Hiking boots vs hiking shoes

23 Mar 2021

Gone are the days when you need to strap on stiff, heavy boots to hike in New Zealand’s wilderness – while there is still a place for these boots in the wilder areas, many of the trails such as the Great Walks are so well maintained many people wear sturdy shoes, or light and flexible boots. But how do you know what type of footwear is best for you – hiking shoes or hiking boots? We run you through the basics below, so you’ll be comfortable when walking Fiordland Great Walks with us.


Hiking shoes have become very popular in recent years – most of our guides wear hiking shoes on the tracks. They’re generally softer, lighter and more comfortable, and they don’t need breaking in. They also will fit in your luggage more easily.

It is true that your feet will get wet faster in the rain wearing shoes vs boots, however in Fiordland’s saturating rain everything gets wet eventually (even boots), and shoes may be the quick-drying option of the two because they’re often made of a breathable material.

On the other hand, hiking shoes don’t provide very much ankle support if you are walking over rough surfaces, so you’ll need to be firm on your feet, and have good balance.

Some people wear regular running shoes, however they are not as durable as hiking shoes and can be dangerous on slippery areas of the tracks, as their grip is limited. We wouldn’t recommend these for walking on Fiordland’s tracks.

Group of trampers on mountain track above lake

On top of Mt Luxmore, Kepler Track one shoe doesn't fit all.


Hiking boots come in all shapes and sizes. You can get heavy, high-ankle leather models with reinforced toes that will serve you well around boulders, steep off-piste slopes, and scree. But for Great Walk-type terrain, you can wear light, cushioned breathable options that may not be as durable but are comfortable from the get-go. They also don’t need as much breaking in as the heavier types (hurrah for less chance of a blister!)

Boots provide great ankle support, saving many a twisted ankle which can be all the more serious an injury when carrying a heavy pack. They’ll also keep your feet warmer in wintry conditions.

For most people (particularly as they get older and walk more on footpaths than tracks) then the ankle support of hiking boots is beneficial and gives them more stability – and so generally we would recommend hiking boots.

People sitting on the beach in forest alongside lake

 Don’t forget, whatever you choose to put on your feet, being prepared for the walk is key to an enjoyable experience. Train in advance for a hike by going for short walks on uneven terrain, exercise to improve your fitness (leg and core strength exercises), wear the boots or shoes you plan to hike in regularly, and make sure you combine these with moisture-wicking, cushioned socks. Whatever you choose to wear on your feet shoes or boots, we look forward to seeing you down here walking with us in Fiordland!

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