The quest to find the perfect hiking shoes is never-ending, so the next option we’re going to explore is Duck Boots. Duck Boots have been around for more than 100 years and they’re used for all sorts of outdoor activities, so we can’t discount them as a hiking boot. Let’s dive in a little deeper into what duck boots are, and whether they’re an ideal choice for your next hike.
What are Duck Boots?
Duck Boots, also known as Bean Boots, were created by Leon Leonwood Bean, who founded the company L.L. Bean. Bean, who got sick of wet feet during hunting trips, wanted to create a boot that would keep his feet dry while still being ideal for the outdoors. He theorized mixing together two types of boot, combining the rubber sole of a work boot with the leather upper of a casual or hunting boot.
The rubber sole would provide all the necessary protection from the elements, while the leather upper would retain the flexibility and comfort of a regular leather boot. Thus, the Duck Boot was born and became a huge success. Other brands now produce this style of boot, but you can never forget the original waterproof boots.
What makes a good hiking shoe?
If you’re considering Duck Boots for use as a hiking shoe, you should first know what you’re looking for. There are so many elements to consider when searching for the perfect boot, as there is no one size fits all. Different shoes are optimized for different conditions, different situations you might encounter on the trail, so finding the right shoe isn’t an easy task.
Various terrains put different pressures on your shoes during hikes. This is why hiking boots are usually split into three main categories, each optimized for a different sort of hike. Lightweight hiking shoes (trail shoes), which resemble trainers, are essentially reinforced running shoes. They provide some support, but their main purpose is to be light and breathable while still protecting your foot.
These shoes are designed for day hikes, but they’re actually a favorite among long-distance backpackers. A sturdier shoe would provide more support, but trail shoes are a popular choice long-distance as they aren’t as heavy or constricting as other boots, while still providing enough protection to keep your feet safe and happy during a hike. The only downside of trail running shoes is their lack of ankle support, which leaves you at risk of twisted ankles and other injuries.
On the other end of the scale are mountaineering boots, designed for terrains which present more of a challenge to traverse. If you’re hiking through rocky territory or icy glaciers, this type of boot provides all the necessary extra protection. They’re much more heavy-duty than hiking shoes, often warmer, water-resistant, abrasion-resistant, and provide much more support to your foot.
Backpacking boots make a compromise between the two, as they aim to keep you prepared for any terrain. For multi-day treks, this type of boot is ideal as it’s durable and supportive enough to carry you through most challenges in the backcountry.
The materials used to construct a hiking boot define it, as the wrong fabric can cause so much suffering for your feet. Finding the right combination of waterproofing and breathability, while still being a comfortable shoe, can present a challenge. That’s why we’re going to break down the material considerations you’ll need to remember when deciding is a shoe is right for hiking.
Full-grain leather is a very durable and versatile material, so many mountaineering boots are made using this fabric. For rigorous hikes which pass through rough terrains, full-grain leather is fully protective while remaining very comfortable. It has excellent waterproof properties, as well as being warm and highly durable. However, in return for this protection, you have to deal with the increased weight of these heavy-duty boots.
You may have heard the saying “one pound on your feet equals five on your back” and this applies to full-grain leather boots. They may not feel too heavy when you try them on, but five miles down the trail you might find yourself wishing for a lighter shoe. Of course, over rough terrain, the valuable protection full-grain leather provides is well worth the weight, but you don’t need such a heavy shoe for casual hikes.
Split grain leather offers reduced protection, but is more breathable than full-grain leather. It’s still a durable material, but it’s less heavy-duty and has reduced water-resistant properties. It’s often used in combination with synthetic materials, creating a compromise between protection and comfort, and this combination is the most common choice for casual hikers.
Various synthetic materials are used in the construction of hiking shoes, such as nylon and polyester. One benefit of synthetic materials is that they are much easier to break in than leather. These shoes feel lighter and also dry faster, but lack the water-resistant properties of leather. Of course, you can improve the water-resistance, but this can affect the breathability. Check out how to waterproof hiking boots for more information.
