The Reinvention of the Hiking Shoe
Creating adidas's new Free Hiker involved three through-hikes of the Pacific Crest Trail, dozens of prototypes, and one eureka moment at a laundromat
You never know where inspiration is going to strike. For Henrique Nigro, senior product manager for adidas Outdoor, it was at a laundromat. Nigro and two co-workers, a designer and an engineer, had just returned home to Germany from a weeklong product-testing trip in Southern California. Backpacking on the Pacific Crest Trail, they’d had to put some miles on a new shoe they were developing specifically for long-distance hiking. The three men carried nine shoe prototypes among them and chatted with through-hikers they met on the trail who were willing to test out the lightweight hiking shoes.
Back in Germany, they now had everything they needed to put the finishing touches on the shoe—except a name. Nigro was washing his sleeping bag when the name of this new shoe suddenly came to him: Free Hiker. “When you’re outside and you don’t have your usual worries, you can disconnect and feel free,” he says. “The name also worked well because the shoe allows you to have a lot of freedom of movement.”
Getting outside is how Nigro often comes up with his best ideas. “Whenever I have a tough moment or a big meeting at work, I go for a trail run during lunch in the forest behind our office,” he says. “It helps clear my head.” Nigro, who grew up in Brazil and Italy and studied in the French Alps, is a climber, mountain biker, and ski mountaineer. “I love everything in the mountains,” he says. “I barely spend weekends at home because I’m always running off to the mountains.”
The goal was to design a shoe that could go from city to outdoors with uncompromised performance and style.
He noticed that a lot of long-distance hikers were choosing lightweight trail-running shoes instead of bulky hiking boots, so he presented adidas with the idea of a hiking boot inspired by trail runners. The shoe would be light, flexible, and breathable like a trail-running shoe but still durable and stable enough to carry a heavy backpack or log long distances on alpine trails. The goal was to design a shoe that could go from city to outdoors with uncompromised performance and style.
So he and his team built the shoe with a strong knit upper to be abrasion resistant, a lightweight platform à la running shoes, and a rigid toe cap like a hiking boot’s. He sent prototypes to hikers all over the world, including three through-hikers completing all 2,650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, a task that involved mailing shoes to resupply points along the way.
The resulting shoe excels in its intended environment, says Nigro, but the Free Hiker’s hybrid design lends itself to even more than long-distance hiking. “These shoes are super versatile—whether you’re out for an hour or a week and whether you’re on trails or just out exploring.” Nigro hopes that versatility will help reframe how people think about getting outside. “Hiking doesn’t have to be just something you do in the mountains.”
Combining performance with style, the TERREX Free Hiker packs innovation to take you from the city to the outdoors. Breathable and lightweight, the Free Hiker was tested for thousands of miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. It weighs only 13 ounces and features a mid-cut profile for extra protection and Continental rubber outsole for grip on any terrain. Learn more here.