The big debate!

-which ones to choose?

Trail shoes

It's the big debate for hikers the world over! Right now, there are hundreds of people online, asking for advice about whether to wear hiking boots or trail shoes.


Sorry folks but there is no easy answer to this problem of hiking boots versus trial shoes or trainers, but we have included all the information we could find and the pros and cons of both to help you make your decision. 

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We take a look first at Hannah's experience and problem!

"The most useful things I took on the Milford Track hike by far,were trail-running shoes and waterproof socks!" 

Hannah says "I can’t tell you how many painful walks I’ve been on and how much of an impact having sore feet has on my enjoyment of the walk. I took a pair of boots and a pair of shoes on the Queen Charlotte walk and struggled with both. I ended up wearing one boot and one shoe and was still suffering. I had underestimated how swollen my feet would get in the boots and this resulted in my toes and widest parts of my feet really suffering. 

I'm desperate!

After the QC walk I tried out a pair of waterproof tramping shoes but after only a couple of hours of walking they were just too tight on my foot. I tried my boots with thinner socks but with no luck. I just didn’t know what to do.

I went to a sports shop and tried on nearly ever pair of tramping shoes and boots they had but nothing felt right.


Just out of interest I tried on a pair of trail running shoes, simply out of curiosity as I’d heard great things about this particular brand. As soon as I put them on it felt like my feet were enveloped in a cloud. The cushioning on them was just incredible and my feet were in heaven! I told myself how silly I was at trying them on as they were obviously not meant for tramping, they felt like platform shoes as I was so high off the ground, and they weren’t waterproof.


I didn’t buy any footwear that day but came home and researched the shoes I had tried on. I found a review from a woman in the US who had used these shoes on various hikes in the US and had also uploaded photographs of her on the hikes with these shoes on a variety of surfaces. I was sold! If she could do it, what was stopping me? 

The big dilemma!

What was stopping me from buying those super comfortable trail shoes was all the messages I had received about what the ‘proper’ and ‘suitable’ footwear was to wear on a multi-day hike like Milford Track from all the websites I had visited.

"You must wear a good pair of boots to protect your ankles’ and ‘waterproof boots are a must’ were the main messages I received. 

But ‘why?’ was my question. How did boots protect your ankles? Was this just a myth? Had studies been done on whether wearing boots as opposed to shoes lessened the chance of an ankle injury?

footwear and poles

But "why" was my question! "Boots protect your ankles"- is this just a myth?

 Sure, the trail-running shoes I tried on were high off the ground but I certainly didn’t feel unstable wearing them. In fact, I felt more stable wearing them because the soles splayed out wide and actually covered more surface area on the ground than my boots did – 12cm at the widest point.

The problem of wet feet solved!

But then there was the problem of walking through streams. I’m not a huge fan of having wet feet (which I have done a lot of when running in the Waitakere’s before the Kauri dieback issue) so I really wanted to see what I could do to solve this issue, and I found it in waterproof socks. 

But are they really waterproof? I ran them under a tap with my hand inside to test them when I first received them – my hand stayed completely dry!

So, I bought the trail-running shoes (half a size bigger than usual to allow for swelling) and my practice walks were wonderful – soft, soft cushioned soles and happy, happy feet! So, that was it. Me and my bright blue trail-running shoes made quite the impact on our walk. I was the only person not to wear tramping boots (all footwear is hung up on hooks outside the huts at the end of the day’s walk). Fellow trampers questioned my decision to wear trail shoes and no-one had heard about waterproof socks. 

Was it the right decision for me?

Did they work? Yes!!!


When the massive weather front came through on our third day in, we got held back at the hut until 10.30 am until the rain stopped falling so hard. We then walked through streams and waterfalls on the tracks and my shoes got wet (I could feel the coldness of the water through the shoes and socks on my feet) but my feet stayed COMPLETELY DRY!! Total game changer!

I was so stoked as it really was a bit of an experiment and I went against all advice to wear waterproof boots and not to try out new shoes on a big walk (I bought them 2 days before the Milford Track hike).


