We’ve heard it for years: Don’t scrimp on your hiking boots.

We’ll start with the facts. Each human foot has a whopping 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments, and 19 muscles and tendons. Knowing this, it’s no surprise that a quality shoe is a vital piece of gear in any hiker’s closet. After all, our footwear protects 25 percent of the total bones in our body!

But how does a well-crafted hiking shoe anatomically help our performance on the trail? It all boils down to the support of the shoe. As a board-certified Orthopedic Physical Therapy Specialist, Joe Bryant deals with a highly active sports-based population through his work at Next Level Sports Performance in Golden, Colorado. According to Bryant, the benefits of hiking shoes stem back to our everyday footwear—or lack thereof.

“Simplistically, pronation means increased mobility in our joints and includes a flattening of the inner arch,” Bryant explains. Some pronation is natural and is inherent in the act of walking. However, excessive pronation leads to excessive mobility, and this is when injuries can occur.

“People at home often walk and function without shoes or with unsupportive shoes like flip-flops or worn-out sneakers,” Bryant says. This lack of support enables the excessive mobility referenced above. When these same individuals decide to hit the trails, their joints are more mobile than they should be on the uneven terrain. Should they choose to tackle the rocky singletrack without a supportive shoe, they are much more susceptible to injury than they would be while wearing the proper footwear.

For long-distance hikers or backpackers, the effects of pronation do not end there. If you’ve heard the children’s song “Dem Bones,” then you already understand:

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(featured image courtesy of gore-tex.com)