40

More and more, I see people hiking with very light-weight shoes. To me, they look like regular sport shoes and they look to be lacking thick soles, waterproofness, or ankle support. I thought this was a US phenomenon, but I saw that in two UK outdoor stores I visited, most shoes sold are such. For example, a recent trip to Southern Utah, I partly hiked on popular trails in Zion National Park, such as the trail to Scout Lookout/Angels Landing and the trail to Observation Point. Both trails include serious slopes where classical hiking boots (see picture below) would appear essential to me, yet I saw hundreds of people who hiked in lightweight shoes that looked unsuitable to me. I observed the same in Bryce Canyon National Park, where a park newspaper lists improper footwear in a top-10 of injury causes as cause #3, #2 and #1. I did not notice this phenomenon on more remote trails or in other countries such as Norway, Sweden, Spain, Switzerland, where outdoor stores sell hiking boots rather than city shoes.

Why do so many people hike in serious mountains with light-weight footwear? Is it an active choice? I've tried sport shoesonce or twice for a short distance, and it was painful — I can't understand that someone would hike anything that isn't flat tarmac in such shoes. They wouldn't keep my feet dry beyond the first stream crossing, either.

By a proper hiking boot, I mean something like this:

hiking boot

By lightweight sport shoes, I mean something like this:

light sport shoe

In Scandinavia, many people I meet hike in even higher boots, arguing they are more suitable to keep the feet dry. I imagine that to be true, but I've never tried hiking in them and I don't think I've seen people using them outside Scandinavia:

Swedish boot

Do people actively choose hiking in lighter shoes (perhaps part of the American ultralight fashion?), or is it simply a matter of unpreparedness?

(See also: What is the point of hiking boots, versus any comfortable walking shoes?)

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    Two answers from the question you linked pretty much answer your question: outdoors.stackexchange.com/a/5698/3602 and outdoors.stackexchange.com/a/5700/3602 – imsodin Apr 25 '16 at 14:58
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Russell Steen Apr 26 '16 at 12:59
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    In Scandinavia, we also prefer the higher boots because of the decreased chance of snake bites. There are not many different kinds of snakes here (I think just one or two species that could be lethal for humans), so it is very effective prevention. Anyway, the principal reason is for keeping our foot dry as you suggest. – mmh Apr 29 '16 at 15:40

15 Answers 15

67

Hmm - more of a tirade than a question, but let's assume you sincerely want to learn. There's a good deal of ground to cover, so please bear with me here...

First, technical trail shoes are not "city shoes"

If we're going to have an intelligent conversation we need to clear this up from the outset. You describe all types of lightweight footwear as "city shoes". This is an unhelpful caricature. While street shoes are obviously inappropriate for tough walking, technical trail and approach shoes are designed specifically to provide the grip and robustness required for this type of terrain.

Second - lightweight walkers are not simply unprepared fashion victims

We have to put this in proper context. You imply that anyone using lightweight footwear on difficult ground is simply unprepared or following a mindless trend. In fact, you'll find that the more experienced the walker, the more likely that they will be choosing to use lightweight footwear.

I've been walking the hills for half a century. I've used every kind of footwear, and in almost all conditions I now have a strong preference for trail shoes. And I'm far from alone. Pretty much every experienced through-hiker is now using lightweight footwear, even on quite technical off-trail work like the Sierra High Route. In fact, I challenge you to find a single well-known long-distance walker using the kind of boot you are advocating.

So there are two possibilities. Either the entire community of long-distance walkers is experiencing some kind of collective delusion, or they know something that you are missing...

Third - the traditional case for heavy walking boots doesn't stand up to scrutiny

The specific claims you make for heavy footwear are that it protects the ankles and keeps the feet dry.

But where is your evidence that heavy boots protect the ankles? I can't find any actual research that's remotely convincing. To provide meaningful ankle support, a boot has to be so rigid that it's virtually impossible to walk in the thing. In reality, a walking boot, as against a technical ice boot, provides insignificant ankle support when laced for comfort. On the other hand the high stack height, stiff sole and poor ground feel disrupt natural walking mechanics and leave you clumsy and unstable. I experienced a number of serious ankle injuries in conventional boots. Since I switched to lightweight trail shoes I've never had a problem, and I do a lot of rough off-trail walking.

