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Ask Me: Time to Ditch the Old, Heavy Boots For Lighter Footwear?

Ask Me: Time to Ditch the Old, Heavy Boots For Lighter Footwear?

Hi, Michael,

I’ve got a pair of Asolo Yukons that I’ve used for nearly 20 years. They are comfortable as can be and offer great ankle support, but at age 52 I’m wondering if I should part with my beloved Yukons and invest in a modern, lighter boot. I’ve heard that every pound on the feet is like five pounds on the back, and as my joints age and my stamina diminishes, I’ve thought it might be wise to buy new. I do mostly dayhikes with a few two-night backpacking trips a season, typically carrying about 20 to 25 pounds. We hike in the White Mountains of N.H., which typically means rocky and wet! I’d love your thoughts on whether to stick with these high-quality tried-and-true Yukons or ditch them for something lighter.

John
Easton, MA

Hi John,

Last September, I took a four-day, 86-mile backpacking trip in Yosemite National Park. Especially on trips like that, when I’m walking a lot of miles a day and traveling very light, I prefer lightweight, low-cut shoes or mid-cut boots that keep my feet cool. On this trip, though, I took a pair of boots that were a pound (per pair) heavier than I’d normally take on that kind of trip, and much warmer, only because I thought they were nice boots and wanted to try them out. They are nice and I’ll review them eventually (I also just wore them on a trek in New Zealand for which they were much more appropriate), but they weren’t a good choice for that trip. My feet were hot in them, and the experience reminded me that I really just prefer wearing lightweight shoes and boots.

The short answer to your question is: yes. Boot technology has come a long way since you bought those Yukons. I think many consumers tend to buy more boot than they need. My rule for picking out boots is to get the lightest pair that provide the support I need for the hiking or backpacking I’m doing. Lighter boots break in almost instantly, are cooler for your feet—which means less likelihood of blisters—and less fatiguing over the course of a hike. They also allow your ankles and lower legs more flexibility and can feel more nimble and less clunky, which can reduce the risk of injury, whether injury related to falling or an overuse-type injury to connective tissue. See my story “Pro Tips For Buying the Right Boots.”

A hiker on Franconia Ridge, White Mountains, N.H.

A hiker on Franconia Ridge, White Mountains, N.H.

I don’t have data to back up what I’m saying, but my observations are based on a quarter-century of hiking and backpacking many thousands of miles all over the U.S. and the world, in many different types of terrain and climates (including where I started hiking, in your back yard in the White Mountains). And like a lot of backpackers of a certain age, I used to almost exclusively wear heavier, stiffer boots, but slowly came around to realizing how much better lightweight boots are for my feet and legs. I’m convinced that lightweight shoes and boots, by forcing my body to provide the support that I used to rely on heavier boots for, have helped make me a stronger hiker who’s less susceptible to injury. As we get older, that becomes increasingly important.

But the simpler answer is that I’m pretty sure your feet will just be more comfortable in lighter, cooler footwear. With the exception of backpacking with a heavy load in a very wet, cold climate or in very rugged terrain, I generally hike exclusively in lightweight boots.

Based on what you’re accustomed to, I’m not sure you want to switch to the absolute lightest boots on the market. But you may find that you would do well by downsizing to midweight, mid-cut boots that still offer plenty of support for the kind of hiking you do, yet will feel much lighter and cooler than what you’ve been using. I know the White Mountains well (photos at top of story and above), and that’s a rugged and often wet place, so you want decent support in boots. You should read this Ask Me post about lighter vs. heavier boots, and this one with suggestions for lightweight boots, as well as my reviews of lighter shoes and boots, specifically the Oboz Bridger Mid BDry and the Scarpa Tech Ascent.

If you’re a big fan of Asolo and want more supportive but that are still much lighter and more comfortable than your old boots, I used the new Asolo Triumph Gv GTX boots on a four-day hut trek in New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park, a very rugged, wet, muddy place, and liked those boots a lot.

Thanks for following The Big Outside. Let me know what you decide.

Best,
Michael

Hi, Michael,

Thanks for this feedback. You’ve convinced the hiker in me that lighter boots are the way to go. The skinflint in me is still struggling with the fact that I have a pair of high-quality boots that fit like a glove and that are still in great shape after nearly 20 years (even if they do weigh in at around five pounds!) But you’ve convinced me to try a new route.

John

John,

I suspect you’ve gotten your money’s worth out of those old boots—probably paid pennies per miles at this point. Glad to be of help to you. Have fun out there.

Michael

In Ask Me, I share and respond to a reader question. Got a question about hiking, backpacking, gear, or any topic or trip I write about at The Big Outside? Send it to me at mlanza@thebigoutside.com, message me at facebook.com/TheBigOutside, or tweet it to @MichaelALanza. I will answer the ones I can in a post, using only your first name and city, with your permission. I receive a high volume of questions, so I cannot always respond quickly.

I’ve been testing gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See all of my reviews by clicking on the Gear Reviews category at left or in the main menu.

—Michael Lanza

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About The Author

Michael Lanza

A former field editor and primary gear reviewer for Backpacker Magazine, Michael Lanza created The Big Outside to share stories and images from his many backpacking, hiking, and other outdoor adventures, as well as expert tips and gear reviews to help readers plan and pull off their own great adventures.

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    I have large, extra wide feet (14, 4E) and it’s near impossible to get good, light hiking boots that fit, and I look every year or so. For more than a decade I’ve been wearing heavy custom leather boots with a full steel shank, from Limmer Boot (which was called Peter Limmer & Sons when I first bought from them in the 80s, and which has been around for nearly a century). My boots weigh over 5lbs, and I dearly wish I could find something lighter that felt good and lasted but haven’t found anything.

    When doing day hikes in the rain I do use a pair of $99 Merrell Moab waterproof boots, which have an okay fit and do a decent job of keeping rain out for a few hours at a time, but they don’t seem to be built for heavy usage, and there are a lot of complaints about the sole separating from the boot after occasional usage. It’s worth it for me to have a pair of light, sometime-rain boots, even if I know they’ll end up being disposable. But I wish I could just find quality light boots that fit and last as long as my Limmers….

    Reply
    • michaellanza

      Hi Chip, I occasionally hear from people with the same problem: difficulty finding boots or hiking shoes that fit large, wide feet. As a big guy (presumably), you probably wear out lighter footwear a bit faster than a small person. I wish I could tell you exactly which other brands would fit your feet well, but boot fit is so individual that the only way to find a good fit is to try on different brands until you succeed.

      I know Limmer boots; they have a loyal following for their quality, but they are heavy. Unfortunately, your twin goals of finding lightweight boots that last as long as Limmers are not realistically compatible. Limmers last for so many years because they are built like armored personnel carriers, and that’s why they’re heavy. Lightweight hiking shoes and boots generally have a lifetime of roughly 400-500 miles, less if you hike in very rugged and/or wet terrain. That’s one of the tradeoffs for light footwear, but the benefits include cooler feet and less fatigue on your legs. While your fit problem is a big challenge, I still suggest you consider the advice I offered the reader in this post and look around for the brand whose lightweight boots suit your feet and style of hiking. Good luck.

      Reply

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