Footwear & foot care for early-season conditions

This multi-post series discusses recommended gear, supplies, and skills for backpacking in the Mountain West in early-season conditions. These normally prevail in May/June, and in July after exceptionally snowy winters.
Bear Creek ford on the JMT/PCT, in mid-May 2007, after a very dry winter and before peak runoff in June. Due to unbridged crossings such as this, there are no reliable and safe strategies for keeping your feet dry.

What must you absolutely get right when selecting footwear for early-season conditions? As with every other season, they must fit. Period.

All other footwear characteristics are secondary. However, if you get these right, too, you’ll be much better off than having a well-fitting shoe that never dries and performs poorly on snow.

Boots & shoes


Let me be really clear about this:

Your feet will NOT stay dry in early-season conditions.

You will have to ford multiple creeks and streams, with many that are knee- to crotch-deep. You will hike for miles on melting snow. And you will slosh through standing water and waterlogged meadows.

“Waterproof” footwear will be overwhelmed by the wetness. And once they fail, you will have a waterlogged shoe or boot that never dries and that traps your foot in a hot & wet environment. Not convinced? Do some reading:

So here is my best advice: Learn to manage the effects and aftermath of wet feet. Read my full tutorial, or follow these steps:

  • Wear breathable trail shoes and thin socks that will not retain water and that will dry relatively quickly.
  • At any rest break longer than about 15 minutes, remove your shoes and socks.
  • Sleep in warm and dry socks. In very wet conditions, you may have to carry dedicated sleeping socks that are for nighttime use only.
  • After arriving in camp and allowing your feet to dry thoroughly, apply Bonnie’s Balm Healing Salve or similar to the bottoms of your feet, then put on a dry sock. The balm will help remoisturize your skin (and prevent cracks) and resist maceration the following day. Reapply in the morning if your skin feels dry.
A shoe-free rest break in Colorado in mid-June. By removing shoes & socks, feet can temporarily dry out, improving comfort and health.

Traction and stiffness

Short of wearing crampons or spikes, how can you feel sure-footed on snow? Wear a shoe with a/an:

  • Aggressive outsole tread
  • Protective upper, and
  • Reasonably stiff midsole.

Such shoes provide decent purchase on snow, allow you to kick steps without bruising a toe or making a hole in the shoe, and will hold an edge on steeper slopes.

Specific recommendations

Footwear is a very personal choice, due to nuances of fit, so I’m cautious about making recommendations. But I will anyway, so that you have specific examples of shoes with desirable characteristics. If you find a different model that is similar and that fits you better, go for it.

Four shoes that would I think would work well in early-season conditions, due to breathable uppers, abrasion-resistant toeboxes, and aggressive outsoles. L to R: Cascadia, Lone Peak, Ultra Train, X Ultra.
An aggressive outsole will have better purchase on snow. When combined with midsole stiffness, the shoe can be used to kick steps and hold an edge.

Water shoes

I would discourage the carrying of water shoes like the NRS Kicker Remix Wetshoe. They will be needed so often that they will become your default footwear. Furthermore, some fords may be unsafe in typical water shoes. Your hiking shoes are more up to the task; they have a:

  • More secure fit,
  • More protective upper, and
  • Stickier outsole.

Camp shoes

I don’t carry dedicated camp shoes on personal trips, because I’m either hiking (in my wet shoes) or sleeping (in my dry sleeping socks). But they’re a treat for longer camps, to avoid standing around in wet shoes.

Look for something that is ultralight and inexpensive, and that can be worn with socks, like the ALL CLEAN Sandals. Even lighter:

  • Spa slippers, or
  • Durable bread bags worn between your dry sleeping socks and your wet shoes.
After a long day of plodding through wet snow and runoff, Sam cooks dinner while wearing dry sleeping socks and camp shoes.


At a minimum I would carry two pairs of socks:

  1. Hiking socks that get wet and and that will probably stay wet or damp (depending on the route and the amount of lingering snow and runoff). For over a decade I have used the DeFeet Wooleator.
  2. Sleeping socks that are worn only at night. They stay clean and dry. I would recommend a heavy fleece or wool sock; I use the DeFeet Woolie Boolie, which in the winter I use as my primary hiking sock.

Some may prefer using a Woolie Boolie-like sock for hiking and for sleeping, because it better insulates than the thinner Wooleator. Snowmelt is frigidly cold, and frequent water crossings will numb your toes. The tradeoff: thicker socks retain more moisture and therefore dry more slowly; they can also become too hot on dry and exposed sections of trail. Whatever you do, I would avoid polyester socks — they are notably chillier than wool when wet.