As for the idea that big boots keep the feet dry, I don't know many real walkers who'd agree. Your feet sweat, and heavy boots don't breathe. But the membranes in so-called breathable waterproof boots quickly break down and leak. And with any practical summer gaiter, water is going to penetrate through the gap at the ankle. Once they are wet, the type of boot you are advocating becomes even heavier and takes an age to dry.

The great majority of long-distance walkers simply accept that their feet will get wet at times. They chose shoes that drain well and dry quickly, and wear merino socks that are warm when wet. On balance, this is much the most successful approach.

Most long-distance walkers agree that the benefits of lightweight footwear greatly outweigh the disadvantages

The real disadvantage of lightweight trail shoes is economic - you're going to be replacing them after every 500 miles or so of heavy use. On every other dimension, they are a much better choice than the old leather monsters that you are advocating.

  1. Trail shoes are far more energy efficient: research shows that a pound on the feet is equivalent to at least 5 lbs on the back. And on steep rough ground, that's probably an underestimate (the research was done on treadmills). Lightweight shoes are far less tiring to walk in, and you'll be significantly less prone to lower-body strain injuries.

  2. Trail shoes are far kinder on the feet: I've walked thousands of miles in trail shoes and never had a hot spot, never mind a blister. When I walked in big boots I had endless problems with blisters and bruising. Search Google Images for "hiking blisters" and you'll see graphic evidence of the misery big boots can cause:

blistered bleeding feet

  1. Trail shoes are far more nimble: you'll be significantly more balanced and less liable to fall. Falls in remote country can be serious, so this is a big deal.

  2. Trail shoes are far better for stream crossings. Stream crossings with big boots are a major faff. With trails shoes you just walk straight across. Your feet are grippy and protected during the crossing, and the shoes soon drain on the trail.

As I say, the more experienced the walker, the more likely that they will chose lightweight shoes. And this will be a considered choice based on many thousands of miles of practical experience. You're welcome to choose the footwear you prefer - that's the freedom of the hills. But please keep an open mind and don't denigrate those who make other choices.

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    Blisters aren't caused by boots, but by ill-fitting footwear. I've never had blisters from hiking boots but have from approach shoes - probably because they don't feel like they need any wearing in so it's easy to get it wrong the first time. – Chris H Apr 26 '16 at 5:52
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    ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8584850 : "These studies support the use of high top shoes for ankle sprain prevention because of their ability to limit extreme ranges of motion, provide additional proprioceptive input and decrease external joint stress." << They basically say boots don't stop sprains, but they stop being a whole lot worse. – Venture2099 Apr 26 '16 at 15:33
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    @Venture2099 I think the real danger with lightweight footwear is crush injuries - either from rocks in talus, or from slipping into, say, a V shaped gap between branches while crossing windfall. I do know of one well known walker who hurt himself this way and had to bail. So some care and attention is required. The ankle thing is a non-issue, I believe. – Tullochgorum Apr 26 '16 at 16:01
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    @Tullochgorum you clealry didn't read what I wrote and are cherry picking. I said (verbatim) "They basically say boots don't stop sprains, but they stop being a whole lot worse.." You then counter with a post saying - "clinical trials are inconclusive as to...prevention." Thanks for repeating my own statements back to me. I also think it's absurd to claim that "thick soled" boots ruin proprioreceptor ability but somehow trail shoes don't. At the end of the day a sole is a sole; it's a barrier and the difference between boot soles and trail shoe soles is negligible. – Venture2099 Apr 27 '16 at 12:58
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    Define "experts". I have driven 250,000 miles in car if not more yet I am not an expert in combustion engines, gearboxes or mechanical engineering. Walking 1000's of miles in the hills no more qualifies you as a biomechanical expert than my mum walking to the shops her entire life. You have your viewpoint (largely unsupported and anecdotal) and I have mine. Let's depart as I simply don't believe your trail shoes have "orders of magnitude" greater ground feel (whatever the hell that actually is). – Venture2099 Apr 27 '16 at 16:33
27

