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Help me choose footwear
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Mihai Preda
Help me choose footwear on 08/28/2013 08:57:46 MDT Print View

Hello fellow backpackers !

I need your help in choosing my new footwear.

I will use it for 3 season backpacking, but mostly on good weather, up to 9000 feet.

I see on these forums people are recommending light shoes.

But if I look at major manufacturer websites (La Sportiva, Garmont,..), in their hiking/backpacking section, they only have boots.
There is another category of shoes: approach shoes, but manufacturers don't recommend them for backpacking (and I'm not sure what they are actually)

So please let mw know what should I look in a shoe:
-I get it there should be no no gore-tex
-what kind of stiffness ?
-what kind of sole ?
-what kind of padding in the sole ?

What kind of socks ? I guess I'll be wet more so cotton socks are out !

You may stop reading here or....

Let me tell you a little bit of background:

My feet do not perspire much, so I had no issues wearing GoreTex boots (Asolo 95 GTX) and cotton socks for the past 10 years.
I do get blisters on the back of the foot from time to time.
In the winter I have some very long leather boots that I use (I don't do any hard stuff, just

Last weekend, while on a hike, the soles finally gave up, so I had to improvise and I used my Teva sandals to hike.

What a difference ! So light, so fresh. I enjoyed hiking in sandals with a 20 pounds backpack on an easy trail.
I'm not sure if it would have worked so well on wet rocks though.

Thank you in advance !

James Couch

Locale: Cascade Mountains
Approach Shoes on 08/28/2013 09:24:44 MDT Print View

Approach shoes are used by climbers for approaching climbs. They feature very soft, sticky rubber soles, great for scrambling/climbing steep rock, but wear very quickly making them less suitable for hiking, they just don't last very long.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
footwear on 08/28/2013 09:37:50 MDT Print View

You're looking for trail running shoes. Approach shoes tend to have a narrower fit and less padding; good for climbing, less so for hiking.

We'll need information about your foot shape and preferences to makes a recommendation. If you have a decent outdoor store nearby, go visit, try on a bunch of stuff, and buy something that fits and feels good. You can't make good choices without data.

Stephen Komae
(skomae) - MLife

Locale: northeastern US
Re: Help me choose footwear on 08/28/2013 09:44:22 MDT Print View

I have had great experiences with both La Sportiva trail runners (Wildcat, Raptor) and the Montrail Mountain Masochist.

Did an 8-day backpacking trip with brand new Montrails out of the box (forgot my shoes at home!) and they were fantastic! Similarly, I put in 25-mile days for each of my La Sportivas when I bought them to test them out and they were also great. Highly recommend both of these companies.

Anthony Meaney
(ameaney) - MLife

Locale: Canada
La Sportiva wildcat worked for me on 08/28/2013 09:47:28 MDT Print View

A bit of a "de -lurk" here but the topic seems appropriate . I just switched from big heavy backpacking boots (two ponds each) to trail running shoes.

This was quite,a,leap of faith for me because I am a notorious ankle turner,

However based on the information I got from this great site I decided to take the chance.

I just completed a six day circuit of the demanding "la cloche silhouette " trail wearing La Sportiva Wildcat trail running shoes and was blown away by the difference.

I swapped out the insoles for superfeet orange soles which really helped the stability and for socks went with Icebreaker Merino wool (also great).

The shoes I chose weren't gore tex (another leap of faith for me) and handled very well on extremely slick rocks.

I did my shoe shopping immediately after a 10 km hike with a 30 lb pack which really helped getinma proper fit you may want to try the same .

John McAlpine
(HairlessApe) - M

Locale: PNW
Approach Shoes on 08/28/2013 09:48:18 MDT Print View

For me I wouldn't use approach shoes. As Jim said they wear easily and they are also too narrow in the toe box. Everyone has there favorite shoe for hiking, I happen to like shoes with a little harder sole. When I hike with trail runners and get what I call 'foot fatigue'. At the end of a 25 mile day the bottom of my feet are thumbing and when I do a four day 100 mile hike they are really sore. Not blister sore....just thumbing sore. I found the sole on Keen's to work for me. The shoe is slightly heavier then a trail runner, but the thumbing has gone away....I don't know how that works. I recently bought a pair of GoLite Mountain Gecko shoes. They have a firmer sole with a 2mm drop. I wore them this weekend on a 35 mile overnighter. My feet weren't thumbing and they felt good. I did get a blister on each foot, but I took care of that with placement of duct tape. I will be doing a 128 mile hike in them the 2nd week of September. I'm doing the last north section of the PCT round trip.

