In my opinion the first place a guy should start when looking to reduce weight is his footwear. The traditional model for a hunting boot is a big clunky heavy boot designed for every condition imaginable. Over the years I have evolved from big heavy boots to the point where now all I wear is essentially a gore tex running shoe. Last year I wore the Vasque Blur SL.
The reason I do this is quite simple. In the world of competitive mountain biking lightweight wheelsets are a clear advantage and the lighter you can get your wheels the faster you will be. The reason being is that the lighter wheel takes less effort to turn than a heavier one. Of course if you go too light you can run into durability issues so there is a line. A lot of guys will actually put a set of wheels on just for raceday and then take them off right after. I know this sounds absurd for hunting but we can definitley learn something from this.
Looking at a traditional boot, take the Danner Elk ridge, at 64 oz or 4lb per pair and then take the Vasque blur Sl that I wore last year at 24 oz or 1.5lbs per pair. Let assume this is an average day of hiking and you hike 3 miles, over that three miles you will have taken approximately 7920 steps assuming you step about 2 feet everytime. So if you take those 7920 steps and look at the weight difference between the two shoes which is 2.5lbs. Take the 2.5 divided by two and you get 1.25 lbs difference from one shoe to one boot. Multiply the 1.25 x 7920 and you get 9,900lbs as the difference that you have lifted by the end of the day when wearing the boot. You can clearly see that at the end of a long day of hunting how 9,900lbs of weight can make quite a difference. Just like mountain biking your shoes are the wheels and the lighter they are the less effort it takes to move them. This is felt much more than say taking 2.5lbs of pack weight off because with each and every step you have to lift that weight up where if that weight is in your pack it just transfers to the other foot.
The next area where a lighter shoe has benefits is comfort and breath-ability. Probably the biggest cause of foot discomfort and blisters is actually from your feet sweating. Wet feet slide around in the shoe and create rubbing points. So if you can have shoe that breathes and keeps your feet cool and dry the comfort level goes up significantly. What I have found even hunting in extremely cold conditions is that an uninsulated boot will actually keep my feet warmer than an insulated boot simply because my feet stay dry instead of sweating and getting wet inside the boot. Of course this is assuming you are out hiking and not sitting in a treestand.
Things I look for in a gore tex shoe are a good tread pattern, lots of ventilation and not too many parts. If there is a ton of stitching it is bound to come loose at some point so you want to avoid that. Other than that I try to find one that has a good sole, some are extremely flexible and thats ok but too much so and with a heavy load on your pack it won’t be as comfortable. Also a flexible sole actually will have much better traction than a stiff hunting boot because it will bend and conform to the ground underneath you, which will also make you quieter while hiking as you can feel the ground much better.
The one comment I get from every guy who I suggest this to is “well what about ankle support, I am going to roll my ankle if I don’t have a tall boot.” This is a valid point but not something that should turn you away from using a gore tex shoe. If you actually devote some time to hiking in shoes you will develop much stronger ankles than if supported and rolling your ankle won’t be an issue. Look at the popularity of the Vibram five fingers, people thought for years that you needed good foot support to run but all we were doing was not allowing foot muscles to develop properly and using the shoe as a band aid. People that use them regularly are reporting much greater comfort running than they ever have. You will have very similar results going from boots to shoes.
Give lightweight shoes a try this year and I am 100% confident that you will be very satisfied you did. I know it has made a huge difference in how I hunt and it will for you to.