Wearing rubber boots when hiking is usually criticized, and for good reason. It is difficult to walk long distances in them, because it is easy to get blisters, and there is a great risk of twisting your foot, especially when moving under a heavy backpack. Most models’ soles are slippery, and the boots themselves are heavy. Taken together this negates their main advantage – complete waterproofness.
Only lightweight EVA foam boots are more or less used by campers, but only as warm shoes for a bivouac and shallow fords, and not as a basic walking pair. Nevertheless, sometimes it is still worthwhile to wear rubber boots on a hike. And once there is a request, then there is the appropriate footwear. There is a whole class of hiking rubber boots, organically complementing the modern range of trekking shoes. Although they are rarely called “hiking” officially. Most of these boots are positioned by manufacturers as shoes for walking hunting and fishing, but in fact, they are actively used by hikers.
In this article, we will tell you how to distinguish between rubber boots suitable for backpacking and regular boots, as well as in what conditions they will be more appropriate than trekking boots.
When you need rubber boots for hiking
There are a number of situations in hiking where a pair of rubber boots is preferable to trekking boots or sneakers. And all of these situations can be boiled down to two big groups:
- When it’s very wet. Rubber boots are absolutely waterproof, but trekking shoes, even in combination with membrane leggings, may not cope with high moisture. In conditions of constant moisture and frequent fords, even heavy trekking boots made of thick leather and with a Gore-Tex membrane will not save from soaked feet. Water can slip over the cuffs, and a soaked-together upper still keeps your feet cold and makes you feel uncomfortably damp inside, even if the membrane keeps water out.
- When it’s very dirty. Often there’s muddy dirt next to the dampness. For example, in swampy areas, as well as on broken roads and trails. It sticks to your boots, making them heavier, ruining their appearance, and shortening their lifespan. Clean trekking boots during a hike is problematic, but rubber boots are easy to clean from mud right along the way – you just have to dip them into any pond or puddle or walk on the high, wet grass. And for rubber boots, the mud is not terrible, unlike leather and textile.
Hiking in the tundra
The peculiarity of tundra areas is over moistened soils because of permafrost. Moisture from melting snow and rains has nowhere to go, which makes the soil and moss literally melt away and stay very wet for a long time, even if there was a big break in precipitation. The terrain itself may abound in a mass of shallow rivers and streams with arms and tributaries that will need to be waded several times daily. It’s a lot of wasted time and effort to change your shoes at each one. It is much easier and more comfortable to walk in rubber boots because there is no need to change shoes and no reason to worry about getting your shoes wet. Even when you have to cross a ford at the knee without taking off shoes, boots are preferred, because then they will dry much faster than trekking boots. It will be enough to simply drain the water, take out and squeeze the insole and fabric inner casing, if any, and put on dry socks. The boot material itself does not absorb moisture, which means it does not need to dry.
Hiking in swampy areas
Bogs have a combination of mud, fords, and wetness, so rubber boots are the perfect pair of shoes for such places, a fact that even skeptics recognize.
Forest hiking in the off-season
Almost all forests get cold, wet, and muddy in the off-season. In addition to rains and fords of rivers, you can find unmelted snow on the trail – it has not yet melted in spring, and in fall it falls at night and melts during the day. In such conditions, rubber boots save your feet not only from dampness but also from hypothermia.
Wetness and abundance of water are the constant companions of combined hiking and water hikes. And if in summer you can still do with Crocs and a pair of walking shoes, then in the off-season or in cold areas one pair of rubber boots will still be preferable.
Also, the campaign can be combined with other forms of recreation in nature. For example, with walking fishing, or gathering mushrooms. And here comfortable rubber boots are also indispensable!
Rubber boots can act as a replacement pair of shoes for long expeditions. Trekking boots are used for the mountainous part of the route, where they are needed for difficult terrain, during visits to snowfields and glaciers. And boots are used in valleys in cold wet weather while crossing fords or moving through swampy areas. For example, in short, uncomplicated races, and on bivouacs.
What is the difference between rubber hiking boots and regular boots?
If you answer this question briefly, rubber hiking boots – a hybrid of rubber boots and trekking boots. The first takes a waterproof and easy-care top, and the second – a stable and tenacious sole. But let’s break down the differences between regular rubber boots and hiking boots on their specific properties.
The soles of hiking rubber boots are stiffer than conventional boots for twisting and bending. This gives them the necessary stability and support for the ankle. The stiffer soles of boots will deform less under the weight of the backpacker as he moves along the trail, and that reduces the risk of turning the foot. For the sake of increasing overall stiffness, wooden, metal, or plastic elements are even inserted into the sole of rubber hiking boots. To compensate for the decrease in flexibility, they have a smooth roll at the toe area, so it would be more comfortable to stride – just like in hiking boots!