I will say I was at a local mountaineering store here in Seattle yesterday and picked up a pair of Montrell Mountain Massochist II on sale for half price. They are extremely comfortable, but are soft. Maybe I'll try them...maybe not.

rowan !

Locale: SF Bay Area
Thumbing? on 08/28/2013 09:58:01 MDT Print View

I've never heard of thumbing. What is that?

John McAlpine
(HairlessApe) - M

Locale: PNW
Thumbing...that's my term for it. :-) on 08/28/2013 10:24:19 MDT Print View

When I say 'thumbing' that's exactly what the bottom of my feet are doing after a long day with soft trail shoes. They feel like they have their own heart and they are pounding hard.....they are 'thumbing'. Does that make sense? I guess I should've used the word 'pounding'? I need to elevate my feet for 30 minutes for it to go away.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Help me choose footwear on 08/28/2013 10:52:42 MDT Print View

If you look at major manufacturers, they also have heavy tents, packs, sleeping bags,...

Another possibility is the lightest mid height boots. For example, I have some Ahnu Mendocino boots that weigh 48 ounces per pair.

It keeps water and dirt out of your feet better than lower shoes.

You can try different shoes and use what you like best.

Mihai Preda
Trail runners vs approach: how do they differ ? on 08/28/2013 11:18:10 MDT Print View

How do trail running shoes differ from approach shoes ?

Most of them seem to be mesh which makes me think that my toes will take much of the weight when going down a slope with 20 pound backpack.
My guess is they are not meant for mountains, but running on hilly/soft terrain.

Since there is not much to choose for me in my country, I am more interested to know what should I look for in a shoe?

Padding in the midsole, hard/flexible sole, big lugs, mesh/suede uppers ?

Thank you for your comments !

For example here some of my options:

La Sportiva Xplorer



eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
approach shoes on 08/28/2013 11:19:36 MDT Print View

folks approach shoes DO NOT wear any faster than those fancy UL trail runners

in fact they are MORE durable in general

the construction is beefier for scrambling/climbing ... realistically by the time the rubber wears out, the shoes will be falling apart elsewhere ...

the main issues with approach shoes is

- most of em are leather (natural or synth) for durability ... they dont dry the quickest as a result
- for some the tread pattern is not the best for wet/muddy conditions ... you dont generally climb when its really wet/muddy

climbers wear approach shoes on ... well approaches ... all the time ..

these often arent nice groomed trails that everyone prances along on ... but talus, scree, boulders, slab, bushwhacking at times, ... and they climb in em ... jamming em into cracks, slab, etc ...

UL trail runners will NOT last as long under such use ... ive tried

this is what approach shoes will look like after a few years of DAILY use ....

to the OP ... get what FITS YOU ... go to a store try it all one ... even then you may still have issues ... remember if you want to go to the lightest most minimal footwear youll need to TRAIN you feet

it also depends what you want to do ... theres a few threads around with people having issues with minimal shoes in certain conditions ... remember that just because someone on BPL likes it doesnt mean itll work for you


rOg w
(rOg_w) - F

Locale: rogwilmers.wordpress
deleted on 08/28/2013 11:47:01 MDT Print View


Edited by rOg_w on 09/08/2013 20:15:20 MDT.

Sean Smith
a few shoe opinions on 08/28/2013 12:59:47 MDT Print View

I'm mostly hiking in the northeast in very rocky terrain and can offer this:

I used a pair of Brooks Pure Grit II on the Great Range traverse about a month ago. I did it pretty fast, in about 8 hours, but wasnt really running most the time. They had never seen a trail before this and were pretty much new looking going in. Conditions were pretty muddy and wet at times but otherwise everything was OK. My feet got soaked a number of times, but no issues from this. I bruised my bones a number of times on rocks through the uppers.

