Everything you need to know about trail shoes, approach shoes, walking shoes, festering shoes and, well, shoes really...
This started as a Buyers' Guide to approach shoes, but then we
thought, hey, how about walking shoes, trail shoes and even
trail-running shoes. Just, well, shoes even. Scrambling shoes too.
And how do scrambling shoes differ from approach shoes?
Well, there are shoes everywhere these days with more options than
you can drag across a boulder field, so what's out there and what
should you be aware of if you're in the market for a pair of outdoor
For years British walkers wandered around in heavy, full-leather
walking boots, winter or summer, rain or shine. That's fine when
there's snow on the ground but as fell runners demonstrate, you can
handle some pretty gnarly terrain even in lightweight, barely
have some major pluses over full boots - for starters, they're almost
always lighter, and over the course of a day in the hills,
that weight reduction adds up to less fatigue simply because you're
lifting less weight against gravity.
Next, because shoes expose more of your foot area to cooling air,
they also tend to be more breathable and, as a result, more
comfortable in hot conditions. Some models include mesh panels for
seriously hot weather.
High ankle cuffs may give an illusion of stability and the feel of
the boot against your ankle may seem supportive, but boots can also
be restrictive particularly on uneven ground. Because shoes allow
your ankles to flex more easily they can be more agile and
give improved balance and poise on uneven ground.
The faster you move, or intend to move, the more sense shoes make.
Overall boots probably are more stable and sturdy and usually last
longer, but if you're good on your feet and choose carefully then a
good pair of shoes can be a fantastic alternative.
One reason shoes are often regarded as less stable than boots is
basic construction, many trainer type shoes are too flexible, however
there are three basic tests that will help you choose a shoe that can
offer as much support and stability as a boot and it's something you
can do before buying:
1. Heel Cup Test Squeeze the upper at the heel area between
thumb and forefinger. You should be able to feel a stiff, hard cup
inside the shoe that will hold the heel in place and have a major
impact on overall stability. Shoes with soft or no heel cups will
leave your heel unsupported and make for a sloppy, insecure shoe.
2. Sole Twist Test Next grasp the rear and forefoot of the
sole and try and twist them in different directions. There should be
some movement, but not an excessive amount. If the shoe twists easily
it will encourage you to pronate when your foot strikes the ground,
which in turn can cause pain in your leg, hip and back joints. Again,
excessive flex will make the shoe feel unstable.
3. Flex Test Finally, you want to shoe to flex in the same
place as your toes naturally bend. If the flex point is wrong, the
shoe will feel unnatural to walk in and the upper may bend into your
foot causing pain and rubbing.
Obviously on top of these considerations, you're looking for a
good fit without tight spots or excessive movement. Pay particular
attention to heel lift with shoes - it's easier for your heel to rise
Trail Running Shoes
More and more outdoor footwear brands are producing 'trail-running
shoes'. Some are actually quite good, many though lack the cushioning
to cope with hard surfaces. The original offroad running shoes are
fell shoes from the likes of Walsh, EB and Inov8. They tend to
be minimalist, close-fitting and sacrifice cushioning for a thin,
heavily gripped sole unit that will improve stability by keeping your
foot as close to the ground as possible.
wouldn't recommend fell shoes for general outdoor use or even more
gentle off road running. Some of the principles still apply to
general trail-running shoes however. In particular, look for a
sole unit that combines a low profile with slightly more cushioning
and support than a pure fell shoe. One we like is The Nort hFace's
Ultra while Salomon's adventure race shoes also get good reviews. You
should also look for a lacing system that allows a close, wrap-around
fit to stop foot slop on uneven ground and a grippy sole unit.
Many so called cross trainers are effectively useless for offroad
running. They're simply too heavy, lack cushioning and sole grip and
have thick sole units that make them far too unstable on rough
terrain. Some make perfectly adequate walking shoes, but simply won't
cut it for running.
Check out shoes from specialist running manufacturers as well.
Trail Walking Shoes
a few approach and cross trainers actually make good walking shoes.
Cushioning is less crucual than with runners and sole units can be
near enough the same as lightweight walking boots. We actually walked
most of the Annapurna Circuit in Merrell's Chameleon Ventilator Lows,
complete with pack, and shoes like these and Scarpa's Heliums prove
that with a stable sole unit, a shoe can be just as effective as a
boot but with greater agility and lessweight.
As with boots, fit is crucial for all-day use, so try different
brands till you find a pair that works with your particular feet.
Approach And Scrambling
Approach shoes were initially developed for climbers. The idea was
to produce a climbing trainer that could be worn on moderately rough
and scrambly ground during walk-ins to routes then swapped for rock
boots. Of course, they also became a casual uniform shoe for
a few now use sticky climbing 'rebound' rubber for all round grip and
a whole sub-set of shoes developed for use on scrambles and low-grade
climbs with climbing-style lacing for a secure fit from the uppers
together with refinements like toe and heel rands. The rubber on
these shoes - FiveTen's Stealth runner for example, or the Vibram
Megabyte used by Scarpa - wear faster than conventional rubber in
general use, but give great grip on scrambles and rock generally.
Don't assume that the styling cues are infallible though.
Salomon's Pro Sticky Low, for example, may look like the offspring of
a rock boot, but is disappointingly non-sticky.
If you're buying scrambling shoe for use on rock with small edging
holds or on via ferrata , look for one with a good, stiff, sole unit
that allows edging on small ledges. If you anticipate more smearing
then flexibility, or at least lengthways flexibility is your
Look too for lacing systems that start close to the toe like a
rock boot for a good, close, non-rolling fit.
it or not, more than a few 'outdoor shoes' are actually used mainly
for loafing around caffs, hitting the shops or, well, just as shoes
really. There's nothing wrong with that, you're sending out a secret
signal that says 'I'm an outdoors person' and that technical spec may
come in handy when it comes to walking the dog in a damp field or
Wear whatever you want :-)
wtih boots, any waterproof / breathable liner will up versatility in
damp conditions, or at least keep the water out. The downside is that
in hot conditions, your feet will tend to get hot and sweaty.
You'll find Gore's XCR liner used in shoes and low-cut boots.
Unlike the clothing fabric however, it's no more breathable than the
standard Gore-Tex boot liner. The main difference is that the liner
fabric is thinner with no insulation, so your feet stay a little
cooler. Still not cool enough in summer for our taste though.
you're buying shoes specically for hot conditions, you have several
options. One is a shoe / sandal hybrid based on rafting sandal
technology but with a more sophisticated sole unit from the likes of
Teva or new to the UK brand, Keen. The best of these work very well
and expose as much of the foot as possible to cooling air.
The other option is a shoe with mesh panels and no waterproof
liner. We've found the Merrell Cameleon Ventilator good in the past,
but check out Scarpa's new Web shoe and similar mesh-topped options
from other brands.
Help and Advice
Hopefully this article will have given you some basic pointers.
The good news is that there's a load more advice on
- Ask on the gear
forum about general issues or specific items.
- Check the member
reviews section for user experiences of kit.
- See OM editorial reviews on the front of the site for our
Richard Gear if you have a specific question you need
Discuss this story
See more comments...
Does the picture of a Salomon Expert Low accompnaying the 'Festering Shoes' section mean that the author does not consider these shoes to be 'proper' outdoor footwear, but just for posing in cafes?
How exactly are you supposed to tell the difference?
Posted: 06/06/2005 at 15:26