The best shoes for hiking? They’re definitely not hiking boots
You might be thinking we’ve gone crazy. Or that we’re trying to pull you in with a nonsensical caption so we can sell you some hiking boots.
But neither is true.
We’ve written today’s article for all those who love trekking, hiking and walking in the mountains. We’ll have a look at what modern physiotherapy says about what we put on our feet for trips. And we’ll just say this up front: No, hiking boots are not a healthy choice.
What do ideal hiking boots look like? Like this.
A thick sole will put blinders on your feet
Did you know that your brain collects 80% of its information on balance from the soles of your feet? That’s how much information you’re depriving yourself of when you put on hiking boots with a thick sole.
The sole of the foot perceives and reads the terrain. Simply put, it says to the brain: “Now I’m walking along a stony path. I need to activate this or that muscle and stabilize the foot.” By doing this, the brain registers danger in time, modifies muscle tension and stabilizes all the joints.
With a strong sole, you’re putting “blinders” on your feet. They don’t see what’s going on under them, they can’t send important information, and the brain can’t react to avoid an injury.
A thin but durable sole will connect you with the terrain.
Watch out – it’s slippery!
You’re probably saying: But I need a strong sole with proper tread so my foot doesn’t slip! Well, you’re in for another surprise.
Whether you slip or not isn’t only dependent on the tread, but on several other parameters:
- the surface you’re using to touch the ground
- the possibility to cling to the terrain
A sneaker can also be made out of non-slip material. We tested our barefoot shoes in an independent laboratory and found out that their adhesion (i.e. non-slip ability) is 2.5× better than the norm requires.
Slippery or not slippery? Adhesion is not about tread. It depends on the surface, flexibility and material.
How does surface come into play? Normal hiking boots close the foot into a narrow tip. But the moment you put on a shoe that respects the natural shape of the foot, you’ll get a much greater surface (we wrote about this in the article on Barefoot and performance). A greater contact surface equals less slip.
And what do we mean by clinging to a surface? Imagine you’re rock-climbing. What are you doing with your hands? You’re grabbing on to the holds. Your feet can do the same, but not in hiking boots. In shoes with a thin and flexible sole, you’ll be “touching” each rock and grabbing on to it with your foot, which will ensure you don’t slip.
You don’t need to have a splint just to feel safe. A free foot will protect itself.
A reinforced ankle. More like a splint
“Walking in hiking boots is the greatest paradox I’ve ever encountered,” says physiotherapist Lukáš Klimpera. In the attempt to reinforce it, we lace up the ankle into tall boots… and in doing so we put the whole foot out of service. We’re protecting the ankle, but we’re endangering other parts of the body.
If you’re walking barefoot and your foot slips, the body will quickly react. The relevant muscles activate, stiffening and keeping the body safe.
But what happens in a “reinforced” hiking boot?
When the foot and ankle are cramped into a firm hiking boot, they can’t be active or work. The pelvic girdle, lumbar spine and hip joints take over the activity. We’re pitching our feet in front of us and stepping down on them hard. This is a completely opposite mechanism than the physiological one,” says Lukáš Klimpera.
This is what your bare foot looks like as compared to your foot in a hiking boot. Can you see the difference in the surface it’s covering?
A weight on each foot
Do your feet feel like they’re made of lead after every hike? It’s no surprise. A pair of hiking boots can easily weigh 1.5kg.
“The heavier the hiking boots are, the more they’re burdening the lumbar area, which is already overloaded as a result of poor alignment and limited function of the lower limbs. And if we pack a backpack on top of that, the weight is really extreme,” says Klimpera.
Lighten your journey. Take off the weight and put on light barefoot shoes.
Head out into nature with lightness. A healthy pair of shoes will weigh under 500g. That’s why every step you take in them will be a joy.
And just by the way – do know why you’ll be getting your best athletic performance in barefoot shoes? Read on in our article.
Take a deep breath
“Breathe deeply, you’re in nature,” our parents would tell us on trips. Did you know that hiking shoes can suppress your breathing?
“Active barefoot walking supports our breathing and thus the oxidation of our body and the function of our internal organs,” says Lukáš Klimpera.
When we walk barefoot, our body is aligned in the way that nature intended it to be. We stand up straight, our chest spreads and we’re breathing fully with our lungs. But only a small change is needed for our alignment to be thrown off. Heavy, unanatomical boots will realign tension in the whole body. This spreads upwards, changing your body posture and with it the room to breathe.
What are the ideal shoes for rough terrain?
Barefoot shoes are best-suited for rough terrain. That’s why you should look for shoes that allow you to walk just as naturally as if you were barefoot.
How do you recognize them?
- They have a wide toebox.
- Their shape copies the shape of your foot.
- They’re pliant and flexible in all directions.
- They’re light.
- They have a thin and flexible but durable sole.
Look for shoes that allow your feet to function naturally.
So I should head out into the terrain barefoot? Won’t my feet hurt?
Slow down. Over the years in regular shoes, we’ve forgotten how to walk naturally. That’s why you shouldn’t set off for the rocks right away if you’re not used to walking barefoot. You could hurt yourself.
How to do it
- Start in a softer and simpler terrain. Like at home in the yard.
- Read through the basics of healthy walking. Download the free Step by Step to Healthy Walking e-book.
- Be aware of your body. If something hurts, your foot probably isn’t working right.
Don’t be afraid if you feel like you’re suddenly engaging different muscles. A slight pain may also be felt.
“If the pain is on the level of muscle fatigue, it’s ok. This means that the muscles have been activated and are getting stronger. But sharp, dull or shooting pains are a signal from the body that we’re not doing something correctly,” says physiotherapist Lukáš Klimpera.
According to Klimpera, calf pain may also occur. This means you’re not engaging your toes enough while rebounding, as the calves are taking over their function and becoming overloaded.
Start walking barefoot safely
For barefoot beginners, we’ve prepared the Comfort series, which will protect you until you’re used to a natural stride. A special foam insole or a cushioned outsole will have you feeling like you’re stepping on moss.
Come have a look at your new favorite hiking shoes.