From that one hike, I have three holes in the shoes now, although they don't appear to be shoe ruining just yet. But they are there nonetheless. The foam is shredded in a number of places on the sides.

Traction was excellent throughout the hike.

2nd up is Altra LonePeak's. not the current 1.5 version. These are really comfortable feeling allowing great freedom of movement, and traction is about the same as the Pure Grit II. I feel sharp or pointy rocks more through these than the Pure Grit II. I've also hurt my foot a number of times on rocks through the uppers. I ran up Algonquin with these and also went up Madison in NH this past weekend.

I've decided they do not offer enough support in the uppers for my needs. My foot tends to roll over the outside edge when hiking/running aggressively. i liken it to a corkscrew like feeling, and my foot feels worked over/tired compared to other shoes.

next up, new balance mt10v1. I love these shoes for backpacking and hiking at slower speeds. They surprisingly feel great on even very rocky terrain. I took them up Mt Washington this past weekend and I felt glued to the rocks. I've also backpacked in Utah with them. I love them for running too but unfortunately my body is not ready for them just yet. I can't take the pounding with minimal cushion. they seem durable but the rubber tread will not last very long most likely.

And finally, la sportiva ultra raptors. I ran up and down Mt Adams in NH on the airline trail this weekend with these. They were brand new out of the box and although felt a bit confining at first, eventually that disappeared, and I really like these shoes. They aren't as comfortable as the new balance mt10 but have a secure nearly glove like fit on my foot, excellent traction, and have good stability when navigating rocky terrain at high speeds. They also offer great protection in technical terrain.

Edited by Spookykinkajou on 08/28/2013 13:00:27 MDT.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: trail runners on 08/28/2013 13:13:21 MDT Print View

Trail runners will generally be more flexible than approach shoes, with a much wider toebox and more padding, especially in the mid and fore foot. They often have more aggressive tread, especially in the toe area.

Most trail runners are designed for trails. However, they can be worn safely in the most rugged terrain imaginable provided the user is properly conditioned. And yes, while wearing a pack much heavier than 20 pounds. The only downsides are durability, of both the sole and upper, and the need to build strong legs and feet.

Barry P
(BarryP) - F

Locale: Eastern Idaho (moved from Midwest)
Re: Help me choose footwear on 08/28/2013 17:03:31 MDT Print View

“…so I had to improvise and I used my Teva sandals to hike.

What a difference ! So light, so fresh. I enjoyed hiking in sandals with a 20 pounds backpack on an easy trail.
I'm not sure if it would have worked so well on wet rocks though.”

That brings back good memories from 10 years ago. Sorry as I reminisce.
I brought my boots as backups but then I thought “Wait. This will always work and feels MUCH better” So I’ve been wearing Teva’s ever since. BTW, some of them have excellent traction on wet sloping granite.
Some of my trypical sandal adventures:
Sandals are great for going cross country off trail. That little orange dot in the middle is my brother. This is last week (8/22/13) as we search for the 1955 B-25 bomber crash site in Utah’s Timpanogos:
Or my son crossing a river in MO. It’s hard to beat a Teva in fast drying:Curtis
Or when you get that unexpected snow dump in IL you can put on 2 pairs of thicker socks (or down booties) w/o squishing your blood supply:snowDump
The Teva Terra Fi has a stiff sole so it’s great for walking on Talus in the Timpanogos. It feels like a massage and the feet can handle a few hours of this. Here’s my brother again:Talus
Here’s our group crossing a river in the Teton’s last month. Sandals are just convenient:TetonRiver
And when we were in the Teton’s it dumped rain and hail on us for 5 hours and flooded the trail and everywhere. Sandals are perfect to walk through that stuff:TetonTrailFlood
Or in the Wind Rivers Highline trail last year, the wetness was great for sandals:WindRivers
On my way up to the Highline, some old gentlemen with giant backpacks, boots and gaitors told me sandals can’t make it on the highline trail. What? It was perfect for sandals:WindRiversSnow
Here’s a 7 year old with us last year doing a 3-day 30 mile loop in the tetons. You can rest in your sandals; like a slipper:resting
And at camp, the sandals feel great. Here’s me, cousin, and you can’t see the rest of the group:camp

Good luck with your foot wear choice.

