Are lighter hiking boots better?

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Written By Dominic Howard

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Hiking boots come in a wide range of weights, from super lightweight trail runners to heavy-duty mountaineering boots. Choosing the right weight hiking boots is an important decision for any hiker.

Hiking Boots are Better

Lighter boots are more comfortable and allow you to move faster on the trail, but heavier boots provide more support and protection. There are pros and cons to both lighter and heavier boots that need to be considered carefully based on the type of hiking you plan to do.

This article will examine the key factors to help you determine if lighter hiking boots are better for your needs.

Key Factors to Consider

Type of Trails

The types of trails you will be hiking are one of the most important considerations when choosing hiking boot weight. Lightweight boots are best suited for easier, well-maintained trails without much elevation gain. The flexible soles allow your feet to move naturally and the lighter materials help reduce fatigue over long distances. Heavier boots provide more rigidity and ankle support, which are beneficial when carrying heavy packs or hiking steep, rocky, uneven terrain.

Trip Duration

Boot weight also depends on the length of your hikes. Lightweight boots are great for short day hikes where you won’t be carrying much weight on your back. The breathable materials keep your feet comfortable and blister-free for a few miles. However, for multi-day backpacking trips, heavier boots help bear the burden of carrying a heavy pack for extended distances. The rigid structure and ankle support also help prevent injuries when hiking for long periods over rough terrain.

Comfort Needs

Consider your personal preferences for comfort. Hikers who prioritize having lightweight, flexible, breathable boots may prefer minimalist trail runners or light hikers. Those who need more cushioning and arch support may opt for mid-weight hiking boots. People who have issues like flat feet or ankle instability may require the maximum stability and cushioning of heavyweight hiking boots. There are lightweight boots available with more support features if you still want a lighter option with comfort.

Pack Weight

The total weight you will be carrying factors into the decision as well. Light and ultralight backpackers can get away with lightweight trail runners since their overall pack weight is low. For heavier pack weights between 30-50 lbs, mid-weight hiking boots provide a balance of lightness and support. Heavy pack weights over 50 lbs require the extra support and durability of heavyweight backpacking boots. In general, the heavier your total pack weight, the more boot weight you need for stability, comfort and injury prevention.

Climate and Conditions

Consider the climate and trail conditions you’ll encounter. In warm, mild climates, lightweight breathable boots will keep your feet cool and dry. But in colder conditions or traversing snow or streams, heavy waterproof boots provide insulation and protect your feet from moisture. Heavy mountaineering boots are necessary for icy, steep slopes. Analyze the specific trails you plan to hike and choose appropriate boots.

Traction Needs

The amount of traction you need is determined by the ground surfaces you expect to encounter. Smooth, dirt trails allow lightweight boots with minimal lug depth. Rugged terrain with loose rocks, slippery mud, steep inclines, or snow requires boots with deep aggressive lugs for grip. Light hikers may work for simple hikes, but technical routes call for heavy boots with stiff soles for edging and toe protection. Make sure the boot soles match the amount of traction you anticipate needing.

Ankle Support Requirements

The amount of ankle support and stability needed is another key factor. Light boots allow for greater ankle flexibility which is fine for flat, non-technical terrain. Rugged backcountry trails or hiking with a heavy pack require tall uppers, stiff ankle support, and shanks to prevent rolled ankles. Evaluate how much ankle stability you need based on your personal health, the terrain, and pack weight. Those with existing ankle injuries may want heavy boots with maximum support.

Waterproofing Needs

Figure out if you need waterproof boots based on the expected weather and stream crossings. Lightweight hikers often have water-resistant coatings but aren’t fully waterproof. If you’ll be hiking in rainy or very wet conditions, select heavy waterproof leather or Gore-Tex lined boots to keep your feet dry. Make sure to assess the forecasted weather and trail water exposure to choose wisely.


Boot cost ranges widely from $50 to $500+ based on materials and features. In general, lightweight boots are more affordable while heavy mountaineering boots cost the most. Set a budget for how much you want to spend and find the best boot you can in that price range. With both light and heavy boots, you get what you pay for in terms of durability, quality of construction, and support.

