These trail runners have a good fit, serious arch support, and held up well to many miles of pavement hiking.
Trail Runners are specialty athletic shoe for running or walking outdoors, usually on natural surfaces. They are sort of a hybrid between boots and running shoes. They offer more support than most “sneakers, ” better ventilation created by mesh panels instead of solid leather throughout, and deeper tread than most soft athletic shoes. They have specific features to stabilize feet from rolling or pronating. The benefit for hikers is that they are lighter, more flexible, and cooler than boots. For more about this topic, see The Differences Between Trail Runners and Boots for Hiking.
In the continuing effort to keep my feet cool and keep them from blistering, it was suggested that I try trail runners. I have misgivings about using them when carrying a full backpack, but I decided to see if I could find a reasonably priced pair to try for the long roadwalk hike we did it August. Who would believe that the “end of the season” sales for trail runners would be going on in July? So, I was really fortunate to find these shoes in my size at half price. They regularly sell for $100, and I paid $50. That is cheaper than the “sneakers” I usually buy!
I actually bought two pairs, each a different brand (they only had one of each left in my size), and there are major differences in how they fit. I decided these were better for me to hike in, but I’ll review the others after I have worn them a bit more.
First of all, the mesh panels are great. These shoes are so much cooler than other shoes that you can actually feel the cool air on your feet when you make the switch. After you get used to it, the effect isn’t as noticeable, but the difference at first is significant. Of course this means there is almost no protection against getting your feet wet if you are in the rain or trying to cross a creek. There are always trade-offs!
I did have to take the factory insoles out to put in my custom orthotics. Then there wasn’t enough padding in the shoes so I bought some gel insoles. These worked great.
Most trail runners have an attached tongue to help keep out dirt and stones, and these do indeed. They also have the slit in the tongue to slip the laces through.
The Montrail Hardrock 08 have a serious arch support. This was the feature that caused me the most problem. Now, that’s not because I don’t need arch support. In fact, my arches are so high that I have hard custom orthotics which I really need to use. But the arch in these is pronounced enough that it forces the orthotic to lie slightly higher than it should.
I started using these for only 3-5 miles a day, and worked my way up to 10 miles. After that, I had to switch to my boots. This wasn’t a problem where we were day hiking between our cars each day. I just carried my boots in my pack and switched when my feet got sore. For anyone who needs arch support, and doesn’t use custom orthotics, these would offer excellent support.
They have a ample toe box so your toes aren’t cramped. There is a “toe protector” tip to reduce stubbing of your toes. The soles have great grip. The collar is nicely padded.
One of the best things for me is that the heels don’t slip. I have very narrow feet, and its hard to find shoes that the heels don’t slop around. With the padded collar, these held very well.
I like the way these look a lot, although that would be secondary to all the other concerns.
Trail runners come in about three heights. These are low cut, so they don’t give ankle support. I’m not sure I would wear these backpacking, but I might be brave enough to try it in the future.
So these have about 200 miles of walking on them, and they still look practically new. I’m very satisfied.
Update On Oct 11, 2009: I just wore these for another 115 miles of hiking- again mostly on roads. They have finally softened up to the point where they are comfortable as well as supportive. However, for the 15 miles that I was on natural surface trails, the fact that they are too wide for my feet was a problem. My feet were sliding all over inside the shoes.