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Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Hiking Trail Information

Backpacking Boots?
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 photo.

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 closeouts.

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 backpacking boots.

(related article)

Steve Gillman is a long-time advocate of lightweight backpacking. His tips, photos, gear recommendations and a free book can be found at

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Like this article?  You may also enjoy:  Do Walking Sticks Conserve Energy? by Steve Gillman, Ultralight vs Traditional Backpacking by Steve Gillman, and Breakfast Recipes by Steve Gillman


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