A second pair of hiking socks is optional in the early-season. In extremely wet conditions, you will simply end up with two pairs of wet socks, which is no better than one wet pair — and twice the weight. But once there is less snow and runoff, you can begin to rotate the pairs to keep your feet drier, and to accelerate the drying out of wet shoes. Secure the unused pair to the outside of your pack so that it can dry.

In the dry air and intense sun, thin socks will dry quickly if secured outside the backpack.

Have footwear questions? Leave a comment.

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  1. Dennis on March 14, 2017 at 11:47 am

    What is your opinion of wearing dirty girl gaiters if the hike is snowy? Would they be useful? I plan on starting JMT NoBo in early July.

    • Andrew Skurka on March 14, 2017 at 1:46 pm

      They will keep some snow out of your shoes, which helps them stay a bit drier than they would be otherwise. Plus, snow is cold on the feet. But when postholing they will ride up, and snow will sneak up between the shoe and gaiter.

      They help most during river crossings, to keep sediment out, which is coarse. But the currents will have their way with them — you’ll probably have to readjust them on the other side.

  2. Russ Bailey on March 14, 2017 at 3:05 pm

    Excellent article and spot on in my opinion. I don’t have the vast experience you do but everything I have seen supports your points. The past year I have been using Salomon Speed Cross 3 trail running shoes – the only ones I have found where my right foot doesn’t ache after a few km.

    • Andrew Skurka on March 14, 2017 at 4:52 pm

      The only issue with the Speedcross for early-season is its flexible sole — it is not stiff, which I find makes edging difficult. In comparison the X Ultra is tank-ish. Would you find it comfortable? Hard to say. Otherwise the Speedcross is a winner: deep lugs and stiff wrap around the toebox.

      • Russ Bailey on March 14, 2017 at 5:23 pm

        I plan to buy a pair of the X Ultras after your review. Agreed that the Speed Cross is not for edging but I am not big on snow hiking either. I do have a pair of proper boots for that if I happen to go. Bought them before I started with the lighter weight shoes.

  3. Russ Bailey on March 14, 2017 at 3:23 pm

    I carry the light slippers like doctor’s offices use over my socks when walking where damp in my flip flops. They weigh nothing and require no space. Nothing worse than soggy socks in camp or bed!

  4. Richard Sullivan on March 14, 2017 at 8:00 pm

    How about trying to make the wool socks water resistant with baby oil or lanolin?

    • Andrew Skurka on March 14, 2017 at 8:19 pm

      I don’t think that would be very comfortable or effective.

    • Matt on March 14, 2017 at 9:28 pm

      You could try to make camp shoes by coating socks with Plasti-Dip or something like that similar to those cotton work gloves with a rubberized coating (for example: Atlas Nitrile Fit). I’d do it with the socks on your feet (or use loose enough socks) so that they are sufficiently stretched out to fit once the rubber dries. I’d suggest just coating the bottom of the socks so your feet don’t sweat too much if you’re using them as camp shoes.

      For cold wet trips like in caves and some canyons, I’ve used neoprene socks. Your feet will be wet from sweat and from water getting in, but they will keep your feet warmer in icy cold water. I don’t think I’d ever want to use them for backpacking.

  5. Richard on March 14, 2017 at 9:06 pm

    I think it’s worth a try, lanolin is what sheep use to keep their wool dry. Often the best science comes from nature. E.g. cyanoacrylate glues. I believe that most of the natural lanolin is removed when our wool socks are made in a factory, hence why they become soggy messes when wet.

    • Russ Bailey on March 15, 2017 at 3:19 am

      Just use the light plastic booties like they give in the doctor’s office or that real estate agents use. Much more simple and works better.

    • Cullen B. Cole on July 9, 2019 at 8:20 am

      Respectfully…Accepting that your feet will be wet is the best solution.

      • Bret on July 9, 2019 at 7:22 pm

        This and bring spare socks to swap at camp. The only time I’ve ever had issues with wet feet was the one time I wore waterproof boots!

  6. Andrew Bullock on March 14, 2017 at 10:16 pm

    Any thoughts on Hoka shoes?

    • Andrew Skurka on March 15, 2017 at 5:19 am

      Did you have a specific model in mind? Among the models I have seen and used (Clifton) I have not seen any that are a natural fit early season conditions.

      • Andrew Bullock on March 15, 2017 at 10:45 am

        I apologize, that was a random comment. I was considering the Stinsons, as recommended by Spyguyver on YouTube. I just destroyed my right ankle wearing my lone peak 2.5’s (which I think is an amazing shoe for this topic).

        • Andrew Skurka on March 15, 2017 at 9:12 pm

          I don’t think the Stinsons would work well. Not enough traction. Also, all of that exposed foam (in lieu of an outsole in places, and very exposed around the perimeter of the midsole) will get shredded by rough trails.