There seems to be a general trend for people abandoning traditional hiking boots for lighter approach shoes. As I see it there's two driving factors here:

  • Approach shoes have gotten better

No need to have a choice between trainers and boots any more. You can get good solid approach shoes that are both light and sturdy enough for use in the outdoors

  • People are hiking more and more technical terrain

Scrambling is becoming a bigger and bigger pursuit in the mountains. The lines between hiking and rock climbing are blurring. So, so is the footwear. People want a pair of shoes that they can smear on rock/squeeze into tight jams, etc now. Boots are often just too clunky for this type of mountaineering.


For me it's horses for courses and a lot down to personal preference. Providing it's working for the person I don't think I'd insist that they wear x type of boot.

Winter mountaineering/high altitude is a little different. You need good insulation and the ability to add crampons, etc. here. So it's just stupid to not wear boots in these circumstances.


Personally I have 4 pairs of mountaineering footwear for different occasions. I have

  1. Scarpa B2 winter boots and crampons for winter
  2. Asolo medium weight (B0) boots for spring/summer/autmn hiking
  3. Salewa approach shoes for scrambling, approach to climbs and walking the dogs
  4. Red Chilli rock boots for climbing/high grade scrambling on occasion

There's no one boot for all occasions. Different footwear has different advantages and is disadvantages and I don't feel it's correct to criticise x type of boot/shoe. It depends on the circumstances.

  • I noticed that yesterday when visiting two outdoor stores (Blacks and Mountain Hardwear), that neither of them sold any shoes I would consider hiking in. Surprised to see this in the UK, where neither wet terrain nor rocky terrain is in short supply. – gerrit Apr 25 '16 at 15:12
  • @gerrit did you mean Mountain Warehouse? I've had good stuff from them in the past (including some end-of-line boots that held up well) but I wouldn't rate their stuff overall, or take their stocking policy as advice. Blacks should be better, perhaps their stock is more seasonal than you'd expect. – Chris H Apr 25 '16 at 15:42
  • You can get waterproof technical approach shoes. I use a pair of Salewa Evos if I'm scrambling. Good grip and goretex lined – user2766 Apr 25 '16 at 16:20
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    This is the best response, in terms of the 'horses for courses' bit. Obviously, if it's -20C outside, then the approach shoes stay in the rack, and the boots go on. Similarly, if it's an all day slog in 8" of snow, then it's boots and gaiters. Talus...I'm still rocking some boots because I've gotten mashed a few times. – Pittsburgh DBA Apr 26 '16 at 21:29
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    @gerrit: It's true that a low shoe won't keep your feet dry in swamps and streams. However, if you spend much time in Utah, or indeed much of the western US, you may notice that swamps and streams (at least those too big to jump or use stepping stones) are not exactly major terrain features. Horses for courses - and riding boots for when I'm riding the horse, of course :-) – jamesqf Apr 27 '16 at 5:29
21

Why do so many people hike with such light footwear?

I can give you a personal perspective: I have hiked in the 2000-3000m altitude (alps) for a long time, using quite tough semi-alpine boots (like the one in your first image, even the same brand).

I still do that today if there is snow or ice, especially since I am also snow-shoeing and using crampons with them. Some light glacier crossings as well.

Recently, I've changed to some extremely light and absolutely non-supporting shoes (Roclite 295). They are not water-tight (water can flow through them) nor airtight (if a cold wind is blowing, you really notice); they are like running shoes for rougher terrain. The point is - it is just a different approach to hiking.

I have to be much more alert all the time, in difficult terrain. I have to look where I step, I can not have my attention all over the place and chat all the time. I absolutely cannot let my body weight just hit the floor wherever it so happens. I consider that a bonus.

This is now the mode of travel that I much prefer. My personal benefits are...

