A few years back I wrote about my switch from hiking boots to trail runners and back again, at least for backpacking or seriously challenging day hikes. I think it’s worth reading that article and the comments, to really dig into the various points of view regarding shoe choice, but the tl;dr version is this: I always wore boots because I thought you were supposed to; switched to trail runners and was blown away by lightness and immediate comfort; missed the ruggedness, security, and long-term comfort and bonding of boots, so I went back to ’em.
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 newest model, the Lone Peak 6, to see if they could sway me to carry heavy loads all day with nothing but low-rise foam cushioning my tootsies.
First, a primer. The Lone Peaks are a zero-drop, wide-toe-box shoe meant to mimic the shape of your foot. They’re as close as you can get to being barefoot, short of those strange toe-shoes. Your toes are allowed to splay out widely, which, if you’ve never worn shoes like this before, will likely cause you to make deep, satisfied sighs of comfort the first time you walk in them.
The no-drop and wide toe box are the real technical differentiators for these shoes. I’m sure Altra has proprietary foams and lacing systems here, but it’s the shape and the fit you’ll be noticing.
These are, without question, 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 hiking.
But yes, light hiking only.
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 light daypack and on trails that aren’t particularly technical and definitely didn’t require any scrambling. The rest were hiked with an overnight pack, no more than 35 pounds, my standard, non-ultralight load.
The shoes perform flawlessly when the going is flat. They’re ideal sandy trail hikers. But once the trail gets tough, whether running or vigorous hiking, I had issues. The wide toe box can create a feeling of “swimming” in the shoe. When running and approaching a rocky section, I’d be constantly aware my forefoot was moving in the shoe, or at least it felt that way.
While carrying a heavy pack, the same unstable feeling was present. Unlike shoes with a narrower, standard toe box, there’s nothing keeping your forefoot in place. That’s what creates that fabulous comfort, but it also can make for a nerve-wracking hiking experience with weight on your back. I feel more secure backpacking in my Bedrock sandals than I do in the Lone Peaks as my feet don’t move. Even when your foot doesn’t move, the softness of the soles flex and twist and I still just never felt stable.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, these shoes are beloved by thru-hikers. And I completely understand why. If one of your chief concerns is being as nice to your feet as possible, and carrying as little weight on your feet as possible, these are your dream shoes. Or if you’re an ultralight enthusiast and your pack for 5 nights weighs like 15 pounds, well I can see how these would work.
But not for me. Any significant load and I need shoes with more security. Again though, that’s why I prefer boots.
Day hikes though? As long as you’re not scrambling, you can’t beat these things. I swear they’re more comfortable than some of my slippers.