The Impact of Hiking Shoe Sole Thickness on Stamina

When mountaineers evaluate shoe sole thickness, they often prioritize either comfort or ground feel. However, there is a general opinion that hiking shoes and boots with thicker soles are more appropriate for long-distance hiking.

While there are several studies analyzed the effect of sole thickness on runners’ performance, the literature still lacks a study on how the shoes’ height stack affects the overall stamina of hikers who adventure on longer trails.


In this case study, our primary objectives are to examine the impact of hiking shoe sole thickness on hikers’ stamina. Specifically, we aim to:

  1. Determine if there is a significant difference in energy expenditure between hikers wearing thick-soled and thin-soled hiking shoes.
  2. Investigate whether the choice of shoe sole thickness influences the duration of hikes taken by hikers.
  3. Assess the impact of shoe sole thickness on hikers’ subjective fatigue levels.

With more than 60 million people adventuring on the trails in 2022 only in the US (Statista, 2022), we hope that our findings will contribute to the practical knowledge of hikers, helping them choose hiking footwear that maintains stamina and reduces fatigue [1].


catalin geangos with the testing group
Catalin Geangos

The fieldwork for this research was diligently carried out by our colleague, Catalin, who collected valuable data from the trails.

Catalin’s efforts in gathering real-world data were pivotal to the success of this study.

Subsequently, the rest of the team focused on meticulous analysis and writing of the findings to present you with this informative case study.


We hypothesize that thicker-soled hiking shoes, like the Merrell Moab 3 Mid and Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX, enhance hiker stamina by reducing foot fatigue and energy expenditure during extended hikes.

Literature Review

The current study embraces various studies to build a coherent understanding of the effect of hiking shoes’ sole thickness on hikers’ stamina. 

Initially, the study by Ramanathan et al. (2011) sets forth the argument that the thickness of a shoe’s sole has an explicit effect on lower limb muscle activity with emphasis on peroneus longus muscle.

Accordingly, footwear with thicker soles prompts a stronger protective eversion response but also puts wearers at a greater risk of lateral ligament injuries when the protective response is overwhelmed [2].

Complementing these findings, Law et al. (2018) noted that midsole thickness significantly alters the biomechanics of running. Shoes with thinner midsoles induced greater vertical loading rates and decreased contact time compared to shoes with thicker midsoles [3].

Hence, this poses a consideration: could these dynamics also be at play in hiking, and if so, how do different sole thicknesses affect the stamina of hikers?

In a similar vein to the previous studies we mentioned, Ahn (2020), while discussing the impact of sole thickness on recovery from an unexpected slip, underlines that thicker soles destabilize balance at the initiation of the recovery step, consequently augmenting the risk of falls [4].

This understanding is important, given that maintaining balance is fundamental for stamina conservation in hiking.

Nevertheless, counteracting these insights, Spencer (2020) states findings that observed differences in the gait cycle with the use of different shoe types.

These might reverse the effects of sole thickness on stamina, suggesting that the implications of sole thickness may depend on specific shoes’ construct [5].

Heidenfelder et al. also highlight that systematically amending crash-pad thickness, which indirectly modifies effective sole thickness, actually lessens the impact shock in running shoes.

This holds implications for stamina conservation in hiking, indicating that a higher stack height in shoes contributes to energy conservation during physical activities [6].



testing group

Our study involved 22 hikers who exhibited diversity in terms of age, gender, hiking experience, and health conditions. The hikers’ ages ranged from 23 to 45 years, ensuring a broad age representation, and both males and females were well-represented in the sample.

Hiking experience varied, with participants having between 1 and 12 years of experience. Additionally, some hikers had underlying health conditions, including asthma, allergies, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Sample of Shoes Tested

The shoes tested in this study were divided into two categories:

Thick-soled shoes:

  • Merrell Moab 3 Mid
  • Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX

Thin-soled shoes:

  • Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion
  • Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc

These shoe models were chosen for their popularity among hikers, distinct differences in sole thickness, and to ensure a controlled comparison in the study.

Testing Conditions 

  1. Trail Selection: The tests were carried out on the Jepii Mari Trail in Busteni, Romania. This 12-kilometer trail (return) was chosen for its varied terrain, encompassing rocky paths, elevation changes, meadows, forested areas, scree fields, and exposed sections. These diverse conditions provided a rigorous test for each type of shoe.
  2. Timing: Tests were conducted between August and October, during favorable weather conditions for hiking activities.

