In its core, hiking boots are made to protect and support the feet during a hike. The design of hiking boots employs the use of durable materials to accomplish this feat. As such, conventional hiking boots consist of various components that contribute to its overall size and weight. Lightweight hiking boots present a more economical solution, especially if the trail is well maintained.
Lightweight hiking boots are a step below heavy backpacking boots and above low-top hiking shoes. They’re meant to be used for easy-to-medium day hikes with distances that range from 5 to 15 miles. These boots contain the right amount of support, protection, and traction to accomplish a day hiking trip. Furthermore, their reduced weight is a boon for any hiker covering a great distance in a single day.
How to determine if a men's or women's hiking boot is lightweight
Here at RunRepeat, a hiking boot that weighs less than 500 grams is considered lightweight. This compact heft is a considerable drop from a heavy backpacking boot that weighs an average of 750 grams.
A lightweight boot’s upper is usually made from a combination of synthetic materials and suede. In some cases, these boots use split-grain leather in place of suede.
Once you have tried wearing and walking with lightweight hiking boots on, you’ll notice how they can bend easily. They can be worn straight out of the box without breaking them in for a long time.
Hiking boots meant for short to moderate trails are more comfortable to use because of their enhanced breathability.
The components that enable lightweight men's and women's hiking boots to be more portable
While a good number of lightweight hiking boots use leather for its upper, others use synthetics. Synthetics are known to be lighter than various kinds of leather, including full-grain, split grain, and nubuck, among others. As a result, the overall weight of the boot is lessened.
Synthetic materials, such as nylon and polyester, are more breathable than any type of leather. An increase in breathability helps the foot feel more relaxed during a hike, making each step lighter in the process. Some brands manufacture lightweight hiking boots that feature a combination of synthetic and fabric materials in its upper.
Lightweight hiking boots employ a pliable rubber outsole in its construction. The use of this certain material provides flexibility to the hiker over easy to moderate terrain conditions. Since the outsoles themselves can conform to the shape of the ground easily, little effort is spent by the foot to make a step.
A lightweight boot’s outsole uses a design pattern that makes it more resistant to slippage and grips better on uneven surfaces. This is called a lug pattern and it is characterized by their deep indentations on an outsole’s surface. As a result, the boot is provided with an improvement in ground stability and traction.
Along with a lug pattern, a heel brake is also incorporated in some lightweight hiking boots. Basically, this outsole component helps a hiker in slowing down during steep descents. With the aid of a heel brake, a costly accident can be averted. When these outsole components are combined, the overall experience for a hiker will be much better.
Engineers also employ softer materials in the creation of midsoles just like they do for outsoles. This is done to provide improved cushioning and comfort to the wearer’s foot when hiking. Foremost among these materials is ethylene-vinyl acetate, or EVA for short. There are varying EVA densities available but a softer type is often found in a lightweight boot’s midsole.
Another material found in a midsole of lightweight hiking boots is polyurethane. This material is stiffer than EVA and is more commonly used in heavy backpacking and mountaineering boots. Manufacturers of lightweight hiking boots also use PU and fuse it with EVA to make the midsole more durable.
Arch support is vital in preventing foot discomfort when you hike. In order to provide you with this kind of support, lightweight hiking boots are equipped with a shank. It is usually located between the midsole and the outsole. Shanks are made from different materials such as fiberglass, steel, nylon, and Kevlar. They have various qualities when it comes to weight and flexibility. Some lightweight hiking boots use a combination of these materials to afford its user adequate arch support mixed with flexibility. The lightest kind of shank is one made from nylon.
Lower Ankle Collar Design
A mid-cut ankle cuff design is commonly seen in lightweight hiking boots. This feature allows the foot to move with fewer restrictions to the ankles. With this benefit, a hiker’s foot can maneuver better over any kind of obstacle in a path.
The impact of weight on a hiker’s overall performance
Sir Edmund Hilary, the first person who climbed Mount Everest in 1953, said that for every pound placed on a foot, the back would have to carry an equivalent of five pounds. Simply put, a hiker’s back would have to exert five times the energy to move a single pound the foot is transporting.
Of course, you need to consider diverse factors such as a terrain’s slope, weather conditions, and the time it takes to travel a certain distance, to determine how much weight your feet are going to carry. Whatever the circumstances may be, choosing the right pair of boots is crucial for any outdoor enthusiast.
When the proper footgear is worn during a hiking trip, the user will find it easier to traverse any path and overcome all of its obstacles with the support that these boots bring to the table. Wearing lightweight hiking boots in a suitable trail lessens the burden on a hiker’s back, improving the overall experience in the process.
