Top 8 Trail Shoes For The John Muir Trail And Pacific Crest Trail 2017
Gear Lists and Advice

Top 8 Trail Shoes For The John Muir Trail And Pacific Crest Trail 2017

For all of you planning your gear setup for a John Muir Trail or Pacific Crest Trail thru hike in 2017, the time to get your footwear dialed in is right now!

For all of you planning your gear setup for a John Muir Trail or Pacific Crest Trail thru hike in 2017, the time to get your footwear dialed in is right now! I’ve already created complimentary posts detailing my thorough John Muir Trail preparation, but like to compile an annual list for footwear, my favorite gear category.  In 2015, 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 thru 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 2017:

  • It’s a mostly non-technical trail, with snow and ice over high passes in late spring and early summer. This will be especially important this year with the high snow pack.
  • The High Sierra has a lot of granite, so shoes need to be durable and protective
  • It will be warm in the summer months with varying amounts of snow on passes
  • There will be stream crossings and thunderstorms (expect more stream crossings this year with all of the snow melt)
  • Most hikers will cover 15-30 miles a day
  • On long and hot days, your feet will swell and skin will dehydrate
  • Many hikers carry a pack with a base weight of 20-35 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, with a nearly seamless interior 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 3-6 pairs while they’re hiking the actual trail. Some hikers will buy all of their shoes ahead of time and ship them to resupply points. 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.

Top 8 Trail Shoes For The John Muir Trail And Pacific Crest Trail 2017


See My Full John Muir Trail Guide Here


1.) Altra Lone Peak 3.0 (3.5 in July 2017)

Top 8 Trail Shoes For The John Muir Trail And Pacific Crest Trail 2017
Altra Lone Peak 3.0

I think it’s safe to say that the Altra Lone Peak was the most popular trail shoe on the JMT and PCT in 2016. The Lone Peak 3.0 has a lot to like in it’s lightweight package, with a wide toebox, a zero drop heel-to-toe offset, and comfort that goes the distance.

Price: $120
Pros:
Foot shaped toebox, breathable and dries quickly, value at $120, zero drop, stone guard, available at almost all shoe outlets
Cons: Outsole durability is not the best

*Keep an eye out for the Altra Lone Peak 3.5 coming out this summer

Purchase the Lone Peak 3.0 at: Amazon.com, Zappos.com, REI.com, Backcountry.com

Similar Alternatives: Altra Superior 3.0 (Less Cushion), Altra Olympus 2.0 (More Cushion), Altra King MT (More Aggressive)


2.) Brooks Cascadia 12

Top 8 Trail Shoes For The John Muir Trail And Pacific Crest Trail 2017
Brooks Cascadia 12

The Brooks Cascadia was the king of the JMT and PCT before the Altra Lone Peak’s jumped in to steal the crown. A large part of this was due to serious durability issues found in the uppers of the Cascadia 10 and 11. The Cascadia 12 comes with a brand new upper, a redesigned outsole, a wider fitting toebox, and a new pivot midsole system.

Price: $130
Pros:
Forefoot rockplate, durable outsoles, stable midsole for heavy packs, available at almost all outlets
Cons: Outsoles are a little slick on smooth or wet surfaces, toe box is a tad narrow

Purchase the Cascadia 12 at: Backcountry.com, REI.com, Zappos.com, and Amazon.com

Similar Alternatives: Brooks Mazama (Less Cushion)


3.) Nike Wildhorse 4

Top 8 Trail Shoes For The John Muir Trail And Pacific Crest Trail 2017
Nike Wildhorse 4

The Nike Wildhorse 3 was my favorite shoe of 2016, and the Nike Wildhorse 4 looks to be in the running for 2017. The Wildhorse has a comfortable upper with a wide toe box, a plush and supportive Phylon midsole, and a durable and grippy outsole. At $110 they offer the best value on this entire list. So, why are they at #3? The Wildhorse a pretty difficult shoe to find in stores and is not available at REI. This is a great options for JMT hikers, but maybe not so much for PCT hikers.

