Trail Runners for Thru-Hiking, Yes or No?

Last year we hiked the Webster Cliffs to Mount Pierce in New Hampshire, a day hike for us to bag another 4,000 footer that also happened to be on the Appalachian Trail.

 On the cliffs, hoping my peds cooperate for the duration.

On the cliffs, hoping my peds cooperate for the duration.

I didn’t think much about, but I did notice that many of the thru-hikers we saw that day were wearing unconventional footwear.

Lots of them were hiking 2,000+ miles in tennis shoes.  Like tourists!  Not like serious hikers who strap gnarly, gore-tex infused boots onto their poor, suffering feet.

This choice never would have crossed my mind.

(And if it did, I would have shunned it immediately.  Obviously.)

It Pays to Keep an Open Mind

Once I started planning my own thru-hike, though, I remembered those thru-hikers and wondered what they knew that I didn’t.

(A hella lot.)

Here’s the hella lot they knew that I didn't:  

 

Every extra pound you wear on your feet is like having 4-5 extra pounds in your pack.

 

It dawned on me that my boots might be a little too gnarly for my own good.  As evidenced by the constant pain in a toe I broke many years ago.

I thought I had to just suffer.

Martyr syndrome!

Changes Afoot. 

After some research (where I realized the thru-hikers I saw were wearing trail-runners, not Easy Spirit old fart shoes), I ventured into the company of those who knew something I did not. 

I bought the trail-runners to test now while I still have options.

I THINK I'M IN LOVE!

I tried on a few pair and decided on the Saucony Peregrine 6 trail runners and…I think I’m in love!

They’re my ruby slippers!

 Sorry about the mud.  It's been raining in North Carolina.

Sorry about the mud.  It's been raining in North Carolina.

I've been hiking in them for the past two weeks and ending long days with weight on my back without even knowing I have feet.

This is huge!  

I don't know I have feet!

It's huge because I'm usually aware of my feet with every step I take during a rigorous hike. Aware of the arthritic pain in my right second toe.  Aware of the burning sensation on the bottoms of both feet when I hike ten or more miles.  Aware of how stiff and unforgiving my boots are...like hiking on 2x4s. 

When I'm wearing these trail runners, I forget I have feet.

Forgetting your feet while hiking is a gift from God.

Cosmetics aside (because ruby slippers rock), I'm want to give you my trail-runner pros and cons. Because great as they are, I've found some down-sides to hiking in trail runners (but, not many):

PROS

  • Light weight.  I save 12.4 ounces overall, which is like 3.1 - 3.9 pounds in my pack.
  • Comfortable right out of the box…no break in period, no blisters (so far).
  • Good traction (I'm feeling confident on wet granite and slippery stream crossings).
  • Wide toe box (my little piggies have wiggle-room).
  • Dries more quickly than boots (which is good because wet is a problem).
  • Extra credit…the little loop for hooking on your gaiters (OMG, I love this little loop!).
 How do boots NOT have this little gaiter loop?  Heads-up boot makers!

How do boots NOT have this little gaiter loop?  Heads-up boot makers!

CONS

  • Not waterproof…your feet are going to get wet.  
  • Cost…you’ll go through 3-4 pairs for every pair of boots you use, which adds up to about $360 - $480 for a 2,000 mile thru-hike.
  • Stuff (sand, pebbles, twigs) gets into them more easily than in boots.  Needs gaiters. Another $25.
  • OMG, your feet get dirty if you're hiking in trail runners.  This could be a problem, because if I'm sweaty and stinky and gross (um, guaranteed), I like to go to bed with clean feet, even if my armpits stink.  I mean, clean feet in my clean sleep socks...well, this could be a deal-breaker.

 

one more thing...you could sprain your ankle!

Get ready to hear this from your well-meaning spouse.  People are paranoid about ankle sprains.

I don't consider the lack of ankle support a deal-breaker, because...

you could train your ankles, instead.  

Anyone can improve their ankle strength and flexibility.  Optimize your natural ankle support by

  • walking barefoot,
  • getting on a wobble board,
  • walking on unlevel ground,
  • stretching your ankles in every direction.  

Consult your local PT for a specific training plan and start working on it several months before you set foot on the trail in your trail runners.

Your ankles will be more than fine.  And you'll have the added bonus of having improved your balance, too.

last thoughts about choosing a trail-runner:

I chose the Saucony Peregrine 6 shoe because they felt good on my feet.  I shopped around and you should, too.

Other shoes to consider because they all rate high for grippiness:

  • Salomon Speedcross 3:  too narrow in the toe for me, but has had good reviews.
  • Altra Lone Peak 3:  zero drop heel and, for me, a sloppy fit.  But people who wear them adore them.
  • La Sportiva Bushido:  again, too narrow in the toe box for me, but a snug fit can feel like you've got mastery over rough terrain.

How bout you, Sweet Pea?  What will you be wearing on your feet for your 2,000 mile journey?  Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts, questions, recommendations or story.