seems its still called bootstrap – Erik vanDoren May 10 '16 at 16:30
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    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bootstrapping "Tall boots may have a tab, loop or handle at the top known as a bootstrap, allowing one to use fingers or a boot hook tool to help pulling the boots on" – James Jenkins May 10 '16 at 16:51
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    @JamesJenkins That should be part of the answer, or maybe even an answer in its own right. – SQB May 10 '16 at 21:23

Carrying.

The sling makes it easy to attach the shoe/boot to a backpack or something else. (For me, this is the main point.)

For example, you can clip your approach shoes to your climbing harness (or your pack, if you carry one) if you plan to descend after a multi-pitch route instead of abseiling. Or you might want to take off your shoes and switch to a pair of sandals when crossing a stream. Basically anything that involves the need to carry your shoes.

Another point is that sometimes these slings can also make it easier to put on the shoes. That highly depends on the shoe and situation, though.

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    +1 I had always been under the impression that those are intended for drying the shoe, hanging from somewhere. Nevertheless, I have used in both the ways you describe. If the shoe lack such a swing, one needs to tie the shoe laces, then they get slack after an hour - it's tedious. – Vorac May 10 '16 at 7:32
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    To the downvoter: Care to explain what is wrong about this answer? – anderas May 10 '16 at 12:07
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    I am not the down voter, but I suspect it is because your answer has the primary purpose as an after thought. Look at this image of antique boots. Loops on foot wear date back to the time when a single pair of foot wear was the norm. When the loops first came into use it was not so you could carry a second pair on your backpack. – James Jenkins May 10 '16 at 16:49
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    If the primary purpose were hanging, the loop would be closer to the heel, so that the shoe lies flat while hanging. – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft May 10 '16 at 18:33

They can also be held as a stabilizer while you put the shoes on, but without tugging.

My podiatrist and orthopedist recommend not using it as a tool to pull on the footwear, even if it's high quality. After a year or two, especially if used frequently, that's enough to alter the shape. That causes breakdown of the inner structure so you lose proper support of the feet, heels and ankles. Eventually the legs and back can be affected, as they're relying on your feet for strength and proper posture.

Also, shoes with a compromised shape may have a shorter life, which we all like to avoid, especially since they're so expensive!

I've been instructed to unlace enough of whatever type of shoe I use so my foot can slip in easily. Holding that tag is a great way to keep it in place during that process.

Already some great answers here:

Along with the purpose of tieing them to a sling, and mainly for pulling the shoes while putting on or taking them off, I use them as an additional loop to pass the excess shoelace. This only makes sense with a shoe with high anklets.

enter image description here

A shoe like the one shown above, usually come with a longer shoelace. I usually, leave alone the upper two Eyelets and instead encircle the laces around the shoe, passing them through the sling you are referring to and tie a knot in front.

This ensures that my leg/shin don't rub strongly against the hard topline of the shoe, specially when I am descending. By passing the through the sling makes sure that the laces don't shift up and get loosen up.

But I agree, the most useful feature of those slings is for pulling the shoes and tieing them up when needed.

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