  7. Tony Gross on March 15, 2017 at 8:45 am

    I need a bit of ankle support, especially forward resistance. Any recomendations that would fit your quick dry, light weight criteria?

    • Andrew Skurka on March 15, 2017 at 9:05 am

      I want to question the value of footwear to provide any meaningful ankle support, but won’t here.

      Once you start looking at “mid” shoes or standard boots, unfortunately they almost all become “waterproof.” It’s really difficult to find a breathable shoe with a taller ankle. Try the Inov8 Rocklite 325, Addidas CSG 9.7, Vasque Breeze III. If you poke around more you might find additional models.

    • Andrew Bullock on March 15, 2017 at 10:47 am

      I’ve been looking for the same qualities. I think I’ll be forced to wearing a brace. However if I could get the Hoka Tor Ultra High in a non-waterproof version…I’d be happier.

      • MarkL on April 3, 2017 at 11:07 am

        Oboz makes the Scapegoat Mid. More than ankle support I like the mid height for minimizing entry of rocks, snow, and mud without needing to go to gaiters or a full-height boot. This model even has a little neoprene collar. It is one of the very few out there that does not include a WPB membrane, which I agree is near pointless on anything more than a short hike or very occasional wetness.

        Oboz also has several low light hikers that are not WPB.

    • PStuart on March 31, 2017 at 9:19 am

      The Salmonon X Ultra Prime come in a mid-height boot without Gore-Tex, as well. I believe they are called the X Ultra Mid Aero.

      • Andy on March 31, 2017 at 9:30 am

        After speaking with the podiatrist, his choice for me is a low top shoe with a brace. He doesn’t believe there’s a decent hiking boot made that provides true ankle support. I believe Andrew has mentioned that in other articles.

        • Andrew Skurka on March 31, 2017 at 9:37 am

          That’s interesting. I have said this before, because I just don’t buy the argument that boots provide meaningful ankle support. Plastic ski boots and mountaineering boots, yes, but good luck hiking in those. The combination of a low-cut shoe with a brace would seem to be the best of both worlds for someone who is concerned about their ankles: lightweight and comfortable, but truly supportive.

  8. Susan S on March 15, 2017 at 7:23 pm

    Have you had experience trying out socks made from alternative animal fibers like buffalo wool which are supposed to perform as well as if not better than wool?

    • Andrew Skurka on March 15, 2017 at 8:14 pm

      No, I have not. Frankly, after finding the DeFeet Wooleator and Woolie Boolie about a decade ago, I have never used another sock. That tell you something?

  9. Rex on March 16, 2017 at 8:01 am

    Any thoughts on a waterproof sock (see link) in combination with a shoe like the Cascadia or Lone Peak?

    It seems like they could be useful with a pair of pants in keeping your feet warm/relatively dry on extended walks on snow fields with postholing. Shoes will be soaked anyway, so just remove the sock before doing a creek crossing, wipe the water off and back in the sock before moving on. In a situation where there is going to be snow like 90%+ of the time like San Juans late May/early June on a CDT hike, they seem pretty useful.

    Maybe less useful on the JMT/PCT unless snow persists in the valleys where a normal sock would have time to dry out.

    • Andrew Skurka on March 16, 2017 at 8:11 am

      Overall, I’m skeptical. I think you’d be happier overall with a normal sock.

      Waterproof socks would help to keep your feet dry from external moisture while hiking on snow. But your feet tend not to get too wet anyway while hiking on snow, especially if it’s firmer morning snow. Damp, definitely, but not soaked, and usually not even that wet. You’re going to sweat more in waterproof socks.

      I’m less concerned about keeping feet warm while hiking on snow. Shoes insulates you pretty well from the snow, and usually you feel like you’re in a solar oven due to the intense sunlight and sun reflection, plus mild ambient temperatures.

      The taking off/putting on transitions could be a nuisance, if you’re having to regularly cross creeks more than mid-calf deep, which may be often. You will also have to transition out of them for any extended dry stretch, like in the lower elevations. They are too hot and stuffy for those sections of trail.

      Finally, long dry times, and added weight (especially when wet).

      • Rex on March 16, 2017 at 9:33 am

        I was thinking of the rotten afternoon snow/slush where a snowshoe isn’t even enough to keep you from going down to your knees, but better that than down to the crotch every step. Postholing into an icy puddle under the snow could be slightly more pleasant with a waterproof sock that is more bearable temperature wise because your shoes are basically being refreshed with wet snow every step.

        The extra weight of the sock as another quiver in the footwear arsenal seems pretty trivial once snowshoes or skis become a serious consideration.

