Hiking shoes or boots or trail runners? Olympic Natl Park + elsewhere
May 17, 2024 6:38 PM   Subscribe

The basics: I live in Atlanta. At the end of June I’m going to ONP for a week to travel around and do a bunch of day hikes, starting at Port Angeles area and going from there via car. I want to buy shoes that will be suitable for that region and season but will still be useful to me on hikes around where I live (the Southeast) or other parks ill likely visit soon, like Acadia next summer.

I spent awhile at REI today trying on a variety of shoes, and narrowed my options down (based on fit) to the Danner Trail 2650, the Altra Lone Peak 7 (fit better than the 8), and the La Sportiva TX Hike Mid. One primary consideration in my selection was that the toebox had to be fairly wide - I have capsulitis so my toes need room to move and not be squeezed plus I wear a custom orthotic which takes up a bit of space in the shoe.

Obviously these are 3 fairly different shoes and so I’m torn on which will a. Be suitable for ONP in summer but also the most versatile for those other use cases. A friend of mine swears to me I should get the trail runners (the Altras) and that even if it’s wet and rainy they’ll dry fast and they’re all I’d ever need for my casual day hiking purposes.

The Sportiva gets me ankle support and are chunkier and more tough seeming, but maybe at the expense of breathability and might be overkill for my needs?

Lastly, the Danners. These seem like the middle ground between a boot and the trail runner, and appear to be the most versatile both in terms of usability and looks. But then I read about the downsides of them being not great with getting wet since they’re leather. Seems like the general feeling is to avoid GTX for coolness if possible but will I be missing that with these? The mesh version is available (as is the similar Danner Trailcomber) but do I need to consider those or am I overthinking it?

I'm leaning towards buying both the Altra and the Danner (everything is on sale at REI for the next week!) and then wearing the Danners on the plane, in town, out to eat, etc. and the Altras on the hikes as long as it's not real rainy. The Danners could be a backup.

Whew, I think that about covers it. Oh, and I bought some lightweight and medium weight Darn Tough Merino wool socks - apparently they might be even more important than the shoes!?
posted by rbf1138 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You are going to get some strong and probably contradictory opinions on this. Personally I'm a fan of lightweight trail shoes with wool socks in most conditions. Your feet get wet, but the water can drain out and I find it less unpleasant than having wet feet inside heavy hiking boots. I also find lighter, more minimalist/flexible shoes to be way easier on my feet than heavier, rigid shoes/boots with more "support." That's very much a YMMV situation, though, since everyone's feet are different.

I've spent a reasonable amount of time in and adjacent to the ONP both recreationally and for work, and I think there are two realistic ways to dress there. If you are doing less physically-intense activities or standing around, then you should wear head to toe rainproof clothes including waterproof shoes or muck boots, etc. But if you are doing physical exertion, you are simply going to get wet from a mix of rain and sweat and so it's more comfortable to wear clothes that do well in wet conditions, rather than trying to stay perfectly dry.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:56 PM on May 17 [11 favorites]

I would never get leather for wetness reasons, especially in the PNW or even Acadia (I have encountered some real downpours in the summer). I always prefer real boots with ankle support to trail runners, and I do not find hiking boots annoyingly hot in summer ever (especially not in northern climes) so I would personally buy the Sportivas.
posted by branca at 6:57 PM on May 17

(To be clear, the wetness reasons are that they will get heavy and mucky. I find lighter boots to dry just fine. Generally I agree with Dip Flash on strategy, I just like my ankle support.)
posted by branca at 7:00 PM on May 17

I tend to think the idea that people really need ankle support while hiking on trails is kind of a myth. It's not important to me at all and I would never pick boots over shoes just for ankle support. The higher ankles on boots do help keep mud and grit off your ankles and out of your shoes and depending on where you're hiking that might be helpful. (You could use short gaiters as an alternative.)

I do like having dry feet, so in rainy or very muddy conditions or where I'm walking through a lot of wet vegetation I like something waterproof. I haven't had good luck finding waterproof boots that really stay waterproof in recent years, but they generally work pretty well when they're new. The GORE-Tex Danners might be worth it if you expected things to be wet. Otherwise, I don't see that they have any advantage over the trail runners.

