Hiking Boots: Go Light or Heavy?

News & Tips: Hiking Boots: Go Light or Heavy?

I used to tease my sister about her shoe collection that covered the floor of her closet and then another fleet hidden under her bed. "How many stupid shoes do you need?" I often asked her. Her reply was always the same, "They are not stupid and they each have a purpose."

HikingBootsLightHeavy blog
Depending on the type of trail, different hiking boots and shoes will do the trick.

A few decades later, I have my own collection of shoes, albeit much less in numbers — about six or seven pairs. And my hiking shoes have a specific purpose, too. As I have compiled trail miles over the years, I've purchased different hiking boots and shoes to best handle the trail of the day.

My recent trend of hiking boot preference has leaned toward lightweight. Going lightweight is nothing new in the hiking and backpacking world, but too light, or too heavy, can lead to problems. So when selecting the next pair of hiking boots, consider the following information regarding light versus heavy weight.

My rule is to go as lightweight as I can get away with, but without sacrificing comfort and jeopardizing sufficient foot and ankle support. For groomed or maintained trails, a lightweight, low-cut, breathable pair of running shoes are the winners. Actually, I even cruise slightly more challenging trails with the lightweights as long as I don't anticipate any debris on the trail and during warmer weather.

Although, if the trail has heart-pounding ascents and descents, then I lace up a mid-cut pair that provide ankle support. Some lightweight designs are not so light because of bulky, outer soles. Try them on and give them a good look over. If the soles' weight seems way over balanced with the rest of the shoe, put it down. Weigh other models in hand to find what feels balanced to you and then tie them on and take a lap around the store.

If I was to own only one pair of hikers, and I know that concept baffles my little sister, it would be a mid-cut, leather design with medium lug outer soles and a moisture-wicking layer built in the body of the boot. This style tips the scales to the heavier side but not by much. The support gained for the ankles and feet are much more than trail running shoes and done so without a big weight gain. The leather keeps sharp rocks at bay from hike-stopping slices and repels mud and water on rainy day hikes.

Leather takes a few miles to break in properly, but once done so, the leather conforms and is nearly as comfy as synthetic material built trail runners. The moisture-wicking capability helps keep blisters away by keeping feet dry. But, if you pay close attention to proper fit when shopping, blisters should be minimal, if at all. Ensure toes have ample space, the sides wrap around the foot but not squeezing, and the heel stays put while walking on the flat and during inclines and declines — walk up and down stairs during fit testing.

High cut boots are only really necessary if hiking through rough terrain with muddy creek crossings, heavy brush reaching out on the trail or intruding rock outcroppings, and for backpacking. Another reason to go high cut and heavy is if you've had an ankle injury in the past and need the most support possible for prevention of reoccurrence. But if a high cut boot gives you comfort and confidence on the trail, then heavy is your best bet.