  10. tahiti on March 16, 2017 at 2:11 pm

    I’m trying to dial in a snowshoe footwear setup for snow shoeing (CDT and general 3-4 day trips). I’ve seen a few recommendations that revolve around goretex mid trailrunners or regular trailrunners and goretex socks, to just using trailrunners and suffering. There isn’t really a consensus on this though. Is there a generally agreed upon footwear setup for mild weather (30s-40s) snowshoeing?

    • Andrew Skurka on March 16, 2017 at 4:35 pm

      I’m not sure if we share the same definition of mild weather (30’s-40’s temperatures).

      I’ve tried WP and breathable shoes, and I’ve hiked in neoprene socks. Pros and cons to all.

      My pick for dry/frozen snow is WP boots + gaiter.

      For wet snow:
      * WP shoes are warm but they never dry, unless you get a really long dry stretch of trail.
      * Breathable shoes + normal socks are cold, because your toe is constantly plunging into the snow when you step, and the snowshoe kicks snow back at you. But you have a prayer of drying out.
      * Breathable shoes + WP or neoprene socks is maybe the best combination, because you have the warmth of the WP shoe but the quick-dry of the breathable shoe. Add a conventional sock for dry sections of trail.

  11. Sana Farooqui on March 18, 2017 at 8:47 am

    Just wondering what your thoughts are on Saucony Perigines?Ive had saucony cohesion for daily use and found them very comfortable,I am looking for trail+road running shoes and Perigines seem to have good reviews!

    • Andrew Skurka on March 18, 2017 at 9:00 am

      I have not used them or inspected them closely first-hand, but have head good reviews for general backpacking. I think they might be more flexible than I’d want for kicking steps, but otherwise the breathable upper and traction seem right.

  12. Adam R on March 27, 2017 at 10:50 am

    I’m hiking the PCT this year and lone peak 3’s feel great on my feet. I have about 100 miles on them and they feel great. I plan on wearing them through the Sierra as well, even with all the snow this year. Do you think this is a mistake? I figure the tread should be aggressive enough to kick snow steps, and I’ll be using them in conjunction with microspikes. Recipe for success?

    • Andrew Skurka on March 27, 2017 at 11:34 am

      Of the shoes photographed in the post, the Lone Peaks would be my last pick, but overall I think they will be okay. They will drain quickly and dry fast; the toebox is reasonably well protected; and the outsole has good lugs when new. However, they are not very stiff, so holding an edge and kicking steps will require more foot strength than with the other shoes. Also, the outsole has not proven to be very long-lasting. I would plan to have a fresh pair waiting for me in Kennedy Meadows, so that you have maximum lugs when you finally hit snow.

  13. Denise on April 7, 2017 at 2:15 pm

    Thank you Andrew for your wealth of information in your 2nd ed gearguide. This newbie to backpacking loves it. Your latest posts for the early season JMT PCT have been especially helpful.

    I have used my Salomon Trail runners for the past 3 years for their comfort, and thought for sure I would use those for my upcoming JMT NOBO trip come this early July, but after doing some weighted training fully packed up a very rocky path, as well as reading your guide I decided to go with the Salomon X Ultra hiking shoe, non waterproof. I will try them out on our next training hike to Mt. Baldy.

    I wear inserts for a high arch from the walking store in all my trail runners for metatarsal support. I am getting stronger as I train and condition, so I thought I would try my shoes without the metatarsal insert for my next training hike.

    1. Do you think the inserts will be a hindrance of not allowing my socks or shoes to dry quick enough, since I will most likely be walking wet from all the stream crossings and wet grass etc?

    I was going to use water shoes, but I decided to follow your advice, not carry the extra weight, and just purchased the light weight camp slipper instead, allowing my feet to dry out once we take a 15 min. or longer break, and once we reach camp each day.

    2. I just purchased 2 pair of the darn tough wool socks, but do you know if are they as thin as your wooleators that you use? I have a feeling they are the most cushioned ones…oh well I will return them for the thinner ones if so.

    You said the gaiters are not critical for this particular gear list. The Levagaiters from Simblissity are unavailable for the time being, like you mentioned,

    3. Do you think they will be critical this early July 10th NOBO on the JMT?

    4. If so, do you recommend the dirty girl gaiters instead for this wet season, or should I not worry about it? I was thinking no, only because I have great trekking pants that are super long 36″ inseam for my long legs…which I love, they cover a good portion of my shoe…would love your insight.

    Just FYI my 8 person team plans on doing this over 27 days of trail time

    Thank you for your time and consideration with all my questions.