Also, depending on the type of trekking you do, hiking boots are available in different cuts and heights. Lightweight trail running shoes are often low cut, meaning they end below the ankle. This allows for a wider range of motion but leaves your ankle vulnerable to injury.
Shoes like this are best worn on well-maintained trails, where there’s less risk of trail debris and uneven terrain. Mid-cut boots offer more ankle support and better balance and protection, but the most protective style of boot is high-cut. These boots reinforce your ankle fully and are necessary for off-trail adventures.
Many hiking boots are equipped with devices that provide extra internal support, the purpose of which is to protect both your feet and the soles of your shoes on uneven terrain. One option is shanks, which are 3-5mm thick inserts sandwiched between the midsole and outsole of your boot. These add load-bearing stiffness to hiking boots, which is important to ensure you stay stable and balanced.
Shanks vary in length, some running the whole way down the boot, others just half-way. This feature makes the sole of a hiking boot less flexible, keeping your feet in a mostly flat position.
This may seem counterintuitive balance-wise, but a flexible sole allows your foot to wrap around every root and rock you step on, which can be painful, and tires you out much faster. Having a reinforced sole is a big benefit, but it could make your boot heavier; it all depends on the material the shank is made from.
Some hiking boots feature plates as a form of internal support, which are thin and semi-flexible. These can be used in conjunction with shanks, and they protect your feet from getting bruised by anything you step on.
All hiking boots have rubber outsoles, the part of your boot which spends the most time in contact with the ground. Some have additives such as carbon, which increases the hardness of the material. This is most commonly seen in mountaineering boots for extra durability, but the extra harness of the outsole can mean they feel slick if you go off-trail.
Traction is very important in a hiking boot for obvious reasons, so make sure you get a boot with enough traction to keep you comfortable. If you’re constantly trying not to slip, the increased pressure on your muscles can be painful and even damaging, whereas a boot with a good grip will make your hike so much easier.
So, what makes a good hiking shoe? The ideal footwear for hiking finds the right balance between comfort and protection, and this depends on your own personal hiking preferences. In general, you need a degree of protection from the elements, water resistance, comfort, and breathability. A good hiking boot should protect your foot without hindering your process, and if you make the right choice then your hikes will be so much better for it.
Are Duck Boots good for hiking?
Duck boots are constructed using a rubber sole and lower shoe, whilst incorporating a full-grain leather upper. This means Duck Boots have excellent water resistance. Full-grain leather is highly waterproof, as is rubber, so with these shoes, you’ll never have to worry about wet feet.
Of course, Bean Boots claim to be the “original antidote to wet feet”, so water resistance is one thing we know they’re good for. A good hiking boot should always be water-resistant, as there’s a high chance of encountering puddles, streams, and other wet terrains when you’re on the trail. There’s also always the possibility of rain, so even if you step around the puddles, your boots always need to have a good degree of water resistance. If there’s one thing Duck Boots are, it’s waterproof.
L.L. Bean’s Duck Boots use a steel shank for additional support, and this is a great feature for a potential hiking boot. Reducing the flexibility of the sole means more protection for your feet, so this feature of Duck Boots is a big benefit. Remember, this only applies to L.L. Bean’s branded Duck Boots, as there are many other boots of the same style available which might lack this additional internal support.
Duck Boots are known for being very comfortable. Boots are the number one most important piece of equipment for a hiker, and comfort is paramount. If your hiking boots are uncomfortable, it can make you hate every minute you wear them. On the other hand, finding a pair of boots that are comfortable for you is a big first step towards having the right shoe, so regarding comfort, Bean Boots get a pass from us.
Another benefit of Duck Boots is that they’re easy to clean. This isn’t as important as other factors, but after a long hike through muddy and dirty conditions, these boots only need a quick spray from a hosepipe and they’re clean and ready to go.
We’ve covered the benefits of wearing Bean Boots for hiking, and there are a number of reasons you might think they’re a good choice. Duck Boots are highly waterproof, very comfortable, and feature shanks which are a big help towards stability. However, there are some elements of these shoes which might mean they aren’t the best choice for hiking.
