Even though I rode an enduro bike for most of my adult life, off road only and mostly on forest trails, when I decided to get licensed and took the MSF beginner course, I was surprised how much I had to learn. You are required to bring a jacket, boots, helmet and gloves. I bought an HJC modular (flip up) helmet from a local MC dealer, and wore a Wilson leather jacket, a pair of leather gloves that are suitable for clearing the snow off your car, and my trusty 20 year old Rockport XCS hiking boots.
During the course I learned that while my hiking boots are excellent for walks in the woods, and even though I could walk thru water up to my ankles and not get wet feet, motorcycle boots are specifically designed to protect your feet and ankles from the most common motorcycle accidents.
I learned just recently the most common injuries to motorcycle riders today are to our feet and legs. The studies do not say whether this is because riders that were injured were not wearing proper boots and riding pants, or because that part of our body is most exposed during the most common accidents. I find it interesting because the first thing we talk about when it comes to protection is our helmets, and the last thing most of us buy (including me) is a pair of MC riding pants.
Motorcycle boots are designed for the specific types of injuries that are sustained in motorcycle accidents. The foot bones are protected. The ankle bones are covered with material to keep that area of flesh from being ground down to the bone if your bike goes over and your foot is sliding wedged under the bike. The shins are protected. Normal work boots or hiking boots do not have these specific design features. MC boots are also designed to keep your feet warm and dry, but not sweaty, while out in an 85mph wind blast.
After the course I went back to the same dealer and got these boots:
They are comfortable for riding, keep my feet warm and dry, except for one summer down pour when the rain soaked all the way to my underwear and drizzled down my pants (over the boots) enough to get water inside. (no rain suit). Ive never had my feet slip out on me when stopped while wearing these.
They are not great for doing a lot of walking. If Im riding somewhere and plan on hiking or acting like a tourist on foot, I either bring a good pair of sneakers in my bag or trunk, or a few times I have reverted back and wore a new pair of the Rockport XCS hiking boots:
To be clear the rockport XCS boots are not motorcycle boots.
I realize I sound like I am contradicting myself now, but just as MC boots are designed for riding, hiking boots are designed for hiking, and if that is where you are going and will be spending most of your time, hiking on wet rocks or slippery trails can actually cause you to slip and fall, wearing the wrong hiking gear can cause you to have an accident. That elevates the requirements above wearing boots to protect your feet in the event of an accident on your motorcycle.
If I have the option, I bring both.. but sometimes when your bag or trunk is full, something has to be left home. When I commute to work (over 100 days / year) I wear my Tourmaster MC boots, and I keep a pair of comfortable sneakers that I wear at the office and on the shop floor.
I recommend for new riders: get your boots and gloves and helmet and jacket from a local MC shop. Your gear has to fit you perfectly or you will be miserable while riding. If you are really pressed for money you could goto the local shop and have a salemans help you pick out your gear, try everything on, and then walk out empty handed and go buy it all online and save a few bucks. Dont be surprised if the next time you go there you find an empty building. A good MC riding gear salesman is worth the small extra expense.
After a few years I discovered an interesting thing about motorcycle boots. I worn the sole thru on my left foot right under the ball (behind the toes). I patched it a few times with rubber, but by the 3rd summer I had to get new boots. My right boot was still in good shape. I dont know of anyplace where you can buy just the left boot. Since then I have gotten good at slowing down short of a stop sign or red light, creeping the bike forward at 1mph without putting my feet down, and taking off if the cross road is clear. Putting a lot less wear on the left boot now.