Outdoor footwear: flexible, semi-rigid and rigid boots, and their importance for our safety

Choosing the right type of hiking or mountaineering boots is crucial for a safe outing. In this article we explain why it is so important for our safety to be right and know when to use rigid boots and semi-rigid boots.

Rigid or semi-rigid footwear, essential in these situations. Photo: Barrabes

Outdoor Footwear and Safety

The objective of this article is to convey the risk of choosing inappropriate footwear when undertaking activities outdoors, especially if it involves mountaineering in technical situations and with crampons.

We hope to clarify it.

The variety of mountain activities and their footwear

Outdoor and mountain footwear is very varied. As much as the activities that take place in the natural environment, and as much as the conditions that we can find: from a short hike through good flat terrain on a dry summer day, to the ascent along a technical route to a peak of more than 8,000 m.

And each of these situations will require the appropriate footwear.

This does not mean that we need a different pair of boots or sneakers for each day. Most are versatile; the important thing is to know your limits.

Because that limit is the same as that of our safety: if we cross it, we will be putting ourselves at risk. To give an example: if we try to climb a couloir with trekking boots and crampons, we will probably end up having a serious accident. Mountain footwear not only helps us make things easier: it is crucial for our safety in a hostile environment.

In general, and ignoring the most specific things (such as climbing shoes, canyoning shoes, competition shoes, etc.), if we divide the possible activities into hiking, non-technical mountaineering and technical mountaineering In most cases, for those who practice all of them, a different pair for each of the three will be enough in most cases.

There will be others that will not: a mountaineer will not use the same stiff boot to climb ice in Gredos as he or she will to ascend an eight-thousander, and there will be those who have a trekking boot close to mountaineering boots for more serious and mountain activities, and some trekking shoes. for walks on a track or easy path that also serve for urban use and travel.

Requirements that mountain footwear must meet. The comfort trap

Technical mountain footwear must meet three fundamental conditions:

  • Performance
  • Protection
  • Safety

Without it we would not be able to carry out most activities, because we need to protect ourselves in the natural environment, and because certain activities, without the appropriate footwear, become very dangerous.

But there is a 4th condition: comfort.

Comfort is very important not only because it will allow us to enjoy the activity, but because a boot or shoe that hurts us, or even chafes and causes blisters, will not allow us to step and support correctly, which increases our insecurity, and will penalize us technically, increasing the chances of an accident.

That is to say: if the footwear causes us discomfort, our safety decreases and our technique suffers.


We should not confuse the comfort that comes from choosing a well-constructed product that is suitable for our foot, with general comfort.

We are all more comfortable with sneakers than with boots, or with flexible boots than with rigid boots, but each situation requires a type of footwear.

Comfort is important once the type of footwear has been chosen: if I must wear a rigid boot, I will look for the model that, with the required features, makes me feel most comfortable, but I will not risk wearing sneakers because it is more comfortable for me, and because they weigh less.

And furthermore, today, semi-rigid and rigid footwear has absolutely nothing to do with what existed. Light, very comfortable...we should not think about uncomfortable footwear that has to hurt us. It''s not like that: it has to fit us like a glove.

If a rigid boot continually hurts us, something is wrong, probably the last. We will have to look for another model that suits our foot shape, because it is not something inherent to this type of boots.

Trekking in Iceland. Photo: Hilo Moreno

Types of mountain footwear, according to safety and performance

We are not going to expand on the characteristics of each group. There are many, and sometimes the choice can be complicated, despite being clear about the type of footwear. Therefore, we recommend that you read the articles in which we discuss each of the groups in depth:

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