If you're going to be there at the end of June you probably won't run into much rain. By July there's almost no rain. Given the time of year and the fact that you're going to be on trails, not bushwhacking through the sword ferns and devil's club, I'd lean towards the trail runners. They'll be the coolest and most comfortable and with the wool socks even if they get a bit damp you should still be reasonably comfortable. I'm guessing you won't run into seriously wet conditions.
posted by Redstart at 7:36 PM on May 17 [2 favorites]

For a wide toe box you should also look at Topo Athletic. I do all of my hiking in the Cascades and Olympics, and exclusively wear Topo trail runners, even when backpacking, except if there’s a good chance of encountering snow or off trail mountaineering. My wife has recurring foot issues so she wears La Sportiva approach shoes for more support, but still low cut. Washington has some great well-maintained, well groomed and graded trails (and some nightmares of course, looking at you Upper Lena Lake), so mostly your soles will be fine, but if you’re on a particularly rocky trail your soles may feel a bit beat up in trail runners. I’m definitely anti goretex for anything but winter use - for my use, it doesn’t transfer moisture well unless it’s cold and dry out, and June in the Olympics will be temperate and humid. I’d rather temporary wet from rain than permanent wet from sweat.

My advice for OP is that you don’t need boots, and any of those will be fine, so go with whatever feels best for you and don’t overthink it, but make sure to get multiple pairs of wool socks (Darn Tough is great).

Also, make sure to check out the WTA for trail intel. If you share the trails you’re looking at here, I’m sure some folks can give advice and insight too.
posted by Special Agent Dale Cooper at 7:38 PM on May 17 [3 favorites]

It really is a preference thing. I strongly prefer boots with some ankle support and often regret it if I decide not to change into those boots even for what I think will be a short stable hike. But clearly some people feel otherwise!
posted by yarrow at 8:04 PM on May 17 [1 favorite]

This isn't on your list, but I'd go with Topo waterproof hiking ankle boots (emphasis on ankle). From my experience, non-ankle hikers are a pain because they allow the entry of twigs, rocks, & misc. trail debris, whereas ankle hikers prevent this.
posted by SageTrail at 8:38 PM on May 17

I have a pair of the Altra Lone Peak 7s and would happily hike in them in the Olympic National Park in the summer. I might add gaiters to keep stuff out, depending on how dusty things are.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:50 PM on May 17

I live right near ONP and I do almost all my hiking in Salomon trailrunners - rain, snow, and sun. I have several pairs of hiking boots, and I use them occasionally, but they're not the first thing I reach for. It's your preference.
posted by coldbabyshrimp at 9:00 PM on May 17

Trailrunners. You're doing day hikes, presumably without a ton of pack weight - easy, dry, flexible. Wool socks!
posted by esoteric things at 10:24 PM on May 17 [1 favorite]

I did a trip to the PNW (include ONP) in early May. I took two trail runners (both La Sportiva - their shoes fit my particular feet well, plus I love their grip) one with GTX and one without. That was the correct choice, but early May is still shoulder season in terms of weather - I had a couple of solid days of rain. That will be less likely to happen to you, so one pair of trail runners is likely fine. A couple of things to keep in mind:

-GTX is nice with muddy trails and/or trails with stream crossings - I liked not having to worry about getting my feet partially submerged in puddles or cold streams. But again, in early May I was often hiking in cold (low 40s) temperatures, so cold/wet feet was something I really wanted to avoid.

-If you're doing beach hikes, sometimes these involve crossing "streams" - at least this was true in May - not sure how seasonable these are. I also took a pair of hiking sandals, and was glad to have them.
posted by coffeecat at 10:46 PM on May 17 [1 favorite]

I’ve been using a pair of Asics Gel Venture trail runners for hiking for years. They’re stable and relatively light and really durable. I would never go to a dedicated hiking boot, unless I planned to some seriously rugged backpacking.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:26 AM on May 18

The guy who wrote the book on hiking the Pacific Northwest devotes a whole chapter to disputing common knowledge about contemporary outdoor apparel; in it he contends that hiking boots serve little or no purpose for which running shoes aren't superior.

Years leading trail crews in the Northwest, working mountain rescue in the Rockies, and guiding self-supported groups long distances through the Appalachians have, for me, confirmed his opinion.

That's my objection to the Sportivas.

Running shoes dry more quickly. On uneven surfaces they impair a person's balance less than hiking boots. They fit better. They cover ground much faster. The only thing a running shoe lacks is ankle support, which, in my experience, so hinders the natural motion of walking that boots' aptitude to twist an ankle outweighs whatever assistance they provide that ankle in return.

In my mind those are reasons favoring the Altras, among the shoes you've mentioned.

Running shoes differ as well from hiking boots or walking shoes in that their soles are rockered, which promotes a smoother gait, although at the expense of some margin of stability. That's why I wouldn't personally want the Danners you've asked about.