Brands that manufacture lightweight hiking boots for men and women
Light boots are a popular choice for people who want a comfortable hiking experience for their feet. As such, hiking footwear companies manufacture their respective line of lightweight hiking boots for this particular endeavor. These companies use different technologies to manufacture footgear that fulfill the demands of hikers.
Lightweight hiking boots produced by Salomon, a sports manufacturing company from France, use the Advanced 4D Chassis. This technology is placed between the midsole and the outsole to optimize a foot’s motion control and make it more responsive on a trail. Salomon lightweight boots are also equipped with the internal Sensifit technology to wrap a foot comfortably for a more precise fit.
Lowa’s line of lightweight hiking boots has nylon shanks to take care of arch support and Double Injection DuraPU midsoles to absorb excessive shock. Lowa boots also feature footbeds with perforations to enhance breathability and help keep a hiker’s feet dry.
Lightweight hiking boots made by Keen feature various technologies. One of these is the company’s proprietary Keen.Dry membrane. This lining is placed in some of their offerings to restrict water from entering the boot. Plus, some of Keen’s hiking footgear includes an ESS shank and a Metatomical footbed design to improve support for hikers. When combined, these features bring walking comfort to the hiker.
Lightweight hiking boots made by Merrell come with their patented technologies, such as M Select Dry and M Select Warm. M Select Dry is a waterproof lining that can also wick away moisture. M-Select Warm insulates a foot in cold weather without adding more bulk to the boot. The company also uses mesh for their uppers. They are supported by lightweight overlays to give structure to the footwear.
This footwear company commonly incorporates a double-density midsole in its line of lightweight hiking boots. A combination of high and low EVA densities allocates sufficient cushioning and support to their midsoles.
Some of the technologies used in this company’s lightweight hiking boots include durable, abrasion-resistant mesh uppers combined with Nano-Cell 2.0 Technology to deliver breathability to the hikers. An STB Control System integrated with Gore-Tex Surround technology is also found in their line of lightweight hiking boots to augment comfort and fit.
Reasons to choose lightweight hiking boots
When moisture generated by sweat is trapped inside the boot, your feet will experience discomfort. For instance, excess moisture can produce a foul odor or cause blisters. To prevent these problems from happening, the upper of lightweight hiking boots is designed to be breathable. It can expel moisture from the inside. At the same time, breathability allows air to easily enter a boot and provide more comfort to your foot.
The upper of lightweight hiking boots is usually made from synthetic materials. Synthetics are known to possess an inherent breathable nature without adding more weight to the boot. In some cases, these synthetics are partnered with fabrics or even a little amount of leather in the boot’s design.
A pair of lightweight hiking boots is known to weigh an average of 1 kilogram. When worn by a user, these boots feel lighter to carry around. The minimal weight eliminates excessive stress on the foot.
Going over uneven surfaces and challenging terrain requires a foot to be nimble in order to overcome any hiking difficulties. Lighter boots afford your foot the benefit of flexibility. Since lightweight hiking boots are less rigid than their conventional counterparts, they can conform easily to any surface. The materials used in the soles of lightweight hiking boots allow them to bend better. In most cases, less stiff variations of Vibram rubber are found in them. The outsole components allow the foot to maneuver better in challenging hiking conditions.
The absence of additional bulk in lightweight hiking boots makes it easier for you to walk around in them. Due to a reduction in weight, the time it takes to travel from point A to B is much faster. This advantage is particularly useful during short to medium trips where a hiker will be covering a great amount of distance within the span of a single day.
Reasons why you should not get lightweight hiking boots
Lightweight hiking boots are constructed from softer and less rigid materials. These parts lessen the overall durability of the boot and make it more prone to wear and tear. When used constantly, the outsoles of this boot may lose traction over time. Plus, the upper will sustain a lot of damage and fail to protect a foot in the process. As such, it is important to determine the degree of difficulty of a hiking trip before deciding on using a lighter pair of boots. Otherwise, harsher hiking conditions can wear these boots faster.
Inadequate protection in harsher environments
Certain environments have more irregular surfaces, bodies of water, and different types of obstacles. Various weather conditions also add more stress on a hiker and the boot being used in this endeavor. In order to reduce its size, lightweight hiking boots sacrifice the inclusion of protective features. The choice to use synthetics in the construction of a boot upper makes it more prone to damage. The softer quality of synthetic materials is no match when it comes into contact with sharp rocks and extreme temperatures. Lacking protective technologies will expose the foot to blisters and other forms of injury during a hiking trip.
Backpacking and mountaineering boots include a number of features that serve to protect a foot from danger. The same can’t be said for lightweight hiking boots because they usually don’t have these benefits. Vital protective features, such as toe caps and higher ankle cuffs, are notably absent from this kind of hiking footwear. The absence of these features helps reduce the overall weight of lightweight hiking boots while sacrificing protection.