Fit and Sizing

It’s critical to try on hiking boots in person for fit as sizing varies by brand. A properly fitted boot enhances comfort and stability on the trail. Light and heavy boots fit differently, so you may need different sizes to accommodate variances in materials and support features. Take the time to lace up different options and walk around the store to assess the optimal size and boot weight for your feet. A snug heel and midfoot with a thumb width in the toe is ideal.

Pros and Cons of Lighter Hiking Boots

Now that we’ve covered how to assess your needs, let’s examine the specific benefits and downsides of choosing lightweight hiking boots over heavy options:


  • More comfortable, especially for long distances
  • Allow feet to move and flex naturally
  • Require less break-in period
  • Enhance balance and stability on uneven terrain
  • Reduce leg and foot fatigue
  • Cooler in warm weather
  • Faster to lace up and wear
  • Often more affordable than heavy boots

Hiking Boots are Better

  • Less ankle support and rigidity
  • Less protection from rocks, uneven terrain
  • Minimal weather protection and insulation
  • Less traction and grip on loose or wet surfaces
  • Not meant for carrying very heavy loads
  • Less durable over years of use
  • Higher risk of toes impacting obstacles

Recommendations Based on Hiking Type

Day Hiking

For most day hikes on well-defined trails less than 5 miles, lightweight hikers or trail runners are ideal. The flexible sole and breathable upper make hiking short distances much more comfortable. Excellent choices for day hikers are low-cut hikers weighing 1-2 lbs like the Adidas Terrex Swift, Merrell Moab Edge, or Salomon X Ultra 3. These provide protection from the elements while still being super light and allowing natural foot movement.


On multi-day trips with a heavy pack, midweight backpacking boots around 2-3 lbs make the most sense for stability, support, and comfort over long mileages. The rigid sole and ankle structure prevent injury when fatigued while carrying weight for multiple days. Great midweight backpacking boots are the Salomon Quest 4D 3, Lowa Renegade GTX Mid, or Scarpa Zodiac Plus. Go lighter for ultralight backpacking or heavier for winter backpacking.

Off-Trail Hiking

For hikes off defined trails, heavyweight boots are recommended to protect feet from impacts and provide maximum ankle support on uneven terrain. Sturdy leather boots with full shanks like the Danner Mountain 600 or Salewa Mountain Trainer Mid provide control and stability for off-trail scrambling over rocks, roots, and obstructed paths. Or for snowy treks, waterproof boots with deep outsoles like the Vasque Snowburban II.

Winter Hiking

Warmer insulated boots help keep feet toasty in cold weather hiking. Look for waterproof leather or synthetic boots with a removable liner like the Sorel Caribou or Kamik Nationplus. Pair with gaiters for warmth and snow coverage. Rubber outsoles with an aggressive lug pattern provide traction on snow and ice. Heavy insulation also retains heat when crossing frigid streams so your feet don’t freeze.


For technical mountaineering traversing ice and snow, plastic double boots or super heavy leather boots with integrated gaiters are necessary. The rigid soles allow for toe spiking and edge stability in steep, slippery conditions. The snug internal boot provides exceptional warmth. Popular mountaineering boots are the Scarpa Phantom 6000 or La Sportiva Nepal Evo for extreme cold weather ascents.

Trail Running

For runners who still want foot protection on trails, trail running shoes weighing under 1 lb are ideal. Models like the Brooks Cascadia or Inov-8 Roclite are lightweight and flexible but still have grippy outsoles and upper protection from debris. Moving fast over trails requires freedom of movement that heavier boots restrict. Go as light as possible while still getting needed traction and impact defense.

