If you hear that someone is going out for a hike, it’s easy to imagine them with a huge backpack loaded with a massive tent, bulky sleeping bag, and pots and pans tied to the outside of their pack. They probably have a ridiculous hat and gargantuan boots that reach nearly to their knees. However, gear is constantly changing. Backpacks have gotten smaller and lighter, as have tents and sleeping bags. Metal pots are often left at home and replaced with portable stoves. There is one piece of gear that old school hikers often refuse to give up, though: their bulky, large, and heavy hiking boots.
There’s an old saying that one pound on your feet equals five pounds on your back. While this may not seem like much, especially if you’re traveling light to begin with, the weight can quickly add up. Some popular hiking boots weigh nearly two pounds each. A full set, weighing close to four pounds, is equivalent to adding 20 extra pounds in your pack. Those that are attempting to travel ultralight may be adding more weight from their feet than what is in their pack to begin with.
To back up these claims, a study from the U.S. Army Research Institute in 1984 concluded that a hiker expands 4.7 to 6.4 times as much energy when weight is carried in a hiking boot versus in a pack. Additionally, heavy hiking boots are often stiffer than other types of trail shoes. This leads to your body being less efficient at stretching and walking. Each pound on your feet equals approximately five percent more energy expanded to walk normally. While five percent might not seem like much, heavy boots can add nearly 20 percent more energy expanded with each step. This may not mean much on a short hiking trip, but imagine expanding that much energy over a weeklong trip. You’ll be using much more energy than someone wearing lightweight hiking shoes.
What are your options? Many will tell you that hiking boots are the only way to go: they’re heavy duty, often waterproof, and offer ankle support for those with weaker ankles. These claims are all true, but don’t discount lightweight trail runners. Advances in shoe technology have made lightweight trail runners that are on par, or even better, than many traditional hiking boots. To begin with, they’re nearly as heavy duty as regular hiking boots. They’re rugged and made from many of the same materials. However, they aren’t often waterproof, but this is usually a good thing. They dry extremely fast. There’s another old saying that waterproof boots work both ways. If you get them wet, expect them to stay wet and miserable for a long time. Most trail runners don’t offer ankle support, though some brands do. If you are prone to rolling your ankles, hiking boots may be the best way to go.
The debate between hiking boots and trail runners continues to rage on. Realize that you aren’t constrained to one type of footwear. If you’re getting worn out with your heavy hiking boots, trail runners may be your answer.