    • Andrew Skurka on April 7, 2017 at 3:09 pm

      1. The water absorption of inserts varies with the model. Some are literally like a sponge, made of open-cell foam; others are fine, because they are made of closed-cell.

      2. I’m not familiar with the Darn Tough socks, besides knowing of them. I have not worn any other sock than the Wooleators for about a decade.

      3. I like gaiters at all times, especially when wearing shorts, or pants that are a bit short. They just keep the shoe/sock/foot cleaner. It sounds like your pants are fine, in which case I would not worry about it. Note that you will probably get a lot of debris in your shoe when fording creeks, which carry massive amounts of sediment.

      Wow, big team. Have a good time.

      • MarkL on April 7, 2017 at 4:16 pm

        Pull the inserts out of your shoes to dry them. I would think it would be better to have the shoes fit your feet better than be overly concerned with the amount of additional moisture they would pick up.

        Wearing pants that are a little too long would bug the heck out of me. They would pick up a lot of dirt and moisture. To be long enough to keep junk out of my shoes I think they would likely get destroyed. Several companies make trail running gaiters. Altra, Outdoor Research, Salomon, etc.

        I’ve been skiing on Darn Tough ski socks for a couple seasons and I like them. They are holding up better than the Smartwools I used to wear.

        • Denise on April 10, 2017 at 11:14 am

          Thank you Mark! I’m going to purchase my new inserts and ask if they are open or closed cell foam…I agree i don’t want to lose fit for the sake of being supposedly dry. My pants are perfect actually they were made for tall women only prana sells them so I’m stoked with the length and they are not dragging on the ground, just long enough to not make me look like a school girl who has grown out of her pants

  14. Denise on April 10, 2017 at 11:03 am

    Thank you Andrew!

    I’m going to have a dedicated sleep sock and 2 pair of thin wooleatiors. Would you also carry 2 pair of the liner injinji toe socks if you were bringing those to switch for drying also?

    As far as all the debris in my shoes from fording steam crossings, my team mostly all have water shoes so they will be changing shoes, is that the time you would remove your socks, debris, check for hot spots etc?

    Is it realistic to not deal with blisters if I’m vigilant with my foot care? Or should I just expect it like being wet and manage accordingly? I’m so tempted to just stay with my Salomon xa pro 3D trail runners that I have used the past 3 years and love but I think with the weight is just a bit too thin for me for the JMT personally.

    • Andrew Skurka on April 10, 2017 at 6:40 pm

      1. With the Wooleators I do not use liners. Generally, I do not recommend liners (hotter, more moisture retention), but ultimately you need to find a footwear system that works for you.

      2. Why is your team bringing watershoes? Refer them to the section in this post where I discuss them. It is a foolish thing to bring. Camp shoes, fine; but no watershoes.

      3. You can be hyper viglant about foot care and still end up with blisters. Prevention goes a long way, but ultimately your skin has a limit. The best way to avoid blisters is by wearing a breathable shoe that does not trap heat or moisture, and that is super comfortable on your foot.

      • Denise on April 11, 2017 at 2:06 pm

        1. Thank you for the liner clarification.

        2. Yes I have definitely referred them to your blog and all of your posts actually on early season. I’m going with your wisdom, tested knowledge and experience and I think my feet will thank me

        3. We shall see how my new Salomon’s do on my Mt Baldy training hike this weekend. Im going to try them without my orthotic insert and with my new wooleators. Thank you again Andrew for your time… It is greatly appreciated!

    • Hannah on July 5, 2017 at 5:38 am

      What are the tall girl Prana hiking pants called? I struggle to find pants long enough. (6′ tall with 36″ inseam)

  15. Spencer on May 11, 2017 at 11:18 am

    I have been rocking Merrel’s All Out Blaze “Water Shoe” for trail running and longer hikes (And I love them!), but being from Virginia I obviously haven’t tested them in late June JMT like conditions. Is having a completely breathable shoe a negative if paired with my DeFeet wool socks?

    • Andrew Skurka on May 11, 2017 at 3:34 pm

      I thought I address this pretty well in the article. Your shoes are breathable. I recommend breathable shoes, for the reasons listed. You should be happier in these than in so-called waterproof shoes.

  16. Also Andrew on May 18, 2017 at 6:22 pm

    Hey Andrew, great series. I was wondering if you have ever used Kahtoola’s K10 “crampons” with Lone Peaks. I’ve used their Microspikes previously, but am admittedly wary of taking them through some of the southern passes in the Sierra this July. Any experience or insight is appreciated. Happy trails.

    • Andrew Skurka on May 18, 2017 at 6:41 pm

      I have not used the K-10 at all, just the KTS, but when they were aluminum, not steel. I have worn the Lone Peaks a lot, but not with the KTS.

