TGO Preparation 2017: Lightweight Footwear/Trail Shoes

In this latest instalment of articles aimed at first time TGO challengers I take a look at the thorny question of footwear, including the use of lightweight trail shoes.

I know from experience that most new trekkers are fine with the philosophy until it gets to trails shoes. Can you really do without heavy boot? Surely it is not safe. To be fair it is very easy to find old timers who will warn against trail shoes but — in my view — they are very wrong.

When considering the lightweight approach to footwear there are, perhaps, three things to consider.

Firstly, heavy weight on your get can have disproportionate impact on effort and tiredness.

Secondly, lightweight footwear with flexible allows you feet and ankles to flexibly cope with terrain where with heavy boots you ankles just go where the boots want you to go.

Thirdly, Footwear that is not waterproof lets in water easily but it also lets it out easily as well!


For a long time I worried about my ankles. I used to wear Scarpa boots which were pretty tough. However, I’ve now ben walking in trail shoes for a decade or so. On many occasions I’ve slipped or turned on an ankle. In trail shoes I find I can twist out of a divot where wearing boots I’d have fallen over!

Flexible trail shoes are also great on uneven and rocky ground. You can feel the terrain with your toes. This feels safer to me and inspires a lot more confidence, particularly when descending. Shoes like the Inov-8 brand are also supper on steep slopes. They allow your ankles to bend and flex naturally and their sole units usually grip grass very well.

The porous nature of these shoes often seems to be a deal breaker of many but water in boots and shoes is a real problem in big or waterproof boots. Once in the water can’t get out. And trudging across open grounding Scotland there is a good chance that you will get water in your shoes at some point.

As my challenge mate Humphrey Weightman says, the great thing about human skin is that it is waterproof. With porous shoes the water drains out pretty quickly and your feet dry off pretty quickly as well. And if the water is cold a brisk trots will get the feet warm again. Get to a river crossing? In trail shoes you just walk on through the water. Wearing boots you have to stop, take off the boots, put on crocs or something similar, get to the other side, dry your feet and put your socks and boots back on again. Those of us who have got beyond this never cease to feel a bit superior!

The downside of trail shoes is that they tend not to be as robust as boots. I tend to buy a new pair every year.

If you want to try this lightweight option I would encourage you to do so. Why no buy a pair in advance of the Challenge? If you don’t get on with them you can always use these as everyday trainers. Wet feet and lightweight shoes seem almost counter intuitive but try them and my guess is that you will very quickly see the point.

Finally, when considering trail shoes I would always try and avoid waterproof linings simply because you want the water to get out again! If the trail shoes seem a step too far then consider a lightweight fabric boot. Remember that first point; weight on the feet makes itself known!

Have a go!


  1. Waterproof linings used to be benchmarked against 180 days wear (that was the Arc’teryx standard to pass), but now the standard on the new membranes is just 100 days (the latest version of the all singing & dancing waterproof/ breathable fabrics have thinner membrane layers, hence they wear out faster). Follow Andy’s advice as long as it is not freezing IMHO. Remember that in normal walking each foot creates a pint of perspiration a day; I suspect on the TGO it is nearer double that; there are not many membranes that can cope with that amount of moisture vapour to transmit. Fast drying is key (just like a proper soft-shell)…

  2. Robin says:

    Each to his own. Personally, I prefer lightweight, flexible mid boots (Salomon X Ultra or Ecco Biom Mids) to trail shoes. I find them more comfortable, especially on rough ground and going down steep slopes. Mid boots allow full ankle movement but the higher front secures the foot more securely when going down hill. The lower cut than traditional boots means air is pumped out more effectively than full boots so they are less sweaty. I don’t like wet feet either, so I’m happy to have membranes which can leave my feet a bit sweaty but not soaked on wet ground or in rain. If you take your boots and socks off when you rest, you can mitigate the dampness.

    On my 2015 Challenge, a fellow participant was wearing trail shoes for the first time for a long walk and vowed “never again”. I’m happy with trail shoes in summer on less mountainous terrain, but go back to light boots in the hills or outside summer. It’s all a matter of personal choice. The best advice is to try different footwear in all conditions to see what suits you. No one is the same.

    As for crossing rivers, I use a pair of lightweight waders (300g) which are easy to slip on and off. They are a brilliant alternative although quite expensive as they came from the US.

    You really ought to mention that with non membrane trail shoes you have to be very careful with footcare and rinse out socks and trail shoes regularly to remove grit otherwise you can end up with bad blisters as both Bob Cartwright and Alan Sloman have mentioned in their Challenge accounts.

  3. Rob Slade says:

    I’ve never understood why advocating trail shoes is such an emotive subject. It’s a valid option for people to consider, taking their own preferences into account.