  • No trouble with sweat, heat etc.; no buildup of moisture on the inside.
  • No trouble with getting wet from the outside. If they come in contact with water, they are instantly soaked through. But afterwards, they become dry equally quickly (while walking). Of course, getting them wet is not advisable in rain or cold weather and they are utterly useless on snow or ice since you cannot "dig in".
  • If I wish to, I can move fast, running up- or downhill. This is also possible with the boots, at least downhill, but much less fun for me.
  • No problems with blisters, at all.
  • The soles are, while being flexible instead of stiff, very sticky in most conditions, that is, they are not slippery at all. No problem to walk over inclined stone surfaces and such. (This is the same for the heavier boots.) More like climbing shoes. Much different than, say, generic sports shoes/sneakers.
  • Similar to barefoot running (i.e., Vibram Five Fingers or whatever), I believe my bones/ligaments/ankles/toes/soles will become stronger and more adapted (or at least used) to the load, and I am generally more aware of what I'm doing. My soles give me a lot of feedback about what's happening down there. I step lighter (good for the knees...) and I find that my feet often "auto-correct" a bad step before worse things happen. Of course, hard to tell scientifically, from a personal point of observation.
  • Last but not least, I can wear them all day, everywhere, when not hiking. They are a bit colorful and do not go well with a business suit (well, depending on the kind of business - might be OK in a "hip" company). They have actually become my everyday shoes, as they are very, very comfortable for me (mainly due to the breathability).

I admit that I have not researched what the prominent modes of ankle injury actually are for hikers. I would assume that most of those are from people who are not used to hiking/cross-country/climbing.

  • 1
    Very similar to my own experience. I would only add that for moderate snow and ice (for example short passages over passes during a long walk) you can use lightweight traction devices. Together with walking poles, I've found them fine: vargooutdoors.com/pocket-cleats.html kahtoola.com/product/microspikes – Tullochgorum Apr 26 '16 at 17:15
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    Voted up for mentioning that the technique changes depending on the boots. I'll add also that there is an adaptation period. Like you, I believe that my ankles are adapted to the lighter style, but I expect someone suddenly switching from heavy boots to light boots is at greater risk of injury if they don't take it easy initially. – divergio Apr 27 '16 at 5:01
  • @Tullochgorum, those cleats look neat. The price, ouch, but I'll keep them in mind. I'd need some heavy duty socks though to use them without freezing. :) – AnoE Apr 27 '16 at 13:41
  • "I have to be much more alert all the time, in difficult terrain." I'd like to add that I consider this a bonus. I've hiked in vibram five fingers for a few years and on my last hike I watched 4 people slip on wet rocks - some fell very hard. I walked over the same rocks, just more carefully (which is now second nature), and never once lost my footing. I find it similar to a blog I read by a very remote off road adventurist who doesn't have a winch on his land rover, the idea being that it would provide a false security and "enable" him to take chances that were more likely to get him stuck – plast1k Sep 8 '16 at 20:25
  • Yes, I consider that a bonus as well, @plast1k. – AnoE Sep 9 '16 at 6:52
14

The hiking shoe/waterproof trainer style is comfortable for casual strolls on easy trails, in good weather. This "light outdoors" (or fair-weather hiking) market is huge in comparison to serious hiking. The shoes can be made quite cheaply and don't last all that long. That's not a big deal - either you take to it and replace them with something better, you buy a new pair quite frequently or you only wear them occasionally and they last. I normally have 1-2 pairs on the go.

The more heavy-duty market expects something tougher and therefore more expensive. This won't be an impulse buy in most cases, so the high street shopd won't stock so many (except possibly in the winter).

I personally have a selection - from approach shoes to "soft boots" (synthetic+suede, breathable) to some seriously heavy leather scarpas that have lasted 20 years and will probably do the same again if I'm generous with the nikwax. The last pair are great if I know I'm going to be wading up to ~8" (2 dm) deep (and really comfy when I'm upright), but they're heavy and too solid around the ankle to drive in. If I'm going to be in deeper water than that, I'd actually prefer my running shoes that are free draining (or my kayaking gear).

Years ago I had a week's desert walking coming up, and bought some non-waterproof ankle boots (but otherwise very similar to the approach shoes sold now, in quality as well as style). In the hot conditions they were perfect.

The same logic can be applied to a lot of other outdoor kit - waterproofs, rucksacks etc.

