At some point it is always time for a new pair of hiking boots. Since spring 2012, my Hanwag hiking boots have accompanied me over many, many kilometers on dog walks, day trips and even civilisation-free hikes in the Swedish mountains. I have already had them resoled once. Now, however, I think the Goretex membrane has ruptured, as my feet get wet even when exposed to very little moisture. Possibly this happened during my holiday in Sweden in 2018 when the shoes had to dry quite fast – too fast for the leather – in drying rooms several times. Despite good care before the trip, the leather had got deep tears after the vacation. Maybe the membrane was also affected as a result of that.
The old ones are worn out, so I have to buy new hiking boots
Anyway, the fact is I didn’t feel like getting my feet wet all the time. So I started looking for new hiking boots. Since I regularly got numb toes on longer tours with a lot of weight in my Hanwag shoes, I wanted to try shoes from another manufacturer or at least another model. In my hiking boots I always felt a bit constricted and trapped. That way I developed the desire for a more flexible shoe.
In addition, I have been optimising my gear in terms of weight for some time now. I also know that weight on the feet has a particularly strong influence on physical performance. New hiking boots should therefore not only be more flexible but also lighter. What I really liked about my Hanwag shoes was the all-round rubber to protect the leather and the high shaft. That way you can slip with the shoe without directly damaging the upper material or step into deep mud without the moisture from above penetrating into the shoe. These are the features I wanted for my new shoe.
In addition, my environmental awareness has increased in the past years. I am aware that the abrasion of the soles of my hiking boots remains in nature, where it really has no place. Some time ago I heard about biodegradable soles in this context. Might that not also exist for new hiking boots?
To make things short, I had the following requirements for my new shoes: waterproof, light and flexible, high shaft, robust, biodegradable sole.
The search for new hiking boots begins!
After extensive research on the Internet, I soon found out that I would not get all these features in one shoe. Especially the degradable sole does not (yet) exist in hiking boots. Vibram offers a compostable sole called “Endurance Composole”, but it only decomposes at temperatures above 70 degrees Celsius in an industrial composting process. So I doubt whether this really helps. It’s a pity that I had to remove this very point, which was important to me, from my list so quickly. In terms of weight it was easier. In general, hiking boots have become much lighter in recent years, although flexibility is still not a big issue.
Maybe trail running shoes are the answer?
During my search I came across some hikers, especially in the North American area, who switched to trail running shoes. These provide more flexibility, but are usually not waterproof and rarely have a high shaft. Furthermore, the upper material is much less robust than that of hiking boots.
Nevertheless I got more involved with the topic and found out that there is the possibility to put on waterproof socks in trail running shoes. These have a membrane, so that the foot stays dry even when the shoe is wet. Great idea, which could also help me with my old shoes. That way I could definitely continue to use them for a while. For a longer tour with weight I still wanted new shoes though because of the problem of numb toes. During my research on trail running shoes I came across barefoot hiking shoes by accident and was immediately enthusiastic about the idea. I have been running in Vibram Five Fingers since 2011 and am totally happy with it. Why shouldn’t that also work for hiking?
Can you go hiking in barefoot shoes?
If you search the internet for the right footwear for hiking, there is a fierce fight between different hikers. While one group is of the opinion that in any way one needs heavy boots for hiking, the second group apparently walks even the most difficult mountain tours with sneakers. From my own experience I know that in summer I can walk for hours with my ballerinas on flat forest paths. On the other hand, the stony and muddy trails of Lapland make my feet very tired at the end of a day’s hiking.
Whether you can do all this in barefoot shoes is not answered by the internet. I suspect that the offer of such shoes is still too new for corresponding experiences. But as I was simply much too fascinated by the idea of hiking in barefoot shoes in order to continue to deal with other shoes, I decided to go for a pair of barefoot shoes.
Which barefoot hiking shoe is the best for me?
There is not yet a large selection of barefoot hiking shoes. So I very quickly came across shoes from Vivobarefoot, a British company specialising in barefoot shoes suitable for everyday use. Vivobarefoot offers several models for outdoor use, I hovered between the “Tracker Firm Ground” a waterproof leather shoe and the “Magna Trail” with a nylon upper. Because of the negative experiences with the leather of my Hanwag shoes in the drying room and the torn membrane, I decided against the “Tracker” and for the “Magna Trail”. A few days later I could already pick up the package from the post office and have a look at my new hiking shoe.
The field test
From the very first time I put them on, I was convinced of the barefoot shoes. They are very comfortable and give the foot a lot of space. No comparison to my old shoes! But unlike my Five Fingers, the Vivobarefoot shoe is much more of a shoe than barefoot. Maybe this is actually better for a hiking shoe. Initial comparison was made on the scales: with 652g for both shoes it is much lighter than my pair of Hanwag shoes with 1460g.
Officially the Vivobarefoot shoe is only water-repellent, but it has a neoprene lining. The impregnation of the new shoe keeps water out well. In the long run, however, it will probably weaken and then show how water-repellent the shoe really is. Concerning the durability and the suitability for heavier terrain I also still have to test a little bit. On the daily dog walks it works very well in any case.
Whether barefoot shoes will prove their quality on tours in stony, difficult terrain I cannot say yet. I also don’t know if the neoprene lining is suitable for summer temperatures. However, I will continue to test my barefoot shoes thoroughly and then report about my experiences in detail. If you want to know how my barefoot shoes performed in the first year, please read my test report!