Price: $110
Pros:
Value at $110, wide toe box, durable outsole, dries very quickly
Cons: Not sold in many brick and mortar stores

Purchase the Wildhorse 4 at: Nike.com, Roadrunnersports.com, Zappos.com

Similar Alternatives: Nike Terra Kiger 4 (Less Cushion)


4.) Salomon XA Pro 3D

Top 8 Trail Shoes For The John Muir Trail And Pacific Crest Trail 2017
Salomon XA Pro 3D

The Salomon XA Pro 3D was my choice of shoe when I hiked the John Muir Trail in 2015. This is the closest to a boot any of the shoes on this list are going to get. Make no mistake about it, the XA Pro 3D is built like a tank. My major complaint about the XA Pro 3D back in 2015, was the slick outsole. Salomon has changed that for 2017, with a new Wet Traction Contragrip outsole. I have been testing this new version for 2017, and they are pretty amazing. The downside to this shoe is that it is quite heavy, doesn’t breath or dry well, and has a highly structured toebox that could cause problems. Still, for carrying a heavy pack over mountain terrain, few shoes keep your feet protected like the XA Pro 3D.

Price: $130
Pros: Stable, durable, highly protective, boot-like, wide availability
Cons: Heavy, drains and dries slowly

Purchase the XA Pro 3D at: Backcountry.com, REI.com, Zappos.com, and Amazon.com

Similar Alternatives: Salomon XA Enduro, Salomon X Ultra 2, Merrell Moab Ventilator


5.) La Sportiva Akasha

Top 8 Trail Shoes For The John Muir Trail And Pacific Crest Trail 2017
La Sportiva Akasha

The La Sportiva Akyra was my second favorite shoe behind the Nike Wildhorse 3 last year. With Hoka pushing high cushioned shoes in the trail running world, the max midsole shoes never really took off for hikers and backpackers due to the ankle rolling risk of a high platform. The Akasha is one of the few high cushioned shoes that comes in a stable platform. The Akasha has the La Sportiva FriXion Red outsole, and is the best of the bunch on this list. The Akasha outsole sticks to everything and works on just about any trail.

Price: $140
Pros:
Stable cushion, best grip and traction of any outsole, highly durable, available at REI, wide toe box
Cons: Runs hot, high platform is not ideal for heavy packs

Purchase the Akasha at: Backcountry.com, REI.com, Zappos.com, and Amazon.com

Similar Alternatives: Salomon Sense Pro Max


6.) Brooks Caldera

Top 8 Trail Shoes For The John Muir Trail And Pacific Crest Trail 2017
Brooks Caldera

The Brooks Caldera is a brand new model in the brooks lineup. Think of this as a more cushioned Cascadia with a softer midsole as well. The Caldera the perfect high mileage shoe for the thru-hiker how packs light and logs big days on the trail.

Price: $140
Pros:
High cushion, great outsole,
Cons: Too much volume in the upper, unstable under heavy loads

Purchase the Caldera at: Backcountry.com, REI.com, Zappos.com, and Amazon.com

Similar Alternatives: Hoka Challenger ATR 3, Hoka Speed Instinct


7.) La Sportiva Akyra

Top 8 Trail Shoes For The John Muir Trail And Pacific Crest Trail 2017
La Sportiva Akyra

The Akyra is newest model from La Sportiva and what looks to be an evolution of the Ultra Raptor. The Akyra is a super stable shoe that feels more like a hiking shoe than a trail running shoe. There is no rock plate, but the midsole provides ample protection. I’m really liking this shoe so far, but wish the toebox was a little wider. These shoes have the same incredible FriXion Red outsole compound as the Akashas, but with a different tread pattern.

Price: $140
Pros:
Stable, cushioned, durable, FriXion Red outsole
Cons: Narrow toe box

Purchase the Akyra at: REI.com and Amazon.com

Similar Alternatives: La Sportiva Wildcat, La Sportiva Ultra Raptor


8.) Saucony Peregrine 7

Top 8 Trail Shoes For The John Muir Trail And Pacific Crest Trail 2017
Saucony Peregrine 7

The Saucony Peregrine 7 is a protective trail shoe in a lightweight package. It’s 4mm drop is the lowest on the list outside of Altra’s zero drop.

Pros: Protection, 4mm drop
Cons: Heel fit (could be personal to me)

Purchase the Peregrine at: Backcountry.com, REI.com, Zappos.com, and Amazon.com

Similar Alternatives: Saucony ISO Exodus


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I'm Drew, creator of Trail to Peak. Trail to Peak brings content to life on the web through breath-taking photography and captivating video. I launched Trail to Peak in 2014 with a goal to inspire readers to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors. I have traveled to 19 countries, walked Camino de Santiago, hiked the John Muir Trail, trekked through the Andes of Peru, and am constantly seeking new adventures in my home state of California. Joining me on my weekly adventures is my partner, Julia, our son, Owen, and our two goldendoodles, Isla and Lilly.