Lack of support when carrying a heavy pack
Carrying a heavy load over any distance exerts pressure on your feet. As such, using lighter boots is not recommended because they lack the necessary supportive features. And since there will be no adequate support coming from the boot, sustaining a foot injury won’t be far behind.
Limited compatibility with crampons
Crampons come in handy when you plan to hike over icy and snow-filled terrain. Traveling in these conditions without the use of crampons will produce a drop in stability and grip. This will certainly be the case if light boots are worn for this kind of outdoor activity. Most lightweight hiking boots are not compatible with crampons due to their inherent flexibility. As a matter of fact, crampons that are meant for harsher terrains won’t fit securely and even move around when worn with light hiking boots. A user must first determine the compatibility of the lightweight hiking boots with the crampons they’re planning to get. Otherwise, it’s better to go for bulkier and stiffer backpacking or mountaineering boots.
Other lightweight options among hiking footwear
A good alternative to lightweight hiking boots is a pair of robust sandals. These sandals are lighter and possess better breathability, thanks to their open design. These benefits are offset by the lack of protection and waterproofness of hiking sandals. It’s imperative to determine the difficulty of the terrain first before going for hiking sandals to avoid an accident from occurring.
In the hierarchy of hiking footwear, trail runners are situated between hiking sandals and hiking shoes. As the name suggests, this shoe type is designed to be worn on trails that are not difficult to walk on. Trail runners are significantly lighter than proper hiking shoes and boots, giving the wearer a certain degree of flexibility and comfort. The soles of these shoes have adequate traction for easy trails with short distances. What trail runners sacrifice are mainly durability, support, and protection for the feet.
A step up from a trail runner is a hiking shoe. This footwear weighs less than proper hiking boots, giving the user more energy with each step. As compared to lightweight hiking boots, hiking shoes lack an ankle collar. In the process, support and protection for the ankles are compromised for an improvement in breathability and maneuverability. It is recommended to wear this shoe if the terrain doesn’t contain steep angles, jagged rocks, tree roots, wet surfaces, and other kinds of obstacles along the way.
Qualities of the ideal lightweight hiking boots
Fits you to a T
The most important quality of lightweight hiking boots is how they fit you. These boots should hold your feet in place and prevent the heels from rising up whenever you make a step. At the same time, adequate wiggle room must also be present in a light hiker. Going downhill will push your toes forward and additional space will prevent them from hitting the front section of a boot.
Blisters are one of the most common foes of hikers. A boot that fits well will help prevent blisters from forming. Since the ideal boot grasps a foot with just the right amount of space, there will be a slim chance for friction to come into play. Coupled with the right kind of socks, a hiker’s feet will surely feel comfier and snugger.
Renders support to your feet
Lightweight hiking boots need to provide ample support to your feet when traversing a trail and overcoming all of the corresponding obstacles. Most support comes from a boot’s midsole and the cuff that wraps around the ankles. The midsole’s main job is to cushion a foot and buffer it from shock. Stiffer midsoles are preferred when hiking on rocky terrains and carrying heavy loads. On the other hand, less rigid midsoles are better for less challenging hikes due to their reduced weight better flexibility.
Another way in which hiking boots can support your feet is via its ankle cuff design. High-top boots protect an ankle from sudden twisting and bending. This benefit is crucial if you are planning to carry a heavy backpack for several days. If you are going on a day hike, mid-cut lightweight hiking boots are more appropriate because of the less challenging demands of an easier trail.
Equipped with the latest technologies
Hiking boots have come a long way since their inception during the 1950s. Nowadays, this footwear offers a wide array of features that help a person have a safe and comfortable hiking experience. Breathable, lightweight hiking boots help your feet stay cool in hot weather while insulated ones aid in keeping them warm in places with low temperatures. Waterproof boots are handy when you hike in rainy conditions or if there are streams present on a trail. All in all, it’s important to choose boot features depending on the kind of hike you’re going to take.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the difference between hiking shoes and lightweight hiking boots?
Lightweight hiking boots feature the use of a mid to high ankle collar design to better protect a person’s ankles. This feature also adds an upgrade in terms of support against sudden twisting. On the other hand, hiking shoes use a low-cut design that exposes a user’s ankles. Although this affords more maneuverability to a user, the ankles will be exposed when hiking. Lightweight hiking boots use thicker midsoles and outsoles to compensate for a more rigorous terrain while hiking shoes are less rigid. The former still retains a certain degree of flexibility while the latter is less durable for anything more than a short hiking trip.
How can I differentiate proper hiking boots from its lightweight counterpart?
