Choosing lightweight hiking shoes to go the distance!

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four of us having a black and white photo of our feet together in our hiking shoes

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 tread and ensure it is designed to grip and not too smooth.

a rocky slippery track

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 tread 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 pick up 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?

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broken hiking shoe

Splitting soles is a common problem. You often see remnants of broken boots & shoes lining the trees and fences at the end of a popular hiking trail. They are 95% split at the sole. Always carry some very strong, fast sealing glue if you don’t want to carry a spare pair of shoes on long duration hikes. It is a low-priced, low weight fix.


Or better still choose a sole that won’t split. See my review on the Mother of All Boots with the reliable Vibram® sole.

Protect the feet – avoid blisters and injury

The right fitting shoe is important – you can avoid blisters, ankle sprains and other discomforts. 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 the 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 is 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 mould 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 waterproof 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.

Sock liners

If you are using sock liners be sure to consider the thickness along with your regular socks when choosing shoe size.

Some of the benefits of sock liners :

  • They protect feet from blisters
  • They provide insulation
  • They keep moisture away from your feet

The Merino or wool liners are great for comfort and provide a layer of insulation in cold and wet weather .

Cheaper synthetic sock liners protect the feet from blisters and provide some extra comfort.

Some liners use wicking technology to disperse the water across the fabric allowing it to dry faster when wet.

Make sure you read the reviews for any sock liners to suit your hiking terrain.


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.

hiking-on-ice

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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 every step we take is lifting the weight of our footwear and we will be taking thousands of steps.

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 per shoe or boot – there are great hiking shoes below 400g (14oz).

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 become 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 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 need 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. Except if you are choosing a pair of shoes labelled “out-of-the-box”, which indicates they are ready-to-wear without breaking in. The Merrel MOAB, Mother-of-all-boots are out-of-the-box.

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.

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 how your feet feel that will decide whether you have chosen well.

Vibram®, Gore-tex® and Merrell combined their expertise to come up with the MOAB – Mother Of All Boots! I have provided a review of the Merrell Moab 2 GTX which is the best boot I have worn to date and ticked all of the boxes in my opinion.

Wilderness footprints

6 comments

  1. this is very helpful and informative, I actually I am thinking of hiking shoes because some of my friends want us to go for a hike in the spring.

  2. I am a big fan of gore-tex. I never knew that there could be a size 7B! I am so glad I found out. I will also have a look in the moas range, my brother hikes all the time so this might be something he could use 🙂

    1. Hi Alexandra, in some countries it can be a B size or go by another letter or in some cases 1/2 size greater such as Size 9.5 – it is also best to check how each manufacturer provides a wider shoe because it makes all the difference for people with wide feet – you can actually damage your feet with just half-size too small because hiking demands alot from your feet. I’m glad you found it useful!

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