There has been a lot of lot of discussion about whether the shoes should have ankle support or not.

I have seen the discussions (not just on The Great Outdoors, but elsewhere too) that ankle muscles do not work much and hence leads to weakening of the ankle muscles. The other perspective to this boils down to the point where we would also need to consider the amount of weight being carried.

And, surprisingly, its not the just the newbies or the rookies debate about, but its a very very common topic for conflicting opinions among the veterans as well.

What all factor should one consider while deciding upon preferring shoes with ankle support and without them?

  • 3
    I find ankle support useful in two cases: 1) heavy pack; 2) a route involving lots of talus/scree/very rough ground (boots reduce the risk of turning an ankle imho). Otherwise, lightweight shoes are less tiring.
    – aucuparia
    Aug 13, 2015 at 7:18
  • @aucuparia: IMO a more valid reason to wear boots on talus and scree is simply that in that type of landscape there is often the danger of rockfall, and you want your feet protected.
    – user2169
    Aug 13, 2015 at 12:45
  • Hike in scree with below the ankle boots and you're going to spend a lot of time digging sharp rocks out of your shoes.
    – ShemSeger
    Aug 13, 2015 at 13:45
  • @ShemSeger: I agree. I hate it when even small stones get into my shoe and start rolling underneath.
    – WedaPashi
    Aug 13, 2015 at 13:47
  • @ShemSeger: That's what these are for: dirtygirlgaiters.com
    – user2169
    Aug 13, 2015 at 18:33

3 Answers 3


The question has the tag "mountaineering," but most of the time when I hear people say that you need boots with ankle support, they're actually talking about trail-walking. The cases of hiking and mountaineering are qualitatively different.

For mountaineering, one big reason people usually don't use lightweight running shoes is that often there is talus, scree, and loose rock. Small scree is a nuisance if it gets inside your shoes, although there are lightweight gaiters with velcro attachments (e.g., Dirty Girl) that do a great job of keeping that out. The bigger issue is that on a steep scree or talus slope (the kind of thing you have to scramble up, not a trail), there is often unstable rock, and it can be nice to have your feet protected against getting banged or crushed. When coming down a scree slope, boots allow you to do a scree glassade, which is much faster and infinitely more fun than the alternative.

For trail walking, the idea of wearing heavy boots for ankle support is at best a matter of personal preference, and at worst a harmful superstition. Plenty of people carry heavy packs over uneven ground while wearing running shoes. An influential advocate of lightweight shoes for this purpose was Ray Jardine, who wrote the 1992 book Beyond Backpacking. IIRC Jardine describes in the book how he goes on long-distance backpacking trips with his girlfriend (doing something like 25 miles a day), and he uses running shoes while she uses boots; he portrays it as a matter of personal preference. The problem with boots is that they're heavy, and weight on your feet hurts your efficiency many times more than an equivalent weight carried on your back. Also, the heavier your footwear, the harder it is to get a comfortable fit and the more likely you are to get blisters.

Running shoes do become impractical in very specific situations. They aren't good in snow, for slogging through deep mud, for technical rock climbing, or for very cold conditions. Sometimes if you have a day of hiking with 20 or 30 little stream crossings, it can be a real nuisance to use running shoes; if you're wearing water-resistant boots, you can walk straight through a shallow stream.

Running shoes don't work well if there's a lot of snow (although it can be done -- a lot of PCTers get through the Sierra in early season using running shoes). And running shoes are obviously not compatible with crampons, although it is possible to throw a pair of microspikes in your pack if you think you might just encounter a few isolated icy patches on a steep trail.

For people who are afraid they'll turn an ankle if they try to use running shoes with a heavy pack on uneven ground, there are still alternatives to boots. One is simply to keep doing the activity in running shoes, which will strengthen your ankles until you feel more physically confident. Another is to adopt a lightweight or ultralight style of backpacking, so that you're not tottering down the trail with the Leaning Tower of Pisa on your back. Jardine's book was an early influence in establishing the concept of ultralight backpacking, but today a better source of information is probably the web site backpackinglight.