Hiking Boot Materials

Hiking boots utilize various materials in their construction that influence weight, durability, water resistance, and breathability:

  • Naturally water-resistant but still allows airflow
  • Conforms to feet over time
  • Durable and supportive
  • Heavier than synthetic materials
Synthetic Mesh and Textiles
  • Lightweight and breathable
  • Quick to dry and drain water
  • Not as long-lasting as leather
  • More affordable than leather
Split Grain Leather
  • Leather exterior with breathable interior lining
  • Lighter than full-grain leather
  • Provides both durability and ventilation
Nubuck Leather
  • Softer and more pliable than full-grain leather
  • Comfortable for shorter lightweight hikes
  • Less water resistance than full-grain leather
  • Waterproof and breathable membrane liner
  • Pricier than standard waterproof boots
  • Keeps feet dry without overheating
Vibram Soles
  • Rugged, thick rubber outsoles for traction and shock absorption
  • Excellent grip and stability in wet conditions
  • Heavy duty for backpacking and mountaineering
Polyurethane (PU) Midsoles
  • Lightweight cushioning and bounce
  • Durable shock absorption
  • Maintains structure under heavy loads
  • Thin, long plates in sole to add rigidity
  • Help stabilize boot for edging, climbing, scrambling
  • Found in backpacking, mountaineering, and off-trail boots

Factors That Do Not Require Heavy Boots

Casual Hiking

For easy nature walks and non-technical terrain, light-to-midweight boots are ideal for comfort. Heavier boots are overkill and limit mobility for relaxing hikes.

Hot Weather

Well-ventilated, breathable lightweight boots keep feet cooler in hot climates. Heavier boots cause more sweating and discomfort in high temperatures.

Gym Training

Leave bulky boots behind for indoor training like stair machines or treadmills. Lightweight athletic shoes allow better freedom of movement for exercise.

Through Hiking Long Trails

Over long distances, heavy boots cause more fatigue. On treks like the Appalachian Trail, lightweight boots around 2 lbs are recommended to enhance speed and comfort over thousands of miles.

Frequently Asked Question

1. Are lighter hiking boots better for all types of hiking?

Lighter hiking boots are generally better for less strenuous hikes on well-maintained trails. However, for rugged terrain or carrying heavy loads, you might need the added support and durability of heavier boots.

2. What are the advantages of lighter hiking boots?

Lighter hiking boots are typically more comfortable and agile. They reduce fatigue, making them ideal for day hikes or fast-paced activities.

3. Are heavier hiking boots more durable than lighter ones?

Heavier hiking boots tend to be more durable and can withstand harsher conditions. Lighter boots may wear out faster if subjected to rugged terrain or frequent use.

4. Do lighter hiking boots provide enough ankle support?

Lighter hiking boots often offer less ankle support than heavier ones. If you have weak ankles or plan to hike on uneven terrain, consider boots with better ankle support.

5. Can I use lighter hiking boots for backpacking trips?

Lighter boots can be suitable for backpacking if your load is relatively light and the terrain isn’t too challenging. For heavy backpacking, you might want the extra support of heavier boots.

6. Are lighter hiking boots as waterproof as heavier ones?

Waterproofing varies by brand and model. Some lighter hiking boots offer excellent waterproofing, but it’s essential to check the specifications of each boot to ensure they meet your needs.

7. Do lighter boots have good traction on slippery surfaces?

The traction of hiking boots depends on their design and outsole. Many lighter boots have sufficient traction, but if you’ll be hiking in wet or slippery conditions, look for models with aggressive tread patterns.

8. Are lighter hiking boots more breathable than heavier ones?

Lighter boots often have better breathability, which can be comfortable in warm weather. However, this can also make your feet colder in cold conditions, so choose accordingly.

9. Can I use lighter hiking boots for winter hiking?

Lighter hiking boots may not provide adequate insulation for winter hiking. It’s better to opt for insulated, heavier boots when temperatures drop significantly.

10. Are there any specific activities where lighter hiking boots excel?

Lighter hiking boots are excellent for activities like day hiking, trail running, and fastpacking, where speed and agility are crucial.


The debate between lightweight versus heavy hiking boots involves many variables. The ideal boot weight for your feet depends on the types of trails you hike, climate, mileage, weight carried, ankle support needs, and personal preferences. Determine the specific requirements of your hikes and select the boots that match the conditions you expect to encounter. Do thorough research to find high-quality boots at the appropriate weight for the intended usage. With mindful gear choices, your feet will stay comfortable, supported, and protected out on the trails.

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