There are some situations where a strong, rigid boot is almost essential – ice-climbing immediately springs to mind – but for a lot of the time there is no need to lug a pair of boots around. Footwear is an area where personal choice and fit over-rules any review, but during the summer months I’ll be wearing a pair of lightweight trail shoes for my hillwalking. I prefer a pair of shoes designed for trail running, which tend to be lightweight, flexible, quick drying and – importantly – quick draining. A flexible sole provides feedback from the terrain, important for stability and enabling me to be more agile over difficult ground, picking my spot rather than ploughing through and relying on the boot to protect me. The familiar phrase “one pound on your feet equals five pounds on your back” seems to have originated while preparing for Sir Edmund Hillary’s ascent of Everest in 1953, and while I’m pretty sure they didn’t wear trail shoes the premise is just as valid to modern adventurers. Of course, a low shoe is more susceptible to water ingress than a boot, so a quick-drying, non-membrane shoe is a good idea, particularly on multi-day trips where a drying room may not be feasible. Wet feet aren’t that bad really, and splashing through streams with impunity is a wonderful feeling on a hot day.
So – lightweight, flexible, quick-drying – I love my trail shoes.
In this review and a companion article by Helen we’ll be looking at a good indicative selection of trail shoes from a variety of manufacturers. Most are available in both female and male versions so for a full range check out both reviews – but as our feet are undoubtedly a different shape to yours go and try a load on before making any decisions.
All weights are per pair.
Karrimor Kalahari eVentRRP £75
Yup, the Kalahari have a waterproof breathable lining. For day walks, everyday use or activities where the odd shallow puddle is the only anticipated water hazard, it’s understandable that dry feet may be preferred. The mesh panels in an attractive, understated nubuck upper go some way to improve ventilation, but the eVent lining does seem to cause a bit of heat build-up. Marketed as a walking shoe the Vibram outsole isn’t particularly aggressive, with shallow lugs and rounded edges that suggest this model is desgined for use on trails rather than technical ground. In fact, as a multi-sport shoe the Kalahari excels – making an ideal mountain bike shoe (with those long laces tucked in of course) and coping with a bit of scrambling thanks to a good, sticky rubber compound. A reinforced toe offers a bit of protection, though the toebox is a little narrow for my wide feet. The price is good.
Upper: nubuck / mesh Sole: Vibram Journey Weight: 840g Sizes: 7 – 12 Women’s version: Yes
Salomon Eskape GTXRRP £100
Another ‘multi-sport’ shoe, the Eskape is again lined with a waterproof breathable membrane (in this case Gore-Tex) with textile panels rather than mesh to keep out moisture and debris rather than encourage ventilation, although this fabric is thin enough to dry quickly. The Aero model dispenses with the membrane and is £30 cheaper. I must have Salomon-shaped feet as their models fit me perfectly, thanks to a roomy toebox and non-restrictive yet supportive cradling built into the upper. The sole is a low-profile Contagrip pattern which performs well on a variety of terrain, from forestry tracks to grass, but is a real ‘jack of all trades, master of none’, despite an array of different rubber densities and a decent lug layout. I’m impressed with the low weight – despite the Gore-Tex bootie – and the price is comparable. A good all-rounder.
Upper: Synthetic/textile Sole: Contagrip Weight: 760g Sizes: 6.5 – 12.5 Women’s version: No
Keen Tunari CNXRRP £90
Renowned for their chunky styling including signature toe bumper, the minimalist Tunari CNX is quite a departure. Admittedly the toe bumper has snuck in, and the two-tone tread pattern seems familiar, but elsewhere it’s a different story. Embracing the barefoot shoe revolution the heel drop (difference in height from heel to toe) is 4mm, compared to 10-12mm for a ‘normal’ trainer. This promotes a more natural gait but takes some getting used to. There is a thin PU midsole which combines with the characteristic large rubber lugs to reduce underfoot punishment, but it’s still possible to benefit from excellent terrain feedback and a natural stride. The use of thin, free-running laces and a simple support structure has resulted in a close, snug fit, with enough flexibility to accommodate a variety of socks (or none), but the mesh upper put me off wearing them in deep snow…
Upper: Textile Sole: non-marking rubber Weight: 560g Sizes: 6 – 14 Women’s version: Yes
Mammut Redburn ProRRP £100
Now this is one for the scramblers – a proper approach shoe with sticky rubber sole including a climbing zone and positive sharp edges. The thin laces run down to the toe for a precise fit, and the toe box is protected by a decent rubber rand. To support climbing performance this is a stiff shoe, forming a stable platform when edging and doing things that climbers do, though this rigidity can be appreciated by walkers looking for security on loose terrain. There’s no membrane, so ventilation is excellent, and the velour leather upper resists both abrasion and external moisture well. As you’d expect from an approach shoe with climbing aspirations the tread is shallow to accommodate smearing and maximise contact with the rock, but what lugs there are seem to be aggressive enough to cope. The bright styling may not appeal to all, but there is a more discrete colourway available.
