A few years back I wrote about my transition from hiking boots to trail runners and back again, at least for backpacking or seriously challenging day trips. I think it’s worth reading that article and the comments to really dig into the different viewpoints regarding shoe choice, but the tl;dr version is this: I always wore boots because I thought you should; switched to trail runners and was blown away by the ease and immediate comfort; missed the sturdiness, safety and long term comfort and binding of boots so I went back to them.
But I had never worn the Altra Lone Peaks, the king of trail runners among backpackers, especially thru-hikers. So last year I picked up a pair of the latest model, the Lone Peak 6, to see if they could get me to carry heavy loads all day with nothing but low-rise foam to muffle my hoots.
First a primer. Lone Peaks is a zero-drop shoe with a wide toe box designed to mimic the shape of your foot. They are as close as you can get to being barefoot, without the weird toe shoes. Your toes are allowed to spread wide, which, if you’ve never worn shoes like this before, will probably make you heave deep, satisfied sighs of relief the first time you walk in them.
No-drop and wide toe box are the real technical differentiators for these shoes. I’m sure Altra has proprietary foam and lacing systems here, but it’s the shape and fit that you’ll notice.
These are hands down the most comfortable closed toe shoes I’ve ever walked in. I have big, long feet, not particularly wide, so as always with shoes, YMMV, but these are my go-tos for walking around town and for light walks.
But yes, only light hiking.
I’ve put a little over 100 miles of hiking and trail running on my pair, according to my Garmin. Probably 70 miles were free and unencumbered with a heavy pack and on trails that aren’t particularly technical and certainly didn’t require any scrambling. The rest was hiked with an overnight pack, no more than 35 pounds, my standard, non-ultralight load.
The shoes work flawlessly when it’s flat. They are ideal hikers on sandy trails. But once the trail gets tough, whether it’s running or vigorous hiking, I had problems. The wide toe box can create a feeling of “swimming” in the shoe. When running and approaching a rocky section, I would constantly be aware of my forefoot moving in the shoe, or at least it felt that way.
While carrying a heavy package, the same unstable feeling was present. Unlike shoes with a narrower standard toe box, there is nothing to hold your forefoot in place. This is what creates the fabulous comfort, but it can also make for a nerve-wracking walking experience with weight on your back. I feel more confident backpacking in my Bedrock sandals than I do in Lone Peaks since my feet don’t move. Even when your foot isn’t moving, the softness of the soles bends and twists, and I still never felt stable.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, these shoes are loved by hikers. And I totally understand why. If one of your main concerns is to be as nice to your feet as possible and carry as little weight on your feet as possible, these are the shoes of your dreams. Or if you’re an ultralight enthusiast and your 5 night pack weighs 15 pounds, I can see how these would work.
But not for me. Any significant load and I need shoes with more security. But then again, that’s why I prefer boots.
Day trips though? As long as you don’t scramble, you can’t beat these things. I swear they are more comfortable than some of my slippers.