Ask Me: Advice on Low-Cut Trail Shoes
[Note: Both reader questions below are similar, so I combined them into one post.]
I recently came across your website. It’s a fantastic resource—thank you!
I am looking for a breathable (i.e., not waterproof) shoe for long, fast dayhikes (with occasional downhill running) on rough, rocky terrain (on and off-trail). Reasonable performance on third-, fourth-, and low fifth-class terrain is a bonus, but 95 percent of the shoe’s use will be on rough, non-technical terrain. The two main shoes I was considering were the Salewa Firetail EVO and the La Sportiva Ultra Raptor. You give both of these shoes high praise, for similar applications (e.g. 22-mile, 5,000-foot vertical hike with the Firetails; 28-mile, 8,000-foot vertical hike with the Raptors). Which do you prefer? Which do you think would be best for my intended applications? Are there other shoes you think I should consider?
BTW, I have a medium- to low-volume foot with a narrow heel and normal width forefoot, if that matters.
Mountain View, CA
Thanks for writing, glad you like The Big Outside. A question as specific and informed as yours makes the answer much easier, because it sounds like you know what you want. Both the Salewa Firetail EVO and the La Sportiva Ultra Raptor are excellent shoes. I think the primary difference is that the Ultra Raptor is better for the occasional running you’re talking about, and I’d suggest that shoe if you plan to stick primarily to trails, with just a little scrambling. Its traction is very good for a hiking shoe. If you were talking about more scrambling and steeper, technical terrain, third- and fourth-class and very easy fifth-class, I’d suggest the Firetail EVO, but it doesn’t sound like that’s what you want in a shoe. I don’t think the Firetail would be comfortable for running too much.
Sounds like you’re set on a low-cut shoe, but where do you do most of your hiking? If you’re getting into really rough terrain, you might consider a lightweight, mid-cut boot that’s more supportive and protective but just slightly heavier and almost as nimble as the low-cuts you’re looking at. I’m thinking of the La Sportiva Hyper Mid GTX. It’s not as breathable as those low-cuts with mesh uppers and no membrane, but worth taking a look at.
Sportivas might fit your feet better than other brands, based on your description. But I always, always tell people to try on a few different brands to see what feels best for them. Shoes are a very personalized purchase, so you should go out shopping with a list of a few models to try on.
Let me know what you decide on. Good luck and keep in touch.
Thanks for the great info, Michael. I do most of my hiking in the Sierra Nevada: quite a bit in Yosemite (significant amount of scrambling on third- and occasional fourth-class), although recently I’ve been doing more long, fast dayhikes in the north Tahoe/Truckee area, often 20+ miles in a day, mostly on trail. I’ve had a pair of Five Ten Camp Four shoes that have been good, but which are just too wide for my feet. I think for the long dayhikes the Ultra Raptors will be perfect, and they’ll be passable scrambling on granite domes in Tuolumne.
I’ve been lightening my load a bit and am able to share more of it with the kids too these days. So now I want to shift to trail running shoes for backpacking. I’ve worn my running shoes for backpacking around simple dirt trails and it worked fine but used my big leather boots for rugged rocky terrain and always get blisters.
My top priority is shoes that will handle backpacking trips like the Grand Canyon Tanner-Escalate-New Hance Route that I’m meandering this fall. But I’ll also run in them if I can.
I’m not ultralight but am usually under 30 pounds in the pack and 160 pounds on my body.
Looking for a stable shoe with strong traction and good durability. Decent toe box and fit to cut down on blisters. A little more shank than flexibility probably.
So I know that I need to try these on to really decide, but I’ve been reading your excellent reviews and wondered if one of the shoes below stood out as a better match for my needs—or if one probably wasn’t up to my load:
La Sportiva Ultra Raptor
Oboz Traverse Low
Saloman XT Wings 3
Also been hearing about the Inov8 295, 315, and 330
Thanks for taking the time to consider my question.
My initial reaction is that you may be expecting too much of one pair of footwear to be able to backpack and trail run in them. I think only trail-running shoes are comfortable for regular trail running, but to also use them for backpacking would require that your feet are used to doing it frequently and don’t get sore when wearing such lightweight shoes with 30 extra pounds on your body. Plus, any Grand Canyon backpacking trip is quite rough on shoes and feet; it’s the rare kind of place where I think about going with somewhat beefier boots for backpacking rather than very lightweight footwear. So that comes down to a question of how frequently you run, hike, and backpack, and how your feet respond.
The other consideration is durability: Sturdy, well-constructed boots—which you’ll get from a respected brand—will probably last several hundred miles of backpacking. Trail-running shoes like the Ultra Raptor and Salomon XT Wings 3 or low-cut hiking shoes like the Oboz Traverse Low generally last 300 to 400 miles, but using them on rugged trails, in wet conditions, with extra weight on your back can wear them out faster. It may not save you money (if that’s your goal) to try to buy just one pair of footwear to cover a huge range of purposes.
That said, I’ll still answer your question. I’d suggest the Ultra Raptor if you want a trail-running shoe that you can use for lightweight/ultralight backpacking. The Oboz Traverse Low has more stability than the others for hiking with a pack. Although it is intended as a dayhiker, I think it’s a good shoe for ultralight/lightweight backpacking—assuming your feet and legs are trained for carrying weight in light shoes. But I don’t think the Oboz would be very comfortable for regular running. I’ve used Inov8 shoes; they’re lighter and less supportive than any you’re considering, primarily intended for trail running. My feet are accustomed to long trail runs and lightweight backpacking in light shoes, but my feet would suffer trying to backpack in Inov8 shoes.
If you’re getting into really rough terrain but want as light a boot as possible, you might consider a lightweight, mid-cut boot that’s more supportive and protective but just slightly heavier and almost as nimble as the low-cuts you’re looking at. I’m thinking of the La Sportiva Hyper Mid GTX, although it’s not as breathable as those low-cuts with mesh uppers and no membrane.
The blisters in your heavy, leather boots probably happen because your boots don’t fit quite right. Does your heel or midfoot move around at all when you hike? Does your heel slip even the slightest? Do your toes slam into the front of the boots? Where do you usually get blisters?
Long-term solution: Get boots that fit. Go to a shop where they know how to measure your feet and size boots correctly. Try on several different brands because they all fit differently, and by experimenting, you’ll find the brand that fits your feet best.
Short-term solution: Try custom insoles in your boots, replacing the typical thin stock insoles that come with the boots. Increasing the inside volume may prevent your feet from slipping. Also, I always carry some athletic tape when I’m hiking or backpacking, because it sticks to feet pretty well even when you get sweaty. As soon as I feel any rubbing or discomfort I put a couple overlapping strips of tape over the spot to eliminate the friction. (Check out my tips for avoiding blisters.) You could even preemptively tape areas that tend to get blisters before you start a hike.
I always, always tell people to try on a few different brands to see what feels best for them. Shoes are a very personalized purchase, so you should go out shopping with a list of a few models to try on.
Good luck, let me know what you decide on. And good on you for getting your kids out.
In Ask Me, I share and respond to a reader question. Got a question about hiking, backpacking, gear, or any topic or trip I write about at The Big Outside? Send it to me at email@example.com, message me at facebook.com/TheBigOutside, or tweet it to @MichaelALanza. I will answer the ones I can in a post, using only your first name and city, with your permission. I receive a high volume of questions, so I cannot always respond quickly.