Vegan hiking shoes 2

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My first post about vegan hiking shoes is now a couple years old, so it’s time for an update!

First, I still stand by my original recommendation that long-distance hikers on a maintained trail will be best served by trail runners, sneakers, or a very lightweight hiking boot. Unfortunately, the old-school mentality remains: that backpackers need to wear big, heavy, all-leather, Boots. This will be reinforced in any gear store by well-meaning employees who will always recommend bulky hiking boots if you mention the word “backpacking.” (This is a similar phenomenon to how every inexperienced camper—usually men—brings the biggest knife they can carry… what do you expect to use it for?).

The best footwear for a long-distance hike are trail runners.*

There are several problems with the use of animal products in shoes. First is leather, and second is glue and other subsidiary products. It is easy to avoid leather, but much more difficult to know whether a shoe is completely animal free unless the manufacturer states so (and you believe them). My personal vegan philosophy is to do the best you can without driving yourself crazy. I look for shoes without leather, but I don’t worry so much about glues or other ingredients. On my hike, I used New Balance trail runners. New Balance addresses the use of non-vegan glues (This page seems to be updated regularly).

A few last notes about shoes on the trail. First, you will likely go through at least two if not three pairs of shoes. Don’t worry about buying the most rugged pair to last all the way to Katahdin, new shoes feel wonderful on the trail. Second, there are many gear stores and shoe stores along the way, if you start with a pair and discover they hurt your feet, it is so easy to find something different. Finally, I always hike with Superfeet insoles, they’re great.

Luckily, it is very very easy to find non-leather trail runners.

New Balance has a variety of choices for women and men.

Merrell has a vegan collection including a few trail runners.

La Sportiva and Salomon have a wide range of synthetic trail runners.

Check out any of the major shoe brands, many have trail runners, and they’re rarely made with leather.

What if I insist on hiking boots?

There are several good choices including Backpacker 2013 Editor’s Choice best boot, the unreasonably named Zamberlan 230 SH Crosser Plus GTX RR for women and men.

Adidas has a well regarded synthetic option, the Terrex Fast or Terrex Quick.

*Here’s some science: Legg and Mehanty (1986) found that it is four to six times more “expensive” in terms of oxygen use to carry extra weight on your feet (heavy shoes) versus on your back. Jones, et. al. (1985) found that women running or walking in boots used significantly more energy than the same activity in shoes.

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17 Comments

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17 responses to “Vegan hiking shoes 2

  1. Great stuff. I laughed out loud at the “unreasonably named” boots. Truth.

  2. Laura

    Thank you for posting these suggestions! I do most of my hiking in New Balance running shoes, but living in the PNW, I would like a waterproof boot so that I am not soaked all winter with the rain/snow in the mountains. It seems nearly impossible to find a water resistant hiking boot that isn’t leather. I finally ordered the Veggie Trekkers (http://www.vegetarian-shoes.co.uk/hiking_boots___safety_boots/veggie_trekker_mk_4_brown/10778_p.html). They are great boots but weigh about 3 lbs each (!) and are more heavy duty than I need. I also tried a pair of Hi-Tec non-leather boots but they are so uncomfortable there is no way I could wear them on the trails. I may try the Zamberlans next…. it doesn’t seem like it should be this difficult!

    • Samwise

      3 lbs each?? Eek, that sounds terrible to hike in! Yeah, perhaps check out the Zamberlans, or look in the store for a “light hiker” boot. They’re sort of mid way between trail runners and full hiking boots, and I’ve seen many that are synthetic (or mostly synthetic). Alternatively, for the edge seasons, many companies make waterproof trail runners with goretex or event (though not New Balance, as far as I know).

      If I were to start my thru-hike again, I would have started with waterproof trail runners. I think in general during the warmer months waterproof shoes are unnecessary. Your feet will be wet from sweat anyway, and non-waterproof shoes dry much faster. However, those first two months (in the cold, rainy, snowy, South, I wish my feet weren’t constantly muddy and cold.

  3. I am not surprised that it is six times more expensive to carry weight on your legs than on your back. My legs always hurt a lot when I hike or do landscaping jobs in my boots.

    • Samwise

      Yeah, seriously. I remember wearing heavy boots on my first backpacking trip.. when I was tired, stone steps were brutal, because it was so hard to lift my feet…

      Trail runners all the way!

