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Lightweight Mid-Height Trail Shoes: GoLite

Mini-Reviews of the GoLite Timber Lite, Surge Lite, and Carbo Lite Shoes


by Roger Caffin with Will Rietveld | 2011-08-30 00:00:00-06


We review here three GoLite shoes. Note that GoLite Footwear is a separate company from GoLite outdoor equipment and apparel, with a separate website.

  • Surge Lite: light mid-heights with a very different sole pattern and some leather trim.
  • Timber Lite: mid-height shoes with a rather high front, and some leather trim.
  • Carbo Lite: described as 3/4-height, but are actually low-cut.

The GoLite webpages for these shoes are all rather bare. The GoLite Footwear website has pictures and a size chart, and some icons for the marketing spin words used for the technology, but they have no obvious data on the weights, the fabrics used, what membrane if any is used, and so on. (If there is such data, it is too well hidden.) The Surge Lite page does not even show the soles.

The Shoes

Light-Weight Mid-Height Trail Shoes: GoLite - 1
GoLite footbeds.

The GoLite shoes are not specified as "wide," but they are actually about an E width, definitely wider than the 'medium width' common in the footwear industry. Roger describes the GoLite shoes as "not particularly wide, but wearable;" Will describes them as "a perfect fit for my E width feet; their PreciseFit system allows me to adjust the shoe volume, and the heel cup is right-on for my feet." So, as usual, it's all about fit, fit, fit.

All these shoes have a very strange footbed 'system.' You get one footbed plus two extra fore-foot sections, as shown here. The idea is that you can add a thin layer to the thickness of the front end of the footbed to customise the shoe width to suit your feet. We applaud the basic idea, that foot width matters, but the execution had some faults. We will cover those here rather than under the individual shoes. Before doing so, it should be noted that Will did not report these problems, but Roger and Sue certainly did. But, Will's feet are narrower than the Caffins'. So you need to try before you buy!

First, as you can see from the photo, the PreciseFit system is supposed to be focused on width, but how do insoles affect the shoe's width? The answer is "not very well." This system adjusts the shoe's volume, not width. That said, it's a useful system, but don't believe that the thickness of the insole is really going to make the shoe any narrower or wider.

The first problem is probably more significant. If you add the medium width insert to the footbed, all is well: the footbed thickness is fairly uniform across the joint at the top edge of the grooves. But if you don't add the extra thickness, then there is a serious discontinuity, which was easily felt under the foot. It felt like a really bad version of an 'arch support' to Roger and Sue. In addition, it did not really make a huge difference to the perceived width of the shoes.

Unfortunately, making the footbed a uniform thickness did not solve the problem of the lump under the arch. The main footbed has a moderately aggressive arch support built into it, and the bed of the shoe also has an aggressive arch support. The end result is that if you have a strong well-developed arch, you are going to get some pain from the 'arch support' in some of these shoes. This cannot be recommended.

A secondary problem with the concept is that it allows the bits of the footbed to move around if you are walking hard. Roger and Sue have seen cases where a light footbed in another shoe ended up folded at the middle, creating a most unwelcome form of arch support. As conditions were a bit wet at the time, it seems that the water reduced the friction inside the shoe such that the footbed could move around inside the shoe. In that case, the problem was solved by cutting off the toe section of the footbed: the heel section was sufficiently thin that the discontinuity was not a problem.

In contrast to Roger's experience with the GoLite shoes, Will found them a good match for his feet. As stated, the shoes are about an E width, which would qualify as 'wide,' but they are not advertised as such. Rather, GoLite features the PreciseFit system as a way of adjusting the width, which makes absolutely no sense. The thickness of the insole definitely adjusts the shoe's volume but not the width. Without a forefoot insert added to the main insole (the max volume option), the insole has a drop off behind the metatarsals, which Roger comments on. Will felt this at first, then it essentially went away and was not noticed anymore.

Surge Lite - 397 g (14.0 oz), US$120

Light-Weight Mid-Height Trail Shoes: GoLite - 2
Surge Lite.

These are mid-height shoes with a fairly average sort of ankle and some leather trim. GoLite says they are "Built on our BareTech platform, the zero drop heel and low profile sole allows your foot to move naturally over uneven terrain. And at just over 24 mm between your foot and the trail, you will feel close to the ground and protected from the elements."

These shoes have what GoLite calls a Sticky Gecko sole. The spin on the web site says it "is inspired by the gravity defying 'traction' of geckos. More than 300 small lugs replicate the tiny hairs on a gecko's feet that create maximum surface contact for better traction, especially on wet, uneven surfaces ... Made with two densities of EVA, the Sticky Gecko sole lets you move fast and with confidence over any terrain in any conditions."