My feet felt wonderful the entire four days. No pain or sore feet (other than the expected tired pain of having walked for up to eight hours a day).

The shoes themselves also proved to be excellent for this walk. They were stable, didn’t slip, were excellent on rocks (in and out of streams), and were just wonderfully comfortable on my feet.

Feedback from other walkers was that when water entered their boots, it didn’t escape due to the waterproof membrane so their socks and feet got wet and didn’t dry. My shoes dried very quickly due to the fabric.

My shoes & the amazing waterproof socks!

The shoes I bought were Hoka One One Stinson ATR-5 ($170 on sale at Torpedo 7) and the waterproof socks I bought were SealSkinz (on sale at Bivouac for $50).

The sales person at Bivouac said to only use the socks when crossing streams as my feet would get too hot if I wore them continuously. It sounded annoying to have to keep changing socks, so I tested them out by wearing them from the beginning of the track and ended up wearing them for the entire walk, every day and my feet didn’t get hot at all.


The beauty of wearing them with the non-waterproof shoes is that they were able to breathe – my feet didn’t even get sweaty – seriously awesome set-up!! They didn’t even smell after using them for the entire walk! Incredible! However, I did use Walkers Wool between my toes every day to prevent rubbing. I’m not sure this was necessary but I wasn’t taking any chances!

FINALLY- Is it a myth that boots save ankle injuries?

 There doesn't seem to any conclusive scientific research to back up the theory that boots save ankle injuries.


We asked New Zealand's ACC (Accident Compensation Corporation), which is the government organization that manages the accident compensation scheme for any information regarding hiking ankle injuries while wearing boots and trail shoes but they were unable to supply this information. 

 One of the most effective ways of preventing ankle injuries is to do ankle strengthening exercises regularly before you hike. You can find plenty of examples online and on Youtube .

Richard Nelson (Tramping in NZ) found a Reddit article debunking the myth that boots provide necessary ankle support to prevent ankle injuries. Take a look through the research if you are interested. However, Richard suggests that there are also good reasons for boots, especially more solid ones including protection and better soles. 

BY Ruth Hartnup

However, we did come across this article from the National Library of Medicine about "The effect of high-top and low-top shoes on ankle inversion kinematics and muscle activation in landing on a tilted surface."   

Michael Durand (Tramping in NZ )says that so often the go-to reason for favoring boots is ankle support. My understanding is that whilst yes they may support your ankles, that’s not necessarily good. The lack of flex in the ankles transfers forces elsewhere - to the knees. Save your knees by allowing your ankles and knees to move naturally! I switched to trail shoes last year and wore them successfully with heavy packs and for day trips on Stewart Is NW circuit (10 days), Rees/Dart, Heaphy, Travers/Sabine, Mueller. They’re light and dry quickly and are more comfortable than boots. I wear them with gaiters sometimes to keep stones out. You can wash them clean in a stream in 2 seconds and they hold no water. I’d only wear boots in winter where they’ll be snow and I’d wear crampons, or serious backcountry travel eg on steep screes where a more rigid sole would help.

Mark Pilbrow- (Tramping in NZ) For anyone starting out with hiking ankle support is key. It takes time to adapt & train our stability muscles to the rigors of moving over uneven surfaces. As one becomes more experienced, it becomes a matter of preference depending on conditions, terrain & what you want from the experience. Across the board, shoes are lighter (makes a huge difference) but more subject to injury.

Aqua Reekie- (Tramping in New Zealand) If you wear shoes often on uneven surfaces you develop stronger muscles in your calves and supporting your ankle. That being said, when your ankle is under heavy load or constantly on a terrible camber (like you would find off-track) you're at higher risk of injury without the support of a boot. I wear trail runners for day hikes and anything on trail up to about 1500m elevation, multi-day, or alpine I wear boots as there are higher consequences if you have an injury.

WE ASKED THE EXPERIENCED TRAMPERS AND HIKERS in the Facebook group "Tramping in New Zealand" for their opinions.

