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Why I Hate Hiking Boots

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I hate hiking boots.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – Pound for pound, hiking boots are the least useful item in any backpack.

Before you slam your laptop to the ground and stomp all over it with your overpriced useless footwear, hear me out. I might change your mind.
Moncler best Hiking boots

Expensive

Hiking boots may be a lot of things (ugly, heavy, annoying…) but they certainly ain’t cheap. You get what you pay for, and that’s especially true with boots. Yes, I’ve seen nice hiking boots out there. Some are light, some comfortable, some even *gasp* fashionable but you can’t afford the Moncler Matterhorn Tumbled Leather boots. If you can, we don’t have a lot to talk about.

Most travelers can spend around $150 on a pair of boots (but even that’s a little high). So let’s look at what $150 gets you these days:

Vasque St. EliasOutdoor Gear Lab’s #1 rated boot: $190

Timberland’s White Ledge BootAmazon’s top-rated men’s boot: $175

Keen Targhee IIAmazon’s top-rated women’s boot: $162

All of these boots have high ratings, and I’m sure they do a great job of being hiking boots (which isn’t saying much). However, as that price comes down, so does the range of choices, features, and overall quality.

I once bought a pair of boots for $25 and they fell apart on the trail in Spain. I would have been in better shape with a pair of Reebok Pumps. At least those are fun.

hiking boots

A flight to Iceland is cheaper than a pair of decent boots. Don’t spend your hard-earned cash on your feet. Use that dough to put your butt 30,000 feet in the air.

Heavy

Ok, you found a deal on a sweet pair of boots. Congrats. That still doesn’t address the biggest problem with hiking boots: They are stupid heavy.

If you’ve ever lugged a DSLR, hair dryer, or sack of “souvenir” coffee beans around, you know the exquisite pain of packing something heavy that you never use but can’t bear to throw out. The Vasques St. Elias (outdoor gear’s #1 pick) weighs a whopping 3.5 pounds. That’s 20% of your total carry on allowance for most airlines. And that’s the best boot around.

“But hiking boots are super useful!” you exclaim. No, actually they’re not. Let me show you exactly what I mean.

Single Use

Hiking boots are good for one thing – hiking. I happily concede that point, but unless you’re summiting Everest, you are not on a trip that needs hiking boots.

Let me repeat that: You are almost never on a trip that requires hiking boots. Exceptions include: hiking trips, mountain climbing, moon missions.

Carry on packing is all about maximizing every item in your bag by reducing weight and increasing versatility. Boots do neither. To illustrate this point, here’s a sample scenario for a 10-day trip to Peru broken down into how the average backpacker spends their time:

10 days: 240 Total Hours

  • 80 hours sleeping
  • 10 hours flight time to/from Peru
  • 15 hours eating (3 meals day x 30 mins)
  • 10 hours Bus / Taxi / Tour (easily more)
  • 15 hours Nightlife (3 hours x 5 nights dancing, drinking, etc.)
  • 20 hours Sightseeing (4 hours x 5 days museums, cathedrals, markets)
  • 20 hours Downtime (2 hours x 10 days reading, computer time, relaxing)
  • 5 hours Bathroom time (30 mins x 10 days showering, toilet, getting ready)
  • 5 hours General Socializing
  • 4 hours hiking Machu Picchu

That’s 180 hours of stuff, and only 4 hours of hiking boot time. That means hiking boots are useful roughly 1.5% of the time. And that’s Peru – land of the hiking boot clad backpacker. Sub in another country, add some time at the beach or in a major city, and you’ll spend even less time in hiking boots.

My point is that travel activities rarely require hiking boots.

I spent four weeks in Peru, and never wished for anything other than my boat shoes. I stayed at the beach and surfed one of the longest waves in the world, partied in towns up and down the coast, dined out, met great people, trekked, toured sites old and new, and yes, I even hiked up to Machu Picchu. In boat shoes. And it was glorious.

IMG_7398

Bad for Travel

The funniest thing about hiking boots is how truly terrible they are for travel. Seriously, hiking boots don’t travel well.