Roger and Sue Caffin

We are unable to comment on these, as GoLite did not send us any. However, just from looking at the soles we do not think they would handle any of our wetter or muddy terrain (down in the river valleys and rainforest) very well. The very small and shallow 'lugs' are just not suitable for that sort of stuff. They may suit very light geckos, but not large heavy humans. On rock - another matter.

Will Rietveld

The Surge Lite has GoLite’s new Gecko rubber outsole, which grips well on most surfaces. I wore them on a four-day Utah canyon backpack while hiking off-trail through lots of rock, sand, and boulders, and they performed very well. At first the heel cup was a little loose, and I had to lace through the top rearward loop and tighten the laces to hold my heels down. Subsequently I have not noticed that problem and it seems to be a matter of adequately tightening the laces over my instep. I really like GoLite’s PreciseFit system to adjust the boot volume. These boots have ample width for my feet while wearing medium thickness hiking socks. The Gecko outsole provides excellent traction in dry conditions, but in wet conditions it readily clogs with mud and is ineffective.

Timber Lite - 425 g (15 oz), US$130

Light-Weight Mid-Height Trail Shoes: GoLite - 3
Timber Lite.

These are very high 'mid-height' shoes, very high at the front indeed. They also have some leather trim. Their sole is more conventional, although the depth of the lugs is not great. They were barely wide enough for Roger and Sue, but spot-on for Will.

Roger and Sue Caffin

For some strange reason the 'arch support' effect in these shoes was not as bad as in the CarboLite. By using the mid-thickness pad under the footbed it was possible to make these shoes just wearable, although the raised arch was still noticeable. They were worn on a day which became rather wet: the sole gripped fairly well in the dry, but the shallow lugs were not so good on wet rock or on muddy ground. The limited friction of the soles was definitely noticed.

The lacing on these high-fronted shoes can come up very high, but you don't have to use all the hooks. We never did. The ankle region was soft enough that the top edge did not rub when thick wool socks were worn inside the shoes (and the top hooks were not used). GoLite says the leather trim on the outside is waterproof, but the trim has large gaps in it so there must also be a membrane inside the shoe. In fact, the shoes as a whole are labelled 'waterproof,' but the nature of the membrane was not given. (That means it is not Gore-Tex.) We both found them reasonably comfortable when worn with the laces only done up part of the way, but that does raise the question of why bother with the height of the ankle in the first place.

Will Rietveld

I found the Bare-Tech platform (4 mm heel rise) to be comfortable on all three GoLite shoes I tested; no particular adjustment was needed to the near neutral design, and they were comfortable from the start. The Timber Lite has a thin leather outer which I can do without, but they are still quite light. The outsole is not very aggressive; they slip on wet or smooth rock. I took a fall while wearing these boots, slipped on some very smooth rock and smashed a finger, requiring stitches. I wore them on six trips. They fit very well, are very comfortable to wear, and have room for thicker socks. Overall I love their fit and comfort, and like them for hiking on dry ground, but I am leery of them on wet or very smooth surfaces.

Carbo Lite - 360 g (12.7 oz), US$115

Light-Weight Mid-Height Trail Shoes: GoLite - 4
Carbo Lite.

GoLite describes these as 3/4-height fastpacker; we would describe them as almost low-cut joggers. As such they provide a useful comparison against the mid-height Timber Lite and Surge Lite. The sole is very similar to that on the Timber Lite shoe - possibly identical. GoLite marketing says these shoes have an 'internal lace system.' That just means they have the same bits of webbing between the sole and the laces as almost every other jogger of comparable construction.

Roger and Sue Caffin

The 'arch support' effect in these shoes was so bad that we did not take them into the field. A pity, as they look nice.

Will Rietveld

I wore this shoe on numerous day hikes and one three-day backpacking trip. This shoe is claimed to be a mid-height but is clearly a low-cut. I questioned GoLite about this and they confirmed that they call it a mid-height. As with the Timber Lite, the outsole is not very aggressive for traction. However, the fit is great, they are very lightweight, and they are very comfortable to wear. This would be one of my favorite shoes if the outsole was more aggressive.

This is a mini-review in the 2011 Lightweight Mid-Height Trail Shoes State of the Market Report. A subscription to our site is needed to read the parent article.

Disclosure: The manufacturers provided these products to the author and/or Backpacking Light at no charge, and they are owned by the author/BPL. The author/Backpacking Light has no obligation to review these products under the terms of this agreement.


"Lightweight Mid-Height Trail Shoes: GoLite," by Roger Caffin with Will Rietveld. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2011-08-30 00:00:00-06.