My own feet are very wide, and where I live is rainy. New Balance shoes offer extra wide sizing, and their Hierro shoes include a Gore-Tex liner, a Vibram sole, and greater structure than most other trail shoes I've owned. That's my recommendation, considering everything you've described.

True, a Gore-Tex running shoe is probably somewhat warmer than one with mesh alone, but still probably cooler than any variety of even lightweight footwear purpose-built for hiking.

Finally, all of that aside, be aware that Sportivas tend to run unusually narrow.
posted by cthlsgnd at 5:05 AM on May 18 [2 favorites]

I think one reason why you're going to get so many opinions about this is that everyone's feet are unique. So I think maybe thinking about the specifics you know you need is the way to go rather than trying to think about what others say you'll need; you already know you need something with a wide toe box, and something that can fit your existing orthotic.

If you've never needed ankle support in particular before this, you likely won't need it now, unless your hike is several orders of magnitude above what you've done in the past; doesn't sound like it is though. I personally have one ankle that's prone to twisting for some reason, but I still don't have ankle support; I'm a fairly casual day hiker (infrequent as it is), and I opt for trail runners with a set of SuperFeet for the arch support and that's served me just fine. I'd only add that whatever you get, I'd make sure it's waterproof or that it dries quickly, because you never know when you may accidentally dunk a foot in a stream. (I did that while on a hike in Utah, in WINTER - in REGULAR SNEAKERS. Never again.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:24 AM on May 18 [1 favorite]

Nthing getting trail runners. Boots are great for cold weather, water traversing and deep mud, and really difficult terrain but are inconvenient otherwise. The tech for shoes has come a long way. I have both and reach for my trail runners 98% of the time.
posted by openhearted at 6:20 AM on May 18

I live in Atlanta and have never been to Olympic, but hike regularly in our own eastern temperate rainforest in the Black Mountains of NC. I like (Keen) hiking shoes with Gore Tex for flooded trails and stream crossings. In those sorts of wet situations, trail runners just get too soggy for me. I own an awesome pair of full grain leather Asolo boots that I wore the hell out of when I was doing a lot of backpacking and trail work in AmeriCorps and then working as a ranger, but these days I just find them too heavy and overkill for most hikes.
posted by hydropsyche at 7:28 AM on May 18

I have been wearing the Lone Peak 6 as an everyday shoe and hiking sneaker for almost 2 years. I just got a pair of Topo Terraventure 4 and aside from the 3 mm drop vs zero drop, they feel incredibly similar to the Altras. So echoing the advice above to consider Topo also.
posted by deludingmyself at 7:38 AM on May 18 [1 favorite]

Unless you are carrying a backpacking pack I would vote for hiking shoes/trail runners. Every pound on your feet feels like 5 on your back. I have hiking shoes and sandals, reg hiking boots and high winter hiking boots. Other than the dead of winter or hiking super muddy trails I opt for the hiking shoes - mine are Merrell Moab 3s and I highly recommend them. They do have a wide option - I don't have the wides and am a woman but find the toe box ample and that's an issue for me. I'm on my second pair after thoroughly destroying the first pair through years of hard wear. They are comfortable, breathable and look good enough to wear in town in a casual setting. Finding the last that feels best - whatever brand that is - is crucial. So unless you have a significant ankle issue I would stick to shoes. (am an avid hiker of many years and have hiked at both the Olympics and Acadia among many other places.)
posted by leslies at 10:20 AM on May 18

I use trail runners for everything short of mountaineering, including lots of off rail travel on climbing approaches, etc.

The one thing I didn't see mentioned is that the Altra line (I used them for years), is a "zero drop" shoe, so they have no heel elevation relative to the toe. If you've never used a zero drop shoe you'll be putting more strain on your calf. Takes some getting used to and can create injury in some folks. Consider the Brooks Cascadia if you like the trail shoe but want a bit more heel lift.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 11:40 AM on May 18 [1 favorite]

Keen hiking shoes and boots have a wide toebox and are quite durable.
posted by neuron at 7:02 PM on May 18 [3 favorites]

As so many have already said, this is almost entirely about personal preference. I've always worn waterproof hiking boots because I hate walking with wet feet. This is great until you have to walk through water that goes over the top of your boots - you don't want to get waterproof boots wet inside because they take forever to dry. I'd rather stop at each side of a water crossing to take off/put back on boots than walk with wet feet, though.

Whatever you decide, get some gaiters to stop stones etc going into your shoes. Something like these, although you can buy similar without being waterproof much cheaper.
posted by dg at 8:31 PM on May 19

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