Shoes for long distance hiking trails

There’s an overwhelmingly large quantity of different shoes available for hikers. Initially I held the belief there’s only so many different ways a company can reinvent the wheel shoe. Interestingly, it was only until I bought a pair of ultra lightweight Nike running shoes that I realised the materials used in shoes are vastly different. Even in shoes where the same materials are used, a different design choice can make a huge difference. Consider two pieces of paper identical to each other, fold the edges of one piece of paper–it has now become considerably more rigid in comparison to the other–that’s the equivalent of a very a simple “design choice” using the same materials.

In an ideal world, we’d all like a shoe weighing in at 50 grams; one that lasts 5,000 miles, is soft, waterproof on the outside and also allows water to escape from the inside, etc. That shoe doesn’t exist–there’ll always be a compromise.

In my specific part of the UK, there’s not that many shops which sell hiking shoes; ordering online is fine but you may have to do what I did and buy a LOT of shoes and return them–refer to the photograph above. Relatively cheap shoes available in the USA might be expensive in the UK, additionally, there are some brands that’re cheaper in the UK. This applies with jackets too. This is something I highly suggest you consider if you’re going an international hike because you may need replacements. It makes me question the real value of an item and it also makes me question reviews but perhaps I’m being cynical. Is someone saying something is good because it’s cheaper? In an area where that shoe/item isn’t cheap, would it still receive such a positive review?

I think the best reviews you will find are from people who’ve done long distance hikes (searching “Pacific Crest Trail gear list”, “Continental Divide Trail gear list”, “Appalachian Trail Gear list”, etc. into Google yields good results.) They’re people who won’t put up with a terrible shoe just because it’s cheap. Even those reviews can be biased e.g. sponsorship. Not only consider the cost of the shoe in the place you will be hiking but also the availability of the shoe. If you’re from England for example and you break in a shoe, you take it to America/Canada/wherever you are hiking, and then that shoe is ruined after a few hundred miles, it’s nice to buy the same model if you haven’t had any problems with it.

I’ve been through a lot of models and I’ve settled with the Nike Zoom WildHorse 4. They’re comfortable, wide, dry out fast and I have very little to complain about with them. They work with different insoles too. I had to buy some “crazy glue” to get velcro to stick on the back, for my gaiters. It’s not a problem. Nike also have a great return policy in the UK and will let you send them back if you’re not happy with them, even after you’ve used them.

Insoles for your shoes

Much like the materials used in shoes, I’d seen insoles as a bit of a gimmick, but I’ve since changed my view on that. I’ve heard way too many positive things about them for it to be ignored, and shoe companies often spend pennies on their insoles. After reading anecdotal evidence and whatnot, I’ve came to the conclusion–based on no experience whatsoever–that are the best. Unfortunately, they’re quite expensive. You can place them in different shoes and whatnot but it’s recommended you keep them for about 9 months. I didn’t buy them due to the cost but it’s research food.

Shoe list

Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 3

I’m showing my ignorance here, but until the last couple of years, I had no idea Nike were worth considering for long distance hiking. My lightweight pair of Nike running shoes were good for… running… as they let in a lot of air, but they’re not very durable and my toes try and poke through the top–successfully too. The Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 3 shoes are built differently and have received a lot of great reviews. They’re strong and a bit more water resistant–but not to the point your feet cannot breathe. I didn’t buy this model and instead went with the Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 4 shoes. You might still want to consider this–perhaps it’s cheaper or easier to get.

Salomon XA Pro

Salomon XA Pro shoes are quite popular and I’ve heard the female version is lighter than the male version. Initially I thought these were a great shoe from what I could tell. I had over one hundred miles on mine and wish I hadn’t bought them.

The toe box is heavily reinforced and if you’re like me where your big toe occasionally rises up when you walk, these should prevent your toe from ruining the material. These are the best shoes I’ve seen anywhere in that regard.

