The experts will tell you that there’s no such thing as a hiking boot. What you refer to as a hiking boot is probably something that is a boot and that can be used for hiking, but the exact type of footwear it is something other than “hiking boot”. The footwear that can be used for outdoor activities, hiking included, can indeed be a boot, but it can also be a shoe, and even a sandal. Also, hiking and trekking is something you can do while wearing some of that footwear, but so is mountain climbing.
Hiking footwear is generally divided into four distinct classes – A, B, C, and D. The people behind this system of classification are the people who make the shoes and the people who know the most about using them – the hiking experts. The criteria used to form the system are the weight of the shoe and the roughness of conditions in which they should be used.
In Class A, you’ll find the unlikeliest of all hiking footwear – the hiking sandal. This type of footwear is not your ordinary sandal, mind you. It is more durable than the ones you’d be wearing around town or on the beach, and it has a sole that is made for the rugged terrain that can be found in the great outdoors. Or at least some of the rugged terrain, because hiking sandals, as you might imagine, can’t really be used where only a hiking shoe can go. On the plus side, the hiking sandal is light, it has great ventilation, and it’s very easy to dry off if they get wet. On the downside, they are lacking when it comes to protecting your feet, as well as providing them the support that’s needed on more demanding trails. All in all, a hiking sandal is a great choice for some light hiking on an easy trail, when it’s a warm day.
Trail running shoes also belong to class A. Outdoors enthusiasts who also like jogging and running are probably very familiar with these – they are very similar to the regular running shoe, but they have more rugged soles that allow more traction, they should have better ankle support and generally be sturdier than regular runners.
Class B contains some hiking shoes, as well as cross-hikers, or medium-weight hiking boots. Hiking shoes, depending on the materials used in them, their weight, and their sturdiness, can be light enough to be classified as class A hiking footwear, or they can be bulky enough to be in class B. Either way, they will provide better support than trail running shoes, and they will be made from even more durable materials. It’s not uncommon to find gusseted tongues in hiking shoes, to provide better protection from the elements and prevent tiny stones from getting into the shoe. These shoes can be great for a hike on a well-maintained trail, and wearing them in rougher conditions can prove to be challenging.
Also in class B are the cross-hikers. These are what most people call hiking boot, and they are the first piece of footwear on the list to provide some solid ankle support. They are also the first to be a viable choice for wearing off the beaten paths, although the amount of off-track hiking you can do in these is somewhat limited. Good examples of cross-hikers are the boots made by Adamant.
Class C is where things begin to get serious. The off-trail, heavy boots that are found in this class usually feature toe caps, cemented outsoles, and heavy shock absorption. Some, but not all of off-trail shoes are also compatible with crampons. On the downside, they aren’t the most comfortable boots to wear out of the box, so they need to be properly broken in before taken on and off the trail. Even then, they will feel stiff, but that’s by design. The amount of protection they afford is a trade-off for some comfort.
The mountaineering boots fall into class D. If you were to do some real mountain climbing, like conquering the world’s tallest mountain peaks, you would wear this type of boot. They are heavy, hard, designed to be used with crampons, and they sometimes come with a plastic outer layer that can be attached to them to make them almost like skiing boots. For snow or ice, and for mountain climbing, these boots are not only the best choice but pretty much the only choice that can be made. As for hiking, the fact that mountaineering boots aren’t the world’s most comfortable boots will become obvious after only a few steps, so they wouldn’t be the best choice for that use. It is possible to find more flexible and comfortable variants of mountaineering boots that can be used for hiking, but for the most part, they are the boots for the hardest work in the harshest conditions.