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    Having read some other answers again I realise I haven't mentioned people who have made an active, considered choice. The extreme example would be fell runners, some of whom seem to weigh less than the gear I'd have in similar terrain. – Chris H Apr 25 '16 at 18:32
  • I can't agree that trail shoes are only suitable for "casual strolls ... in good weather". I've used them in apocalyptic rain and alpine snowstorms, though mud and bogs and rock-fields and tussock grass and pretty much every kind of gnarly terrain. It's even possible to handle moderate snowfields with the new lightweight traction devices. I too have a pair of 20 year old Scarpas, but I haven't used them in years. When it gets cold it takes a certain degree of knowledge and judgement, but I've never had any issues. It's not for everyone, but it's certainly possible. – Tullochgorum Apr 26 '16 at 17:11
  • @Tullogorum, I didn't mean they're not useful for anything else. I meant they're ideal for a large segment of people. Many of us here will be quite willing to spend money on kit and treat choosing what use on a given day as almost part of the activity. We're a small market compared to the target for e.g. Blacks. Example: There's a route here that if it's been raining I'll run in cross country shoes or walk in big boots, but would only wear approach shoes after a dry spell because they'd fill and not empty. – Chris H Apr 26 '16 at 18:04
13

For certain types of hiking, lightness is key. I can't talk for everyone doing that (some may just be unaware of the consequences of their kit choices) but I really like speed hiking / fell running, and for that I use very lightweight Salomon boots that are almost trainers/sneakers. My wife briefly tried the Vibram Five Fingers and really liked them for hiking.

I'm quite happy with these on a 20 mile a day trek with minimal pack as long as it is reasonably dry and I'm not on actual mountains.

If I'm trekking in the Highlands, across bogland or if the weather is looking to be really wet, proper boots will win, but they are heavy. Much heavier than fell-runners.

  • I met a guy along the Everest Base Camp trek, and saw him go all the way to base camp wearing nothing but Five Fingers. My feet would have turned to sausage by the end of the first day; he pointed out that he had to work up (long before he went to Nepal) to the point where they felt so good on a trail. – Mike May 1 '16 at 17:12
5

For a long time, there was a trend towards heavier shoes with more support. The logic was that it provided protection for your joints, and your anecdotal evidence suggests that it works.

Bear with me for a moment, and permit me to take the argument to an unreasonable extreme. Encase you entire foot in a solid steel block, well up into the calf. Now you can prove without a question that you're protecting your ankle.

Obviously that extreme example is unrealistic, but it does demonstrate that the "best" answer has to be a balancing act. Clearly there are advantages to support, and disadvantages to support. Otherwise we would all be either barefoot or wearing steel boots.

One of the issues with the heavy boots I have identified is that they encourage dependence on them. There is a set of skills your body needs to practice to keep itself stable without relying on ankle support. If you always have heavy boots on, that skill (and its associated muscles) atrophies. As you mentioned, you found it horrible to try to go even a short distance with lightweight shoes. On the other hand, if you have light shoes, you are obliged to maintain stability, and will damage your body if you don't. If you're the kind of person that likes to get distracted and let their body do all the walking, you'll likely put yourself in a bad position with a high likelihood of ankle damage.

Another issue is shock. If you have intentionally restricted motion of the ankle joint, you lose the ability to cushion blows using those tendons. The force is naturally taken up by the ankles and hips. Do you naturally walk on your heels? Then you probably will find that that ankle restriction really doesn't impact you all that much. If you naturally walk closer to the balls of your feet, losing that mobility has a much larger impact.

In the end, the best answer is to do what is comfortable for you, but don't be afraid to explore outside of the box a bit. Your definition of comfortable may move. Personally, I like hiking with lightweight shoes. However, if you look at the military, who have to make tremendous slogs with heavy packs without twisting an ankle, they're all in high-support shoes for good reason. I don't think we'll see our armed forces deploying in Vibram toe shoes any time soon!

  • 1
    You can easily find boots with total ankle support: downhill ski boots. Awkward to walk in, and look at the rate of broken legs & knee injuries. – jamesqf Apr 26 '16 at 4:53
  • I recently had to see a physio. He had seen two new clients with broken ankles that week. And they had both been wearing ski boots. High boots can protect you somewhat from turning an ankle, but they can't protect you from torque injuries. – Tullochgorum Apr 12 '18 at 1:05
5

There is a major advantage to lighter footwear when hiking. Here is a great example: Does a pound on your foot equal 5 pounds on your back?

