Backpacking and Trekking Boots
Salewa Alp Trainer 2 Mid GTX
$230, 2 lbs. 5 oz./1.05 kg (men’s US 9/Euro 42)
Sizes: US men’s 7-14, women’s 6-10.5
Eight days of hiking in Iceland, including two dayhikes totaling nearly 10 miles of the peaks Blahnukur and Brennisteinsalda in the Fjallabak Nature Preserve and six days trekking nearly 49 miles on the world-class Laugavegur and Fimmvörðuháls trails, presented the full range of conditions that will test any boots: rain falling at times on most days, temperatures from the 30s to 50s Fahrenheit, and hiking on often-wet dirt, pebbles, rocks, mud, and slick, wet snow. I chose Salewa’s Alp Trainer 2 Mid GTX precisely for dealing with those conditions and they truly passed every test with flying colors.
I also wore the Alp Trainer 2 Mid GTX through two days of solid, cool rain on an August backpacking trip in the Wind River Range that we cut short because of the weather; and backpacking five days through Washington’s Pasayten Wilderness in September, with dry weather and moderate temperatures.
The primary reason for choosing boots this burly and expensive is to protect feet against the elements in very wet and cool climates. But at this price point, we justifiably expect excellence in all other performance attributes of hiking footwear. (But truly, for boots of this quality, the price is very competitive, although pricier than even better lightweight hiking shoes and boots.) Again, the Alp Trainer 2 Mid GTX excels all-around.
Starting from the top, the waterproof-breathable Gore-Tex Extended Comfort membrane and suede and stretch fabric uppers kept my feet absolutely dry even walking through shallow streams and standing in flowing water to test the waterproofness of the boots. They also passed the harshest tests a boot’s waterproofing: long stretches of kicking steps in mushy snow and slapping through wet, low-growing trailside and off-trail vegetation (the latter relatively rare in Iceland’s Central Highlands, but I did encounter some). That sort of constant brushing against wet surfaces will cause many lighter boots and hiking shoes with an ostensibly waterproof-breathable membrane and fabric uppers to eventually wet through. Not these boots.
Not surprisingly, breathability was fine in the cool temps I used them—partly thanks to perforated mesh in the padded tongue, collar, and the uppers on either side of the tongue—with my feet only getting a bit sweaty on rare instances when Iceland’s July sun shone warmly and the temp hit 59° F (the warmest we saw); but these boots would be too hot on warmer days and that’s not really their purpose.
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At just two pounds five ounces/1.05 kilograms (per pair, men’s US 9/Euro 42), the Alp Trainer 2 Mid GTX feels like a lighter hiking shoe and punches well above its weight in terms of protection. They gave my feet enough support and cushion for carrying well over 30 pounds/13.6 kilos on my back at the outset of six days on the Laugavegur and Fimmvörðuháls trails, and I’m confident they can handle significantly heavier loads.
Traction is another area where this type of boot should excel, and the deeply lugged Vibram alpine hiking outsole, exclusive to Salewa, gripped very well in wet or dry dirt, wet rocks, mud, and slippery, wet snow, as well as steep ascents and particularly descents on slick, loose volcanic soil that feels very insecure underfoot (and I heard many trekkers complaining about).
The medium-volume fit felt good the first time I slipped them on (and I hiked in them out of the box, no break-in time, based on how they felt when I first put them on at home). They wrapped my feet the way good boots should, comfortably snug in the heel and midfoot, with no slipping or rubbing, with breathing room for the toes. The durable, round laces extend to the toes in the style of climbing shoes, which I found helps me make slight adjustments to the fit for varying sock thicknesses or going from a steep ascent to a steep descent.
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With an eight-millimeter drop (common in hiking footwear), an EVA midsole, a soft, flexible collar, and a relatively flexible forefoot and good rocker for a boot this substantial, striding came easy, even on long, flat stretches of trail. Still, the boots carry enough heft to readily kick steps in snow and the sturdy toe rand and sidewalls protected my feet from rocks. The boots also come with two pairs of Salewa inserts that create different volume inside, to somewhat customize your fit.
One small complaint: The laces are longer than needed, requiring double knotting and taking care not to leave a long loop than can snag on anything while walking. And I encountered one durability issue: In the Pasayten, one lace hook blew out—entirely due to me wearing them unlaced in camp (for comfort and to cool my feet) and tripping over the lace; I was still able to lace and hike in them and Salewa sent a replacement pair.
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The Salewa Alp Trainer 2 Mid GTX is a high-performance, comfortable, durable, very waterproof and protective, and relatively lightweight boot at a reasonable price in this category, ideal for backpackers and trekkers venturing into the coolest, wettest climates.
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See all reviews of hiking shoes and backpacking boots, “Pro Tips For Buying the Right Boots,” and “8 Pro Tips for Preventing Blisters When Hiking,” and all reviews of hiking gear and backpacking gear at The Big Outside.
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Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned backpacker, you’ll learn new tricks for making all of your trips go better in my “How to Plan a Backpacking Trip—12 Expert Tips,” “A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking,” and “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be.” With a paid subscription to The Big Outside, you can read all of those three stories for free; if you don’t have a subscription, you can download the e-guide versions of “How to Plan a Backpacking Trip—12 Expert Tips,” the lightweight and ultralight backpacking guide, and “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be.”