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Best Shoes and Socks for Hiking?


If you have been around this website you know I favor light nylon socks for hiking, along with running shoes. But I recently received an email asking me a couple questions about this from a military man who is used to heavy loads and boots. He was coming home from Afghanistan to Alaska, and was thrilled with the idea of hiking and backpacking with a lighter load. His questions for me were what brand of socks I use for hiking, how many miles they last, and how many miles I get out of my running shoes as well. My answers...

I buy whatever brand of socks is available because the stores around here keeps changing the brands they carry. Basically I look for the closest ones to what I have used (you might have to experiment) that weigh about an ounce per pair. Not sure on the mileage because I have not ever worn out a pair on a hike, and I have hiked as much as 40 miles in a day (years ago - wouldn't want to do that now). They seem to last longer than any normal hiking socks. I like to change socks during the day sometimes too, and with these light socks you can rinse them in a stream and they'll dry quickly hanging from the pack.

As for the running shoes, I use two types depending on the nature of the hike, If it is just an overnight or weekend trip I will often use cheap running shoes. I mean really cheap. I have bought them recently for as little as $10 per pair. But I don't get these only because they are cheap. For some reason the cheap brands often have softer rubber that really sticks to the rocks that I like to hike/scramble here in Colorado. They are also comfortable the first time I put them on.

The downside is that they wear out fast. I once made the mistake of taking cheap running shoes on a week-long 110 mile hike. They were almost falling apart by the end. I hate to think what would happen if the soles broke loose a day from civilization. I would never take the cheap ones too far into the wilderness again, so I buy good ones too. I have tried various brands. Generally I look for a pair that is less than two pounds total, and is normally around $70 to $120. In terms of the quality of construction you get what you pay for in shoes. But I try to buy them on clearance sales for $50 or less. It seems that people want new styles every year - and I could couldn't care less about style - so manufacturers sell the leftovers cheap at the end of the season.

The other thing I would add about choosing running shoes is to be sure there is a decent amount of padding in the sole. Some are thin enough to allow stones to dig into the bottom of your foot.

I used to get blisters, but in the thirteen years since I quit using hiking boots and started using running shoes and light socks for hiking, I have had perhaps one or two on top of my toes, from poorly-designed shoes that creased and rubbed. It feels great to go light when backpacking, and if you go light enough, you really don't need the ankle support of hiking boots. (When I see those Sherpas in Nepal carry eighty-pound loads almost barefoot it seems clear that it's conditioning that provides the ankle-strength necessary, not footwear).


The Ultralight Backpacking Site | Best Shoes and Socks for Hiking?