Anonymous – “I am new to trekking, could you recommend a pair of shoes to get started with?”
Me – Which trek, in what season and how much does your backpack weigh?
Anonymous – “Hmm, nothing too technical and I will be trekking from say… summer to autumn with a medium sized backpack”
Does this conversation sound familiar? This is one of the first questions that I hear from those who are new to trekking. From days immemorial, the response to this question has always been: buy hiking boots. So should you stick with this time tested, sage advice or is there another option available?
For most trekkers, it has been drilled into our heads that: “trekkers wear boots”. That’s just what you do. You need the toughness, the ankle support and the water protection. Right? Let us dig deep into these reasons to try and find out if they still hold true.
1. Trekking boots are tough
They are tough because trekking boots are intended for everything from an easy grade trek to a technical trail where you would have to spend days kicking steps in the snow. However, this tough build also makes them heavy and I am yet to meet a trekker who enjoys carrying more weight than he or she must carry. Many studies have been done on footwear and the generally accepted rule of thumb is that one pound on your feet equals five pounds on your back. So, every pound that you save on your footwear, equates to an extra two days of food in your backpack. It is as simple as that.
2. Trekking boots are waterproof
First and foremost, there is no such thing as completely waterproof. It is a myth perpetrated by marketing departments. Any shoe will get wet after being exposed to long periods of rain or when wading through a stream. Leather and Gore-Tex boots resist water better than other shoes that do not have a water resistant coating. On the flip side, these water resistant shoes take a lot longer to dry out after they have been completely soaked. As an example, my non-waterproof trail running shoes dry out in three hours with my body heat after they have been completely submerged. Meanwhile, my leather and Gore-Tex boots take over eight hours to dry.
Another thing to consider is that any boot with a waterproof coating will inherently vent less air than a non-waterproof shoe. Less venting means clammy feet, which leads to a greater possibility of blisters.
3. But trekking boots give me ankle support
One of the reasons most people prefer heavy boots is because they think boots offer better ankle support. My take on ankle support is that ankle support is overrated unless you are lugging a really heavy backpack. Your ankles are anatomically made to provide lateral movement. Locking them in means transferring that shock to your knees. However, your knees are not optimised for lateral movement and this leads to knee aches when walking over tough rocky terrain.
So does that mean hiking boots are as useless as an ejection seat on a helicopter? The answer to that is still no. Remember the stipulation for the arguments above was: three season, non-technical trek, with a light to medium backpack. On tougher trails and that may involve walking on snow or glaciers or in cold weather you will require boots that are heavier, stiffer and reinforced at the toe. This is because their function is to a) kick steps in snow b) be crampon compatible and c) keep your feet insulated and warm in the snow. So if you are still confused over your choice of footwear for a trek, the chances are that you need to research the conditions of your trek a little bit more.
Research, research, research!
In conclusion, meticulously research the terrain and conditions you will encounter on your trek. This means going through travel logs, blogs, magazines, Google maps (especially satellite and terrain view), meteorological data and elevation charts. The more informed you are, the better equipped and lighter your backpack shall be. If your research leads you to believe that most of your trekking is going to be a non-technical, three season trek with a light to medium weight backpack you may just be more comfortable in lightweight hiking shoes.
To find out more about trek suitable trail running shoes, read our review of the Kalenji Kapteren Crossover shoes. Available at Decathlon India and at various online retailers
Do share your opinion on our shoes vs boots debate in the comments section below.