A lot of people who are new to hiking often want to go hiking in cowboy boots. Usually, it isn’t for a long distance – just for a few miles. But is it really a good idea?
Of course, if it’s just for a few miles, cowboy boots will do just fine. However, they’re far from ideal, and if you’re planning on doing anything longer than 5 miles or you’ll be hiking often, you should consider other types of footwear. Down below, I’ll explain why cowboy boots aren’t suitable for hiking and tell you what type of footwear you should use instead.
Why You Might Think That Cowboy Boots Are Good for Hiking
Cowboy boots were constructed mainly for horseriding. Nowadays, though, they’re more commonly used by ranchers and farmers for everyday use. Since their invention in 1875, they’ve become an icon for rural America.
They often last much longer than other types of boots, and people literally wear them all day long doing various outdoor activities. They’re also really high, which helps with protection against snakes, mud, and spiky bushes. Plus, it’s not like they’re new – farmers have been using them for heavy work for over a century.
So naturally, you might think that they’re also good for hiking. After all, it’s an outdoor activity, just like farming. However, it turns out that cowboy boots actually are far from ideal when it comes to hiking due to many reasons. Of course, you could still go hiking in them, but it wouldn’t really be a pleasurable experience, and you’d soon want to invest in real hiking footwear or stop hiking altogether. Hiking is much different from general outdoor work because it involves walking on different terrains, walking for much longer periods without rest, and exposing yourself to different conditions.
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Why Cowboy Boots Are Bad for Hiking
1. They Have a Heel
Having a dedicated heel that’s “sticking out”, which is the case with cowboy boots, isn’t great for walking on tough terrain. You’d often trip on roots and rocks. Also, the heel on cowboy boots is usually very rigid, which isn’t good for slippery rocks. Some hiking boots also have a heel, but not in a traditional sense – the sole is a bit thicker underneath the heel. This helps when going uphill and provides some ankle and arch support.
2. Cowboy Boots Don’t Offer Enough Traction
Most traditional, high-end cowboy boots come with a leather sole, which means that they become very slippery on wet surfaces and they provide little to no traction. The good news is that most modern cowboy boots actually have pretty good rubber soles, which are mainly meant for outdoor work, not horseriding. These will perform much better when hiking, but they still won’t be as good as the sole on good hiking shoes. That’s because cowboy boots are built to last, not to provide traction, so they use stiffer, more durable rubber for the soles. Traction mainly comes from the sole’s ability to “wrap” around sharp edges, and it’s only achievable with elastic, soft rubber.
3. They Aren’t Breathable
Cowboy boots are among the least breathable types of footwear. And for hiking, you definitely need something breathable, unless you’re hiking in winter. Hiking produces an elevated heart rate, which means that you’ll sweat, and your feet are among the first ones to start sweating. And when you walk with wet feet for long distances, blisters are inevitable. They start to form because of the increased friction from your skin rubbing against your socks. Modern hiking footwear is very breathable, and if you combine them with good merino wool socks, you won’t have to worry about blisters.
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4. They Don’t Have Any Padding
Blisters also form from regular friction, which comes from your feet rubbing against the material of the boot (wet feet just accelerate the process). If you’d walk longer distances in cowboy boots (anything over 5 miles), you’d eventually get blisters from the lack of padding.
5. Cowboy Boots Are Very Heavy
All the weight that you put on your feet and legs uses up much more energy because you have to lift your feet up on every step. That’s why modern hiking footwear is usually very lightweight, which means that you can walk with them more without getting tired. For context, a pair of cowboy boots usually weigh 4-5 pounds (1.8-2.3 kg), and ultralight trail runners only 1 pound.
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What Footwear for Hiking Should You Use Instead
Trail runners are my first choice of hiking footwear, even for rainy hikes. They’re the lightest type of footwear, they’re the most breathable, and usually provide the best traction on all kinds of terrains, like gravel, mud, and rocks. In fact, I hiked over 500 miles (800 km) over the mountains in northern Spain, and I couldn’t be happier. I didn’t get a single blister during my whole thru-hike (partly, also because of my choice of socks).
The major downside to trail runners is that they are less durable than other types of footwear. Usually, they’ll last anywhere between 300-600 miles (500-1000 km), depending on the brand. So on a long thru-hike, you’ll usually have to buy several pairs along the way.
They also provide less ankle support than boots. On uneven terrain, they should be worn only by people who have trained and flexible ankles to avoid any injuries. And lastly, they also provide less protection than other, thicker types of footwear, so you might injure your toes when accidentally hitting something.
Sometimes I also hike in hiking shoes. They’re heavier than trail runners, but in return, you get much better durability, more padding, and better protection due to a thicker construction. But other than that, they’re very similar to trail runners, and it’s mostly a matter of preference of which you choose.
Another downside to hiking shoes is that they’re a bit less breathable, so they aren’t a great option for walking during the heat of the summer. Personally, I tend to use them during autumn and spring, when the ground is more slippery and wet. If you combine them with a pair of gaiters, then they even work as well as a pair of hiking boots, except they’re much lighter.
For hiking between late autumn and early spring, your best bet would be to use a pair of mid-height or full-height hiking boots, depending on the trail conditions and how much protection you need. Hiking boots are also great for people who hike less often and don’t have as flexible and trained ankles. When walking on rocky terrain, you’re more likely to injure your ankle, but with a long-enough hiking boot, that won’t be an issue.
The only downside to hiking boots is that they’re much less breathable than hiking shoes and trail runners, and they also dry much slower. So most likely, you’d end up with a blister or two, but this can be minimized by wearing two pairs of socks and constantly switching to dry socks. They’re also much heavier than shoes, so you won’t be able to walk as much due to your feet literally weighing you down.
Although cowboy boots are built for various outdoor activities, they aren’t great for hiking. They’re heavy, provide little traction, have no padding, and they aren’t breathable. Instead, you should invest in a pair of comfortable hiking shoes for hiking in the summer and a pair of hiking boots for hiking in the wet/cold season.