Lowa Tempest
Lowa Tempest

Can I hike the John Muir Trail in running shoes?

I just bought a pair of Asolo 535 non-Gore-Tex hiking boots. I planning on hiking the John Muir Trail in early August, and I'm trying to determine if I really need boots or if I can just use running shoes. My pack weight will be right around 30 pounds. Spencer Denton, Texas

Lowa Tempest

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The Muir trail is 211 miles of wonderful mountain scenery, running from Yosemite Valley to Mount Whitney, in the central California alps. In addition to the Yosemite stretch, it goes through two other grand national parks—Sequoia and Kings Canyon parks, which are contiguous and might be seen as a single park. By and large, the trail is in fine shape, and its fairly heavy use means it’s wide and usually well-maintained. Its surface can range from something like granite gravel to very fine dust to pine and fir needles.

Lowa Tempest Lowa Tempest

So what kind of boot is best? Asolo’s 535 ($175; www.asolo.com) is a classic all-leather boot for fairly rough backpacking, and in this case might well be overkill. By the same token, I usually don’t advocate super-light footwear for extended backpacking. Certainly not anything like a running shoe—the EVA (or equivalent) midsole on most of those shoes is far too light to support your feet properly, even with a moderately sized pack. A good trail runner or “cross” shoe might work, however. I’d recommend something such as the Lowa Tempest II Lo ($100; www.lowaboots.com). They’re a rugged low-top shoe, with a midsole of polyurethane (stiffer than EVA) and a nylon shank for stability. Salomon’s GCS Pro ($90; www.salomonoutdoor.com) is an out-and-out trail runner that might make the cross to longer day hikes, too, if only for the GCS (Ground Control System) that marries two plates with a rubber spring to help the shoe mould to the underfoot terrain on the heel strike. New this summer and worth a look if you’re after some lightweight, tech-packed shoes for your dogs.

Still, I think you’re better off with a light hiker. These days they’re nearly as comfortable as a trail runner, and that extra support can pay off. Asolo makes a nice non-Gore-Tex shoe called the Echo ($135), a fabric-and-leather hiker with just enough stiffness through the sole to protect your feet from sharp rocks and the like. Montrail’s Torre ($125; www.montrail.com) is another good choice—a little more leather than the Echo, and a little stiffer shank.

Try some on and see what you think. And enjoy that hike!

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