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Protecting your ankles

ScienceGuy288 asks: “I want to purchase a set of Merrells. Now, I personally wanted some ankle support, but the mid-height ones seem to go really high and limit your movement. Any suggestions?”

Good question, Guy, because “which is better, high or low tops,” is one of the great unsolved debates in the hiking world. I did some poking around on the Web this morning and found no clear, convincing evidence that high-tops provide a lot of ankle protection; some hikers think they make your ankles weaker precisely because they provide support, but I saw no science to back it up. They may also provide a false sense of security that encourages risky behavior, like seatbelts and bike helmets (both of which, mind you, people still use for obvious reasons).

Main thing is: do you really need that extra protection? If the boot feels like it limits your range of motion in the store, imagine what it’ll feel like on the trail. And you’ve got to ask how it’ll be used. For heavyweight backpacking (over 30 pounds), high-tops are like a little bit of ankle insurance, which is good to have when you’re three days’ walk into the woods. Lots of ultra-lighting through-hikers go 2,000 miles with a good pair of running shoes.

Most folks with healthy ankles that have never been sprained can get by with low-tops — they’re lighter, cooler and more comfortable. Many trail runners — notably the Montrails I’ve tried — have beefed-up padding around the ankles that probably works about as well as actual over-the-ankle boots. I’ve always had issues with high-tops annoying the tissue right above my ankle, but that wears off once the tissue toughens up.

None of this matters if you’ve hurt your ankles in the past, though, because ankle injuries can linger for life. In which case you’d have a doctor rather than a blogger advising you (which, presumably, is preferable).

The main issue with boots is not how they fit over the ankle, anyway: it’s how they fit around the heels, toes and other bumpy, malformed sections of your feet. Right now I’m hiking in some Keen mid-ankle boots that provide just a smidgen of extra ankle protection, but not enough to delude me into thinking I’ve been taped by a trainer for the Oakland Raiders.

If you slip hard enough, no boot in the world will save your ankle ligaments from giving way.
Speaking of high-tops: Andy at Upnorthica is trying out the Vasque Breeze XCR.

4 comments | Permalink | Tags: , |
Tom posted at 8:05 am August 15th, 2008

4 Responses to 'Protecting your ankles'

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  1. scienceguy288 says:

    Thanks so much for all of your help. I am quite honored by this whole post. Do you have any preferences as to Merrells in your own experience.

    Permalink | Posted August 15th, 2008, at 1:40 pm
  2. Tom says:

    A lot of people like Merrell’s fine… I’ve never found any that I really liked the fit of, to tell the truth, but I know hikers who wouldn’t hike in anything else. They’re built fine, from what I hear… it’s just a matter of how they fit. That’s another whole post.

    Permalink | Posted August 15th, 2008, at 2:03 pm
  3. Chas says:

    I swear by trail runners (low), whatever brand/model fits your foot best. The low weight lets me go farther and easier. Caveat: hike/walk 10+ miles/week so I have no ankle issues. I’ve been wearing low top hikers since 1982 when Nike first introduced the Lava Dome and Magma. Even summited Mt. Whitney as a day hike last fall: up Mountaineer’s Route, down Whitney Portal Trail, in Adidas Supernova Trail runners. I wear synthetic lightweight socks and do not get blisters (have built up some good callous however). Saw it explained somewhere that impact loads from jumping down 3 feet are higher than anything you’ll experience walking so I think need for ankle support is over rated for experience hikers.

    Permalink | Posted August 16th, 2008, at 7:33 am
  4. High-top hiking boots or low-rise shoes: which is better? says:

    […] think: ankle “support” provided by high-top boots is largely an illusion. As I’ve noted here before, if your ankle zigs when your leg zags, that little swath of leather is not going to prevent a […]

    Permalink | Posted March 10th, 2011, at 10:22 am

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