Choosing the Best Vegan Boots for Hiking
Choosing a great pair of vegan hiking boots is not much different than buying non-vegan ones.
You still want them to be comfortable, lightweight, durable, water-resistant, stable, and have plenty of traction.
What Makes for Comfortable Hiking Boots?
The biggest factor in whether a hiking boot is comfortable is how much cushion is built into the footbed. A thicker insole will shield your feet on a rocky traverse, but it’ll also limit your ability to sense what’s going on underfoot.
Because of that, getting proper foot placement on a scramble is more challenging when there’s more cushioning.
Flexibility is the second major factor in how comfortable your boots are. Trail running shoes provide the most flex, with a relatively thin sole and no rigid support in the footbed.
At the other end of the scale are mountaineering boots, which have a thick sole of hard rubber and usually contain a metal or composite shank (a thin plate that runs the length of the boot sole and provides extra stiffness).
Lastly, the stiffness of the outsole and the material in the upper affects a boot’s comfort – and this is where non-vegan and vegan hiking boots tend to differ.
Vegan boots are often more comfortable and easier to break in, as a upper leather needs quite a bit of bending to become pliable. Some synthetic uppers are more comfortable than others, though.
Even when they’re vegan, thicker mountaineering boots feel more like a plastic ski boot, while trail runners can be as comfortable as everyday sneakers.
How Heavy Should My Hiking Boots Be?
It’s said that each extra pound on your feet and ankles feels like five pounds on your back.
There’s no question that lighter hiking boots will feel more comfortable and leave you less exhausted after several hours of hiking.
However, a boot’s weight is usually tied to other features like waterproofing and ankle support.
One positive is that synthetic materials typically weigh less than leather, so vegan hiking boots are naturally a bit lighter.
How Durable Do My Hiking Boots Need to Be?
The short answer: as durable as possible.
After all, no one likes buying new boots at the beginning of each season. However, you have to be realistic with how long they’ll last; most hiking boots will be good for somewhere between 500 and 1,000 miles of trail.
Vegan footwear is, unfortunately, known for being less durable than models made with leather and other animal products.
But as more consumers are demanding that their outdoor equipment be animal-free, some companies have taken notice and starting putting extra effort into building more durable synthetic footwear.
Should I buy vegan waterproof hiking boots?
Waterproof boots are not always better, and whether you need them is determined by the terrain you hike most often.
Despite manufacturers’ claims that they can create a waterproof boot that’s breathable, the fact is that the more waterproof your boot is, the more your feet will be sweating.
Hiking boots with a waterproof membrane are best for inclement weather and wet trails.
A dry foot is a warm foot, and a damp foot can be dangerous in cold wet weather.
However, if you’re hiking in hot weather and on dry trails, non-waterproof boots are great option. Even if they get completely soaked during a creek crossing, your feet can be dry in an hour or so.
What Makes Hiking Boots Stable?
This is an age-old debate in the hiking world: should you get a taller hiking boot that provides more ankle support, or something more minimalist that lets you “feel” the terrain and avoid the missteps that make ankle support necessary in the first place?
Bulky hiking boots have thick soles that lift your feet higher off the ground, creating instability.
To counteract this problem, they have a higher cuff that catches your ankle before it can get injured.
However, these taller boots are also more comfortable on long treks with heavy packs since they provide greater cushioning on each step.
But many hikers prefer to forgo the ankle support and wear trail running shoes, which have a thinner, more flexible sole.
Not only does this give you a better sense of the terrain you’re walking over, it also strengthens your ankles by forcing them to make small corrections to center your weight.
However, the thinner sole will be less comfortable when you’re carrying a lot of weight on your back.
What Makes a Hiking Boot Have Good Traction?
Two things determine a hiking boot’s traction:
- the tread pattern
- and the material of the outsole
Boots designed for climbing muddy slopes will have thick lugs (the pieces of raised rubber on the sole), which help the boot bite into slippery terrain.
However, these lugs won’t do much good on a rocky scramble, as they mean less surface area is in contact with the mountain.
For better traction on rocky terrain, you need a softer, stickier rubber, which is usually found in trail running shoes.
They also have more flex, allowing your foot curl around the rock and get more surface area in contact with it.
Manufacturers rarely advertise the hardness of the outsole, so you really need to pay attention to reviews to find out how much traction they have.
Final Decision: The Very Best Vegan Hiking Boots
Many hikers are strong conservationists and are passionate about animal welfare, but what they put on their feet is often leather.
The industry has provided few options that are completely animal-free, and even fewer that are made to the same quality standards as their non-vegan boots.
However, all of that is changing, and there are several great vegan boots on the market.
When it comes to buying the very best vegan hiking boots, you can’t beat the Arc’teryx Bora. Its innovative two-piece design makes it both waterproof and highly breathable.
Additionally, the inner bootie can be removed and dried out much faster than a standard hiking boot. The cost puts these out of range of most hikers, but perhaps other manufacturers will latch on to this design trick and start making similar boots of their own.
There are plenty of great options if you don’t want to spend $300+ on your hiking boots, though.
You just need to consider what features are most important to you, and choose the pair that’s best at those things.
Getting the right hiking boot for your needs will make your time on the trail go a lot more smoothly.