Product Review – Soft Soles vs. Hard soles

The traditional hiking boot has a very stiff sole. The logic is that a stiff sole will help support the foot while stiff sides support the ankle. Soft soles such as can be found in running shoes and hiking sandals like Chacos allow fuller movement of the foot.

As we learn more about how the body works, I believe we’ll see more shoes like barefoot runners and soft-soled hiking boots. Traditional hiking boots restrict the movement in the foot. They don’t allow for a natural range of motion like a soft-soled shoe would.

I have been hiking in Lowa hiking boots all summer. After a long day of hiking, my ankles feel literally hobbled. The boot does not allow for a natural lengthening and contraction of the Achilles tendon. They also don’t allow for movement of the toes or flexibility around and over rocks. You teeter over rocks instead of molding your foot around the obstacle for a better grip.

This past weekend I decided to hike a 14,000+ mountain in my Chaco hiking sandals. I haven’t worn them as much this year because of cold temperatures. My feet were so happy. Every part of my foot was able to flex and contract the way it needed to. The change in shoes worked muscles in my legs that hadn’t been worked all summer. The next day I had no pain in my Achilles.

As winter moves in, I’ll be ordering a new pair of Mukluks because their soft sole lets your feet move naturally, lets your body create balance. Another benefit of a soft soled and lightweight shoe is it allows you to run down hills more freely. In a hiking boot you are arresting your movement with each downward step, which puts a lot of pressure on your knees. This can be good if you have a big pack and you don’t want to tumble forward, but for the most part, your body does better with the body’s natural design. Your feet can flex and move and grip for a reason; to provide you with balance. Hopefully the future of hiking boots will move to a more flexible sole.

If you’re using crampons, you want a stiff sole for support, but even on the most rugged terrain, I prefer a soft-soled shoe.

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