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How to pick running shoes for alpine trails

September 11, 2013
Wonderful alpine trails around Mont-Blanc. Perfect for fast packing trips and daily trail runs. Photo: Fredrik Ölmqvist

Wonderful alpine trails around Mont-Blanc. Perfect for fastpacking trips and daily trail runs. Photo: Fredrik Ölmqvist

Let’s say you’re going to spend a weekend or a week fastpacking on alpine trails. The choice of shoes is quite delicate. You want a shoe that works well both for hiking and running. If you’re planning to spend several days on foot you will need a shoe with some protection, particularly with an outsole and rock plate against sharp rocks, which are plentiful on alpine trails. Also you want a shoe with a lacing system that keeps your foot in place. And since your feet will “grow” you’d probably be better off bringing a shoe at least 1/2 size larger than you’d normally use. Multi-day mountain running with undersized shoes goes from less pleasurable to quite painful depending on time spent. When I was fastpacking around Mont Blanc recently I tested three different trail running shoes:

Lightweight: Inov-8 Roclite 295 (275g) is a lovely trail shoe for soft trails but it lacks the midsole protection required when you’r spending many hours on foot, for several days, on rocky Alpine trails. It’s probably fine for a race like the UTMB or better the Mont Blanc Marathon, but for multiday fastpacking I would chose the Roclite 315 instead, which has somewhat more cushioning and protection.

Light weight shoes are great uphill but for downhill running on rocky trails you might want more shoe. Photo: Fredrik Ölmqvist

Lightweight shoes are great uphill but for downhill running on rocky trails you might want more shoe. Photo: Fredrik Ölmqvist

Cushion: New Balance Leadville 1210 (300g) is one of the more runnable “thick” ultra shoes. But how does it perform on the Tour du Mont Blanc? Better on flat, groomed trails than on technical trail, I would say. I also felt that the lacing system couldn’t hold my foot enough during the descents. I actually had to re-lace the shoes several times. And compared to a lower trail shoe you had to plan you footing more, to avoid accidents.

Protection: Brooks Cascadia 8 (344g) is, as you might know, quite a bulldozer. Strong, a bit heavy, reliable, tough, and an excellent hiking shoe. The toe box allows swelling. There is a rock plate in the midsole, which allows you to run without moaning and yelling. The lacing will keep your foot in place and the upper is strong enough to handle some beating. OK, I can hear some of you disagree, and say that running with Cascadia is like running with flat irons. But remember that for multi day fastpacking, several hours a day, a shoe like Cascadia is a true friend to your feet.

Other models for consideration:
Scott Kinabalu (278g): good choice for a race but questionable for multi day fastpacking (narrow toe box, loose midfoot fit, rather thin midsole).
Pearl Izumi Trail N1 (280g): great for running & racing but too weak and unstable for fastpacking. It lacks protection: toe, rock stop, sides and upper. (I have been using this shoe a lot lately – perfect for mixed terrain)
Montrail Bajada (290g) (: This is a perfect fast packing shoe: stabile, strong, protective, great running feel and fairly lightweight. I have been using this shoe extensively and wouldn’t doubt doing the UTMB with it.
Salomon Sense Ultra SG (243g): the Sense Ultra is too tight over the foot, so after a day’s walking and running you really want to take them off. This is a fast, thin, lightweight racing shoe, and not very comfortable in the long run.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 13, 2013 19:01

    Thanks for as always an interesting blog post. I could however also recommend La Sportiva Helios, a light shoe with reasonable mid-foot cushioning and wonderful grip. I just finished Tor des Geants in them and they provided sufficient protection for the first 80 hours of the race, after that perhaps a more cushioned shoe would have been better, but they did not fail passing the really steep icy climb to Col Malatra the last night.

    • fredrikolmqvist permalink*
      September 17, 2013 10:03

      Congratulations to finishing TDG!!!! & many thanks for your shoe suggestion, I will check out La Sportiva Helios.

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