The search for a good and reliable pair of low weight hiking footwear starts in the understanding that these are not as sturdy as traditional hiking boots. With more people outgrowing sturdy yet clunky boots, they are now in search of lightweight footwear that can provide them with comfort to make every hiking experience enjoyable.
Lightweight hiking shoes are mostly made of modern synthetic materials that can be compared in strength and flexibility to leather. Because of these new materials, more hikers and backpackers ditch the boots and opt for the comfort and lightness that alternatives offer.
Anatomy of lightweight hiking shoes
Best lightweight hiking shoes - June 2018
Materials used for this type of footwear usually include synthetic materials, suede, and split-grain leather. Compared with beefy boots, lightweight shoes require very little break-in time.
This lightweight footgear may or may not be waterproof. The ones that don’t have water protection are usually used for trails without water obstacles. The ones that are waterproof can still manage to be lightweight. Brands use a kind of membrane doesn’t add much weight to the shoe.
Lightweight hiking shoes, like hiking boots and hiking sandals, are also made incorporating different technologies to tackle a range of terrain. However, little differences can be observed. While it may share the lightness of hiking sandals, hiking shoes provide better protection from the elements. Among the three, hiking boots offer the most protection, but with weight as the trade-off.
How much do lightweight hiking shoes weigh?
There is really no uniform weight consideration for every lightweight hiking footwear. Some hiking experts put lightweight hiking shoes around Here at RunRepeat, hiking footwear weighing 500 grams and below is considered lightweight.
Shoes that are lighter are also more flexible. Even a few ounces off of the shoe’s weight can bring a huge difference to the hiker. With low-weight hiking shoes, a hiker will have an easier time on the trail. While they don’t last as long as traditional boots for hiking, they offer enough protection for short hikes.
Reasons to keep it light
Lightweight hiking shoes are designed to provide maximum support and protection to hikers for a shorter period. The greatest advantage of lightweight hiking shoes is that they are not as heavy as most traditional boots. The feet carry the most weight and endure the most impact during hikes, so a few pounds off improves your endurance on the trail.
The popular hiking adage goes like this: a pound on your feet is equal to five pounds on your back. The 1984 study by the U.S Army Research Institute proved this by testing the energy expended with different footwear. It was concluded that 4.7 to 6.4 times as much energy is needed to move at a given pace when carrying weight on the shoe as opposed to carrying weight on the torso. This means a hiker can save more energy by opting for a lighter shoe rather than heavy shoes.
Experts also claim that a pound on the feet means spending five percent more energy. This is not only due to the weight of the footwear but more so because they are stiffer and less responsive. This leads to the reduction of the body’s stretch reflex when hitting the ground. While five percent doesn’t sound alarming, it can actually slow down a hiker’s pace.
When and when not to opt for lightweight hiking shoes
Lightweight hiking shoes are often considered a cross between hiking boots and running shoes because of their weight and the materials used. They are usually the better choice for weekend day hikes because they have stiffer soles than running shoes and also offer better traction when tackling slippery trails.
You may want footwear that will give you enough features for a variety of day hiking trails without the energy-draining bulk of traditional boots. Lightweight hiking shoes suit the needs of hikers who would rather save on weight (and save money) than gain support.
Others should not get lightweight hiking shoes if they are hikers who want to have as much support as they can. Lightweight hiking shoes are not for people who need to carry heavy backpacks with them even if they are only hiking for a day or two. Finally, hikers who want a good value for their money shouldn’t invest in these because they can’t last as long as their traditional counterparts.
Lightweight hiking shoes and its consumers
Casual hikers. When it comes to going light, a lot of casual hikers would still fall for the idea of limited choices which is no longer true. In the past decade, shoe companies followed a paradigm shift, replacing old or obsolete features and technologies with reliable ones that improve foot comfort and support expected of hiking shoes. Many lightweight hiking shoes off the rack are created for specific purposes including light trail hiking.
Lightweight hiking shoes are very popular, because of their weight and comfort, although they are not for regular and serious hikers. Casual hikers may benefit most from this footwear since they usually stay in local parks and tackle easier trails. Those who go out for hikes on a regular basis may find this lighter footwear lacking support, especially when tackling slippery or colder trails.
Backpackers. The debate on the best backpacking footwear option has always involved lightweight hiking shoes and boots. Hikers have their opinion with each party laying out the pros and cons.
Some would say that backpacking requires ankle support to prevent trail mishaps. Naturally, they would opt for mid to high-cut boots which are on the heavy side. Then the others would ditch hiking boots and go for lightweight, low-cut ones instead. They focus on ankle strengthening and stretching for injury prevention.
Characteristics of lightweight hiking shoes
The market has an abundance of traditional hiking boots, but a lot of casual hikers and backpackers want something that is light. Heeding the call of the growing casual hiking market, many shoe manufacturers have also produced lightweight hiking shoes. In your search for a reliable pair of lightweight hiking footwear, consider these things:
Low weight. A very desirable feature of lightweight hiking shoes is their low weight. A pound off your lightweight hiking boots, shoes, or sandals already means a lot if you are going to take a couple of days off on the trail.
The low weight of shoes makes them ideal for different activities. If the footwear can provide the comfort and protection that hikers need on the trail, they can also use this footwear for other outdoor activities like trail running.