Newer, light weight footwear can be targeted for hiking more then just a regular cross training or basketball shoe. A good example is the Moab. Much more hardcore hikers than I use Merrell's on the PCT, JMT, etc.

Heavy hiking boots aren't usually needed unless in very rocky terrain, imo. It is all based on the person and situation (ex: easy rescue?).

4

To a large extent, it depends on the climate, terrain, and trail conditions of the part of the US that you are hiking in; your observations are limited to one section of the US.

Also, prior answers have not mentioned the advantage of a stiffer sole with a shank for rock and root hopping.

Compared to the Eastern or Midwestern sections of the US, the western US (which contains the PCT and the CDT) has a much drier climate, fewer rivers, less mud, more dust, fewer rocks and roots, and smoother and better graded trails.

Early conventional wisdom was to use heavier boots. This was because:

  • Many of the early writers hiked on East coast
  • Eastern trails were constructed earlier, mostly as foot trails, and tend to go straight up and down the slopes to minimize erosion. This puts a premium on traction, wetness prevention, and foot protection.

In the 80s and 90s, Ray Jardine popularized using sneakers on the PCT, which is very smooth and dry.

However, hikers in the Adirondacks have to deal with rain nearly every day, deep mud, large numbers of rock crossings, and poorly maintained trails; a much larger proportion of them choose ankle-high boots. Most streams have bridges there, so one doesn't have to swap footwear very often.

Finally, Scandanavia features a lot of bogs and swamps and is generally quite wet; relatively few streams have bridges. Knee-high rubber Wellington-style boots allow you to walk cross-country through mud and streams without changing footwear.

4

For me with my almost 130kg (280 lbs) weight the best choice turned out to go "barefoot" ... Five years ago, I walked with my friend across entire Poland (over 850 km) in a month and after the first week my feet were wasted. Had to take a two day break, treat all the bruises and calluses which were caused by the heavier trekking shoes. Some might say as above that they were not fitted well. They were - they were well broken in from all the winter trekking in the mountains, but totally unsuited for hot summer weather. If you are keeping the shoes on your feet for 8-10 hours day after day, no magical membrane etc. will help you to get rid of all that perspiration which leaves through your feet. Fortunatelly I also had a pair of lightweight mesh shoes and finished the rest of our trip wearing those.

Since then I have been a big fan of the mininalist/barefoot approach which came to me intuitivelly. Then a year or so ago I have read a book "Born to run" about ultramarathons and the Tarahumara tribe etc. It turns out that those guys in their "sandals" (sometimes even just a piece of rubber tire just to protect the sole of their feet) often outperform sportsman with the newest high-tech gear. My preffered shoes nowadays are Inov-8 bare-grip 200 for summer hiking and for winter salomon speedcross 3 Gtx with a pair of well fitted snow gaiters. The bare grip have excellent holding tread whilst a very thin sole, so that you can and will (you will need a while to get used to it and sometimes at first it can be fainfull if you step on protruding rocks etc.) get an excellent feel the surface, plus the shoe is really soft and will not constrain all those bones in your feet, which were "designed" by evolution to ideally absorb all the shock, vibration etc. which you are subjecting your body to when walking.

Because it's not only about your feet - wear a pair of "bouncy-sole" shoes and it might feel really comfortable on your feet, but then you might be subjecting your knees to much higher shock when the forces of the bounce add up to your body falling down. here's a good article here explaining better the idea than I did ... The painful truth about trainers: Are running shoes a waste of money? Ps. Our fanpage about our last trip and the upcomming one this summer ... Poland again, this time West to East ... Podróże po Polsce.

3

This isn't meant for general advice but for hiking, backpacking, and snowshoeing I prefer light, really light -- I use my running shoes...much lighter than what you have pictured as light.

