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.
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?
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.