Upper: velour leather and textile Sole: Gripex Cougapproach Weight: 836g Sizes: 6.5 – 13 Women’s version: Yes
Berghaus Vapour Light ClawRRP £85
Straight out of the Berghaus MtnHaus development lab, the whole Vapour Light adventure racing range has been designed with performance first – they’re not catering for the mass market, this is specialist stuff. But perhaps it shouldn’t be this way – the Vapour Light Claw ticks all the boxes for me, with a thin mesh upper that drains in no time and dries quickly, an omni-directional studded outsole that grips in mud and feels secure on wet rock, and an overall minimalist stripped-down feel. The mesh-heavy upper is kept clear of excessive and vulnerable stitching but remains secure, and there’s just the right amount of padding around the ankle. While minimalist there is enough cushioning in the midsole to make hard trails tolerable, though this does make them feel slightly raised from the ground, certainly when compared to similar minimalist shoes. This is a proper lightweight, flexible and quick-drying trail running shoe – I’ll be wearing these a lot more over the coming months.
Upper: a lot of mesh! Sole: Terracious Grip rubber compound with OPTISTUD lugs Weight: 612g Sizes: 7 – 12 Women’s version: Yes
Merrell Moab GTX RRP £100
A perennial favourite and almost a uniform in certain hillwalking pubs, the Merrell Moab looks chunky and secure, but the judicious use of mesh has kept the weight down. It feels as if the shoe has been built around the sole – a very good Vibram Multi-Sport pattern commissioned exclusively for Merrell – with the mesh and leather just doing enough to keep your foot in place. As a result there is a lot of soft mesh and stitching in high-risk areas, though the leather structure does seem to resist abrasion well. The styling is modern and smart – no doubt a factor in their universal appeal – but they also perform well as a general outdoor shoe. This model has a Gore-Tex lining but the Moab Ventilator is membrane-free and £20 cheaper.
Upper: Dura leather and mesh Sole: Vibram Multi-Sport/TC5+ Rubber Weight: 680g Sizes: 7 -13 Women’s version: Yes
La Sportiva Wildcat 2.0 RRP £85
Very much a trail running (as opposed to walking) shoe, the Wildcat 2.0 appears to have a largely mesh upper – it does, but there’s a a fabric liner to offer some structure and keep debris out. As a result this is a surprisingly rugged shoe – notice the prominent toe bumper – and thanks to a decent heel counter and plastic skeleton is reassuringly supportive. Given La Sportiva’s climbing heritage it’s no shock that the sole is well thought-out, with an array of oval lugs protruding from the FriXion rubber. This arrangement is not quite as aggressive as other more mud-oriented patterns, but performs well on trails and rock. La Sportiva have focussed on downhill performance, with a shaped heel that combines with the lug pattern to offer ‘downhill brake assist’. The midsole is well protected with 2.4mm of EVA which reduces foot-pounding but does contribute to the relatively high weight. A good shoe for those that want trail running attributes without the minimalism.
Upper: AirMesh / Trail Cage / TPU Transkinetic Heel Stabilizer / UreTech reinforcements Sole: FriXion AT/ Impact Brake System X-Axis Weight: 702g Sizes: 5 – 12 Women’s version: Kinda – only GTX or non-2.0 models
Scarpa Spark RRP £90
If the name wasn’t emblazoned on the side you would never guess that these colourful, lightweight trail shoes were made by Scarpa. With a 6mm heel drop – though no discernible external heel – and a very low weight the Spark is edging towards a barefoot shoe, but incorporates EVA foam and a high-tensile fabric forefoot strikeplate. Wide spaced and shallow lugs seem to shed mud well, but I found the shoes most comfortable on trail rather than off. The fit is wide throughout, especially in the toebox, allowing toes to splay naturally. The lacing system extends to the sole to hug the foot, but it doesn’t quite take up all the volume around the middle of my foot and the fit can feel a little sloppy. There’s no membrane and a lot of mesh, but it’s reasonably thick and doesn’t drain or dry quite as well as other fabrics. Nice and light, and great if you have wide and/or high volume feet.
Upper: recycled synthetic Sole: Speedlite Weight: 538g Sizes: 8 – 13 Women’s version: Yes – in fabulous colours.