Now, hear ye the tale of how I came to know of it.
Making the Switch
In the past, I’ve had great experience with Vasque (my first backpacking boots) and Keen Targhee II (my current pair). But after reading / watching about 1,000 gear reviews, I decided to give trail shoes a try. The idea being that shoes are lighter than boots, and the support trade off is worth it on a walk like the Camino. I am not sure how accurate the “a pound on your feet equals five pounds on your back” rule is, but I am 100% sure that a pound on your feet equals a pound on your feet! And since our Camino will entail a walk of approximately 421259.842519669 steps, every extra pound is, like, 421,259 pounds of extra work. Right?
So I got my first trail shoes on sale at Bass Pro Shop: the Hi-Tec V-Lite Wildfires. I do not like them very much. I mistakenly mistook their smallish fit for needing a break-in period, wore them past the return date, and now I own a pair that feels about 1/2 to one size too small. They’re not unwearable, and I successfully hiked half of my first 24k with them with no issues other than comfort. So they replaced my worn out street shoes, but no way would I take them to Spain.
My hours of gear review videos also revealed another interesting twist on the whole footwear thing: trail runners. While hiking shoes are basically hiking boots with the tops cut below the ankle, trail runners are running shoes with hiking shoe features. This made a lot of sense for something like the Camino which is as much road as it is trail.
I’ve been watching a lot of through-hiking vids lately because if anyone knows about long hikes, it’s these folks. This is especially true when it comes to footwear because (a) they have literally hiked for thousands of miles – often wearing out 4-5 pairs of shoes in a single hike, and (b) they hike through every terrain and weather imaginable.
Now, what these through hikers have in common is a massively diverse collection of opinions on gear. It’s not difficult to find people raving about the Merrel Moabs, Hoka Speedgoat, or the Salomon Speedcross. What they do all agree on is that no shoe is best for everyone. There’s just no such thing as “THE” best shoe. However, there are objective featers that make some shoes better than others for the majority of people.
I first heard about Altra Lone Peaks from an experienced through-hiker that has many informative videos on Youtube: Homemade Wanderlust, and then found a trove of similar opinions about the shoes on other channels. There are a lot of standard running shoe qualities to Altra, but two unique features really made me want to check them out:
First, Altra’s Zero Drop™ platform does not elevate the heel as most shoes do. As you can see form the image above, the heel and forefoot are flat distance-wise. This is objectively more natural and is supposed to aligns the feet and body better. This made sense to me.
Second, Altra’s FootShape™ toe box offers more room for toes to move and breathe and have their being (Bible joke). After feeling nearly claustrophobic in my Hi-Tecs on the last hike, this idea was welcome!
Fleet Feet Fit
I am not a runner, so I really had no idea that Fleet Feet was anything more than a typical shoe store. I just went in because I knew they carried Altras and was hoping someone there would actually know something about shoes and maybe had one of those had one of those metal-feet-measure-things. Turns out they are a premiere running sports store (live and learn!). While there, I got to experience the Fit I.D. process which returns a 3D image of your feet and loads of data they use to figure out the perfect shoe.
My salesperson brought out three trial pairs. As expected, the first two felt very good compared to normal street shoes – but then I tried on the Altras. First, the lace material combines with very grippy shoe material so that at every crossover they stick. This allows you to tighten every section perfectly. Once laced, the shoes gripped my ankles and mid-foot solidly, but my toes were just hanging out enjoying the space. I performed a few toe-kick tests and felt nothing – no foot movement, no toe squishing. WOW. The flat platform was noticeably different, but not bad at all. As much as the other shoes were a step up from my regular street shoes, the Altras were above them. It was like walking on magic.
When I got home, I texted my cousin to tell her she should try the Fleet Feet fit process and the shoes. She replied about two hours alter saying she had ordered a pair of Lone Peak 4 RSM’s! I asked about the “RSM” and found out it meant “rain, snow, mud.” Whuuuuuut? Waterproof Altras!!!
So then I had to revisit the waterproof vs. standard shoe debate. Review-wise the RSM’s sounded fine, reports indicated that they managed to avoid overheating, which is great. I have to say, though, that although I’ve enjoyed waterproof boots, I am not sold on the idea of waterproof shoes.
When I first stress-tested the Hi-Tecs, I did what a lot of people do – submerged them in water. My feet stayed dry! However – this was only if I very carefully and slowly stepped into barely moving water. If the water was deeper than the bottom of my ankle bone (or was moving rapidly, or if I . . . you know . . . splashed), the water simply came in through the opening. There’s always gaiters (and Altra makes gaiter-friendly shoes), but these are not necessarily totally water-proof either. Further, several people have mentioned that waterproof material simply doesn’t last – after a few days, water build up, dirt, etc. can weaken it to the point of failure.
The larger problem is that once waterproof shoes get water in them, they’re worse than just wet. This is because they will not let water pass out of the shoe for the same treason they don’t let water pass in. That means they (and you) won’t dry out for a very long time (time frames are calculated in days – not hours). Add in the extra heat factor, and you’ve got additional sweat too (= wet feet even on dry hikes).
For these reasons, pretty much no one in the reviews I’ve seen seem to recommend water proof shoes (and waterproof boots only if full-sized and used in snow). The common wisdom seems to be that whether by incoming rain, leg runoff, material failure, splashing, or sweat, your feet are eventually going to get wet. When that happens, it’s better to have shoes that will vent the moisture and dry quickly than to end up walking in buckets for several days.
Still Undecided I still don’t know what I think and I don’t want to spend $150 just to test a pair. However, I have over a year before we go, and I will need a training pair as well as a “Camino pair” as the trip approaches. So I might try both and just return whichever one I like less.
Altra Lone Peak review video below!