Shoes for long distance hiking trails

There’s an overwhelmingly large quantity of different shoes available for hikers. Initially I held the belief that there’s only so many different ways a company can reinvent the wheel shoe. Interestingly, it was only until I bought some ultra lightweight Nike running shoes that I realised the materials used 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, and notice how rigid that paper becomes 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 that weighs 50 grams, can last 5,000 miles, is soft, waterproof on the outside but also allows water to escape from the inside, etc. That shoe doesn’t exist–there’ll always be a compromise.

I’m from the UK and in my specific area, the shoe choices aren’t great in store but I can order online. What I’ve found is that sometimes shoes which are cheap in the USA are expensive in the UK and vice versa. This applies with jackets too. It’s something to consider for replacement pairs while in a foreign country. It makes me question the real value of an item too and it also makes me question reviews. 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? For this reason, I think the best reviews 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. One piece of advice I can give is that you should be considering the cost and availability of the shoe in the area you plan to be hiking. 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.

Insoles for your shoes

Much like the materials used in shoes, I’d seen insoles as a bit of a gimmick, but it stands to reason that if a shoe company only spends a few pennies (cents?) on the insoles of a shoe, then they’re not going to be as good as a company that focuses primarily on 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’m probably going to buy some soon and I will comment more then, but I thought I’d mention this so you can do your own research.

Shoe list

This shoe list will change over time; I will update this page semi-frequently and I’ll also give a bit more information for the shoes I have tried/owned. If nothing else, I hope this list will help you research further :).

Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 3

Again 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 are 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–and I’ve read reports that carbon insoles work better in them compared to a few models available. The Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 4 shoes are heavier and according to some, not as good. However, sometimes a heavier shoe means a more durable shoe.

Salomon XA Pro

Salomon XA Pro shoes are quite popular and I’ve heard the female version is lighter weight than the male version. Initially I thought these were a great shoe from what I could tell. I have over hundred miles on mine now and I wish I didn’t buy 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.

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, but I haven’t walked in them for long. Here’s what I know about them so far…

  • 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 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. 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.

La Sportiva Akyra

The La Sportiva Akyra feel like they’re built like a tank. 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 wear.

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.

La Sportiva Akasha

These felt quite suitable for the 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.

Arc’teryx Norvan GTX

These are a new model of shoe. I bought the wrong size, and kind of wish I bought something much bigger. 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.

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

After extensive googling, I stumbled upon the Altra Lone Peak 3.0 shoes. 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 3 shoes. Give them a look if you’re interested in similar hikes to me. I ordered some on amazon and they didn’t arrive.

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 only recently bought them. I will write an update soon.

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.

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