Spring finally knocks at our doors and hikers are getting ready to hit the trails once again. When you’re choosing the most important piece of hiking gear from that long and tall wall of footwear in our stores, one question may be burning in your mind: do I keep it light or go heavy?
Lighter hiking boots are designed for day hikes or shorter overnight backpacking trips on moderate terrain. For the mountains or longer hiking trips on tougher terrain, like Killarney’s La Cloche Silhouette Trail, heavier boots will absorb the shocks of a heavy load and support you in the right places on rocky ground.
The big advantage to lighter boots is you’re not lugging around as much weight on your feet – literally. It feels heavier down there and it’s compounded with every step you take. The old backpacker’s adage that one pound on your feet equals about six pounds on your back still holds weight. Taking a load off your feet allows you to keep a quicker pace and use less energy.
Lighter shoes also allow you to be more nimble on your feet. That makes a big difference if you’re dodging rocks, boulders and logs.
Going with low cut shoes save even more weight and less bulk around the ankles makes them cooler on your feet. Low cuts feel more like a running shoe with winter treads.
The trade off with low cuts is less ankle support and protection from abrasion. For day trippers hiking on a flat trail with snacks and water on their backs, it’s not an issue. For trekking in the mountains, you may want to consider heavier boots, especially if you’re hauling camping gear and heading into the outer regions. But if it’s a trek from teahouse to teahouse, you can get away with a lighter boot.
Heavier hiking boots, whether they’re made of full grain leather or a combination of leather and synthetic materials, are designed for more challenging conditions. They are well… heavier, but there are pay offs for the extra weight.
Ample rands or rubber bands around the uppers take the brunt of scuffs and abrasion. As for the outer soles, expect deep aggressive lugs and a pronounced heel for traction on loose terrain. Cut high above the ankles with rigid uppers, they provide strong ankle support to help prevent trip killing sprains. To top it off, padded scree collars keep annoying little pebbles from creeping into your boots.
Now, let’s talk about shanks. A shank is what gives soles their rigidity. Lighter boots and shoes are built with half to three quarter shanks, which make them flexible and easy to walk in like a running shoe. Heavy hiking boots are equipped with full shanks that are completely rigid so they’ll support your weight when you’re edging up rock slabs or over boulders. Full shanks also absorb the added impact of a loaded backpack on your feet when you’re hiking on a rocky trail or grunting it through moraine.
There are many hiking boots that fit into categories somewhere between heavy rigid boots and light low cut day hikers. It all comes down to where you’re headed most of the time and keeping it as light as possible without compromising support and durability.
One last word… lighter boots are good to go right out of the box. Heavy boots, on the other hand, may need some break in time before a long hiking trip. Wearing them on a few shorter day hikes first could mean the difference between tending blisters and relaxing by the fire with a warm drink.