By Steven Gillman
Backpacking boots or any of the traditional hiking
boots may have their place. That place just isn't on my feet. If you
don't have specific problems with your ankles, there isn't snow on
the ground, and you don't carry more than thirty pounds on your
back, try running shoes. You'll be so happy that you did.
Backpacking or hiking boots are heavy, hot,
stinky, and stay wet forever. Decent running shoes can be as light
as one pound per pair, while most hiking boots top three pounds.
Army research showed that a pound on your feet is like five on your
back (some say six), so three-pound boots naturally leave you more
tired at the end of the day.
Backpacking Boots And Ankle Support
Some backpackers argue for the necessity of ankle
support, but throughout history people managed without stiff
ankle-supporting boots. Even if you are carrying thirty pounds on
your back, consider the fact that there are people walking around
that weigh 60 pounds more than you, and without problems. It is an
issue of weak ankles, not a lack of support. To solve this problem,
try walking a little each week on uneven ground (not in the mall).
While some may really need hiking boots, why not
be sure your ankle problems are not just due to a lack of exercise
before you settle for backpacking in heavy boots. It is true you may
need hiking boots if you carry more than thirty pounds when you
backpack. The solution to that is to cut the weight down.
Why Running Shoes?
Your feet will stay cooler in a good running shoes
than in hiking boots, and this means fewer blisters. Once I switched
to running shoes and lightweight socks years ago, I stopped getting
blisters, and I don't mean fewer blisters. I mean no blisters. I
haven't had one blister since I switched, not even after a 110-mile
7-day trek in the Rockies, for example.
For socks, I have used nothing but thin nylon
dress socks for years. They are cheap, and they weigh less than an
ounce per pair. That makes it easy to carry enough fresh socks. They
also can be easily rinsed out and dried quickly. My feet won't
tolerate hotter socks now, although I do bring a warmer pair for
sleeping or for cold weather.
Unless you have size 13 feet, you should be able
to find good running or hiking shoes that are under two pounds per
pair. Carry a kitchen scale to the shoe store if you have to.
Unfortunately, catalogs sometimes don't show weights, so you'll have
to guess which hiking shoes are lighter based on the description and
The higher quality shoes have soles stitched to
the uppers. Look under the insoles to check this. A removable insole
is another sign of quality shoes. Usually you can find a good pair
of running shoes under 28 ounces and under $80, or half of that on
Until you try it, you won't know how liberating it
is to ditch the heavy pack and heavy boots and hit the trail in
running shoes. Go more miles more comfortably. Run up a hill just to
see what's there. I haven't yet met a person who has tried
backpacking in hiking shoes or running shoes - and then returned to
Steve Gillman is a long-time advocate of lightweight backpacking.
His tips, photos, gear recommendations and a free book can be found
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