  4. Veghiker

    Thanks for this! I will say – I have an ankle that gives out easily, and I feel much more secure (and twist my ankle much less) in boots than trail runners. So it’s nice to have options!

    • Samwise

      So glad you found this useful! Yeah, you gotta do what works for you. I would still recommend you find the lightest weight boys you can, it really makes a big difference. Happy hiking!

  5. scot

    Keep in mind that just because it’s not leather doesn’t mean it’s vegan. Most brands use horse or other animal protein in their glues. For example New Balance (like most major athletic brands) doesn’t have a single vegan style. It’s comparable to eating french onion soup which doesn’t have pieces of meat but is made from a beef stock.

    • Samwise

      Hey Scot, thanks for your thoughts on this. Yes, it’s true that many companies may still use non-vegan glues in their non-leather shoes, but as New Balance notes, they use a variety of glues. For me, it’s a personal choice and you have to decide what you’re comfortable with. I am fine buying synthetic hiking shoes that may include a small amount of glue, paired with advocating for fully vegan options.

      I disagree, however, that it’s similar to beef broth because the glue is a very small amount of the shoe construction as compared to the larger issue of leather use. But I see your point. I would never compromise on eating soup with beef broth. Perhaps what I eat and what I choose to use outdoors are slightly different…

      Do you have a shoe option you recommend?

      Happy hiking

  6. scot

    Thanks for your reply Sam, and for the blog!
    I guess I just don’t follow the logic that a shoe that contains only a small amount of animal product (ie: horse glue) is in any way ok. Why worry about synthetic leathers if we aren’t going to worry about glues? We don’t think of the food we consume this way. The beef broth from my previous post may have been an exaggeration but the logic holds…it makes no difference to the animal whether we eat it or wear it. The point is that we participate in the material consumption of animals and help create a market when we purchase animal products.
    The other big part of this is that there are plenty of Vegan hiking/trail shoes available from brands such as Brooks, Montrail, Patagonia, Altra, Vivo Barefoot and Merrell. Why are we even mentioning non vegan brands like New Balance and co. on vegan blogs??

  7. Great suggestions for hiking shoes! I am actually looking for options when buying hiking shoes. I have had Merrell and New Balance but they kind of got worn out already. Thanks.

  8. Otto

    What does “maintained trail” mean?

    Our trails in northern Sweden are maintained according to me. But a lot of times you have to walk on large sharp rocks (on their edges) and I find that scary in trainers even though I have walked in trainers a lot on these trails.

    • Samwise

      Yes, fair enough! By maintained, I mean an actual trail that is marked and upkept at lest semi-regularly. Could be rocky and occasionally uncomfortable, but I still would say better in shoes than boots! Though I’ve never hiked in Sweden…

  9. julie

    How about waterproof trail shoes? Thanks for the blog!

  10. Hey Sam! I’m still loving your blog. I’ve been going back and reading older posts every once in a while, and hope to see new ones soon!

    I thought I’d share my vegan hiking boots post, in case it might help anyone, as an addition to yours. The boots I’ve included are all made with synthetic glues. I hope to delve into the world of trail runners soon, too. I took your advice and got a pair of Treksta Edicts earlier this summer and I *love* how lightweight they are for hiking. Definitely better than clunky boots when the weather is right!

    Anyway, here’s my list: http://www.veganoutdooradventures.com/vegan-hiking-boots/

    Hope your summer in the woods was awesome! Keep in touch!
    Jessica

  11. montana hodges

    I have the heavy hiking boots from Vegetarian Shoes they are custom made in Italy, have a massive Vibram outsole and are worth every penny if you backpack or deal with rough terrane (I’m a geologist working in Alaska and Mexico).

    I got the Veggie Trekker: http://www.vegetarian-shoes.co.uk/hiking_boots___safety_boots/10032_0c.html

  12. Thanks. I’ve always went for trail runners myself, but recently got conflicting information on Salomon. I suspect its the glue as they do have some all synthetic shoes. Also of note, the Keen Marshall had two different labels on different sizes. The smaller display was all synthetic, the larger version had a leather upper piece. Also, I got the Vegetarian Shoe brand duck boot for snow and mud season, but the inner lining at the heel blew apart after about 80 miles of very rocky/rugged hiking.

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