Shoes Instead of BootsThis page is called backpacking shoes instead of backpacking boots because a shoe makes more sense than a boot in the lightweight backpacking philosophy. Boots are clunky, they weigh a lot, and almost always excessive for what you're doing. Shoes, on the other hand, are flexible, typically more breathable, and most importantly, lightweight.
But a lot of people have reservations about the idea of wearing a backpacking shoe rather than a backpacking boot. The common complaints are that there's no ankle support, they wont be waterproof, and they'll fall apart much faster.
- Let's start with ankle support. If you're carrying 50 pounds in your backpack then sure, ankle support might not be such a bad idea. But 10 pounds? It just isn't necessary. Your ankles aren't so weak that they're going to go out from under you at the first sign of a rock or a root. Trust in your ankles, they're good at what they do. (There are, it should be noted, some very light, well made backpacking boots with ankle support out there, including the Inov-8 Roclite 288 GTX, the Inov-8 Roclite 370, and the Inov-8 Roclite 400 GTX.)
- Waterproof. The only true waterproof footwear I've ever owned were mountaineering boots, and those are not the kind of boots you want to go hiking in if you can avoid it. Waterproof is in most cases relative. Hiking shoes will keep your feet dry up to a point, depending on the shoe, and backpacking boots will usually keep your feet dry longer than the shoes, but eventually no matter what you're wearing your feet will get wet. If you're desperate, the best solution to the waterproof problem is a pair of plastic grocery bags. Very low tech and very lightweight, and they get the job done. Those looking for a more high tech solution should take a look at the Rocky Gore Tex Socks.
- It's true that a pair of shoes probably break down faster than a pair of backpacking boots. Of course the price reflects this, shoes for backpacking being a good deal cheaper than backpacking boots on average, so it's hard to say which you would spend more on in the long term. But by buying a well made pair of hiking shoes you can extend the life of them in to the 1000+ mile territory and at least get your moneys worth from them.
- Breathability is an important feature that is more common to shoes than to boots. Allowing your feet to breath, especially during hotter months and in hotter climates is hugely important to comfort and the durability of your feet. Moisture plays a part in all kinds of foot problems commonly experienced by backpackers, and allowing your feet to breath is a big help.
- Weight. This website is about weight, and there's no question that your average pair of shoes is going to be lighter than an average pair of boots. Weight on your feet isn't the same as weight on your back though, it's worse! See the next section for an explanation.
1 Pound on Your Feet = 5 on Your BackI've heard it said many times that 1 pound on your feet is equivalent to having 5 pounds in your backpack in terms of energy expenditure. Given that an average pair of backpacking boots can easily weigh above 2 pounds, that's like walking around with an extra 10 pounds in your backpack. Backpacking shoes on the other hand are more lightweight, many easily getting down to the .5 pound range. So instead of an extra 10 pounds on your back you would have a much more manageable 2.5 pounds with a pair of lightweight shoes.
Popular Backpacking Shoe Options
- Inov-8 are well known for their excellent trail shoes. They've won a fair number of awards for their products and they're well liked by lightweight hikers for their shoes. One of the great features of Inov-8 shoes is that they allow you far more than other shoes to feel the ground through the soles and your feet to flex in response to the ground.
- Montrail is another brand that makes shoes popular with lightweight backpacking enthusiasts. Their shoes are lightweight and designed to last a long time on the trail.
- Vibram Five Fingers are another lightweight backpacking shoe option that are gaining in popularity. They haven't been on the market for all that long so it's unclear whether they're a fad or if they're here to stay, but I've used them while backpacking and enjoyed the experience so I think they should be included here.