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I grew up in the 80s and most of what seemed top outdoor/adventure footwear was made of leather. Leather, at least in my surrounding was considered supreme for shoes.

But a lot of enhancement in outdoor technology and materials has happened in the last 30-40 years. None of my shoes are made of leather and they're the most comfortable and durable I've ever had. Has leather largely been superseded as a material for general outdoor/adventure footwear that sustains more exposure to water and other elements of nature?

  • In technical mountaineering I'd say the majority of "standard" (e.g. not specifically light-weight or expedition style) boots use leather as outer material. So definitely not exclusively leather, just "with leather". Therefore not generally superseded, it's still used in combination with newer materials where it is superior (which is probably mostly durability). – imsodin Jun 21 '19 at 15:14
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If you are thinking of the older styles of hiking boots where they were almost completely leather, yes that style has gone out of fashion with newer materials that are lighter and made out of synthetic materials such as nylon and have Gortex linings.

On the other hand, there are plenty of modern boots that still use leather for part of the boots. Most of the Asolo hiking boots include leather and those are considered some of the better hiking boots.

In my experience backpackers are trending towards lighter footwear and sometimes approach shoes rather than full-size hiking boots and a move away from leather is part of that.

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By far my most comfortable pair of boots is leather, though they're only leather uppers, not leather soles, and they were approximately 3 times the price of the most expensive other footwear I've ever bought. Leather soles are reserved for a specific class of formal footwear at this point in time.

The general theme is that leather takes longer to walk in to the point of being comfortable, modern materials are lighter and more comfortable more quickly. As a result of this, and that often modern materials are cheaper, the vast majority of footwear you'll now see include no leather.

However if you're willing to make the investment of time, money, early discomfort, and maintenance, a good pair of leather boots lasts much longer than anything artificial and can be just as comfortable. Whether that cost is worth it is up to you.

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My work boots are leather with plastic toe protectors (Thank heavens steel is no longer used. Heavy and cold...)

I hike in low top Merrells, including boulder fields and scree. The Merrells are largely synthetic, and weigh a third of what my work boots do. In a typical work day I cover about 6-10 kilometers and I don't have a pack on. (I took my GPS to work one week.) On a typical back country trek I'm doing 20-30 km a day, and most of that has a 40 pound pack on my back.

A forester friend swore by "white boots" made by the White Boot Co. in Spokane washington. At the time they cost about twice what good boots from a work boot company would cost. But they were hand made to your foot. (You went to their store for a measures)

Al claimed that a pair of White Boots would last him 5 years of being in the field every day, all day, while off the shelf boots lasted about a year.

  • I still have a pair of leather hiking boots I bought in 1984. I used them heavily for the first 10 years. 2 of those years were as full time work boots. While the condition is best described as "poor", and their use is limited these days to an occasional short hikes in the early fall, I don't expect my Keen's or NorthFace hiking shoes lasting anywhere near that long. Leather has a longevity that modern materials lack. – B540Glenn Jun 24 '19 at 20:01

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