Last Sunday I went to the forest to look for mushrooms. Unfortunately, it had rained the night before, so I was expecting it to be pretty muddy. Normally I wear worn out running shoes or my approach shoes when I’m heading into the forest, but because it was looking muddy, I decided to wear my heavy, leather trekking boots.
This turned out to be a good decision, because I arrived home with dry socks despite the wet forest. However, these heavy shoes were complete overkill for the terrain, and I was glad when I could change back to lighter and more comfortable shoes. But were they necessary? Or are there lighter alternatives?
Finding the right shoe
If you are wondering which pair of lightweight shoes is right for you and your tours, there are a few things you should think about first. For example, it is important that the shoes not only fit the tour and its terrain, but also the season in which you plan to walk. Furthermore, a good fit is crucial for the wellbeing of your feet. Other things you should look out for when looking for hiking or outdoor shoes are revealed in our blog post “The right shoes for your outdoor adventure”.
Now though, we’re going to take a look at the varied world of walking, trekking and mountaineering boots and see where there’s weight savings to be made.
Lightweight shoes for moderate terrain
Like my Sunday mushroom trip to the Black Forest, I don’t always need a heavy pair of mountaineering boots. Particularly when I’m heading to low mountain ranges, lightweight walking boots are usually sufficient. Lightweight walking boots are, as the name suggests, lighter than their ‘normal’ counterparts. This is usually because they have a half-height shaft or come as half-shoes. It is also not uncommon for lightweight walking boots to forego rock guards and the like, to make considerable weight savings.
So, if you’re heading for relatively easy terrain and are trying to travel light, you should definitely take a closer look at this group. Lightweight hiking shoes with a half-height shaft, so classic representatives of Category A, usually weigh from 450 grams.
For ultra-light tours, trail running shoes are often used. Models such as the Roclite 325 GTX by Inov 8 weight less than 350 grams and offer a half-height shaft and an extremely grippy sole. Barefoot shoes offer another alternative, but opinions on these vary widely.
Some people love this free and natural way of moving, but others report issues occurring from using muscles that aren’t normally worked. If you do decide to try out this type of shoe for hillwalking, it’s recommended to start with short test routes to allow your body to get used to them. You should also avoid carrying any luggage on these practice trips. Barefoot shoes are of course very light and hardly weight anything.
Lightweight shoes for exposed and unpaved terrain
For more demanding terrain and multi-day tours when you’re carrying a lot of luggage, Category B or B/C trekking boots are most suitable. However, these are usually relatively heavy, designed for maximum surefootedness and an optimal stabilisation of the ankle joint. This type of shoe is also recommended for people who have ligament problems and have a tendency to twist their ankle.
Many trekking boots also fall into the category of “partly crampon-compatible” and can be worn with crampons with strap binding and snow spikes. As mentioned, trekking boots are not exactly lightweight, but even in this category there are models which enjoy a significantly reduced weight. A good example here is the S-Lab X Alp Carbon 2 GTX by Salomon. These shoes weigh just under a kilogram and are among the lightest in their class. Nevertheless, they are still considerably heavier than their lightweight hiking or trail running companions, but they can do much more.
Lightweight shoes for high mountains
For scree, snow and ice, you definitely need proper trekking boots. These have a crampon-compatible sole and offer stability even on rough terrain. In general, trekking shoes with tilting lever crampons can be worn. Depending on the model, auto-locking (front with basket) or automatic (front with bracket) can be attached. A raised rubber edge, which mainly serves as a rock guard, usually features as well.
It’s no surprise that we’ve left the ultra-light range behind by now. But there are still lighter and heavier models among Category C trekking boots. Let’s take a look at the Badile Combi II GTX by Hanwag for example. These trekking shoes have everything that is needed for tours in high alpine terrain. And they come at a relatively low weight of just 1,080 grams. They also offer a stiffened sole suitable for semi-automatic crampons as well as a proper rock guard. Alternatively, you could also take a look at the Trango Guide Evo GTX by La Sportiva, which weigh a little less than 1,200 g (per pair).
Advantages and disadvantages of lightweight shoes
- Benefit 1 – Weight-saving
Of course, if you’re travelling with lightweight shoes, you’re carrying less weight and this impacts every step you take. This is particularly noticeable on steeper terrain, as the foot has less load and walking is less tiring. Even if you’re carrying your walking boots in your backpack, they are less heavy.
- Advantage 2 – Comfort
Lightweight shoes are generally more flexible and softer than their heavy counterparts. This usually makes them more comfortable. On warm days, they often allow better ventilation and are generally not as warm as higher walking boots due to their lower shaft.
- Disadvantage 1 – Risk of injury
Features that offer additional comfort can also hold a higher injury potential. Soft and flexible shoes with a low shaft provide much less support for the foot than higher-cut shoes.
- Disadvantage 2 – Weatherproofness and general suitability
There is no question that there are weatherproof models with membranes offered in the field of trail running and lightweight hiking shoes. These are fine for mud and rain, but are not ideal for snow, as the snow can more easily get into the shoe without a high shaft. If you are planning tours that require the use of crampons, you will need shoes with a suitable sole.
Ultra-light shoes – the conclusion
It is hard to find ultra-light outdoor, hiking and trekking shoes. While researching this topic, I kept coming back to something a friend of mine says, “You can run in ski boots if you want to!” In other words, you can do a lot of things with equipment, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it makes sense. Of course, you could go for a run in the mountainous terrain in flip-flops (the Sherpas in Nepal do this very impressively), but I would advise against taking such extreme measures for the sake of weight reduction.
In my opinion, the most important criterion for shoes is not the weight, but that they fit perfectly and don’t rub or pinch even after long tours. After all, the greatest weight saving in your shoes means nothing, if you have to carry the same weight of blister plasters in your backpack. Fun fact: one pack of blister plasters weighs around 15 grams.