Waterproof vs. mesh trail runners
August 10, 2018 12:03 PM   Subscribe

Upcoming vacation to Hawaii (YAY) and much hiking is planned. I expect a decent amount of hiking will be in the rain and/or in mud. Best footwear =?

Deliberating between waterproof (supposedly) and quick drying (in theory) mesh trail runners. I have the budget/luggage space to buy one but not both.

Relevant info:

-I will also bring a pair of active sandals and casual shoes, both suitable for easy hikes but not difficult terrain (so I want something for the latter)
-Not visiting the big island so we won't be near any "fresh" lava rocks
-We will have a car so I can change out of wet shoes when we return from the hike
-We will sometimes hike on back to back days so I really don't want shoes to stay soaked for days.
-I am not interested in traditional leather or otherwise heavy hiking boots. Very light boots or hiking shoes, maybe, probably closer to trail runners though. Possibly something like keens sandals but omg are they ugly, and I'm not sure how they handle tricky terrain.

Thoughts? Experiences? Specific shoe recommendations (either reliably waterproof or quick-drying)? Other related advice? Thanks!
posted by randomnity to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Some of this will depend on your feet: how high your arches are, your pronation, your ankles, etc. The best thing you can do for yourself is to head to a brick-and-mortar REI or EMS or similar sporting-goods store to try things out -- hopefully with the assistance of a knowledgable person who works there.

That said, I had a pair of Merrell Moab trail-runner-style hiking shoes for years, and they served me very well indeed. More durable than trail-runners, but still very light. They're quick-drying, but there is a waterproof GoreTex version if you'd prefer that route. (I prefer quick-dry but my feet sweat a lot, so it's really down to personal choice.) The Moab 2s (also available in women's styles, and available in wider widths) look like a nice improvement on my old beloveds.

If you need a wider toe-box, or if your feet are wide, Keens may be a better fit than Merrells, which tend to be more comfortable for narrower feet and higher arches. But everyone is different, so try on different styles and brands!
posted by halation at 12:20 PM on August 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

I hike in both barefoot trail runners (Merrell Trail Glove 4) and waterproof hiking boots (Salomon 4D 2 GTX) and there are pros and cons. The biggest thing is that while the trail runners get wet very easily, they dry out by morning. The hiking boots are about 99% waterproof (water eventually gets in if I stand in a stream for a while or get rained on all day) but if they do get wet (for instance if I step into water that's too deep and overtop them) that's it, they're wet for days no matter what I do to try and speed the drying. Also, when dry, the trail runners are much more comfortable—cooler and more breathable. For that matter, wet barefoot trail runners are much less horrible than wet waterproof hiking boots.

At this point I only wear my hiking boots when it's cold out or when I expect to be punishing my feet for days and need the extra protection, neither of which should apply to you as you're not going anywhere cold and you're not looking at hiking boots, just waterproof trail runners.

My advice is to get the non-waterproof ones. I love my Trail Glove 4s. I love my Salomons too, but they've mostly stayed at home this year, since I got the Trail Gloves.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 12:35 PM on August 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

I really like the Keen Newport sandals/river shoes with the closed toes and they're my preferred Hawaii hiking shoe. Nice sticky sole, if you stub your toe on lava rock no problem. I know they're ugly but...eh. So comfortable! So stable!

I like waterproof hikers for colder temps, when if you make a wrong step for a second your feet will be cold and clammy forever. Once you manage to get 'em wet, thought, it's pretty much game over for the rest of the day, moisturewise. I'd do the trail runners, know that they'll get a little bit damp but you won't care because what's on your feet will be light and comfortable and dry quickly enough in relatively warm temperatures. Currently I'm in love with my Saucony ISO Xodus trail runners, but I'd just go to a store, run around in some and see what you like.
posted by charmedimsure at 12:40 PM on August 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

When we went to Hawaii, I brought water proof hiking shoes and active sandals. I would do the same if I had the chance to do it again. I hate wet socks, so I'd vote water proof on the shoes (wet sandals don't bother me). I think hiking shoes are better than trail runners for rocks, although there's not a clear line between them.

