One of the most important pieces of kit a backcountry athlete has is the shoe he or she chooses to wear. After all, the primary mode of transportation, whether hiking, approach climbing, trail running or generally traversing through the backcountry, is by your feet. Today with the development of specific fit and comfort for your chosen pursuit there’s a wide variety of cross trainers, boots, and hybrids available to chose from. But with all of these choices, what’s the best choice?
Let’s take them for a spin and look at the pros and cons.
Really, it can all be left up to preference. However, there are certain aspects to backcountry footwear that more fully enable the athlete to go further and enjoy more, with distinct designed comfort.
The cross trainer is the old standby for hikers and trail runners; they’re lightweight and agile giving the athlete an edge over often rough and steep terrain. Their lightness is contributed to the fact that they aren’t over built, meaning the minimum is provided through them for enough support to traverse obstacles without adding a heavy burden to the wearer, which is key for quick movements (i.e. trail running, hiking without a loaded pack, and making way to a climbing “problem”). They also have soft soles supplying a cushion against rocky and rooted trails. These are the pros of cross trainers.
While cross trainers are ideal for light and high speed pursuits, the aspects that make them great for these cause them to lack in a backpacking and distance ventures. Since they’re built to provide a light and minimalist design they do not give the support needed for the athlete that plans to carry more than the light essentials for a long multiday trek (backpacking). The cons of cross trainers only come into play when they are pushed beyond their intended limits. They do not give the proper ankle support needed when carrying a heavy pack. They’re also often not waterproof, which anyone who has trekked with wet feet can explain in-depth certainly makes for a bad trip. And while a soft sole is required for speedy jaunts along a trail these same soles wear out easily over time, especially when extra weight is added.
The pros of Well-made hiking boots are that they are built for long treks with or without a loaded pack. Today we have access to lightweight and well designed boots that fit and feel like a tennis shoe that also provide the necessary support to traverse steep and irregular terrain. Gone are the days of heavy clunky boots. Hiking boots of now have maintained the robust soles of old but don’t weigh the athlete down. They also supply a strong support of ankles and the connected joints, preventing injury even during trips and stumbles from exhaustion and heavy gear. Best of all, with today’s technology in waterproofing the athlete can cross streams, mud, and trek through rain, without worrying about wet feet.
The cons of hiking boots, of course, are while they may be light and more limber than the boots of past they still wont help gain a better time on runs or help much with finite climbs. These activities should be left to footwear specifically made to aid in speed and precision.
Hybrids are a shoe or low-profile boot that is designed with a mix of aspects from both cross trainers and hiking boots. This type of footwear is a great commodity for those looking to get the best of both worlds. Some come as a low top shoe that has a tough sole for distant treks and in some cases waterproof, while others appear similar to a boot with high ankle support but are as light as a cross trainer. However, hybrids still have specific and at times limited use.
Your best bet is to do your research before committing to any one pair of shoes or boots. Go to your local outfitter ask questions and try a few on, walk around, and imagine how they will do on your particular pursuit. You should always ask yourself: do these provide the right support? Are they comfortable? Are they light? What sort of terrain will I require them to go against? Just like any other piece of essential gear they should be able to do what you do, and help you do it to it’s fullest!