      The Lone Peak is pretty flexible, and for kicking steps it’d rank at the bottom of my recommended shoe list. But if you pair it with the K-10 should be fine. The K-10 won’t twist much along its backbone, which will offset the Lone Peak’s flexibility.

  17. Denise on May 19, 2017 at 3:12 pm

    With the weather in early July heading nobo on the JMT perhaps being more June like this year with lots of snow pack at this time, would you still recommend the Solomon ultra hiking shoe? I know it’s still early to tell melting etc but just curious if your personal recommendation would be the same

  18. Bret on June 10, 2017 at 3:15 pm

    Have you tried La Sportive WildCat’s and what’s your impression? Would they be a good choice for Pilomont? I have Solomon Ultra Prime, but I’m not totally in love with them. The insoles are just a just a flat piece of foam that soaks up water and I should have gone half size bigger. Just picked up some WildCat’s and they feel real nice with more cushion and a nicer insole. I also tried Lone Peaks and love the toe box, but Wildcats feel more solid like they have more under foot cushion/protection. Oh and I’ve had ongoing issues with planter fasciitis although it’s in check now but can come on at any time.

    • Andrew Skurka on June 10, 2017 at 9:04 pm

      I used the Wildcats years ago, probably almost a decade now. If I had the choice, I would prefer the Ultra Raptors, which are more durable and which have more lateral stability, but the Wildcats and Ultra Raptor otherwise are the same shoe. So that’s a good start.

      Sounds like you found your shoe. They will work well for Philmont.

  19. Hannah on July 5, 2017 at 5:46 am

    Very helpful info here. Thanks! What would your preference be between Oboz Sawtooth (low hikers, not goretex but with nubuck) vs. Brooks Cascadia for southern 9 days of JMT (Bishop Pass to Whitney) in mid July? Bringing Kahtoola KTS hiking crampons and low Black Diamond gaiters.

    • Andrew Skurka on July 5, 2017 at 5:54 am

      Haven’t used either shoe so I can’t say. From what I know of them, I would hope that the Cascadia would fit me better, which is the ultimate factor in what shoe to use.

  20. Bret on July 12, 2017 at 10:00 pm

    Wildcats worked good for Philmont. My son even wore his running shoes. No camp shoes. Our feet got wet two days and were mostly dry by camp so just changed socks for dry feet. Wildcats supposedly have harder rubber than Raptors and I tend to wear out soles before uppers. They show no appreciable wear after 80-90 miles, so maybe Raptor soles are fine too. No plantar fasciitis flare up either, which has happened on previous hikes with other shoes. I would like a larger toe box like Lone Peaks.

    @Hannah I was also considering Oboz Sawtooth. They have very nice insoles and roomy toe box, but are about 8oz/pair (25%) heavier than runners in size 12 and were little loose for my low volume foot.

  21. Bret on July 14, 2017 at 2:01 pm

    Well I just noticed Wildcat uppers are already wearing near the top of the heal cup. One shoe has a hole through the fabric about 15x8mm and the other shows wear in the same area. I have not had this issue with other shoes. This is unfortunate since I otherwise like the shoes but this wear is premature. I will check out the Raptors and compare the uppers material.

    • Andrew Skurka on July 22, 2017 at 4:52 pm

      The Ultra Raptors will have much more durable uppers. This is the problem with all-mesh uppers. They just aren’t durable.

  22. Gordon on July 16, 2017 at 12:07 pm

    Andrew, regarding water shoes, would you use them when packrafting?

    • Andrew Skurka on July 22, 2017 at 4:51 pm

      Only if it was exclusively a packrafting trip. Otherwise I wear my normal shoes and expect them to get wet often.

      • Gordon on July 24, 2017 at 6:43 am

        Thanks, Andrew. I bought the packraft, but wasn’t sure about the shoes! 😉

  23. John on July 17, 2017 at 6:26 am

    Andrew, great write up. I have one question, I require a shoe that has a drop of <4mm and tried the Altras but had the same experience as you, they were quite sloppy in the handling. Do you have any other low drop models you would recommend for high route type hiking?

  24. Bret on July 27, 2017 at 6:39 pm

    Picked up some Ultra Raptors to replace Wildcats. The Raptors feel a little more snug, so I hope they solve the heel lift/rub I had with Wildcats. I really liked Wildcats too but seems they were not a good enough fit. Tried on a bunch of shoes, but really like how La Sportiva’s fit and feel. I have a lower volume foot, but toes feel squashed in many shoes. Tried on Lone Peaks and love the toe box but way too sloppy for my feet. Man it’s all about fit and feel, so nice to have so many options.