Excellent grip. Lightweight hiking shoes are designed to give hikers the traction that they need. The sole of the shoes contributes to the confidence of the hiker when tackling different trails. Look for lightweight hiking shoes that have deep lugs and a tread pattern that keeps mud from building up.
Different brands use Vibram on their shoes. This outsole manufacturer is known for producing quality products that can grip on most trails.
Tough but breathable upper material. The upper material is a very important aspect to examine in lightweight hiking shoes. When choosing lightweight hiking shoes, consider the breathability of the upper material. Also check the temperature of your hiking location.
Waterproofness. There are lightweight hiking shoes that come with with a special membrane that can prevent water intrusions. Although, they could be a bit more expensive than the non-waterproof versions. Waterproof hiking footwear gives hikers the confidence in embarking trails. They’ll have peace of mind knowing that wet grounds won’t stop them from enjoying their hike. Do remember that a hiking shoe cannot provide water protection beyond its height.
Fitting lightweight hiking shoes
When fitting lightweight hiking shoes, it is not just enough to try them on. Shoe shopping techniques have been shared over and over by different people to help others get the right fit in their search for the best pair. Shoes that fit the feet is only half of the fitting and comfort requirement.
Hikers who go out of their way to visit shoe stores can try on as many lightweight hiking shoes as they can. When you first lace up, see to it that the shoe isn’t too small for you. It should take three kicks (a way to simulate descents on a sloped ground) before the toes reach the front. This test is to make sure that the shoe will not give you pain when you’re going downhill. Ideally, the shoes should have a snug fit through the ankle, heel, and forefoot.
Like every other footwear, lightweight hiking shoes should also fit well at the heel. To check its fit, slide the foot forward in the shoe. There should be at least an index finger’s width between the heel and the back of the shoe.
As a general rule, shoe shopping should be done late in the afternoon or in the evening when the feet have swollen. Hikers know better than pick ill-fitting shoes for hiking and backpacking trips. Since hikers are constantly moving during hikes, they can swell a lot just a few hours into the day.
Also, it helps to fit new footwear with the pair of socks and orthotics hikers will use during the trip. The thickness of the socks can also affect the comfort of the shoes.
Other light footwear options
Apart from lightweight hiking shoes, there are also other footwear options that make day hiking more enjoyable. An array of hiking footwear options abound in the market. If you want to go light, here are other options you can consider:
- Lightweight hiking boots. These are often made of synthetic materials, suede, and split grain leather. They could weigh from 1 to 1.5 kilograms (35 to 53 ounces). A lot of high-end models come with waterproof and breathable lining. Although these are not as durable as heavier traditional boots, they are more durable than trail runners.
- Trail runners. These are great for three-season hiking with a light pack and for people with no pre-existing foot conditions. These are lightweight, breathable, and quick-drying. They also usually weigh 5 to 1 kilograms (18 to 35 ounces) and offer more support and stability than regular running shoes.
- Hiking sandals. For hikers who have strong ankles and are setting out with a light load on a mellow trail, sandals are a great option. While they offer great ventilation and dry quickly, they do not protect the feet as much as closed shoes do.
Frequently asked questions about lightweight hiking shoes
Who can use lightweight hiking shoes?
Lightweight hiking shoes are more flexible, light, and less expensive as compared with traditional boots. They are ideal for people who are not carrying a lot of weight, seasoned hikers who are out only for a day or two, and hikers who have considerably strong feet, ankles, and legs.
What are the differences between lightweight hiking shoes and lightweight running shoes?
Lightweight hiking shoes are sturdier than average running shoes because of the thicker soles and leather-reinforced synthetic fabrics. The lugs and tread pattern are also designed to tackle slippery and muddy trails. As these are lightweight, these are more comfortable than hiking boots.
Running shoes, although others have used them for hiking, are made for paved roads. These are also made of durable and breathable materials but the soles do not have lugs and treads that can tackle slippery trails.
Are there specific bands that produce the best lightweight hiking shoes?
A majority of outdoor shoe brands offer a wide selection of lightweight hiking shoes to accommodate day hikers and weekend backpackers. The hiking community is growing with more hikers spending at least a weekend off to enjoy outdoor activities; this also serves as an opportunity for many footwear brands to produce lightweight hiking shoes that meet their demands.
Can lightweight hiking shoes be used for other outdoor activities?
Lightweight hiking shoes are designed for protecting the feet and ankles during hiking trips. While designed mostly for hiking, some users also use them for other activities like climbing, mountain biking and trail running. Hikers can also invest in multi-sport footwear which is made to cater to most outdoor activities.
15 best lightweight hiking shoes
- Oboz Sawtooth Low
- Merrell MQM Flex
- La Sportiva Spire GTX
- The North Face Ultra Fastpack III Mid GTX
- Adidas Terrex Swift R2 GTX
- Astral TR1 Mesh
- La Sportiva Primer Low GTX
- Vasque Breeze III Low GTX
- Merrell Chameleon 7 Stretch
- Timberland Keele Ridge Waterproof
- Merrell Moab 2 GTX
- Salomon X Ultra 3
- Oboz Sawtooth Low BDry
- Adidas Terrex Swift R2
- Vasque Grand Traverse
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