I like Vasque for hiking shoes and Chacos for sandals, personally.
posted by Kriesa at 12:45 PM on August 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

Due to bad planning I did a four mile hike once in Keen Clearwater CNX sandals (that's the more "barefoot" sole in their line). Aside from picking up a bunch of pebbles they were fine and I didn't end up with the blisters I fully expected to get. I think if you know you can't avoid puddles or streams, Keen sandals or something similar would at least have the benefit that they pretty much dry themselves immediately.

But if you think you can mostly avoid the wet, trail runners are great. I wear the previous version of Merrell's zero drop trail runners (the Trail Glove 3) and my experience has been that when they get wet, they don't stay wet for long. There's just not a lot there that would hold water. I overtopped a pair of leather hiking boots once when I slipped on a rock, and they felt wet for what seemed like forever.
posted by fedward at 12:51 PM on August 10, 2018

I've done long distance runs in Merrell trail gloves and found them comfortable wet or dry. Personally the deciding factors are ( a) warmth - my feet get cold easily so if I was walking I'd worry that if I got wet feet they wouldn't warm up again ( not a problem when running) and ( b) foot protection - I would not want to walk over very rough terrain in trail gloves - they do not give you any cushioning if you tread on a sharp rock!
posted by crocomancer at 12:56 PM on August 10, 2018

I also hike in Keen Newport sandals in Hawaii, especially if we're crossing streams. The toe protection is critical. Otherwise, I mostly wear my regular sneakers/running shoes.
posted by purpleclover at 12:58 PM on August 10, 2018

I went to tropical China in the summer for a couple of weeks, where I would do a lot of walking and some climbing. Packing requirements for the trip required everything in one carry-on bag. I limited myself to one pair of shoes.

At the local "trail & ski" shop, the astute owner advised that having waterproof shoes is a great disadvantage if (and when) they happen to get wet on the inside: They take "forever" to dry! That wise advice rang true.

I got a pair of the Merrell Moab, even though I hadn't gone into the store looking for trail runners. I loved those shoes, and they provided me with great service during and after the trip.
posted by swlabr at 1:06 PM on August 10, 2018

To offer a slightly different perspective, if you're going to Kauai I would recommend bringing shoes that you don't mind being dyed red! The soil is rusty red/orange, and the hikers we brought will never be the same. =)
posted by DTMFA at 1:44 PM on August 10, 2018

For other related advice, if your shoes get wet, crumpled up newsprint placed inside the shoes will absorb water overnight and help your shoes dry quicker. Finding newsprint these days is more challenging than it used to be, but it's out there.
posted by TORunner at 1:48 PM on August 10, 2018

I have a pair of Columbia Conspiracy Outdry trail runners. They're my second pair after the uppers of my first pair got cut up on a hike over sharp, wet rocks and stopped being waterproof as a result. They are great shoes but they do get hot in the summer even though they're supposed to be breathable.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:07 PM on August 10, 2018

I would not recommend getting waterproof shoes. They are only very slightly breathable, so even when you are nowhere near a body of water, your feet are wrapped in plastic and will be sweating. Hawaii is not a cold place. That sweat will take a very long time to evaporate out of your shoes - water can't get out, only water vapor. If water gets in through the top, which it often does because rain rolls down your leg, it will only get worse.

I have forded a river (waist-deep) in Hawaii with normal non-breathable trail runners. Other than being slightly cold at the beginning, a problem that would happen with either kind of shoes, the water leaked out or evaporated in about ten minutes and I continued to hike the remaining couple hours. If I was going to be hiking a lot longer, I would have brought a second pair of socks.

Trail runners are also a lot lighter, more agile, and flexible than hiking boots. The latter put a lot between you and the ground so you don't know what kind of ground you are stepping on. A lot of long-distance backpackers have switched to trail shoes.
posted by meowzilla at 2:31 PM on August 10, 2018

I guess something I would add to my answer above is that if you anticipate hiking a lot on broken rock, get something with a substantial sole. I love my trail gloves, but after a couple days of hiking on talus, my feet feel pretty beat up.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:57 PM on August 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Sounds like light trail runners will work better for me, then!

