I've been hill-walking and hiking as far as I can remember, and have been wearing hiking boots for that purpose (nearly) as far as I can remember too. It's always been quite obvious to me: on rough, unstable terrain, you need good ankle support and decent grip. I would believe people hiking in trainers to be unaware of the risks and rather foolish.

But things started to change in my mind after my first UTMB in 2005. Indeed, I came to realise that I had actually covered the entire length of a long-distance alpine hiking path wearing trail running shoes, whereas I would have never hiked it in trainers. The fact I was running as opposed to hiking doesn't change anything to the risks associated with wearing inappropriate footwear. If anything, it's even worse as you go faster, by night and sometimes in extreme fatigue. And what about fell-running on the PTL or in North Wales? Was that foolish? Probably not, it's just a matter of knowing how to use the ground in the mountains: fell running shoes' grip is as good as most hiking boots, and if you're careful on foot placement, there's little risk of injury.

On the other extreme, I saw loads of people wearing hiking boots on the grassy hills of Seven Sisters on the south coast a few weeks ago. It might be slightly hilly, but the ground is really soft and smooth all the way. Ironically, I was walking in trail running shoes on that day :) . So why bother with heavy leather hiking boots if not to be seen as a hiker? Maybe to feel like a hiker?

Indeed, we've already discussed on this blog the fine line between running and hiking, to which I should add mountaineering. I believe this fine line is more a matter of state of mind than actual speed. And it looks like wearing a specific type of shoes has become a way to materialise this state of mind rather than a technical necessity: "I wear hiking boots to show and to convince myself that I'm not 'just' having a Sunday stroll: I'm hiking". L'habit ne fait pas le moine (you can't judge a book by its cover).

In general, when people get "serious" into some kind of activity, they tend to go a bit over the top in terms of gear (sport equipment brands do help). Hiking/mountaineering boots were invented at a time when sport shoes were non-existant by people requiring extra grip and protection to progress in truly tough environments. But with the range of lighter trail shoes available nowadays, I'm not convinced hiking boots provide any significant advantage on easy-going paths, might they be long-distance such as the Tour du Mont Blanc, let alone Seven Sisters.

Now that I've got a range of running shoes for every situation (road, trail, fell) on top of my hiking boots, I'm tempted to re-evaluate what footwear is really adapted for each outing, based strictly on the actual route technicality and not on the denomination of the event (stroll, marathon, hike, trail run, ...). That said, I'm not sure in what sort of context I should wear my hiking boots any more. Apart from bogs and snow, I don't see much scope for them. Fell running shoes are much lighter and will do as well otherwise.

Has wearing a specific type of shoe become a (self-)statement more than a necessity?

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