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Good To Know: Lighten Your Feet, Lighten Your Load

The Myth:

Every pound you wear on your feet equals five pounds that you carry in your backpack.

The Answer:

There is no dispute that you get less tired when walking with lighter footwear. Most of us have clomped around with mud caked on our shoes — and it’s an unavoidable conclusion that extra weight on your feet requires more energy to move. Edmond Hillary noticed this on Mt. Everest in 1953, and teams of researchers have confirmed the phenomenon. But if you cash in your two-pound boots for svelte 16-ounce trail shoes, is it really like taking 10 pounds out of your backpack?

In short, yes, although 10 pounds is not a firm number. Studies show that, depending on your height, weight, and the type of terrain you are covering, the exchange ratio can be as high as one pound on your feet translating to seven pounds on your back! There are plenty of military studies that compare army boots to running shoes that have confirmed even small weight increases on the feet have considerable impact on the energy expenditure for both walking and running. Simply put, heavier shoes make you more tired.

The further that weight sits on a moving part (i.e., your foot in relation to your core), the more energy it takes to move it. Your shoes are at the very end of your legs; moving them in relation to your body takes more energy than carrying a fixed object on your back.

So you can save on the energy it takes to walk by reducing the weight on your feet. The increased amount of energy used depends on speed, slope, surface, and terrain — but the general rule of thumb of one-to-five is fair. People with shorter legs tend to increase their hiking speed by increasing the frequency, rather than the length, of their strides. This means that there’s a comparatively higher energy cost for shorter people—because every step adds up with extra weight.

The lesson here? Go with as light a pair of shoes as possible. Get rid of those five pound hiking boots and invest in a pair of trail shoes that weigh in under two pounds. They will let you move quicker, go farther, and feel less tired. Plus, additional studies have shown that stiff soles and high ankle cuffs provide biomechanical limitations that also up the energy it takes to make a step—so go with a supportive, but flexible sole, and a lightweight upper.

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