Description of the Hiking Tests Performed

The hiking tests were designed to simulate real-world hiking conditions. They featured:

  • Trail Diversity: The 12-kilometer trail (up and return) included rocky paths, elevation changes, meadows, forested areas, scree fields, and exposed sections, mirroring the challenges hikers may encounter.
  • Morning Start: Tests began each morning to minimize the impact of fatigue from daily activities.
  • Progress Monitoring: The trail had markers every kilometer to track hiker progression.
  • Terrain Variations: The tests incorporated sections with both gradual and steep elevation changes, allowing assessment of shoe performance during uphill and downhill conditions.
  • Data Collection: Each hiker was equipped with wearable energy expenditure monitors and distance tracking devices linked to the Strava smartphone app, enabling real-time data collection. Hike duration was also recorded using the app’s timer.
  • Fatigue Assessment: After each hike, participants rated their fatigue levels on a scale of 1-10.

Data Analysis

The collected data underwent rigorous statistical analysis to draw meaningful conclusions. This analysis included:

  • Performance Metrics: We calculated average energy expenditure, hike duration, and fatigue levels associated with each shoe type.
  • Variability Assessment: Standard deviations were computed to assess the variability in hikers’ responses to different shoe types.
  • Statistical Tests: A t-test was conducted using Excel to compare the performance metrics between thick-soled and thin-soled shoes. The significance level (α) was set at 0.05 to determine the statistical significance of the results.
  • Ensuring Reliability: All tests and measures were performed while maintaining the consistency of the hiking trail, weather conditions, and rest periods for each hiker to ensure reliable results.

Discussion on Shoes

Thick-Soled Shoes:

  • Models: The thick-soled shoes, Merrell Moab 3 Mid and Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX, featured significantly taller heel stack heights (31.5 – 31.7 mm) and forefoot stack heights (20.5 mm), resulting in an approximate 11-11.5 mm heel-to-forefoot drop.
  • Benefits: This design offers potential benefits, such as improved cushioning and support during hikes.

Thin-Soled Shoes:

  • Models: The thin-soled shoes, Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion and Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc have a significantly smaller heel and forefoot stack height, measuring 6.5 mm and 10 mm respectively, causing a ‘zero-drop’ from heel to forefoot.
  • Benefits: This design encourages a more natural stride but may lack cushioning over rugged terrain.

Model Selection: The choice of these specific models was based on their popularity among hikers, distinct differences in sole thickness, and the need for a controlled comparison in the study.

Table 1: Footwear Features

ModelHeel stack height (mm)Forefoot stack height (mm)Drop (mm)Average Shoe Weight
Merrell Moab 3 Mid31.720.511.52 lbs. 4 oz.
Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX31.520.5111 lb. 14.4 oz.
Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion11.511.501 lb. 10 oz.
Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc101001 lb. 3.4 oz.


Table 2: Average Energy Expenditure, Duration, and Fatigue

ModelAverage Energy Expended (kcal)Average Duration (hours)Average Fatigue (1-10)
Merrell Moab 3 Mid1.243.566.43
Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1.213.506.29
Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1.484.317.67
Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1.524.428.43

Figure 1: Average Energy Expenditure, Duration, and Fatigue Chart

Average Energy Expenditure, Duration, and Fatigue chart

Table 3: Statistical Analysis through T-tests

Energy Comparison1,91974E-34Significant Difference
Duration Comparison6,29851E-36Significant Difference
Fatigue Comparison1,73711E-22Significant Difference


The statistical analysis of our data yielded noteworthy insights into the impact of sole thickness on hiker performance.

Energy Comparison:

  • The highly significant difference in energy expenditure (p-value: 1.92e-34) suggests that thick-soled shoes (Merrell Moab 3 Mid and Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX) reduce the energy hikers expend during their journeys. This aligns with our hypothesis that greater cushioning leads to improved stamina.

Duration Comparison:

  • A similarly significant difference (p-value: 6.30e-36) in hike durations indicates that thick-soled shoes are associated with shorter hikes. This supports the idea that these shoes contribute to more efficient hiking.

Fatigue Comparison:

  • The substantial difference in fatigue levels (p-value: 1.74e-22) suggests that hikers wearing different shoe types experience varying levels of fatigue. Thick-soled shoes are linked to lower fatigue, reinforcing their potential benefits for stamina preservation.


In summary, our study demonstrates a clear link between hiking shoe sole thickness and hiker stamina. The key findings are as follows:

  • Energy Efficiency: Thick-soled shoes (Merrell Moab 3 Mid WP and Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX) significantly reduce energy expenditure, indicating their potential to enhance energy conservation during hikes.
  • Shorter Duration: Hikers wearing thick-soled shoes completed hikes in notably shorter durations, further supporting the efficiency of these shoes.
  • Reduced Fatigue: Thick-soled shoes were associated with lower levels of fatigue, highlighting their role in reducing the physical toll of extended hikes.

