What I look for in footwear on the trails is hard to find out there. Minimal stack, minimal or zero drop, roomy toebox, sub-8oz (or at minimum below 9oz), drain well, and durablity. And an offering of colors that aren’t obnoxious.
And is also dependent on a multitude of variables. Am I running? Fastpacking? Hiking? A little light bouldering here and there?
Remember the Pearl Izumi N1? Or the N0 (which wasn’t a trail shoe)? I do miss these. Then there is the legendary New Balance 110. My buddy Jordan Camastro was telling me the other day he offered them $1000 to make him a pair of the 110’s. I’m rambling now.
In the end I just want lightweight footwear with ground feel that doesn’t strangle my feet. Nimble.
In no particular order, the following footwear are the ones used most often.
"Retro" Oso Flaco
Weight: 7.2oz (men’s size 9)
Stack: 7mm base + 4.5mm lugs
I’ll begin by saying that Barefoot Ted and the rest of the Luna Sandals tribe have always been supportive of my adventures over the years. I’m forever grateful and humbled.
Honestly long before I ever ran in a pair of Luna’s, I was skeptical of that you could ever run in a pair of sandals like you can with a pair of shoes. And if you could, there had to be a decline in performance and agility. This could not be further from the truth. In fact, over time they actually made be a better runner whether in shoes or Luna’s. More efficient as I paid more attention to the contours of the ground beneath my feet. Translating to improved form.
The Oso Flaco is used for just about any adventure out there. Whether trailrunning, fastpacking, hiking, or just wondering aimlessly.
Vibram soles, the tread isn’t overly aggressive, and works well on hard or soft terrain with good grip. Deep enough to track on soft terrain, but not have mud clinging to the bottoms. It’s hard to say how much mileage I can get on the tread. However there is no reason you can’t get 500+ miles in them. I’ve even heard of some getting 1000. Softer terrain they will obviously wear longer. I’ve run multi-day adventures with them confidently.
As far as overall durability, I’ve only had one pair go down on me over the years. However I’m confident this was one of those rare flaws. Which brings up their customer service. Without hesitation, they were quickly replaced by Luna. They truly stand by their products. In fact they have a policy that you can wear your sandals for 30 days. And if you don’t love them, you can send them back for a refund.
Last of all, they do offer a “Winged Edition” of the Oso Flaco as well. My preference is with the classic. They are calling them “retros” now. And they have brought the “retro” ones back recently. They both retail for $110.Bi
Weight: 7.3oz (men’s size 9)
Stack: Heel (15mm), Forefoot (11mm)
These are the original “Minimus” design that New Balance brought back after going through numerous versions. It’s a classic. And quite a special pair of footwear.
I will wear these on any adventure in the mountains. They are so versatile. Trailrunning, fastpacking, hiking, and climbing. These and the Luna’s are certainly my favorite for any activity out there. And when you’re running, it’s like you left the house in a pair of slippers.
And they fit like slippers. The laces you see in mine only enhance that. (I put Lock Laces or Nathan Run Laces on all my shoes.. These are the Nathan variant). And I go sockless. You simply do not need socks with these shoes. No matter the conditions.
There is no rockplate, and they certainly don’t have the sole to protect against rocks. Even the Luna Sandals that I just went over have more protection for the bottom of your feet. If you run with no focus or form, these will not work for you. But if you are focused, they are so nimble and precise. I keep comparing them to sandals, but I’d say more like moccasins.
The soles come from vibram, and overall keep you from slipping on all surfaces.
These shoes love crossing streams. They drain fast, and dry up reasonably fast. They are the closest you will get to wearing a pair of sandals.
As far as durability, they hold up so well that I have old pairs laying around that I just can’t throw away.
I’d like to add that Merrell makes a shoe called the Trail Glove that looks like a clone of the Minimus. The Minimus fits better for all feet sizes (they offer widths), and has a roomier toebox. I found the Merrell to be constricting. More like wearing the tightest compression than a slipper that just fits like the Minimus does. It’s literally night and day.
Weight: 8.5oz (men’s size 9)
I believe Altra has the most complete lineup of shoes that simply perform and look good at the same time. And they are not afraid to tweak boundaries in design. From the velcro strap used to secure gaiters, or the velcro midoot locking strap to keep foot locked down during multi-directional movement on the King MT2. Or the feathery Vanish XC without the traditional lace eyelets for your own customization. They are doing some special things.
Altra is most notable for their combination of zero drop shoes and roomy footshape toebox.
The Superior is their lightest shoe for the trail offering if you exlude the Vanish XC. A men’s size 9 weighing in at 8.5oz. Although not feathery, it’s certainly lighter than the average trail shoe available.
As mentioned above, they have a velcro strap on the back of the heel to secure gaiters. I have never used it. Never been one to utilize gaiters. But I’ll nver say never (I guess I just did).
The Superior’s don’t have a built in rockplate. However they do give you a thin flexible plastic insert that is an option to place under the insole. It actually works well and is quite minimal. They improved on previous versions where this insert was a bit thicker. Most of the time I have not used it. But on occasion if I had a stone bruise, it was enough to give me some relief while healing as you continue to run.
I do love that Altra offers subdued color options. But if you want to rock bright colors, they offer plenty of those too.
Recent models of all Altra shoes have come with insanely long laces. Certainly no reason not to purchase these shoes. But it is a comical observation. However I never use laces that come with shoes anyways. As (I put Lock Laces or Nathan Run Laces on all my shoes as mentioned above.
My hope is that you found something helpful here. Now get out there and run.
“For me the world is wierd because it is stupendous, awesome, mysterious, unfathomable; my interest has been to convince you that you must assume responsibility for being here, in this marvelous world, in this marvelous desert, in this marvelous time. I want to convince you that you must learn to make every act count, since you are going to be here for only a short while, in fact, too short for witnessing all the marvels of it.” Carlos Castaneda
Ima Wo Ikiru,