The best hiking boots or hiking shoes really depends on you and what you want out of them. Knowing the differences and what to look for will make it much easier to decide whether you need hiking boots, hiking shoes or hiking sandals.
And hiking boots are really one of the most important pieces you can have in your backpacking gear or hiking equipment. So lets go over the basics to help you decide what your needs really are.
Hiking Shoes – These are generally lightweight hiking boots with good foot and some ankle support. They'd be great on a well groomed trail and will usually require little or no breaking in. Hiking shoes are usually pretty flexible and are cut just below the ankle bone which is why they'd be fine to use on well maintained or groomed trails.
They are generally constructed using a combination of leather and lightweight fabrics and I would check to make sure that they are waterproof or at least water resistant. The other thing I would check on is what their main intention for use is. A lot of people nowdays are wearing hiking shoes around town on a daily basis as more a fashion piece rather than a functional hiking shoe. If the shoes or boots you are looking at are designed more as a fashion shoe then keep looking because they will not offer you the support or comfort that your feet will need.
Hiking Boots – The best hiking boots will offer you comfort, durability, water resistance, foot and ankle support and flexibility.
For most hikers and backpackers there are generally two types to choose from, the mid-weight kind and the heavier weight kind.
The mid weight hiking boots are probably the most popular choice of the two types and can be worn for most off hiking hiking as well as the more maintained trails. They are a little heavier than the shoes but they offer increased support for the foot and ankle as they cover the ankle bone. The increased support does mean a little less flexibility and will require some breaking in.
My tip to help prevent any heel blisters from newer hiking boots is to tape a round cosmetic spongy pad (found at any dollar store by the bagful) under your good quality hiking socks. I've never had a blister since hiking this way.
The heavier hiking boots are used more for much rougher off trail terrain, are much heavier in weight and are much more technical in design. This is to offer maximum support for the entire foot and ankle including more shock absorbency, water resistance and more. Because of their increased support they are much stiffer and require more breaking in time than the mid weight style.
Once you understand the basic differences of each type of hiking boots and hiking shoes you will be able to make a better decision based on what your needs are and what will suit you best.