10 comments on “Top 8 Trail Shoes For The John Muir Trail And Pacific Crest Trail 2017

  1. Thank you for the overview. Many if not all of the shoes mentioned have qualities listed here or known from other reviews that would seem to be a problem backpacking on the JMT when many would be 1) carrying +25 lbs (Wildhorse 4 Zoor Air unit causing some wobbling under weight and the Brooks Caldera not being stable), 2) hiking in hot weather (the La Sportiva Akasha overheating) 3) hiking over wet rock (Cascadia 12 slippery on smooth and wet surfaces), 4) requiring a roomy toe box to accommodate foot swelling (Brooks Cascadia 12 narrow toe box and Salomons generally run narrow in the toe box). The current Altra Lone Peak suffers from durability issues. Of course every shoe and every piece of gear for that matter involves tradeoffs. If you had to choose one 4-8mm drop shoe for the JMT or PCT now, which would you choose that offers the best balance of roomy toe box, good cushioning, good grip on variety of surfaces dry and wet, breathability in hot weather and durability?

    • Like you say, almost every shoe decision will have a trade off. Every shoe on this list is designed with trail running in mind, and not hiking or backpacking. I almost never carry more than 25lbs, so the minimal structure is not an issue. Personal preference is also of huge importance. What fits my foot and works for my hiking/backpacking activities might not work for others. For this list, I used anecdotal observations from hikers on the PCT and JMT for ranking. If it was my own personal preferences, the Wildhorse 4 and Akasha would have been higher on the list.

      My current favorite is the La Sportiva Akahsa. I’ve been doing a lot of long hikes with my son in an Osprey Poco kid carrier. My usual pack weight is 35-40lbs with him in the pack. The Akashas have stable cushion with 31mm in the heel and 25mm in the forefoot for a 6mm drop. There is no rock plate, but with 25mm of cushion in the forefoot, it’s not needed. The midsole has great torsional rigidity, which is key when carrying a heavy pack. The toe box is ample, although I have to size up to a 47(13) from my usual 12.5. The outsole is possibly the best outsole of any trail shoe I own. The FriXion red compound is long lasting and sticks to everything. The tread pattern works on hard and soft surfaces. The shoe runs a little warm, but I’ve used them in temps up to 95 degrees without issue. They don’t dry very quickly though. I’m interested in trying the Xodos ISO you mention, but might wait until v2 comes out in a few months. I’ve also been wearing my Salomon SLAB Wings quite a bit lately. They are stable, and have a sticky Wet Traction Contragrip outsole. The reason they didn’t make the list is that they retail for $180 and are only carried in a few specialty stores.

  2. And, if you liked the Saucony Peregrine, consider trying the Xodus ISO. I’m currently using the Xodus 6.0 and have worn a previous version as well. They are more protective and far more durable than the Peregrine, have better grip, are roomy in the toe box, offer better cushioning and are more stable under a pack. New version Xodus ISO 2 coming out in June. I’m Always on the lookout for another trail runner that will work as well for backpacking, hence my question above.

    • Thanks for the recommendation, Ethan. I’ve seen the ISO online and they look really good. Your description makes them sound ideal for backpacking. I’ll keep an eye out for the ISO v2 in June, and get a review up on the blog here.

  3. Hi, great analysis! I’m wondering if you’ve had a chance to try and develop an opinion of The North Face Ultra Endurance. Not a new shoe, but I’m looking at getting them and wondering how they stack up against your study. Outdoor Gear Lab likes them, but your opinions often deviate from theirs.
    Thanks!

    • Thanks! I haven’t had a chance to try any Northface trail shoes, other than the Fastpacks a few years ago. I saw a few new models this year that look interesting though.

  4. What do you think about the Salomon X Ultra Aero Mids?

    • Drew Robinson

      I think the X Ultras are great. I’ve never used the mids, but would assume they’re pretty similar.

  5. David Forrest

    I have a question. The old Army jungle boots fit your criteria. I haven’t weighed them but have a new pair in my garage. They actually might approach the 16oz zone. Have ever seen anyone on the trail’s with them?

    • Drew Robinson

      I haven’t, but that doesn’t mean they’re not out there.

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