Daniel

Hiking Shoes

I recently went shopping for new hiking boots, and I noticed quite a few ones with steel toes. I wasn’t sure if this was going to be something that I needed. I decided to investigate and share my findings with someone in the same situation and wonder whether they need steel toes on their hiking shoes. So, do hiking shoes need to have steel toes?

Hiking shoes do not need to have steel toes, and in fact, having steel toes on them can be detrimental. Steel adds extra weight to the boot, and it is also an excellent heat conductor. As a result, in cold weather, you can lose a lot of heat through the steel, and in warm weather, you end up bringing in more heat, which can be dangerous for your body.

While having steel toes on your hiking boots can be useful, there are many factors to consider. We cover all of this in the article, so read on to find out whether hiking shoes need to have steel toes. We’ll explore everything you need to know about steel toes on hiking shoes to help you make a better decision the next time you buy a pair of hiking shoes.

Why it can be dangerous to hike in boots with steel toes?

It can sometimes be dangerous to wear hiking boots with steel toes due to steel’s heat-conducting abilities. In an extremely cold environment, especially one with snow, having steel toes can pose a risk for frostbite. This is because your shoe will not retain any warmth as it will be conducted via the steel to the outside environment.

The adverse is also true, as, in a scorching climate, the steel will conduct the heat from the outside and increase the temperature of your shoes. Due to how well steel conducts heat, it is vital to be aware of the climate in your hiking environment. If the temperatures are extreme, steel toes should be avoided, but having steel toes will not pose an issue if the temperature is modest.

Steel toes can also add unnecessary extra weight

When you’re going on a hike, especially a very long one where you are camping overnight, any weight is at a premium. We all know that the more weight you have to carry, in your backpack and elsewhere, can make the hike more tiring.

Boots with steel toes generally weigh around 4 pounds / 1.8 kg, while the average boot without steel weighs close to 1 kg. Hiking or trail running shoes weigh a lot less, with most regular pairs weighing only 310 grams.

While the added weight won’t necessarily be an issue if you’re doing a short day hike, you will start to feel the effects of them if you’re spending the whole day hiking.

Having lighter shoes will also be easier for any traveling you do as they will be easier to fit into a suitcase or backpack and won’t be as heavy as steel-toed boots.

If you are going on a multi-day hiking trip, the lighter option will be much kinder to your body, as you are eliminating weight that is not necessarily needed. This is an important consideration if you are already carrying a heavy backpack with a tent and cooking equipment. The steel-toed boots will also be less flexible, which might make tasks like clambering over rocks much more difficult.

Why do some boots have steel toes?

The main purpose of having steel toes on your boots is to protect your feet from falling objects that are either sharp or heavy. This is why they are generally used by people working in industrial or construction jobs where they are working with heavy objects that could fall and injure their feet.

Why steel toes on your hiking boots can be useful?

If you are hiking in an area where rockfalls are frequent, it will be beneficial to have the added support of the steel toes designed to withstand the impact of heavy objects.

Studies have shown that steel-toed boots can withstand 6000 pounds / 2721 kg of pressure. In comparison, regular work boots can only withstand 1200 pounds / 544 kg of force.

The pressure it can withstand relates to how heavy the object is and the height it falls from. For example, a 75 pound / 34kg object falling from three feet / 0.9 meters will not cause any damage to your feet.

The steel toes will also protect you from things that you may trip on. This may be useful if you are hiking somewhere uneven with sharp rocks that may cause an injury if you trip on them.

However, for most hikes, you will not encounter the problem of having dangerous things fall on your feet as you will be on well-marked out trails. Even if you aren’t, the chances of having a heavy object, like a big rock falling on your foot, are incredibly slim.

What about the support they provide?

We already know that the steel toes protect your feet from falling objects. Furthermore, boots will also provide more ankle support than regular trail running shoes would. This is quite self-explanatory, as there is more shoe around your ankles which keeps them in place and could help prevent you from rolling your ankle.

However, while this can be useful, there are other ways to achieve ankle protection without adding so much extra weight to your body. There are essentially two options here.

  • The first is that of naturally strengthening your ankles by allowing them to strengthen naturally by wearing flexible footwear. The more you hike and do other exercises without added ankle support, the stronger your ankles will become.
  • Alternatively, if you don’t feel comfortable with having no ankle support whatsoever, there are lighter options available. You can buy ankle support braces, that are like very thick socks that slide onto your foot, either underneath or on top of your regular socks. They are thin enough to work with most shoes, but are sturdy enough to provide good ankle protection. They are super light and easy to pack, and provide excellent support. They have saved my ankles on multiple occasions, and are also good for playing sports or running.

What shoes to wear when hiking?

The primary consideration when choosing what shoes to go hiking in is comfort. You do not want to be dealing with blisters on your hike because your shoes are uncomfortable. It is also important that they protect your feet from scrapes and cuts that you could get from low-lying debris on the hiking trail.

You may also see waterproofed hiking shoes, but these will not be necessary unless you’re walking in an extremely damp environment. Furthermore, the issue with them is that if they eventually get wet, they do not dry easily because of the waterproofing material. This results in them being very waterlogged and heavy.

ShoeProsCons
BootsGood protection and last a long time.Very heavy. 
Trail runnerLightweight and comfortable. Not as durable as boots. 
Waterproof shoesPrevent your feet from getting wet. Take a very long time to dry. 

Conclusion

Unless you are hiking in an environment where heavy objects may fall on your feet, then you don’t need them. Therefore, having them in a non-dangerous environment will be overkill, and all that extra weight will simply be unnecessary.

The majority of the time, you won’t need steel toes on your hiking boots, and on most occasions, the lighter alternatives will be a much better choice. However, if you already have hiking boots with steel toes, it isn’t necessary to throw them out. But, it is important to bear in mind that they could be dangerous if you use them in extreme cold or heat due to the heat-conducting abilities of steel.