The tread is a good material and depth, and the Salomon XA Pro 3D shoe has heavy reinforcements all around. The laces are an interesting idea and they work extremely quickly but I suspect you’ll be in trouble when the laces need replacing. I don’t like the design of the laces in all honesty–it looks like a problem waiting to happen.

  • Incredibly good toe box and reinforcements that go quite far back, protecting the shoe from toe erosion (is that a thing?)
  • Good tread material and tread depth.
  • Smart reinforcements all around the shoe.
  • Arguably a heavy shoe but it doesn’t feel too bad to me.
  • The back of the shoe around the ankle isn’t as comfortable as the La Sportive Bushido.
  • The lace design is pointlessly complicated.
  • Overall it looks quite rugged and stronger than a few brands I’ve seen in shops.
  • Their width might be okay for the average person but I wish they were 5mm wider.

What I hated:

The laces are hard and the plastic arrangement pressed into the top of my foot after a while, causing great discomfort. They ran too hot and they felt too heavy. It was a noticeable weight not just a “these are only heavy on the spec sheet!” type weight.

La Sportiva Bushido

The La Sportiva Akasha shoes were one of the most popular shoes to be worn for hikers interested in the Pacific Crest Trail at one point; however, they’re not as popular now. The La Sportiva Bushido shoes are my favourite in some regards but they just weren’t the right fit for me–the arch was too high.

  • They’re the most beautifully designed shoe I’ve seen to date.
  • I’d love to keep them but I had fitting issues. I had to size up and the arch is quite high which made them a bit painful for me.
  • One side of the toe box is wide, but the side closer to your big toe isn’t that wide. If it was wider, the shoe would feel much bigger in general.
  • The tongue is padded well and doesn’t dig into your ankle. It’s the most comfortable tongue I’ve found.
  • The laces are a nice thickness.
  • They’re rugged, strong, and have plenty of reinforcements. It doesn’t look like your toe is likely to poke through the top but it’s not as well reinforced as the shoes above; the back has a stiffener and the grip is well designed and made.
  • They don’t feel as heavy as the specs would have you believe. In fact, they feel a lot lighter than the Salomon XA Pro 3D shoes and are altogether more comfortable except the arch.

If you can find a size that fits you well and you don’t have arch problems, I’d give these serious consideration. Things like width and sizing are entirely subjective–it completely depends on the shape, width, length, etc. of your feet. so don’t be put off by my comments. The shoe itself looks well made, well designed and my only small complaint (excluding the arch) is the material at the front could extend slightly further back as per the Salomon XA Pro 3D.

If this arch support fits the shape of your foot, I imagine this shoe would be amazing! The tongue is the best tongue I’ve seen–it’s got a thin edge to it and then it’s padded further down. The entire upper back of the shoe feels good. There’s no rub around your ankle and I don’t know why they didn’t keep this design in all of their shoes.

I read one review which said the tongue is nice but it can let in debris. I’d rather a soft tongue system and I wear gaiters rather than something which tries to do all and compromises.

I found that when I followed the “thumb width rule” (measure your longest toe away from the closest piece of fabric) and then added half a size up (for extra swelling), the shoe was a perfect fit (size 13 US.)

They feel incredibly light, even though they’re not ultralight shoes. When you move your feet around in circular motions or anything weird, they’re incredibly comfortable.

La Sportiva Akyra

The La Sportiva Akyra shoes are built like a tank but they look sexy. They’ve got a great heel drop, and they feel a bit wider and flatter than the Bushidos around the arch. My problem is the tongue really digs into my ankle, I can’t lock the heel down and they feel like the wrong size regardless of what size I pick; I tried plenty of sizes.

If you can get a size which fits you well, the heel locks down properly and the tongue doesn’t bother you, then I’d give these great consideration.

This is the shoe I want to love the most. Its arch system is the best for me (as far as La Sportiva goes at least). It’s wider in the middle, it’s rugged, it feels a lot heavier than the La Sportiva Bushido but the positive is it looks more durable.

