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.
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. Elias – Outdoor Gear Lab’s #1 rated boot: $190
Timberland’s White Ledge Boot – Amazon’s top-rated men’s boot: $175
Keen Targhee II – Amazon’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)