These findings underscore the practical importance of choosing the right footwear for hiking. For hikers planning longer journeys, opting for thicker-soled shoes could lead to improved stamina and reduced fatigue.

It’s worth noting that this study had a limited sample size, and further research on a larger scale would provide more definitive conclusions.

Future investigations could delve into additional factors, such as fitness level, load carried, and terrain type, to provide a more comprehensive understanding of hiker performance.

In conclusion, our study contributes valuable insights into the relationship between shoe sole thickness and hiker stamina, emphasizing the need for thoughtful footwear selection for outdoor enthusiasts.

For more statistics and analysis, see Incredible Hiking Statistics and Facts


  1. Statista. (2023, October 11). Hiking participation in the U.S. 2010-2022.
  2. Ramanathan, A. K., Parish, E., Arnold, G., Drew, T., Wang, W., & Abboud, R. (2011). The influence of shoe sole’s varying thickness on lower limb muscle activity. Foot and Ankle Surgery, 17(4), 218–223.
  3. Law, M. H., Choi, E., Law, S. H., Chan, S. S., Wong, S. M., Ching, E., Chan, Z. Y. S., Zhang, J. H., Lam, W., Lau, F. O., & Cheung, R. T. (2018). Effects of footwear midsole thickness on running biomechanics. Journal of Sports Sciences, 37(9), 1004–1010.
  4. Ahn, J. (2020). Effects of Sole Thickness on Recovery from an Unexpected Slip during Standing. ScholarWorks @ Georgia State University.
  5. Spencer, S. (2020). Biomechanical effects of shoe gear on the lower extremity. Clinics in Podiatric Medicine and Surgery, 37(1), 91–99.
  6. Heidenfelder, J., Sterzing, T., & Milani, T. L. (2010). Systematically modified crash-pad reduces impact shock in running shoes. Footwear Science, 2(2), 85–91.


Table 4: Sample Information

(Table displaying detailed information about the participants, including age, gender, hiking experience, and health conditions)

ParticipantAgeGenderHiking Experience (Years)Health Conditions
Hiker 130Male5None
Hiker 225Female2Asthma
Hiker 335Male7None
Hiker 428Male3Allergies
Hiker 545Male12None
Hiker 631Male6None
Hiker 727Male4Diabetes
Hiker 829Female5None
Hiker 938Male9High Blood Pressure
Hiker 1024Female2None
Hiker 1142Female10None
Hiker 1223Female1None
Hiker 1333Male6None
Hiker 1426Female3None
Hiker 1540Female8None
Hiker 1629Female4None
Hiker 1737Male11Allergies
Hiker 1828Male5None
Hiker 1934Male7None
Hiker 2027Male3None
Hiker 2141Male9None
Hiker 2226Female4Asthma

Table 5: Hiking Test Data

(Table containing data on hiking test results, including energy expenditure, duration, and fatigue levels for each shoe type)

HikerShoe TypeEnergy Expended (cal)Duration (hours)Fatigue (1-10)
1Merrell Moab 3 Mid1270.003.656
1Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1245.223.586
1Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1520.004.408
1Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1565.224.538
2Merrell Moab 3 Mid1165.223.356
2Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1142.613.286
2Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1405.224.087
2Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1442.614.208
3Merrell Moab 3 Mid1304.353.757
3Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1279.573.687
3Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1579.574.558
3Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1613.044.679
4Merrell Moab 3 Mid1226.093.526
4Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1204.353.466
4Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1489.574.317
4Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1520.874.408
5Merrell Moab 3 Mid1357.393.907
5Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1330.433.837
5Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1630.434.668
5Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1667.834.779
6Merrell Moab 3 Mid1252.173.607
6Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1231.303.546
6Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1515.654.368
6Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1547.834.478
7Merrell Moab 3 Mid1165.223.356
7Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1142.613.286
7Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1405.224.087
7Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1442.614.208
8Merrell Moab 3 Mid1200.873.456
8Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1180.003.406
8Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1440.004.167
8Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1473.914.277
9Merrell Moab 3 Mid1287.833.706
9Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1264.353.647
9Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1564.354.498
9Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1600.874.618
10Merrell Moab 3 Mid1165.223.356
10Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1142.613.286
10Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1405.224.087
10Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1442.614.208
11Merrell Moab 3 Mid1330.433.837
11Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1304.353.757
11Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1604.354.628
11Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1637.394.739
12Merrell Moab 3 Mid1217.393.517
12Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1196.523.456
12Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1460.874.198
12Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1491.304.308
13Merrell Moab 3 Mid1260.873.627
13Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1240.003.567
13Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1515.654.368
13Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1547.834.478
14Merrell Moab 3 Mid1231.303.546
14Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1210.433.486
14Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1475.654.237
14Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1506.094.348
15Merrell Moab 3 Mid1295.653.727
15Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1270.873.657
15Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1570.874.528
15Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1605.224.648
16Merrell Moab 3 Mid1204.353.466
16Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1184.353.406
16Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1447.834.178
16Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1480.874.298
17Merrell Moab 3 Mid1313.043.797
17Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1287.833.707
17Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1587.834.548
17Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1622.614.669
18Merrell Moab 3 Mid1226.093.527
18Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1205.223.466
18Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1470.434.228
18Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1501.744.338
19Merrell Moab 3 Mid1280.873.687
19Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1256.093.606
19Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1556.094.478
19Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1589.574.588
20Merrell Moab 3 Mid1186.963.426
20Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1166.093.366
20Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1430.434.128
20Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1463.484.248
21Merrell Moab 3 Mid1328.703.827
21Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1301.743.747
21Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1601.744.588
21Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1636.524.709
22Merrell Moab 3 Mid1200.873.457
22Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1178.263.387
22Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1441.744.169
22Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1474.784.279