A pair of conventional hiking boots weighs 1.5 kilograms, making them bulkier and heavier than their lighter variations. Heavy backpacking boots use rigid soles, a thicker upper, and a collar design that covers the entire ankle area of a foot. Plus, the boot itself is hard to flex. On the other hand, lightweight hiking boots usually weigh 500 grams and can be worn straight out of the box.
What are some of the intricate details I need to remember when getting lightweight hiking boots?
For starters, you need to wear these boots in the store first, lace up them well, and walk in them. This should be done so you can get an idea how they would perform outdoors. They should fit well with each step you make. Do keep in mind that if your toes feel cramped, the toe box may be too narrow for you. It can’t be remolded that easily. So, it’s better to find another pair of lightweight hiking boots that provides just the right fit.
How long does it usually take to break-in a pair of light hiking boots?
It doesn’t take that long to break in boots that are designed for light hiking trips. As soon as they are taken out of the box, the user can break them in within the span of a single day. Due to the less rigid nature of materials used in lightweight hiking boots, breaking them in for a hiking trip won’t pose any difficulty on the part of its user.
What kind of socks should I use with my lightweight hiking boots?
If you are about to go on a hiking trip, make sure you get the right kind of socks to pair with your lightweight hiking boots. Otherwise, your feet will experience discomfort and there’s a big chance for blisters to appear too. In your search for these suitable socks, there are four qualities they should possess.
Sock height. It’s important to choose a pair of socks that cover the entire ankle area of your feet. A good tip would be to use socks that don’t allow any part of a hiking boot’s collar or tongue from coming into contact with your skin.
Cushioning. Thicker socks provide more cushioning to a foot, especially when walking over demanding terrain. When coupled with a hiking boot’s insole, this will ensure a foot will be supported comfortably and kept warm in normal conditions.
Fabric. The common kinds of fabric used in hiking socks are merino wool, polyester, and nylon. All of these materials provide sufficient warmth and comfort to your feet. But before getting a pair, you need to determine if your skin is allergic to any of these fabric materials.
Fit. Make sure the hiking socks you choose will fit your feet well. If they don’t, blisters might appear on your feet during a hiking trip.
What’s the best way to take care of my lightweight hiking boots?
Clean your boots thoroughly after using them. At the end of each hike, your lightweight hiking boots will accumulate a great deal of dirt and debris. Leaving them alone for a given amount of time will reduce the quality of their components and cause them to break down faster. It’s vital to wash these lightweight hiking boots with soap and water to effectively remove all traces of dirt. Using an old toothbrush helps in cleaning sections of the boot that are harder to reach.
Give them sufficient time to dry off. After clearing all the dirt and debris from a pair of lightweight hiking boots using soap and water, they should be placed in a spot where they can dry safely. This location should be warm enough to dry the boot off. There should be no dust in your preferred storage because it will stick on a newly cleaned pair of boots. At the same time, any direct contact with sunlight should be avoided because it will slowly damage the quality of a boot’s materials.
Never store lightweight hiking boots inside a box or plastic bag. Lightweight hiking boots are prone to the damage caused by trapped moisture. When stored in a box or a plastic bag, moisture won’t have a way to escape these boots. The result will be catastrophic to a boot’s quality and performance. Again, it is recommended to leave them in a dry place.
Apply a waterproof treatment solution regularly. A lightweight hiking boot's waterproofing ability will wane down with each use. If left unchecked, this boot will no longer be able to protect the user’s foot from the elements. One of the best ways to prevent this scenario from happening is to apply a waterproof treatment solution to a boot. It is designed to enhance the waterproofness of a boot’s materials and prolong its lifespan.
15 best lightweight hiking boots
Merrell Ontario Mid Waterproof
Under Armour Verge 2.0 Mid GTX
Merrell Ontario 85 Mid Waterproof
Salomon OUTline Mid GTX
La Sportiva Nucleo High GTX
Adidas Terrex Free Hiker
Columbia Newton Ridge Plus II Waterproof
Timberland Euro Hiker
Merrell Zion Mid Waterproof
Merrell Moab FST 2 Mid Waterproof
Timberland Mt. Maddsen Mid Waterproof
Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX
Adidas Terrex Swift R2 Mid GTX
Merrell Moab 2 Mid GTX
Vasque Breeze LT GTX
Paul loves adventure. Over the past 20 years, he has climbed, hiked, and ran all over the world. He’s summited peaks throughout the Americas, trekked through Africa, and tested his endurance in 24-hour trail races. He has worked in the outdoor industry as a whitewater and hunting guide, gear tester, copywriter, and outfitting specialist at places like The National Outdoor Leadership School, No Barriers USA, and Sierra Trading Post. He has been quoted in NYMag, NBCNews, and Business Insider to name a few.
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