    I’ve done three TGOs in boots, followed by 6 in trail shoes. Personally I wouldn’t go back, and I wish I’d converted sooner. Others may simply hate wet feet, but as Andy says, sooner or later I’m going to get a bootfull, ( I know others who say this doesn’t happen to them. Fair enough, but I’m not that disciplined over where I walk). Embracing that and accentuating the positive aspects is the way to go for me.

    I would say that the lighter footwear tires you less, and is more responsive and ‘in touch’ with what is underfoot. However when (if) you do get tired you do need to maintain a bit of care with foot placement rather than ploughing through and trusting thick boots to absorb any stubbed toes etc. To me that’s a very acceptable trade off to lighter, less tiring walking. For others it won’t be and that’s fine. There’s no right way for all, there’s just what’s right for you.

    After six years I’m considering some debris gaiters to counter the ‘grit in shoes’ issue, but I’ve not found it much of a problem. I might try them this year, I might not bother. A bonus with your socks already being wet is giving them a quick wash out is no issue at all.

    I think trail shoes are still the ‘off the wall’ option for many walkers and Andys doing a service in promoting a viable option for people to consider.

  4. Having done the odd 1 nighter in trail shoes, I think I’m ready to take the plunge for the TGOC this year. Good article, thanks for sharing.

  5. You preface your article with “In this latest instalment of articles aimed at first time TGO challengers…”

    To be accepted on the TGO Challenge prospective Challengers must show the organisers that they have general competence in route-finding over trackless terrain, backpacking and hillwalking.

    Do you not think that they have already a preference in footwear?

    • Alan,

      This series is based on questions I have ben asked on the phone or by email. So the answer is maybe NO. Of curse, if this isn’t needed then people can ignore that section. But I’ve been asked about this quite often.

      • Not, I would suggest, from this year’s prospective Challengers.

        • Oh dear, we seem to be in a real downer at the moment don’t we.

          Read carefully and you will see this series is aimed at first timers or those contemplating the Challenge. As I’ve said, I only feature subjects I’ve been personally asked about. But then perhaps your special antenna knows about my conversations better than me.

          Can we deal with knowledge and advice for once rather than this horrible internet trolling thing you are prone to.

          • Your patronising reply does you no favours.

            You’re entitled to your opinion and this is an opinion piece. However you seem to be handing it down to prospective Challengers like tablets of stone. Of course, this is your normal style.

            You quote one downside only about trail shoes: “The downside of trail shoes is that they tend not to be as robust as boots.”

            If you write opinion pieces, they should be balanced. By all means write in your “I’m an expert so kneel at my feet” style but let your readers know about all the upsides and the downsides and then come to your conclusion.

          • Look. I know you want to be ‘banned’ because you take such a great satisfaction in claiming you are being censored.

            You won’t be censored here bt you will be challenged when you talk complete bollocks.

            I really don’t have the time to deal with this childish nit picking. If you don’t like it go elsewhere. It’s like they used to say when you were young, about the TV, you can always turn it off or change the channel.

            As this is my blog I’ll write what I please and with a balance I am happy with.

            There is something disturbing about all of this trolling here, on Twitter and everywhere else.

            It’s a grown up world.

  6. If you have ever read any discussion over at my place you will know that I allow all comments whether they disagree with my opinions or not.

    You might of course be substituting your own thought process for mine when you say that I’m looking to be banned. Very Pythonesque reasoning there, Andrew.

    ” Look at me! I’m being oppressed!”

    I think it’s important that readers should hear as many points of view as possible. You, quite obviously, do no.

    • Look. If I said:

      “Fuck off back to the gutter and whip yourself silly …”

      Would that make you feel better?

      This is a bit like coming into somebody’s house and trashing their hospitality. I think I have pointed this out to you before.

      As I’ve said, you don’t have to read this. But if you insist in maintaining this abusive, tolling, behaviour you will have replies.

      • No one has to read the Daily Mail either, but it doesn’t seem to stop the screams of indignation that it exists at all from the faux left.

        It’s all about balance.
        Could you point me to where I have been abusive, or have trolled? I made one comment and then have replied to your (quite abusive) comments.

  7. Oh dear.
    All screen-grabbed for posterity.

    • Lovely. What is the point of all this? Sometimes, you are a complete tosser.

      There’s no need to grab for posterity as it is already published here.

      Still, you can add it to your list of personal injustices. Must be getting very long now.

  8. I suggest you re-read the thread and think on it.

  9. Good post Andy, I agree about the switch to lightweight trainers, although not so much in the winter because of the mud factor. At the end of the day footwear that allows for breathability and flexibility makes for much happier feet in my experience. And yes weight makes a huge difference on a long walk

    (re the flame wars above – imo it’s always best to leave what can be perceived as baiting comments to just be – you will never win with a reply or find joy in the end, and it will possibly only put your BP up. 🙂

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