Rating: 4 / 5
Let me start by saying that my rating of '4' is tentative until I've done more miles in these. But as I found nothing useful in searching for reviews of currently-available Golite footwear, I wanted to get out what I've found so far.
I’m a big fan of Golite Sun Dragon model shoes; I hiked the PCT last year starting in Sun Dragon I’s, and switched fairly early on to Sun Dragon II’s which I wore (5 pair total I think) for the rest of the trail. But manufacturer’s move on, and you can’t buy Sun Dragon’s anymore, unless on a clearance sale in a couple of sizes (not mine …).
So I needed to find a new shoe; I like Golite’s because they’re shaped like feet, which keeps me from getting little-toe side bunions (I need shoes with a wide toe box). Of the currently available Golite models, I considered the Versa Force, Versa Lite, Trek Lite, Comp, Force, and Fire models.
The Versa Force is the lightest weight option, and clearly has good breatheability via air mesh across the toes; this mesh on is also the Achille’s Heel (okay, “Achille’s Toe”) of the Sun Dragon’s and other models --- each pair of mine wore out by tearing out across the toes, though I got pretty comfortable walking in shoes that looked like they shouldn’t be worn any more …
Anyway, that’s clearly a risk of this with the Versa Force model too. The thing that tilted me to trying the Versa Force model is that I found a pair in my size on sale for $65 (vs. sticker price of $130), plus of course they’re the lightest models.
When they arrived I first walked briefly around in my house with a Versa Force on one foot and a virtually new Sun Dragon II on the other foot. The heel on the Versa Force feels decidedly higher, and Carol Crooker had reported elsewhere on this site that she was selling her pair because it has “more of a running heel than I like”, and I’m sure that’s what she meant --- I guess it’s a design decision to tilt the body forward into a running posture or something.
Another potential “first impression” issue is that I could feel the sort of internal skeleton of the Versa Force shoe on the outside edge of my foot, a bit behind the base of the toes. I generally like to wear just a thin pair of liner socks when I walk, so a thick sock to mitigate this issue wouldn’t be a happy solution if it was to persist.
I also noted that the toe box for the same size shoe seems about 1/8" narrower on the Versa Force. I'm keenly interested in this, as a wide toe box is what I particularly like Golite shoes for. It's hard to measure this accurately, but holding them side-by-side and measuring across the widest part of the toe box on both in the same way shows the difference, and even at first glance it just looked a little narrower. I'm not sure if this will bother me or not, and unfortunately, a narrower shoe is something that only starts to bother me after quite a number of miles.
The mesh across the toe seems similar but not the same --- clearly it will breathe well. Unknown if it will rip out as fast. On each side of the shoe there's a little diagonal vent with what looks like literally fine wire mesh --- this will breathe and drain very well in these spots, though as a drain hole IMO it's placed a bit high on the shoes. I can't help but compare to the little round drain holes lower down on Vietnam-era jungle boots.
Weight: in size 11/11.5 one shoe with the included insert in medium width mode is 14.9 oz, virtually identical to the Sun Dragon’s --- I weighed an almost new one of those at 14.8 oz.
Results of a short walk:
I took about a 3 mile walk in them, entirely on pavement, with some minor up- and down-hill stretches. Of the potential problems, the heel thing didn’t seem too bad; I was decreasingly aware of it as I went along. The “skeleton of the shoe” thing also didn’t seem bad, except for one worrying point. The internal and external sort of skeleton on the sides of the shoe come in the form of sort of sweeping-forward diagonal members, sort of rubber/foam on the outside of the shoe and a sort of thick fabric on the inside. The forward-most of these hits right at the base of my little toes, precisely the place where I want the most toe-box width. So apart from overall being a little narrower in the toe-box, they’re effectively even more narrow there due to the overall construction. I don’t know if this will be a problem for me or not; I’d have to walk quite a number of miles to find out for sure, but I’m leery. While the heel design isn’t as optimal for me, I think, compared to the Sun Dragon’s, for me personally it’s in this base-of-toe width that the shoe is really a step backwards. Again, I stress that this isn’t definitely a problem for me, and if it is, it might not be a problem for many/most others. But I suspect it’s true for others for whom a wide toe box is a priority.
A third issue came up as I did this short walk, and that’s the feeling of the tread/lugs on the ball-of-foot area. Both the Sun Dragons and the Versa Force have pretty aggressive, deep lugs for traction. I have Morton’s Neuroma on one foot, basically damage to a nerve in the foot, and it’s possible (no way to know for sure) that the deep lugs on the Sun Dragons were a contributing cause --- i.e., that a particular lug could apply pressure to a specific spot on the foot over many miles.
I really felt the lugs on the Versa Force, I think more than I feel them on the Sun Dragons. This also gives me a little pause; like the toe box width, I’d have to put a lot of miles on these to get a better sense for how much and whether this is a problem or not.
So for me the jury is still out on these shoes until I do some more miles in them.
I might also purchase and try out a pair of the Golite Comp’s, or perhaps the Fire model. From the pictures, both Comp and Fire models do appear to have the same “runners heel” that Carol talked about --- unfortunately. But both also look to have a different sort of “skeleton” as well as tread pattern, and ultimately those two issues feel more potentially significant to me.
The Versa Lite and Trek Lite models both have significant leather, which I fear would not dry as fast and be less breatheable.
The Force model is perhaps the closest to a clone of the Sun Dragon II --- to include the same sort of heel and tread pattern --- but unfortunately it has the same sort of “skeleton” as the Versa Force.
Postscript: I should note that my "normal" shoe size is about a 10, and I got in the habit of wearing Golite size 11/11.5 shoes as a long-distance hiker (this is pretty common for distance hikers). But on reflection, it's relevant to the whole "skeleton of the shoe" thing I was talking about: if I shove my foot as far forward as it will go in the shoe, then the base of my little toes is past the point I was concerned about. So maybe not a bad design approach for folks that wear a shoe more close to their nominal size --- still a problem for me personally, as I don't want to step these down in size. I don't think this would alter the heel issue, and dunno about the toe tread concern, but I expect it would change it a little but not much (?).
I posted the above on August 10th, and have since done a 2+ day, 36 mile trip in these and they were better than I expected. No problem from the "skeleton" or tread pattern concerns. I still don't like the heel as well as my Sun Dragon's, however, but they didn't seem to be a big problem. Bottom line is that I forgot about them as something to pay attention to.
They held up well on this trip, FWIW. Not a lot of trail debris, but a lot of talus rock, and they were wet most of the trip. They seemed to dry out well, about as well as my Sun Dragon's.
Given this experience, I'm thinking I'll buy a pair of the Golite 'Force' model shoes, which have the same skeleton, but from the pictures look to have a very similar tread pattern and heel structure as the Sun Dragons. Note that the 'Force' is distinct from the 'Versa Force' model, which latter does have what Carol called more of a "runner's heel".