  25. Kurt on October 12, 2017 at 3:48 pm

    Andrew – I’ve been using the Wooleater socks for a few years now based on your recommendation and I agree they are great for long hikes. But they don’t last very long before a hole forms at my big toe. This is regardless of how trimmed I keep my toe nail. Have you experienced this issue?

    • Andrew Skurka on October 13, 2017 at 1:28 pm

      Not at all, but I hear this occasionally. My pairs wear out first in heel, at the transition point between the cuff and main sock. I have burned some holes in the main part of the sock on the underside, but usually it’s an abrasion issue (e.g. shoe filled with desert sand for a month) or a really old sock.

  26. Meg on October 26, 2017 at 2:58 pm

    Hello Andrew, I am wondering there is any pack weight limit for wearing light weight trail running shoes? I worry about the biomechanics behind a heavier pack and light weight shoes over a long distance, do you have any input?

    • Andrew Skurka on October 26, 2017 at 3:46 pm

      In theory, there is a weight at which the ankles will literally buckle under the weight, unable to confidently stray straight. Personally, I don’t know what it is for me, but I would assume that my threshold is higher than most.

      The underlying assumption to your question is that boots actually help prevent ankle sprains and rolls. I don’t know of any scientific studies that support this theory.

      • MarkL on October 26, 2017 at 8:43 pm

        I don’t necessarily see this as an ankle issue. I think there is also an issue of support under the foot and foot stability with a stiffer platform. If your feet are strong you can handle a more flexible sole underfoot. If you have some kinds of foot problems or aren’t used to having to use your foot muscles fore stabilization a softer shoe can be more fatiguing. Like many other things it is a training issue or if you have biomechanical problems to begin with it may necessitate more support.

        Im 51, but have been hiking and backpacking the last couple years with light hiking shoes that have a sturdier platform than a running shoe.

      • Robert on March 4, 2019 at 10:42 am

        I know this is an old topic but —— having played a ton of basketball growing up, I think there is definitely something to a high top shoe keep you foot and lower ankle from rolling . . . but when you do sprain and ankle, it tends to be bad or transfers the force to a knee.

        I think I can be more deliberate with my steps and movements while hiking though so a lower cut shoe doesn’t worry me (except rock and boulder fields . . . and sun cups . . . and poorly placed pine cones . . . . anyway, I think I will try the comfortable, easy wet/easy dry approach to avoid issues that are certain to happen than those that could happen (and a higher cuff may not prevent anyway).

  27. Russ Bailey on October 27, 2017 at 12:20 am

    72 here – My feelings exactly plus I had to add custom ortho inserts which helped my knees greatly. I like the Salomon hiking shoes.

  28. Tommy Calahan on April 27, 2018 at 10:53 am

    Anyone have any thoughts on a gaiter-shoe combo for expected extensive postholing? I am headed into the high Sierras late May this year (2018). I am sticking with my trusty ultra-vented Salomon XA-Pro 3d but have never used them in early season travel. Is there any advantage of using mid height water-resistant gaiters vs my standard light dirty girls? I have seen the OR flex-tex II gaiters recommended which seem like they would do a better job of keeping snow out of my shoe, but I hate to unnecessarily waste the extra expense and weight.

    BTW, thanks Andrew for your incredible work maintaining this website!

    • Andrew Skurka on April 30, 2018 at 6:02 pm

      Post-holing can be really hard on shoes, because the icy crust is sharp.

      So having durable uppers is key. And even with durable uppers, I would reinforce the seams with Aquaseal.

      I think the XA Pro upper is pretty durable, but I have not used this shoe extensively. In general, I think Salomon and Sportiva do an excellent job with their uppers. More “fleather” and less mesh is key.

      The problem with the Dirty Girl gaiters is that they rely on tension to stay put. And snow is going to push them upwards. Frankly, they’re not going to work very well. Simblissity Levagaiter don’t work great either, because they don’t have an understrap. The FlexTech will work best, but as you pointed out they are heavier and an additional expense, and don’t work that well for dry-ground hiking.

      • Tommy Calahan on September 12, 2018 at 9:11 am

        Follow up for those who end up here looking for footwear advice.

        I ended up doing the North Lake-South Lake loop out of Bishop the first week of June. Trail probably 20% covered by snow, including 8 straight miles over Muir Pass, and lots of wet stream crossings. I wore my Salomons, thick wool socks, and the flex-tex gaiters. Very happy with my footwear choices. Feet never got uncomfortably cold despite postholing, and never uncomfortably hot in the sun. Shoes dried rapidly between stream crossings and only once were still wet in the morning. I found the gaiters essential for keeping snow out of my shoes but one bottom strap was slightly torn by the end of the trail, which is a bit disappointing from a durability standpoint. Also they are short, and my pants frequently would bunch out of the top.