The Question-

Which would you choose for a multi-day hike? -Boots or trail shoes/ trainers? Why?


14 people


14 people



12 people

From the comments from the hikers, it became evident that-

If shoes fit properly, your feet should not move around inside the shoes as you walk, your heels should be locked in place and not slide up and down (a common cause of blisters), and your toes should not hit the front of your shoes even on steep descents.  Keep in mind that  your feet will expand over a long hike, so consider going a half-size up to give your toes plenty of room, while maintaining a locked-in feel.

** The weather is an important consideration-

** Whether you wear boots or trail shoes getting the correct fit is vitally important.

And good socks too!

Many people said they would always wear boots in snow and very cold conditions.

"Germaine Srhoy- Any kind of truly gnarly country and above the snowline I'd wear boots unless it's just a brief trip."

"Steven Cox- Any amount of snow/crampon use = boots."

** The terrain is another important factor

It seems steep uphills, rocky and muddy terrain may be better suited to boots!

Jeff White- It all depends on the terrain one is hiking. No different to the type of tires you use, road tires for the hard road surfaces, mud tires for the rough off-road. Same principle for footwear.

Katarina Renaldi- Depends on terrain and route. If I'm staying on marked/cut trails with minimal scree/schist I want trail runners. If I'm going off-trail or encountering a lot of elevation and rocks then 3/4 mountaineering boots. So if I'm going to be in a lot of alpine environment I go for my boots. I've done multi-days in trail runners and multi-days in boots. I think this isn't really a question of what to wear on multi-day hikes its more of a determination of the terrain or type of tramping you'll be doing

Pierre Porcher- Boots definitely for off-track/snow/super rocky /climbing trip but trail shoes feel so good on a day hike or treks with proper tracks.

Donna Smith- I'd say it depends on the state of the track. However, I have done the Kepler in boots and then again in trail shoes (Merrell Sneakers) and found that my feet and legs were far more fatigued in the shoes. I did the Hump Ridge 10 days later (in boots) and didn't have the same issues.

** Pack Weight also needs to be taken into consideration.

Steven Cox

Pack weight < 15kg = barefoot shoes (if variable terrain) or sneakers (if long flat sections).

Pack weight > 15kg = boots because you have no agility with that weight anyway, more clumsy so need to protect the ankles.

Any amount of snow/crampon use = boots.

Barry Watson- In most cases where I’m carrying a heavier pack or on uneven ground, I’ll always wear boots. More support and protection and far less flex.

Richard Young- Prefer boots, especially with a pack of 10kg or more on my back. The ankle support is key for me and together with short gaiters get no stones/pebbles/other crap in boots.

Jonnie Barnard- For me it depends on pack weight and terrain. I'm an advocate for trail runners but they have their limitations

Comments from the "ALWAYS WEAR BOOTS" group. 

Reece Brown- Boots for more support and good hard-soled river crossing shoes works for me. I'm forever rolling my ankles and I'd hate to think how my feet would handle it without the support around my ankles


Prue Smart - Boots. I have weak ankles and like the support that boots give me.

Sandra Hansen-Prefer boots- Katmandu. Provide stability and support

Isaac Goodwin Gamble- Day walking or ultralight backpacking may be trail runners only if your feet has built-up strength from wearing them and the weather permits. Otherwise boots all the way especially in new Zealand.

Vicky Youngman-  I am definitely a boots (and gaiters) person if I am carrying my tramping pack no matter the distance or terrain. I feel naked without them! 

Felicity Forrest- Boots - for stability and ankle support

Lorraine Freeman- Boots. Just feel more safer.

Comments from the "ALWAYS WEAR TRAIL SHOES OR TRAINERS"  group.

Mike Kerr- For me it’s Hoke Speedgoats. COMFORTABLE AS!!!. And really light and really good grip. Why would you want to pick up a heavy tramping boot 40,000 times a day?


