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High or low shoes

Hoge en lage schoenen

More and more people use trail runners on their hikes. They overtake you with high speed and it makes you wonder if you need to change your heavy high shoes for these light alternatives. At least, that’s what I thought two years ago. But low shoes are less safe and provide less ankle support, right? Maybe you already made the switch to these low shoes and are completely in love with them or maybe you decided to stay with your high shoes after all?

It is essential to choose the right type of shoe for you. This is a choice you have to make yourself. Personal preference, type of trail, weather conditions and physical fitness are factors that determine what type of shoe you want and need. In this blog I am going to share my personal experiences and hope to provide you with some insights in the pro’s and con’s of the high and low shoes. In the past I always hiked in high shoes, but a couple of years ago I made the switch to low trailrunners. Only when I am hiking in alpine terrains or when there is snow, I switch back to my old high mountain shoes.

There are six shoe types you can choose from. These are the ABCD category shoes, trailrunners and approach shoes. Here is a short explanation of the different types:

  • Type A: the light and low hiking shoe. This shoe is suitable for easy and long hikes. It is also a comfortable shoe for hikes in your own area.
  • Type B: the light and high hiking shoe. This shoe provides more ankle support and has a thicker sole for more protection. It is suitable for most mountain hut trails.
  • Type C: the heavy high hiking shoe. This shoe is made for challenging hikes where you have to carry heavy gear. It also has a thick sole making it suitable for crampons.
  • Type D: the alpine shoe. This shoe is used for climbing in the higher mountains. It is perfect for crampons due to its solid sole and robust materials. In most cases, you will not use this type of shoes on a thru-hike.
  • Trailrunners: these shoes are made for hiking or running on unpaved paths. They provide good cushioning, however, are known to be prone to wear and tear.
  • Approach: these are the low of mid-high more robust shoes. There are suitable for via ferratas.

The decision for a shoe is always dependent on the terrain and expected weather conditions. If you expect to encounter a lot of snow high in the mountains, it is advisable to go for robust and high type B shoes. If you are walking relatively flat trail, low shoes would be a good option. If you are not sure what shoe-type you need, make a list of the pro’s and cons and use this to decide. I personally always try to use my new shoes on the terrain of the trail before I start on my hike.

Advantages low shoes

– Light shoe allowing you to move easily through the terrain using less energy.
– Flexible sole providing more feeling with the ground allowing you to have a better grip and footing.
– Comfortable due to their more natural shape.

Disadvantages low shoes

– Less support due to the flexible sole. This could lead to more tired feet if you are not used to this.
– Risk of water entering your shoes when stepping into a river.
– No ankle protection against rocks other sharp things.

Advantages high shoes

– Protection of your ankles and lower risk of water running into your shoes.
– Support from the more rigid sole on rough terrain that will help with tired feet.
– Higher shoes provide more warmth.

Disadvantages of high shoes

– Heavier thus require more energy to lift your feet
– Thicker sole providing less feeling with the ground making it easier to make a misstep.
– Less comfortable, because they have a less natural feel/shape.

Once you have made the decision for the type of shoe you want, you will need to determine if you want your shoes to be waterproof or not. Both high and low shoes are available in waterproof versions. In order to make this decision it is important to consider the terrain and weather you will encounter on your hike. Personally, I don’t mind hiking in wet shoes because they will dry fast when walking and with a little help of the sun. Therefore, I hike in shoes that are not waterproof.

After years of hiking in high shoes it took some time to get used to the low shoes. Your ankles need to correct more, especially in the beginning, and this increases any chances for injuries. By making sure that I hiked and trained enough in the low shoes, I allowed my ankles to get used to the new strains. Now I can hike more efficient due to the lighter low shoes. When the trail allows it, I will hike in trail runners. Another advantage of these shoes is that they are very breathable giving you less sweaty feet.