    • Langleybackcountry on April 30, 2018 at 10:52 pm

      OR also has the Overdrive gaiter, with a strap under the foot. 4oz/pr (about the same as Flex Tec) and not as tall, but maybe more versatile?

  29. gnu on May 18, 2018 at 9:52 am

    I use rubber boots for hiking, all season. As long as they are not closed tight around ur calves/legs they circulate air in and out of the boot much better than any type of shoe. I will usually cut the top of the boot off if its to tall, also to the maximise air circulation.
    I never get wet from my feet sweating, I stay dry over any river, bog or rain.
    Use thinner rubber in summer, and insulated if necessary in winter.
    Rubber boots are also cheaper than fancy hiking shoes.

    Downsides are weight. But not really that much of a difference for me. Also rubber boots have to fit 100% from the start, u cant walk them in.

    I will say that im hiking in Norway, so rarly I get over 25 celsius.

  30. Bret on May 25, 2018 at 12:10 pm

    A note on waterproof boots. I’ve been wearing breathable runners or hikers (Solomon and La Sportiva) and love them for most conditions. We just had a short weekend outing. We got rain all week prior and forecasted Saturday afternoon and throughout the night. The area can also get very soggy and we had to bypass some flooded sections. I wore my old waterproof boots. By the end of the day my feet were soaked anyhow probably from sweat and the boots took a few days to dry after we got home. Not a problem for weekend outing, but would have been terrible for any longer. At least runners can breathe and dry after they get wet.

  31. Pasi on July 4, 2018 at 2:30 am

    Great article.. My humble opinion after wearing (out) tens of pairs of hiking, approach and trail running shoes over the past three decade. I am a bit heavier built and despite having all my gears very light, my backpack tends to weight more than 40 lbs over a week hike mainly because of climbing gear as an extra I usually carry with me.

    From that perspective I find trail-running shoes a bit too soft and therefore prefer shoes with stiffer sole. That all in mind, I can highly recommend La Sportiva TX3 (without Goretex).

    Happy to hear if Andrew or someone else have found similar type, but better shoes than above mentioned TX3? While on trek I’m not running but walking fast and far…

  32. kyle on March 22, 2019 at 1:40 pm

    Recently learned how to dry out wet items when it is cold and humid on a guided climb of Mt. Rainier. If you need something dry, like sock or boot liners, sleep with them on or next to your torso. Your body heat will dry them out. This was the recommended technique of our guide leader. It might smell, but in some situations it is the only way you can dry something out.

  33. Cullen B. Cole on July 9, 2019 at 8:23 am

    I’m curious as to what lightweight gators you would suggest for a September Sierra High Route trip? I’ll be wearing Brooks Cascadias.

    • Andrew Skurka on July 9, 2019 at 2:18 pm

      I know of only one gaiter that works well for hiking: Simblissity Levagaiter. Good luck getting a pair.

  34. Matthew on April 14, 2023 at 4:07 pm

    I know this is an ancient article, but it really covers this topic well. I’ve been encountering similar but exacerbated challenges this year in California foothill-elevation (1k-3k ft) turkey hunting, especially after the extended cold and wet we ended our rainy season with.

    Turkey hunting often begins hours before first light, with wet or even frosty foliage. If conditions are cool enough, boots and laces end up encrusted in frost and feet stay dry, but this merely delays the later wetting-out of any kind of boot except rubber or [maybe] full-grain leather slathered in Sno-Seal. If it’s warmer and dewy, boots and pants cuffs get saturated quickly. This year there have also been wet, muddy creek crossings (beginning to abate).

    This is often followed by sitting in wet foliage in the dark. Thus some of the key tools to manage wet feet are lost to us: can’t “keep moving”, can’t dry our feet in the sun.

    The next part of the day is uncertain and hard to plan for. It could involve following birds further from base camp or an opportunity to turn back, change shoes and socks, and warm up. The day could warm up quickly to bluebird skies, inviting overheating or stay chilly and breezy, inviting hypothermia.

    Oh, and because of turkeys’ keen eyesight, many of my “normal” trail shoes with their striking colors are unsuitable.

    What I think I’m settling on trying is a two-stage system built around the least-conspicuous breathable shoes I own. In the pre-dawn hours, leave camp wearing neoprene socks and lightweight DWR-treated gaiters (to keep the shoe as dry as possible). Once the sun is up and it’s time to move on, switch to ordinary merino socks. Once the foliage is dry, ditch the gaiters.

    Curious if you have any thoughts about this challenging start/stop/start wet/sit/go situation.

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