Why Duck Boots might not be the best choice
Ankle support is a big deal when it comes to hiking boots; as we explained before it can be the difference between a successful hike and a painful injury. Duck Boots are high cut, meaning they rise above your ankles. This means they do provide some support, but it’s minimal, and ideally, a hiking boot would offer more structure around the ankle. For hikers traversing rough terrain, more protection is needed, as if you miss a step in Duck Boots there isn’t much to save you from injury.
Another important thing to consider is traction. Duck boots are designed specifically to handle wet weather, and they do it very well. If you’re in wet, muddy, slushy or otherwise slippery conditions, Duck Boots are ideal, as they have plenty of traction and grip.
However, mud isn’t the only thing which hiking boots have to put up with. On the trails, the traction Bean Boots provides is considerably reduced compared to hiking boots, the difference is noticeable and unfortunately, the traction on the soles of Duck Boots just isn’t strong enough for any sort of serious hiking.
The materials from which Duck Boots are made make them excellently waterproof. However, rubber and full-grain leather aren’t the most breathable of materials. Although they may do a good job of not letting in water from the outside, they also keep it in.
The lack of breathability here can be very uncomfortable, leading to hot and sweaty feet. This can cause blisters, and for this reason, we would not recommend them as a hiking shoe. All hikers need waterproof boots, but there are others available which won’t make you suffer.
Blisters are something which all hikers have to deal with at some point, but if your boots aren’t breathable then they’re much more likely and threaten to ruin your hike. The best hiking boots keep your feet dry while staying breathable and comfortable, so don’t make an exception here.
If you’re keen on mountaineering, then your hiking boots need to be crampon compatible, which Duck Boots are not. Crampons help with grip when scaling rocky terrain, so having a boot they work with is necessary for safety reasons.
We have no choice but to conclude that L.L. Bean’s Duck Boots are no good for hiking. Although they are comfortable and highly water-resistant, the lack of extra support and breathability means they aren’t the best hiking boot.
A boot specifically designed for hiking could offer the same level of comfort while giving you much more support on the trails. Hiking boots made from Gore-tex would provide the same level of excellent waterproofing while still maintaining breathability, so there are better options out there.
What are Duck Boots good for?
Although we cannot avoid the conclusion that duck boots are no good for hiking, they’re still an excellent outdoor shoe. Bean Boots are ideal for making your way through snow and slush, so we do recommend this style as a general winter boot.
For any outdoor activity in cold weather, these shoes are ideal, as their warmth and waterproofing will keep your feet happy, while their traction is perfect for walking in the snow. Duck Boots are much closer to snow boots or rain boots than they are hiking, so for these weather conditions, we can whole-heartedly recommend these high-quality shoes.
Other branded duck boots
L.L. Bean was the original creator of the duck boot, but other brands have made their own version. Sperry offers a shoe called the Watertown Duck Boot, and its design is very similar to the original. Sperry’s version boasts a rubber lug outsole with no-slip traction, which could mean improved grip compared to L.L. Bean’s shoe. However, this is still not a hiking sole, so it’s not ideal for outdoor adventuring.
So, are Duck Boots good for hiking? The short answer; no. Although Duck Boots make an excellent winter boot, ideal for cold and wet weather, they just aren’t up to the same standard as hiking boots in other areas. The traction Bean Boots provide is optimized for wet conditions, such as snow and slush, but it’s simply not good enough for hiking in the backcountry.
The ankle support is admittedly better than trail running shoes, but more protection is needed if you do anything other than light and easy hikes. For your next hiking trip, Duck Boots aren’t the best choice, even though they’re comfy. If you’re still looking for an outdoor shoe, you might wonder, are Timberlands good for hiking? Read our article on the subject to find out if Timberlands might be the answer you’re looking for.
Bonus tip: To learn more about L.L. Bean’s original legendary boot, check out this interesting video we found below!