-The mountains were made for Tevas

Mihai Preda
Sandals on 08/28/2013 17:42:42 MDT Print View


Thanks for your comment. I wanted to discuss sandals.

Good to hear that Teva Fi's cand handle rough terrain.

Few questions come to mind :

-what model would you recommend that is grippy on wet rocks ?
-what was the most extreme weather that you wore sandals ?

-I hiked in sandal without socks, and my feet gripped the rubber of the insole, thus it did not put much pressure to the straps.
I imagine, wearing socks in cooler temps would make the foot slip and rely more on the straps.


Barry P
(BarryP) - F

Locale: Eastern Idaho (moved from Midwest)
Re: Sandals on 08/29/2013 12:49:22 MDT Print View

Hello Mihai,
“-what model would you recommend that is grippy on wet rocks ?”

Well I’ve had great success with the Terra Fi-3. I thought the Fi-2 was good but the Fi-3 has meaner tread. And it doesn’t harden up and become slippery when cold. But the down-side with the ‘spyder rubber’ is you only get 200-500 miles off it as it wears down sooner than harder rubbers like vibram.

“-I hiked in sandal without socks, and my feet gripped the rubber of the insole, thus it did not put much pressure to the straps.”

My wife can do that but on long or hot hikes, I get blisters. I have never gotten blisters when I wore socks. See more details in that on the 2nd page of my gear list.

“I imagine, wearing socks in cooler temps would make the foot slip and rely more on the straps.”
Hmm. I haven’t experienced this, but you should cinch the straps tight (not too tight) so that there is NO slippage. This eliminates friction.

“-what was the most extreme weather that you wore sandals ?”
I wear them from 20F to 120F (I’m not outside long in that heat). The heat is easy with sandals. The cold is trickier; I usually put on down booties in the sandals. Terra-Fi’s have long enough straps to handle these. I don’t like post holing in my sandals (which I’ve done). If I know I’ll encounter a lot of snow, I’ll backpack in my North Face Nuptse down boots; ironically they’re lighter than my sandals. But I’ve been in tornadoes, swamp, bogs, floods, and imho sandals are perfect for that. High mileage beach walking is another tricky scenario (well practically with any shoe). I have to wear a real thick sock in those situations.

Sandals are like wearing slippers in God’s country.
Good luck with your foot wear choice.
-The mountains were made for Tevas.
-It would be nice if Teva paid me for this free advertising.

david b
Footwear Recommendations on 08/31/2013 07:34:06 MDT Print View

Depending on the temperature generally there are two strategies:

1. Keep your feet dry
2. Let them get wet and dry out fast

For most summer/3-season hiking I think #2 is the better strategy—and much lighter.

If you are unsure about trail runners I would suggest trying a weekend in normal running shoes—which you probably already own. This will give you an idea of what your getting into.

Coming from boots most people focus on "trail runners" but most runners (go to any decent running shoe store and talk the the owner) will say there is very little difference between a trail running shoe and a running shoe. I run in Brooks and their Glycerin shoe could easily be branded a "trail runner". I also have the new lightweight trail runners from Merrill and they are much lighter than most 'normal' running shoes (I also get "thumbing" when I hike on small rocks or long distances in these because of the thin soles.).

My feeling is that once you drop the high-ankle support of the boot there is very little reason not go directly to running shoes of some type. Low-top "boot" or approach shoes are the heaviest option with the least support. I'd only use these if I had a specific use in mind that called for them or lived in an area that had a lot of rock scrambling.

Running shoes and thin black synthetic running socks are hard to beat if your going light. This also has the advantage of being by far the cheapest option if cash is in short supply. Last year's models shoes can be picked up on the internet for $50-60 bucks (half off) and black running socks can be purchased at Target for next to nothing (I like black because you can't see the dirt—it's still there but at least I can't see it). Also, you will never be tempted to carry "camp shoes" and you'll likely never get a blister.