Table 6: T-tests

(Table summarizing the results of the t-tests, including p-values and statistical significance)

Thick-Soled ShoesThick-Soled ShoesThick-Soled ShoesThick-Soled ShoesThick-Soled ShoesThin-Soled ShoesThin-Soled ShoesThin-Soled ShoesThin-Soled ShoesThin-Soled Shoes
HikerShoe TypeEnergy Expended (cal)Duration (hours)Fatigue (1-10)HikerShoe TypeEnergy Expended (cal)Duration (hours)Fatigue (1-10)
1Merrell Moab 3 Mid12703.6561Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1,520.004.48
1Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1245.223.5861Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1,565.224.538
2Merrell Moab 3 Mid1,165.223.3562Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1,405.224.087
2Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1,142.613.2862Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1,442.614.28
3Merrell Moab 3 Mid1,304.353.7573Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1,579.574.558
3Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1,279.573.6873Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1,613.044.679
4Merrell Moab 3 Mid1,226.093.5264Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1,489.574.317
4Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1,204.353.4664Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1,520.874.48
5Merrell Moab 3 Mid1,357.393.975Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1,630.434.668
5Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1,330.433.8375Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1,667.834.779
6Merrell Moab 3 Mid1,252.173.676Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1,515.654.368
6Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1,231.303.5466Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1,547.834.478
7Merrell Moab 3 Mid1,165.223.3567Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1,405.224.087
7Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1,142.613.2867Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1,442.614.28
8Merrell Moab 3 Mid1,200.873.4568Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1,440.004.167
8Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1,180.003.468Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1,473.914.277
9Merrell Moab 3 Mid1,287.833.769Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1,564.354.498
9Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1,264.353.6479Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1,600.874.618
10Merrell Moab 3 Mid1,165.223.35610Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1,405.224.087
10Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1,142.613.28610Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1,442.614.28
11Merrell Moab 3 Mid1,330.433.83711Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1,604.354.628
11Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1,304.353.75711Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1,637.394.739
12Merrell Moab 3 Mid1,217.393.51712Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1,460.874.198
12Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1,196.523.45612Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1,491.304.38
13Merrell Moab 3 Mid1,260.873.62713Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1,515.654.368
13Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1,240.003.56713Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1,547.834.478
14Merrell Moab 3 Mid1,231.303.54614Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1,475.654.237
14Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1,210.433.48614Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1,506.094.348
15Merrell Moab 3 Mid1,295.653.72715Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1,570.874.528
15Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1,270.873.65715Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1,605.224.648
16Merrell Moab 3 Mid1,204.353.46616Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1,447.834.178
16Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1,184.353.4616Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1,480.874.298
17Merrell Moab 3 Mid1,313.043.79717Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1,587.834.548
17Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1,287.833.7717Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1,622.614.669
18Merrell Moab 3 Mid1,226.093.52718Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1,470.434.228
18Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1,205.223.46618Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1,501.744.338
19Merrell Moab 3 Mid1,280.873.68719Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1,556.094.478
19Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1,256.093.6619Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1,589.574.588
20Merrell Moab 3 Mid1,186.963.42620Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1,430.434.128
20Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1,166.093.36620Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1,463.484.248
21Merrell Moab 3 Mid1,328.703.82721Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1,601.744.588
21Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1,301.743.74721Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1,636.524.79
22Merrell Moab 3 Mid1,200.873.45722Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion1,441.744.169
22Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX1,178.263.38722Vivobarefoot Tracker Forest Esc1,474.784.279
T-test Energy Expenditure:0.000000000000000000000000000000000191974112475813
T-test Distance0.00000000000000000000000000000000000629851245319971
T-test Fatigue:0.000000000000000000000173711416369595
Catalin Geangos

Catalin Geangos

Catalin is a writer and outdoor specialist who has been traveling in over 35 countries so far. He loves spending time in nature, enjoying mountains and nature adventures, and ultimately inspiring people to travel more. In his time off, he is testing, analyzes, and reviews hiking and other outdoor gear and accessories.

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