Hiking Boots --
Leather, Hybrids, Trekking Shoes & Sandals
Your choice of hiking boots will effect the pleasure of your trip more than perhaps any other gear decision. The type you choose, along with the fit, will either support your load and protect your feet or leave you at high risk for pain and even serious injury.
An old adage says “a pound on the foot equals five pounds on the back.” If there is any truth to that, it makes sense to choose the lightest pair of hiking boots possible that will provide the protection that the conditions require.
Boots constructed of all leather, depending on variety, weigh in around 3.5 to 5 pounds a pair. These are relatively heavy but rise high on the ankles, gripping tightly to give maximum support. The leather is somewhat water resistant and provides maximum protection from obstacles encountered along the trail. Leather is inflexible though which may lead to blisters. Careful pre-trip preventive measures and careful monitoring of the feet during the trip can minimize the occurrence of blisters. All-leather boots are well suited to handle the rigors of a heavy pack, rough terrain and wet, muddy conditions.
Lightweight Hiking Boots (Hybrids)
A model made of a combination of leather and fabric is a lighter alternative to all-leather which still provides good ankle stabilization. Because these hybrids sew leather and fabric together, they tend to wear out faster than an all-leather variety. However, the positive trade-off is a weight that is only slightly heavier than a good pair of running shoes. These hybrids provide the support necessary for a heavy pack and rough terrain but are more suited to drier conditions as any water deeper than the height of the leather will translate to wet feet. Hybrids are ideal for less severe terrain if you tend to have weak ankles and are probably the most popular choice largely due to their versatility.
Hiking or Trekking Shoes
While not a boot, a trekking shoe is a light and suitable alternative in the right conditions. Since they provide no direct ankle support, careful attention should be paid to the amount of traction on the particular pair that you choose. A trekking shoe is best suited to a lighter pack (under 25 pounds or so) and mild terrain. Also noteworthy, if trekking shoes get wet, they are very slow to dry and you will likely complete your trip with wet feet.
The lightest of choice of all is a hiking sandal. As the name implies, this choice provides no ankle support and leaves most of the foot open to scratches and gouges from trail obstacles such as sharp rocks and sticks. This choice is more popular in predictable, mild terrain with a light pack. These might be a good choice for a short trek with multiple water crossings as their open structure facilitates fast drying.
Whichever option you choose, proper fit should be your first and highest priority. There should be ample room in the toe box to prevent the sides of your toes from rubbing. If you force your foot all the way to the front, there should be about one finger’s width in the heel.
Be prepared to experiment to find excellent fit and function for the terrain and conditions of each particular trip. You will likely be best served by utilizing a small variety of footwear.
In summary, remember the following:
- Fit of your hiking boot is your #1 priority.
- Experiment to find the best boot for the pack weight, terrain and environmental conditions.
- Research the terrain before you leave in order to choose the proper hiking boot.
- You may be best served utilizing a small variety of hiking boots.
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