Carolyn Smith- Trail shoes! Just did the Abel Tasman and Hollyford in mine and so comfy! Except for saltwater crossings- rinse feet with freshwater before putting socks on otherwise the salt and sand cause abrasion and blisters.


Clint McCormick- I hike in my trail runners. Even multi-day hikes. I feel quicker and more dexterous in them. I can appreciate the sturdiness of boots, but still prefer runners.

Curtis Stallworthy- I use hiking shoes / trail runners. Just completed a 20-day hike in them, lighter the better, less fatigue on legs & body as you lift the weight of boots / shoes continuously.

Ida de Boer-  I used to wear boots, tried many over the years, and always got blisters or lost toenails. Until I read a book in 2006 about a couple who walked the AT in sneakers. That story changed my way of looking at footwear. I bought a pair of Brooks and tramped from Waikanae over the Tararua Southern Crossing for 4 days. Just loved the feeling of lightness and no sore, heavy feet. Never looked back, am happy with my second pair of HokaOne Challenger. Rain, snow, or shine

Michael Durand- I kept dry feet in Mizumo trail shoes for the first five days of the NW Circuit. Was my first tramp in trail shoes and I was nervous about it but honestly never looked back. That was a year ago and I haven’t worn boots since. 

Tim Searle- Trail runners. Good fit, dry faster after you walk through a river.

Curtis Stallworthy- Hike in rain wind & mud, I used to hike in boots & converted to shoes, I would not go back to boots & that’s from someone who’s tried boots, trail runners & hiking shoes. A light weight hiking shoe is my preference. Each to there own though.

Ben Coventry- Personal preference is for boots. I speak as someone who has never had a sprain or rolled ankle in my life. They may be heavier and less convenient for drying but the extra support is well worth it to me considering what an injury can mean out in the middle of nowhere. Having said that, I own trail runners too and use them for short walks.


Amelia Wilson- For me, like many others, it’s trail shoes on formed tracks and boots for anything else. Although I have previously sprained my ankle, so that may influence how often I’d choose boots over trainers. A track such as Roy’s Peak would easily be trail shoes but there’d be nothing that would convince me to wear trail shoes on the likes of the Mueller Hut route, or even just the Sealy Tarns part of the track. I did see another person coming down the track in Hoka Clifton 7’s though so everyone has their own preferences

Pete Fullerton- I’ve tried trail runners with a heavy pack and uneven surface. Did not feel great. Feet slipped around inside the shoe too much. Boots and proper gaiters for rough or swampy terrain. Also boots for scree slopes.Runners for light backpack and established dry trails

Kerensa Pickett- Depends on where you're hiking! Rakiura for example is easily done without boots, but I would wear boots on a half-day walk up and down Mueller Hut simply because from the tarns to the hut, the terrain is rocky and slippery in places. 

And Carolyn Smith replied "I met a guy yesterday who had just returned from the Mueller wearing trail shoes. He swears by them as flexible and comfortable!"

Naomi Brooks- Trail runners for formed tracks, boots and gaiters for off track, alpine scree and rough terrain. Pack weight isn’t really an issue for me in that decision, it’s more the terrain

Karllie Clifton
If I’m wearing my trail runners I’m hiking and if I’m in my boots I’m tramping

Daniel Hooper- I'd wear hiking shoes but all depending on the ground, many hiking boots have a sports sole, it's more about the grip and what's more comfortable

MILFORD TRACK -Clinton River By Hannah Goodburn


It seems very evident that the decision to choose boots or shoes is very much personal preference and there is very little scientific evidence out there to support the fact that boots save ankle injuries.


* perceived ankle protection

* durable & tough

* waterproof

* stiff- better for rough terrain- stability


* need breaking in

* need good maintenance

* blister & sweaty feet possible problems



* lighter to wear-needs less energy- can move faster

* dry quickly

* flexible sole - less chance of blisters

* don't need breaking in

* comfortable

* protect feet- no blisters

* perceived less ankle support

* no water protection but dry quickly     & can wear with waterproof socks

*  less durable

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