Should have mentioned I'm female for specific shoe advice. But is it worth trying on men's shoes as well? Not really sure how differently-shaped the male shoes are, other than being noticeably clunkier - maybe it depends on the brand? I have a super, super hard time finding comfortable shoes. I have low arches that don't like a ton of arch support and wide toes (maybe a narrow heel, not sure) so Merrell tend to be uncomfortable despite always looking the most appealing. I am also a size 9 so the stores often don't stock any bigger sizes to try. Sketchers often fit well but they don't really make hiking shoes...any brands that fit similarly?

Anyway I will head back to the store soon and try some out! I've already been to two but the number of choices was overwhelming so this helps narrow things down a bit.
posted by randomnity at 3:50 PM on August 10, 2018

I guess something I would add to my answer above is that if you anticipate hiking a lot on broken rock, get something with a substantial sole. I love my trail gloves, but after a couple days of hiking on talus, my feet feel pretty beat up.

I agree. I love my minimalist shoes (also trail gloves), but it's easy to get bruises stepping carelessly on rocks. The Merrill Moabs fit my feet well, but everyone's feet are different -- I'd say get whatever is the equivalent well-ventilated shoe that is most shaped like your feet. There are lots of good brands and there isn't a better way than trying a bunch on in person.

The main thing I'd add is that if you are going to be getting your feet wet, wear appropriate socks. I like the thin smartwool ones, but synthetic would work just as well.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:19 PM on August 10, 2018

I lived on Oahu for a few years and always hiked in Trail Gloves. I killed a pair of the original TGs doing a very hot caldera hike and replaced with the TG4s. My partner had the v1 and v2 NB Minimus which I would recommend except they're NLA— she now wears the E-mesh Trail Gloves which are the closest thing.

Quick dry, bring a few extra pairs of lightweight liner socks, and you're good.
posted by a halcyon day at 6:27 PM on August 10, 2018

Funny, I think of Merrell as the go-to brand for hikers with wider feet. Many of their models are even offered in actual wide sizes, which you'd think would be a no-brainer for an industry segment that caters to people who care deeply about foot comfort, but which is annoyingly pretty unusual.

For what it's worth, I have flat feet as well and while I normally wear orthotic inserts, I do not with my Trail Gloves (because they don't fit) and aside from the aforementioned issues with hiking on broken rock my feet are quite comfortable indeed inside them.

I think of Merrell Moabs as the go-to model for an all-purpose, high-quality hiking shoe (or boot; they kind of straddle the line) and I think that if you intend to do a lot of hiking and running on mixed terrain, including some rock, in a hot climate, you should really at least try on some Moab Ventilators. There's a reason they're one of the most popular hiking boots in existence—they're Merrell's most popular model, very highly regarded by reviewers, seen regularly on the trail, and because they're so popular they come in tons of size variations.

All of the shoe models mentioned in my answers are available in women's versions as well as men's, with the same model names.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:32 PM on August 10, 2018

I have three pairs of Salomons from the Mission line and can wholeheartedly vouch for their breathability and drainage and drying. I often wear them for gardening and hose them off. They dry extremely quickly and on windy days, I can actually feel the breeze through the side vents on my feet.

The toe box is like a little cathedral for my toes: super roomy and lots of room for gripping and wriggling.

I don't use them for trail running so can't speak to their usefulness in that regard, but they're super-stable and lightweight and my original pair still looks fresh after almost two years. They are my comfort shoe of choice.

I love the Salomon Quicklaces, though I've seen negative comments, too. Mine have always stayed locked.

Amazon has some colors and styles as low as $39.99 right now, which is an excellent deal. For example:

Salomon Women's X-Mission 3 W Trail Runner, Peppermint/Deep Dahlia/Athletic Green X, 6 B US


*sorry for the wonked link format; typing on mobile and can't seem to get it right.
posted by younggreenanne at 8:48 AM on August 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

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