Four mountaineering, many people carry a separate pair of lightweight approach shoes that are more comfortable than mountaineering boots. They hike in to the climb in the approach shoes, then switch to the boots when the real mountaineering starts. There are specialized shoes sold for this, such as the Evolv Cruzer, that flatten down really small in your pack when you're not using them.

  • 2
    "...tottering down the trail with the Leaning Tower of Pisa on your back" ROFLMAO :D
    – WedaPashi
    Aug 13, 2015 at 13:08

Yes, you are seeing it right, I am answering the question right away, but I intentionally asked this question so that I can have more views and opinions about it, specially the ones that contradicts what I think.

I would rather prefer to have it decided upon what I am planning to do on-field.

  • If I am going at a route that involves Rock-climbing, I don't want to have shoes with ankle support. One of the major factors to consider will be the fact that they are not meant to be used for that, and the amount of efforts it would need to carry them along.

  • If I am going for a route that involves Scrambling, I may not necessarily need to have the shoes with ankle supports as they restrict the movement of ankle muscles to a considerable extent.

  • If I am up for a speed ascent or move up and down the mountain with a pace than what is considered a usual speed for hiking/trekking, I would prefer to have the shoes with ankle supports, especially for the descending part of it. That said, I agree that it is not advised to descend mountains in a rapid manner considering the safety and the impact it will have on knees and other joints.

  • If I am up for a long walk in a rain-forest with possibilities of the sections with ankle-high muddy path, I would rather prefer to have the shoes with the ankle support, since they would not just get stuck in the mud.

  • If I am hauling a heavy backpack, I would prefer to have shoes with ankle support. Since the amount of exertion I would subject my shin and calf muscles to, specially on an ascend, I definitely would prefer ankle support. The ankle support do what they are said to be doing: Provide more stability such that your ankle aren't likely to roll or twist. Though, I am of the opinion that its not the support that your ankles need, it is the strength or the stability ankles need while hauling a pack without twisting and hurting the ankle.

  • On snow, I need the shoes with high ankle since its all boggy, and I need that ensures that my ankle doesn't roll up there at the mountain.


This question is extremely subjective, so anyone with experience will (and should) come up with his one personal way. What I will describe is therefore just an idea of when and why to use shoes with ankle support.

The distinctions between the two types that cause the different application exceed the (no) ankle support:

boots (ankle support)

  • stiff sole
  • prevents dirt and small rocks from getting in
  • heavy

shoes (no ankle support)

  • flexible
  • lightweight
  • generally more breathable

So whenever walking on easy terrain with moderate pack, use shoes . The walking is more ergonomic and they are lighter.
On the other hand whenever technical stuff like obviously any mountaineering, rock scrambling, walking extensively on loose ground (scree) or on snow/ice and when walking with heavy load you certainly want boots. Here in the first cases the chance of a misstep and in the second one the consequences are too bad and ankle support ways out the disadvantages by far.

Where it gets tricky is in between, the most typical case is multipitch climbing in alpine terrain where you have to carry anything (so your shoes/boots) up the route. You usually have quite some gear to carry (but not like tons) and the approach to the climb is somewhat rough but not technical. While ankle support certainly wouldn't hurt the additional weight and size are a pain while climbing. To judge what to take in such a situation requires either knowledge of the path you will be walking or experience. And the conclusion will be that there is not one, or two, maybe not even three models to fit all scenarios. The more you are out there the more justifiable it will be to have several models: Super stiff, heavy boots for technical stuff, lightweight boots and light trekking shoes do the trick for me at the moment. Even though I have to admit, the choice between he latter two still remains tricky :)

As to the weakening of ankle muscles in shoes with ankle support:
This is just common sense. If you constantly wear boots with ankle support, your ankle muscles will adapt. Thats another reason to wear light shoes too. Or even better: Do an occasional bare feet walk, this will improve many stabilisation muscles.

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