It took a long time for me to come around to the trail runner/hiking shoe trend. For years, I insisted on wearing good ol’ fashioned hiking boots. Heavy boots with thick soles and lots of ankle support. Boots that I could traipse through sticky, slippery mud and muck with and not give it a second thought. I’m klutzy enough in my own backyard, I didn’t want to have to think too much about my feet on the trail. Hiking boots were a kind of insurance for me.
I briefly hopped off the boot bandwagon several years ago when I bought a pair of Merrell trail runners. Everyone raved about them and I happily bought into the hype. Turns out they were the worst pair of shoes I’ve ever owned. They were narrow and stiff and made the arches of my feet ache unbearably. No amount of breaking in would make them work for me.
So I ran out and bought a roomy, supportive, beastly pair of Lowas and didn’t look back. I loved those boots to pieces. I thru-hiked the Northville-Placid trail in them, bagged a number of High Peaks, and swore up and down that I would never part with them.
Until they died a horrible death last summer while hiking Cascade and Porter. I was slipping where I shouldn’t have slipped. They started rubbing my feet angrily, producing blisters the size of quarters. They just weren’t the same boots I fell in love with. It was time to say goodbye.
The day my Lowas let me down, I was out looking for a new pair of hiking shoes. At Dave’s urging, I was open to trying on lighter trail runners in addition to heavier hiking boots. Ideally, I wanted to find something in between – something supportive, maybe mid-ankle height, with a decent sole. I wasn’t totally ready to embrace the fast and light at all costs (broken ankle, anyone?) movement.
Unfortunately, I am also blessed with short, wide, flat, generally hard-to-fit feet – Flintstone feet, as they were once called by a shoe salesman at Nordstrom. Salomons, as much as Dave raves about them, are simply not an option for me. Too narrow. And I’d learned my lesson about Merrells.
So here we are, finally, to the point of this review: the La Sportiva Sandstone GTX-XCR hiking shoes. (Seriously, what’s with the long and technical names?)
I walked into The Mountaineer in Keene Valley (Never been there? Go, now. It’s the greatest store on Earth) and told the sales guy what I was looking for: Wiiiiide. Not too heavy, not too light. Flexible, but not too stiff. Good ankle support, but not too high. You know, the perfect shoe.
Instead of roll his eyes and tell me my business was not welcome there (as I surely would have done in his situation), he just said, “Cool. Let’s see what we can do.” And then he zeroed right in on the La Sportivas and asked only one question, “Goretex or not?”
“Goretex. Definitely Goretex.”
I slipped them on, laced them up, and went for a walk around the store. I went up and down the ramps, jammed my toes on purpose, simulated rolling my ankle. They definitely passed the store test.
I tried on a few pairs of other brands, just to do my due diligence. But the La Sportivas blew them away in terms of comfort, support, and flexibility. So I bought them.
Right to work
The first time I wore them out in the wild was during an early October hiking trip in the White Mountains. Think wet, cold, rocky and steep. They performed beautifully, even though I hadn’t bothered to break them in properly. The first time out, I went 8+ miles and they kept me dry, warm and comfortable with not even a hint of a blister.
Since then, I’ve worn them with snowshoes and crampons, in deep snow, ice, and mud. The soles provide excellent traction on rock – dry and wet. And so far the ankle support has been more than adequate.
Substantial without weighing you down
At 2 lbs, 7 oz the La Sportivas are definitely on the heavy side, but the overall smaller profile helps me to feel much lighter on my feet compared to my old boots. And instead of a cumbersome, bulky rubber bumper on the toe, a lightweight mixture of sand, glue and rubber is sprayed on the toe box for extra traction and protection. They provide more than enough support while carrying a full pack, and I happily use them for road and trail running with no ill effects.
No frills, all function
These shoes aren’t going to win any style awards. They are a plain, dull gray (uh, sandstone, I guess?). And they have no high-tech lacing system, just regular old loops/grommets and nylon laces. The mesh along the tongue and sides do add some visual interest in addition to breathability. Mine have aged nicely and held up really well after 6+ months of continual abuse. Overall, I have no great qualms about wearing these shoes around town. I’m not making any great fashion statement by doing so, but I’m also far from embarrassing myself.
2007 Outside Magazine Gear of the Year Award
There’s a reason why these shoes were named 2007’s Best Light Hiker by Outside Magazine. They’re all around awesome. Between backpacking, peak bagging, trail running, snow shoveling, and cruising Main Street, they have yet to let me down.
I love them. Isn’t that what it’s all about? They are the perfect “in-between” shoe for those of us not quite ready to give up the support and stability of heavier hiking boots, while still keeping up with the light and fast cool kids.
Good for longer-distance backpacking, scrambling up a rocky peak, or a quick trail run. They keep me dry and warm, even in winter conditions.
They’re a little pricey at $130, but there are deals to be had – I’ve seen them for as much as 40% off. They’re nothing special to look at, but I don’t expect that from trail shoes.