Taking time to find a pair of lightweight hiking shoes that fits your specific purpose is one of the fundamentals as the well-being of your feet is essential in hiking. Hopefully this post can help you avoid hiking disappointments due to sore or injured feet.
Appropriate hiking shoes – make or break your hike
Depending on the purpose of your hiking there are a number of factors to consider when selecting hiking footwear:
- Terrain: rocky, slippery, steep, mud, water, ice, snow, sand, long grass, off-track
- Duration: hiking for one day, several days or more
- Access to civilisation: within a few hours, days or weeks
- Casual/recreational or serious/professional
It’s in the sole – improve your grip
For terrain consider the sole of your hiking shoe: flexible versus inflexible for comfortable walking – I like to do the bend test on my shoes to ensure they are not too rigid but provide enough support. While our focus is still on a lightweight hiking shoe don’t compromise on safety when considering a reliable sole.
The ability to grip in the wet for water, mud, ice and snow conditions (without crampons) – be very careful of synthetic soles that slip in wet conditions – look for a rubbery feel over a plastic feel. Examine the sole tred and ensure it is designed to grip and not too smooth.
Ensure enough thickness in the sole to avoid foot bruising in rocky and stony terrain – when you wear regular shoes you can often feel stones beneath your feet, when your feet are subject to stony tracks over distance and time this can result in bruising the soles of your feet. First protect feet and choose a thick enough sole and not depend on the inner sole.
Based on the duration of your hike is there enough tred in your sole to go the distance. Depending on the distance you may need to select a shoe with a different sole or arrange a second pair to carry or pickup along the way. Based on your access to civilisation, if the sole of your footwear gives out what is your plan? Can you do a temporary fix with twine or tape or maybe glue the sole back on or will you need a backup pair of shoes?
Some shoe manufacturers go to great lengths to address the concerns of their customers and Merrell have addressed the issue surrounding the collapsing soles on shoes by ustilising a company such as Vibram® to provide them with a sole for their MOAB(Mother of all boots) range. For more information click here!
Protect the feet – avoid blisters and injury
The right fitting shoe is important – you can avoid blisters, ankle sprains and other discomfort. Sometimes you do not need a longer shoe size, you may just need a wider shoe in the same size to give you more room if you have fat feet like me.
Who knew that Size 6 and Size 6B were the same length but the ‘B’ indicated a wider shoe – not me! I learned this later. And there are other letters used that follow the shoe size depending on country of manufacture so keep an eye out for these. Also, half sizes are a great way of gaining some extra width.
The upper shoe should be supportive but not restrictive – enough that your shoe is not too tight across your upper foot restricting movement and/or blood flow but supportive enough that your foot is not moving around as you hike across uneven terrain causing blisters or your feet coming out of your shoes.
The material your upper shoe is made of will determine flexibility, durability, waterproofing, breathability so pay attention to all of these details and think about what you need while still considering we are looking for lightweight hiking shoes.
There are a mix of natural and synthetic options. Leather breathes well but depending on thickness may take time to break in but has the ability to mold to feet over time, requires some maintenance and is not vegan friendly – that being said, if you hike in extreme conditions this may be your choice. There are faux-leathers that mimic leather and there are various synthetic materials that are water-proof and breathable such as gore-tex.
The inner sole can be replaced with your own choice of comfort or prescription so we don’t need to spend too much time here only that if you do plan on using your own inners, make sure they will fit without altering the fit of the upper shoe.
Make allowances for the socks you will wear, especially if they will be thick or layered. Think about the weight of these additions without compromising necessity. Try the shoes on with your regular hiking socks and any inner-soles you plan to use.
At this point consider if you will require a waterproof hiking shoe. If you are only doing day walks then you may be able to endure wet feet when encountering streams, rivers, rain but if you are in extremely cold conditions, ice or snow then go for the dry feet and not the frostbite. You can always take spare socks and plastic bags to tide you over but think light.
Comfort, comfort, comfort – love thy feet!
Taking care of the above necessities in your shoe design should bring you closer to comfort and it is here that we hone in on the weight of our hiking shoes – we consider the weight because this is what each step we take is going to be lifting for the thousands of steps we will be taking.
Hiking shoes are part of the hiking load equation – they are an imperative part of hiking and are a high priority when choosing hiking gear with a total weight load in mind and a total budget. I always select my shoes first and work through the list from there.
Check the weight of the shoe where ever possible and aim to stay below 500g (17oz) in weight – there are great hiking shoes below 400g (14oz). Try the shoes on and ensure they do not feel heavy.
Look at the design and check the length and width of the sole is not extending too far out as this may cause tripping and becoming wedged between rocks – some designs have a wider sole which changes your footprint and you will need to learn to walk in them – it is easier to choose another pair and avoid risking injury on the hiking trails.
Rule of thumb – your shoes should feel like a light layer around your feet not a heavy burden.
Aim to keep the feet pain free and comfortable.
Happy feet, happy sole!
As always any new pair of shoes needs to be broken in – start by wearing around the house, street walks and short hikes and see how they feel and how they adjust to your feet. Some people choose hiking boots over hiking shoes, it’s a personal choice but the fundamentals are the same. There are accessories that can be useful but they are outside the scope of this post – we may talk about those later and keep this simple.
Shoes and shoe technology are being updated all the time – it just gets better and sometimes more confusing. The basic considerations discussed above remain the same and at the end of the day it’s what your feet dictate that will decide whether you have chosen well.
While out in the wilderness take only photos leave only footprints!