How to pick running shoes for alpine trails
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.
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.