Chapter 10: Going hiking? Throw Your Boots Away!
Really! Well at least leave them home. Since you lift your feet with every step, wearing lightweight running shoes can save more energy than reducing the weight of any piece of gear in your pack.
Grab those lightweight running shoes. You know. The ones you wear every day because they’re so comfortable. Wouldn’t you like to be comfortable when you’re hiking, too? I’ll bet you’ve never said, “I think I’ll go out in the woods today just to be miserable.” Let’s do some quick math. The average running shoes weigh around 1 ¾ pounds and the average hiking boots weigh about 3 ¾ pounds. That means you’re lifting an extra pound with every step. Since there are about 2000 steps in a mile, you’re lifting an extra ton every mile. Things that lift a ton are supposed to be called heavy duty cranes.
That old saying of one pound on your feet being equal to five pounds in your pack is more than true.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need a pair of boots because you’re hiking. Let’s consider some of the concerns that make hikers think they need boots. You don’t want to get an ankle sprain. Lighter shoes and loads reduce your chances of severe ankle sprains. You’re more balanced and not apt to trip on rocks and roots.
Backpackers think they need to keep their feet dry. It does help to keep the blisters away. When heavy, leather boots get wet they stay wet. When you wear your running shoes and rain and dripping dew from trailside plants get your shoes wet, they quickly dry out. For stream crossings, you can take your socks off before crossing if you like. If it’s getting into cold seasons I still prefer athletic trail shoes that are waterproof and light. The ones I occasionally use are 2 pounds 9.4 ounces (size 10).
Hikers worry that running shoes won’t give them enough cushioning under their feet. Quality running shoes need to cushion the feet. When you buy your running shoes, check the insole (the inside of the shoe) and the outsole (the part that contacts the ground). If the sole is soft, it can absorb shock better. You don’t want to be poked by every rock, but you don’t want the hardest sole you can find either. You may not have paid much attention to the arch support in your running shoes, especially if your shoes are more for everyday wear than actual running. For hiking, you will want to make sure the arch support is right for you. Order a catalog from one of the companies that specialize in athletic shoes. You’ll notice that these catalogs describe the height of the arch support in their shoes.
Some hikers like to remove the insole and add one that has more cushioning. Be careful when doing this because your foot will tend to swell when hiking and a thicker insole can make the shoe too tight and cause blisters.
If you have foot discomfort when you hike, consider being fitted for orthotics. I had pain in one foot while playing racquetball and orthotics made the condition much better. I’ve talked to backpackers who swear by their orthotics.
After you’ve experienced the freedom of lighter hiking shoes you probably won’t want to wear your old hiking boots even on the toughest of terrain. The increased agility of running shoes is more noticeable on rough terrain.
Backpackers might think they need boots to keep debris out of their shoes. You can add a pair of 3-ounce gaiters and still be much lighter and more comfortable in running shoes.
Shoes that aren’t labeled running shoes can be effective, too. You might like your cross trainers, but be wary of flat shoes that are primarily court shoes. You’ll feel less cushioning on rough terrain and you’ll slip on wet surfaces. Shoes that are labeled “trail runners” are usually very good because they’re basically a running shoe that’s built for tough conditions. My trail runners weigh only two ounces more than my running shoes.
When you purchase your shoes remember that fit is everything. Be careful not to try them on early in the morning. Your feet tend to swell a little during the day. Try both shoes on since most people have one foot that’s a little larger than the other. Of course, always walk in the shoe. It may feel far different than when you’re sitting down.
Make sure there’s plenty of wiggle room in the toe box. Wear your thick hiking socks because that will change the fit a little. Make sure the shoes fit you in such a way that your heel can’t slide up and down and your toes can’t rub against the top of the shoes causing blisters. Don’t rely on a “break-in” period. If the shoe doesn’t feel good right away, try others. There are plenty of choices.
Be sure to buy shoes that are big enough, especially if you’re planning a thru hike. Backpackers who hike the long trails often talk of ending their trip with a bigger shoe size than when they started. If you’re going to hike one of the long trails, consider leaving your support person with the style and store where you’d like to buy your shoes if you need replacements. But wait until you’re hiking before giving your support person the size and re-supply point at which you’d like the replacement shoes.
Go ahead and take that digital scale with you when you’re shopping for running shoes. Actual shoe weight can differ greatly from the stated weight.
Some hikers have a separate pair of sandals for camp. When you hike in lightweight running shoes, you’ll most likely decide you don’t need the camp sandals anymore. There are some sandals that are built for hiking, and some backpackers like the feeling of freedom sandals give. There are obvious disadvantages like abrasions from rocks. Experiment on shorter hikes if sandals are appealing to you.
Another great advantage of lighter hiking shoes is the reduced impact on the environment. Every step is truly lighter and easier on nature.
With light shoes and a light pack you’ll feel like you’re floating down the trail.