For all of you looking to start planning a John Muir Trail or Pacific Crest Trail thru hike for 2016, the time to start planning is right now! I’ll be doing subsequent posts for other top thru hiking gear pics, but wanted to start with my favorite category, footwear. Last summer I hiked the John Muir Trail in 11 days, and have a great understanding of what it takes to complete a successful thru hike. I also get to explore the Eastern Sierra quite frequently, as I live fairly close. I’ve never completed a hike of the PCT, but get to hike sections here in Southern California quite regularly, as the trailheads are only a few miles from where I live. To get started, let’s lay out the factors that helped determine my choice of footwear picks for the JMT and PCT for 2016:
- It’s a non-technical trail (maybe some snow and ice over high passes in June for the Sierra)
- The High Sierra has a lot of granite, so shoes need to be durable and protective
- It will be warm in July with minor amounts of snow on passes
- There will be stream crossings and thunderstorms
- Many hikers will cover 20+ miles a day
- On long and hot days, the feet will swell
- Many hikers carry a pack with a base weight of 15-25 lbs.
Given these conditions, I can rule out any option that is a boot and/or has Gore-Tex. Why? Boots are way too heavy and do not breathe well. This will cause blistering and other foot problems. Gore-Tex (GTX), from my anecdotal accounts alongside many others, drenches your feet from the inside out. Not only does GTX trap heat into your shoe or boot, if you do get them wet, good luck drying them out. It could take days. If you’ve ever been in prolonged rain with GTX boots on, you’ll know they will eventually get wet. I don’t want to go too far on this point, but GTX is sold like crazy, and doesn’t do what people think it does.
Now that we’ve ruled a few choices out, here is what I do look for.
- Lightweight: under 14 oz.
- Breathable: must let feet breathe and dry quickly
- Forefoot Protection: Must protect my feet from the rocky trail
- Low Drop: I like a 4-8mm drop for stability
- Durable: Shoe must be able to handle 400 miles per pair
- Comfortable: No hot spots or rubbing points, maybe a seamless upper
- Stable: Not necessarily with inserts or built in support, but I’m not a fan of narrow or flimsy shoes with a pack on
- Drainage: With thunderstorms and stream crossings, I need the shoes to drain and dry quickly
- Affordable: When you factor in the amount of miles a hiker will cover on the PCT, and/or the number of miles a hiker will cover on the JMT including training, the price of a shoe is important. The price of trail shoes has gone up recently, with some shoes sold for prices that can’t be justified for what they offer.
- Availability: This is more of an issue for those on the PCT and not on the JMT. JMT hikers only need one pair of shoes for the actual hike, and probably one or two for their training miles. PCT hikers are going to need at least 3 or 4 pairs while they’re hiking the actual trail. Some hikers will buy all of the shoes ahead of time and ship them ahead. For those that don’t, they need to be able to find shoes in their size at places like REI on their days away from the trail.
1.) Nike Wildhorse 3
The Nike Wildhorse 3 is my top choice for JMT and PCT thru hikers for 2016. These shoes have been on my foot for nearly every hike I’ve taken since I purchased them in August, and are going strong well past 300 miles. You can read my review here. The Wildhorse 3 is lightweight at 10.3oz, is very breathable, offers great protection with a forefoot rockplate, and has an 8mm drop. I’ve worn the Wildhorse 3 on long days in the Sierra, on a Rim To Rim To Rim hike of the Grand Canyon, on ice and snow, and just about any other trail condition you’re likely to cover on a thru-hike. The toe box of the Wildhorse 3 is wide, and the fit and feel is hotspot free. I’m planning on a Northbound hike of the JMT this summer, and this shoe is the odds on favorite to be on my feet.
2.) New Balance Leadville v3
My second choice for JMT and PCT thru hikers of 2016 is the New Balance Leadville v3. This shoe is very similar to the Nike Wildhorse, and as such, places very high on my list. In your decision between the two, you might want to try both of them on and see which one feels better on your feet. You can read about the specs on the NB Leadville v3 here. The New Balance Leadville v3 wieghs in at 10.4oz, is very breathable, and protects your feet with a forefoot rockplate. The Leadville has a stable 8mm drop and adds a medial post. The shoe uses phantom fit for a socklike feel to keep you free from blisters on the trail. The outsole on the v3 is Vibram, which should offer a great deal of grip and durability.
Support Trail to Peak by purchasing the NB Leadville v3 on Amazon with the links below:
3.) Altra Lone Peak 2.5
The Altra Lone Peak 2.5 is my third choice for hiking footwear on the PCT and JMT. Over the past few years, this has been the shoe that seems to be gaining the most in terms of popularity. Read a full overview of the Lone Peak 2.5 here. When the first Lone Peak came out, I almost never saw another runner or hiker wearing them…now, they’re everywhere. This summer on the JMT, the 2.0 version of the Lone Peak was on a lot of feet, and with the improvements made for the 2.5, I expect to see a lot more for 2016. So, what makes the Lone Peak so special? It’s lightwieght at 10.1oz, has a very stable 0 drop platform, has a wide footshaped toebox, is very breathable, and is one of the most seamless fits you’re going to find. The midsole is very protective with a rockplate and the outsole provides great grip. Why doesn’t the Lone Peak 2.5 place 1 or 2? Durability of the outsole has been an issue, with shoes not being able to reach 400 miles. This isn’t a problem for the JMT, and for the comfort, not a bad tradeoff for PCT hikers. The other small issue, is that it takes a little bit of time to adjust to a 0 drop shoe. This is not a problem for those that start training with the Lone Peak, but can present a small issue for those picking up a pair while on trail. These two complains are not large ones though, and I might just be wearing the Lone Peak 2.5 on my NOBO JMT hike this summer. It’s an incredible shoe.