Many models of rubber hiking boots have a sufficiently stiff heel and thinning in the Achilles tendon area, which improves coverage of the foot in the ankle area. This provides additional support to the joints and reduces the risk of turning the foot on the trail.
Hiking rubber boots hold up much better on terrain than conventional boots due to the aggressive tread and the combination of different densities of rubber compounds in the outsole.
Hiking boots, on the other hand, always sport a cushioned midsole that absorbs the shock loads caused by walking. In addition, all hiking boots have a pronounced height difference between the toe and heel, as well as a smooth roll in the forefoot. Together, this makes a long walk in these boots much more comfortable.
Also, a lot of attention is paid to by the manufacturers of rubber hiking boots with anatomically shaped upper, so that the landing on the foot was both tight and comfortable and the shoes do not dangle. The volume of the cuff in some models can be adjusted by tightening the volume of the calf for a better fit. At the same time, it will protect from getting small debris inside, such as small branches, needles, and plant seeds.
With a fairly accurate and tight fit, hiking rubber boots are easy to remove and put on. To make them easier to remove, most models have a special tab on the heel.
All this cannot be said about most budget rubber boots. Usually, they are either too loose around the foot and ankle, which can lead to blisters and ankle injuries, or they fit well but are very hard to put on and take off.
Rubber hiking boots are as durable as or sometimes even superior to PVC boots and are much more durable than the lightweight EVA foam models. The bottom, toe, and sometimes folds of hiking rubber boots are reinforced with additional layers of rubber, as is done in trekking boots. This reduces wear and tear on the boots, and the reinforced toe also protects the toes from shock when the hiker stumbles on the trail on a rock or tree root.
In terms of features, hiking rubber boots are a compromise. They are uncomfortable to wear on the difficult mountain terrain with its steep climbs and descents, with boulders and hummocks. Here the advantage is on the side of trekking boots. But on humid plains, especially outside the trails, you can safely and comfortably move in hiking rubber boots even under the heavy backpack without fear of twisting a foot or getting huge blisters, just like in comfortable hiking boots. But your feet will be protected from moisture as much as possible.
Which boots to take on a hike: PVC or EVA?
Most budget rubber boots today are not made from rubber but from thick PVC. It is cheap and durable, but it has several significant drawbacks. PVC is not flexible enough for anatomically shaped tops, and in the cold, it loses its elasticity and becomes brittle. It is also heavy, poorly insulates heat, toxic in production, and poorly recyclable.
An alternative to PVC is EVA foam. Boots made of it are light, warm, and flexible, but they are poorly suited for full-fledged hiking. EVA foam is a too delicate material, which can be easily cut by sharp rock edges, and with a small thickness of the layer, it can even be pierced by a broken branch. Its high flexibility also prevents it from having a rigid enough upper and sole to keep you safe and comfortable underneath a heavy backpack. That’s why EVA boots are often used as bivouac shoes or to pass fords.
And most modern rubber hiking boots are made from several layers of natural rubber – rubber. Rubber does not freeze in the cold, has optimal for hiking a combination of flexibility, strength, and weight is not toxic, and insulates heat better than PVC. But the weight of such boots is higher than that of EVA boots, and, all other things being equal, natural rubber boots are colder. So if you expect cold and minimal walking, such as winter fishing, then EVA boots will be preferred. If comfort, safety, and durability are more important to you when backpacking over rough terrain, then hiking boots made of natural rubber will be more appropriate.
How to make hiking rubber boots more comfortable
The following recommendations are usually given to owners of trekking boots, but for rubber boots, they are no less relevant because these shoes are known to fit less accurately on the foot:
- Use insoles with pronounced support for the arch of the foot. They make the position of the foot in the boots more stable: the foot does not slip inside, and the boot itself fits tighter and more comfortably. These insoles also reduce the risk of a tucked foot. The idea is to have a bootmaker make a pair of moldable insoles tailored to your specific feet, but in most cases, just pre-molded models will suffice. They have a rigid plastic element that supports the arch of the foot, as well as a cushioning layer under the heel, for greater comfort during long walks.
- Use high-top trekking socks. Although high ski socks may also work. The main thing is that the height of the sock reaches the knee, i.e. is greater than the boot’s cuff. The sock should not roll down and gather in folds in the heel, instep, and cuff. Otherwise, you will not protect your feet from chafing and blisters. The second advantage of good trekking and ski socks is the drainage of moisture. Their fibers transport it from the toe area to the cuff. From there it evaporates better and goes out. This improves the microclimate inside the non-breathable rubber boot, reducing the risk of blisters and diaper rash.
Ever since I was a kid, I've been fascinated by travel. I inherited this passion from my parents. Since my college years and to this day, I have had a passion for traveling in a motorhome. I am here to share my experiences with you.