Hiking boots are so large, heavy, and dirty, that they don’t realistically fit in your bag – especially not your carry on bag. So you’re forced to wear these scarlet A’s on your feet All. The. Damned. Time. I don’t know about you, but I travel to celebrate my freedom. Wearing the same heavy, dirty boots everywhere isn’t a vacation.

Hiking boots are awful for airport security, long bus rides, and moving from A to B. They’re hard to take on and off, smelly, and will not make you any friends on a flight. Don’t even get me started on how stupid boots are for nightlife. If I have to explain that, I give up on you.

TL;DR

For decades everyone thought a “good” backpack  design meant room for more stuff. The bigger the better. 80L was the gold standard. Now traveling light with a functional carry on is the only way to fly.

It’s just a matter of time before travelers realize that the only “good” hiking boot isn’t a hiking boot at all. It’s a pair of boat shoes. Travel light from the ground up and ditch your hiking boots. You’ll never look back.

  • Hiking boots are expensive
  • Hiking boots are heavy
  • Hiking boots are single use
  • Hiking boots are bad for travel

Do you love hiking boots, or hate ’em? Feel free to argue with Shawn!

Image: Lacey Raper (Stocksnap)

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  • Who spends enough time in hiking boots to ever truly break them in? All I ever hear about is the blisters. No thanks, I’ll just pack my sneakers (and wear them out with a dress, I don’t care).

    • SUCH.A.GOOD.POINT.

      Shannon, I can’t believe I didn’t mention the pain of ill-fitting or brand new boots. I guess it’s been such a long time since I’ve worn those iron maidens for your feet that I completely forgot!

  • Ian Lamb

    I completely agree that hiking boots have no place in a traveller’s checklist. I’ve never worn real boatshoes so I can’t comment on their versatility or comfort but I recently splurged on these badboys – http://arcteryx.com/product.aspx?language=EN&gender=mens&category=Footwear&subcat=Shoes&model=Acrux-FL-GTX-Approach-Shoe (black). They are the best of both worlds; hard enough outsole for technical terrain but comfortable enough to walk everywhere with them. They’re also waterproof and look good enough to wear out to dinner or a nightclub.

    Either way, people should just find a pair of shoes they’re comfortable wearing all the time instead of packing multiple single-purpose items. Same idea behind ditching the checked luggage and only taking a carry-on.

    • Cheers, Ian.

      I have to say – wow – those arcteryx shoes look amazing. They almost have a rock climbing look to them. I can totally see them performing on the trail, cobblestones, and dance floor. Have you ever taken them climbing? I climb a lot myself, and I’m always torn about tossing in my climbing shoes, since on long trips I know they’ll be dead weight. What is the toe like in those things?

  • Robert Williamson

    Actually… since I travel to tropical regions… I just wear one pair of cheap shoes on the plane that I give away later… and from that point I only wear my Keen Daytona sandals.. although I’m thinking of getting a pair of Chaco sandals also…. maybe wear one pair of sandals and have the other in my Tortuga backpack. Before flying out of Canada, my one big toe started to feel painful. When I arrived in Thailand, it started to turn black and blue and swelled and was very painful . Ended up being X-rayed and put on antibiotics at a hospital in Chiang Mai. A specialist at McCormick Hospital in Chiang Mai told me to never wear shoes and socks or hiking boots in hot tropical climates, unless you are hiking in the jungle where there are poisonous snakes.. He said… “Get good sandals with a heel strap… let the feet be exposed to the Sun and air, let them breath. Shoes and socks or boots confine the foot and allow bacteria to greatly multiple in the heat and moisture of sweating feet..”. Ever since… I wear sandals if it is warm enough.. My feet are doing very well now.. In tropical countries… a good pair of sandals is all I need even in the most remote mountain tribal villages…

    • Robert, you are an absolute champion. I love that you give back to the places you visit. Personally, I’m not a Keen sandal kind of guy, but if you’re gonna get out there and mix it up, I’ve heard they’re an awesome hiking shoe.

      Rock on, brother!

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