Support Trail to Peak By Purchasing the Lone Peak 2.5 From Amazon Using The Link Below:
4.) Pearl Izumi Trail EM n2 v2
The Pearl Izumi n2 is a great ultra running shoe, just like the first three on this list. Built on the unique E-motion platform, the dynamic offset of the n2 makes for a very nice ride. There is also an m2 version of this shoe that offers a medial post for additional stability (the m2 is my go-to shoe for longer trail runs). I highly recommend both versions at the number four spot in my suggestions for JMT and PCT shoes. The n2 comes in at 10oz, and is very stable with it’s wide base, the midfoot cushion feels a little soft with a heavier pack on, but is just right on those lighter days. The drop on this shoe is listed at 8mm, but feels a bit lower due to the E-motion dynamic offset I mentioned earlier. These shoes run small, so order one 1/2 size up. Even when ordering up, the toe box can feel lacking in vertical volume. I like this feel for running, but not as much for hiking. If you have a low volume foot, this could be your favorite shoe. The lacing and overlays on the n2 wrap the foot as well, if not better, than any shoe on this list. The outsole is incredible durable, and is grippy on dry surfaces. I’ve slipped a little on wet surfaces, but that is expected with such a hard and durable compound. The forefoot has an ESS compressed EVA rock plate that offers more than adequate protection.
Support Trail To Peak by purchasing the Trail EM with these links on Amazon:
5.) Saucony Peregrine 6
The Saucony Peregrine is a shoe that I’ve seen grow in popularity over the years on the Pacific Crest Trail. Living only few miles from the PCT, I get to see a ton of hikers passing through from April to July. One of my favorite things to do is observe their gear choices. Naturally I gravitate towards footwear. About three years ago, I started seeing the Peregrine pop up on a few thru hikers, and it’s only grown in popularity since then. I was an early adopter of the Peregrine for trail running and ran in the Peregrine 1 and 2 after having a lot of success on the road with the Kinvara 1 and 2. What makes the Peregrine a solid addition to my list at number 5 starts with it’s incredible platform. At only 9.4oz, the Peregrine 6 is super light! It also has a minimal 4mm drop and a very comfortable flexfilm upper. The Peregrine 6 uses the shock absorbing Everrun compound in the and employs the EBO rockplate in the forefoot. The Peregrine has proven to be a durable shoe over the years, and this version looks to be no different. The biggest change over previous models will be the addition of the new PWRTRAC outsole. The toebox on the Peregrine Models will feel more narrow than the other offerings on this list, which is why I have it at number 5. If you have a narrow foot, this could be the shoe for you.
Support Trail To Peak by purchasing the Peregrine 6 with these links on Amazon:
6.) Brooks Cascadia 11
For years now, the Brooks Cascadia has been the king of the JMT and PCT in regards to footwear. That all changed this last summer though, when the version 10 had some serious durability issues. The problem was widespread, with the overlay at the bottom of the lowest eyelet causing a weird crease at toe-off with the forefoot. This design caused rapid deterioration and holes would form on top of the forefoot for many wearers within 150 miles. Aside from the durability issues, people seemed to love the Cascadia 10. The Cascadia 6-9 didn’t seem to have any of these durability issues, and from many accounts, would last well past 500 miles for PCT thru hikers! The Cascadia 11 seems to have remedied the issues with the 10, and comes revamped with a brand new upper. The midsole and outsole remain unchanged, and in many eyes, that will be a very good thing. The Brooks Cascadia is available at just about every REI, which makes them a very popular choice for thru hikers, as theyre readily available in most sizes. The Cascadia 11 comes in at 11.6oz with a 10mm drop. The shoe looks to have a very breathable upper, much like previous version. the 4 pivot system on the midsole is tried and true, as is the ballistic rock shield in the forefoot. I expect to see a ton of the Cascadia 11 on the PCT come April. The reason they rank at number 6 for me is that they run a bit narrow. From the midfoot to the toebox, the Cascadia has always been a little too tight for my footshape. Like the Peregrine, this shoe could be the perfect match for those with narrow feet.
Support Trail to Peak by purchasing the Brooks Cascadia 11 on Amazon:
Brooks Cascadia 11 Men’s And Women’s
7.) La Sportiva Wildcat and Ultra Raptor
The La Sportiva Wildcat is another shoe that can be readily found at REI, which is a reason I see it on a lot of PCT hikers, even though it’s a few years old. The Ultra Raptor is a different model, but very similar shoe to the Wildcat. You can read a review of the Ultra Raptor here. The main differences between the shoe are the uppers and the compound used on the outsole. The Wildcat uses La Sportiva’s Frixion Blue, which is more durable but less grippy than the Frixion Green used on the Ultra Raptor. Both shoes come in at 15oz and offer great stability. The Ultra Raptor with an 8mm drop, and the Wildcat with 12mm. Both shoes use a Memlex compund in the midsole with a plastic shank in the arch. The Ultra Raptor has better forefoot protection with added comrpessed EVA. Like the Cascadia and Peregrine, this shoes run a little more narrow than options 1-4, and are best for those with narrow feet. I will say that both models have a “forgiving” toebox even though they are narrow, and I’ve never had issues with blistering.
Wildcat Price: $110
Ultra Raptor Price: $130
Support Trail to Peak by purchasing the Ultra Raptor on Amazon with the links below:
I hope you’ve found this review useful if you’re planning a trip on the JMT or PCT. Let me know what you think of my list, and if you think I’ve missed anything. I always love hearing about footwear from other hikers, so be sure to leave me a comment.