The downside is the back of the foot doesn’t clamp down very well. If I tie up the laces to clamp my foot inside the shoe, then the tongue bites into me. I don’t like the tongue, it’s really padded and jabs into me.

It’s possible that if I wore them a lot more I would break one in. I’m not sure if the high arch would get smaller or if the tongue on the La Sportiva Akyra would become more comfortable. If you can find a fit that works for you, I really recommend looking at this or the La Sportiva Bushido. I can’t speak about the durability or whatnot. When I decide on the pair of shoe I’ll keep, I’ll use them a lot and do a proper review :).

La Sportiva Akasha

These felt quite suitable for the Great Divide Trail/Pacific Crest Trail as they’re a lightweight shoe. However, I had sizing problems again and the back near the heel felt REALLY uncomfortable. I felt that if I hiked a lot of miles in them, they’d rub and give blisters.

This shoe is weird. The tongue isn’t too bad but it’s not as good as the La Sportiva Bushido. The arch is really high, much like the La Sportiva Bushido, so if you like the La Sportiva Akasha‘s, the chances are you’ll like the La Sportiva Bushido‘s or vice versa.

The back rubs my ankle, is way too padded and makes this shoe a no go. These feel pretty light too.

 

Arc’teryx Norvan GTX

These are a new model of shoe. For me, the arch felt cramped, the shoe looked well made, decent tread, lightweight, etc. I had great difficulties putting the shoe on because of the included sock thing. Definitely check them out. If they’re your fitting, I think you’ll like them.

I think these would be better suited for wetter environments, as I think the sock could be a bit warm on a hike like the Pacific Crest Trail.

Altra Lone Peak 3.0

The Altra Lone Peak 3.0 shoes are interesting. The Altra Lone Peak 3.0 shoes are meant to be quite comfortable, a reasonable weight, durable, etc. but they don’t dry out very quickly compared to the Nike Wildhorse 4 shoes. Give them a look if you’re interested in similar hikes to me. I ordered some on amazon and they didn’t arrive… This isn’t great but I thought they’d mention them. I believe they’re a lot easier to get in America.

Hiking Boots

The first thing people will tell you is not to buy hiking boots as they’re too heavy, your feet will sweat a lot and they’ll be too painful. If you don’t sweat (did you know that the only place a dog sweats is its feet? I thought it was its nose) then you might be okay :).

Nike Air Wildhorse Zoom 4

These are the shoes I currently wear. I’ve had them a while now and have done countless miles on them. I’m someone who doesn’t take off his shoe when he walks through a river. I simply cannot be bothered, and sometimes I find the “stepping on rocks” method a bit wobbly. You’ll hate me when you see me walk through a river two feet deep, in a strong current, because I’m essentially lazy. However, if you’re an obnoxious, inexperienced, reckless hiker like myself, then you’ll love the fact these shoes dry out quickly.

The inner is one piece of material. They feel a lot lighter than the Salomon XA Pro 3D shoes and more like a typical road running shoe. The tops of the shoes are considerably more comfortable.

They have extra holes at the top for a more secure lacing system and the insoles can be replaced quite easily with whatever you want. They’re the most comfortable shoe I’ve tried and I’m going to buy another pair when mine have worn out completely. When they’re wet, they do tend to turn into a weird shape sometimes but they’ll go back to normal after a bit. The tread towards the front wears down semi quickly if you walk on concrete a bit. I didn’t have a problem walking about 17 miles per day with them.

These work with dirty girl gaiters but you have to superglue the velcro on at the back.

I’m not going to go crazy with affiliate linking here because I think you should buy from the Nike official store, as their return policy is awesome. You can wear them for a while and return them if you don’t like them. If you do like them based on my recommendation, please consider donating £1 or something :). Alternatively, you can buy them at Amazon.

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