I'm reasonably fit and active -- I'm a former competitive endurance athlete. My running shoes provide adequate support for me and I'm much more agile in them than my hiking boots...and my snowshoeing is generally high intensity so dryness and warmth is no problem (they get soaked but my feet are hot) in the low-humidity high mountains of Utah, USA.

3

I continue to use Gortex lined boots because I hate wet feet. I use a light boot with serious socks for comfort and dryness.

Last hike on the AT in the Smokies, all the serious through-hikers were using very lightweight shoes or boots. Discussing it with them, they focused on:

  1. Speed over support because they are typically young and healthy
  2. Dryness in hot weather. Running shoes provide more ventilation.
  3. Comfort over very long distances. Boots tend to have pressure points.
3

As you've noted, the purpose of heavy boots is to reduce the likelihood and severity of foot and ankle injuries. I would argue that lighter equipment in general also accomplishes the same thing, reducing the need for heavy boots. You're less likely to place your foot badly, and less likely to be injured if you do, if you're not carrying 100 pounds of gear on your back.

3

Another thing to consider is the height of the heel. I personally think it is actually much easier to roll your ankle whilst wearing the 'proper hike boots' with the higher heels (and I have unfortunately done so quite often especially when carrying a heavy pack) than it is with the (usually) lower heel of the 'lightweight sports shoes'. The amount of ankle support the 'hike boots' give you can be easily measured for yourself. Put them on and lace them up then deliberately stand on the outside edge of the boot and try to start to roll your ankle. I've tried this with a number of these styles of boot and they didn't give much if any support, even when laced up tightly. They will NOT stop you rolling your ankle. I find the lower shoes do not roll so easily and when they do (and they will) it doesn't hurt so much.

3

Twenty years ago I hiked the Bandiagara Falaise in a pair of trail running shoes. A couple in our party actually wore Tevas. The choice wasn't made out of fashion or ignorance (6 year 82nd Airborne veteran here) but out of what would work best in 121°F (49°C) heat traversing steep canyon hikes and with in the same day long stretches of walking on sandy flats.

When I was in the service the most popular boot was the Jungle Boot:

Jungle Boot

Jungle boot

They were a cloth upper with leather lowers. People loved them because they were light and breathable and as you can see from the image, there wasn't a whole lot of ankle support.

1

The ankle support of hiking boots is a myth. Being heavy and more cumbersome, you are more like to turn an ankle wearing them across some rocky paths than being more nimble in a trail runner or hiking shoe. If your ankles are weak, you should do exercises to strengthen them. Wearing an ankle brace with trail runners would be better than wearing the big boots. Much lighter and far more ankle support. Wearing heavy boots makes a person tired and a tired hiker is one more prone to missteps. And if it's really raining, I don't care what shoes you have, you will get wet. Trail runners with mesh will dry far quicker than boots with leather or nubuck. It can take days for leather/nubuck boots to dry.

  • My feet hurt when I hike for more than a couple of hours in £100 "trail shoes" (which I find indistinguishable from sport shoes), they don't hurt in £200 hiking boots until after 10+ hours of hiking. And from personal experience on steep downhill friction walking, I strongly disagree with your allegation that ankle support is a myth. It feels completely unstable on slopes. I've learned from the answers that even experienced people choose to use them, but I cannot possibly reconcile that with the personal experience of myself or anyone I've ever hiked with. – gerrit Aug 10 '16 at 17:58
  • cleverhiker.com/blog/ditch-boots – E Pilgrim Aug 10 '16 at 18:01
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    My experience is different, although I rarely hike more than 40 km/day, whether it's tarmac, trailless swamps, steep gravel, it feels much better in Hanwag Tatra than in Meindl GTX. I appreciate boots like the Hanwag Tatra may be overkill on European long-distance trails like Jakobsweg or Pieterpad, for me it certainly isn't in the Alps or Sarek. I've seen experienced hikers such as Townsend deny such boots are needed, and perhaps they aren't for him, but they are for me. – gerrit Aug 10 '16 at 18:19
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    The question has been answered already; some people do have arguments for such footwear. I disagree. Fortunately, outdoor stores still sell both, so each person can wear what they prefer. – gerrit Aug 10 '16 at 18:22

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