The Effect of Shoe Weight on Hiking Speed
The era of heavy boots on long-distance trails seems to be over: more than 95% of long-distance hikers use hiking shoes or trail runners instead of heavy boots. I set out to see if I can provide scientific evidence that the lighter shoe is better for long-distance hiking.
I decided to test the effect of different shoes on hiking speed using a relatively flat 2-mile loop trail at an elevation of 5,500 feet. I selected a flat trail so that I could assume that any change in average speed was due to the weight of the shoe not a grade change in the trail.
Calculated speed while carrying a 30-pound pack
For each test hike I carried a backpack with a total weight of 30 pounds and enough water, so I did not have to stop to refill water. The weather and departure time were also about the same for each hike. I rested for at least 48 hours between hikes to make sure I was fully recovered from each hike. For each experimental hike day, I wore a different pair of shoes with a different weight. I decided for this experiment that I would hike exactly four miles on the flat trail to calculate the average speed for each type of shoe worn.
Tested 3 different hiking shoes
I tested three different hiking shoes with varying weight. (The brand names of the shoes are intentionally omitted.) I tested a light trail runner (1.31 pounds/ 0.594 kg), a heavier hiking shoe (1.95 pounds/0.884 kg) and a lightweight boot (2.15 pounds/ 0.975 kg). When wearing the lightest shoe my average hiking speed was 3.17 mph. The slightly heavier hiking shoe slowed my hiking speed down 0.1 mph to 3.07 mph. The lightweight boot performed the worst averaging 2.99 mph.
The lighter shoe performed the best
The chart above clearly illustrates that the heavier the shoe the slower the speed. The extra ounces on my feet made a drastic impact on speed! With today’s lighter pack weights, you likely do not need a heavy boot. However, the hiking shoe you use should always provide the required support for your specific, individual needs.