14.1.18 [Picture credit:]

Over the New Year I hiked the 81-kilometer Heaphy Track on New Zealand's South Island (see upcoming post). I knew I wanted a shoe with plenty of underfoot cushioning for stony trails where the bottom of my feet would take the big hits, and no waterproof lining so my feet could keep cool and the shoe would dry quickly after river crossings and (if I got caught out by the tide) wading in the sea.

My normal go-to brand for non-alpine footwear is Keen, but I could find nothing in New Zealand without a waterproof lining. So I took the plunge and bought the Altra Lone Peak 3.5 for $249 from Shoe Science in Albany, Auckland. I also bought (from Living Simply in Newmarket) the Altra fabric minigaiters. These are pricy at $60 but prices seem to vary among retailers.

These shoes are lighter than my New Balance running shoes; hiking in them would be a new departure for me, especially as as I am 118kg (260lbs) and would be hiking with a 14kg (31lb) pack including camera gear. I did a couple of 6km warmups with them, and headed to the trip pretty confident. They turned out to be a real success. These are zero-rise shoes, but after consultation in the shop I used them with supplied wedges under the heel to reduce strain on my achilles.

They are the most comfortable footwear I've owned in ages. the broad forefoot gives plenty of toe wiggle room. This was the first multi-day trip I can remember without blisters. I did not even get a hot spot. Three others in my team wore waterproof-lined fabric boots and really suffered with blisters.

The shoes laced up nice and snugly. I only had to tighten the laces on one or two occasions where a bad step moved my foot within the shoe. But at no time did I miss having ankle support. The fit feels a smidge loose in the heel on starting a walk, but I found that after a while walking my feet spread into the shoe nicely. At no time did I feel that the shoes were unstable, despite my body + pack weight. I wondered if I would find the toe box too flimsy, but there were few opportunites on the Heaphy to stub a toe. The ankle gaiters kept the grit out effectively. Underfoot cushioning was fine; I may talk to Shoe Science about gel heel inserts, as I am a heavy heel striker and have come out of the Heaphy walk with some ongoing heel pain. Initially I put this down to a bone bruise due to impact on the stony terrain, but a podiatrist has told me I have an alignment problem (my right foot points outwards too much when walking and running) which I need to work on and the shoes are not the issue. [This post has been updated to this effect].

There were some imperfections. Some stitching has come away on the upper, which is a little annoying but does not seem crucial. Also the fabric gaiters' velcro patches require some care after use and during washing - the loose covers for the tabs supplied at sale were quickly lost. And one trade-off for the excellent breathability and drainage of the mesh on the shoe was that I got a dozen sandfly bites on my feet. Next time I use these shoes I will spend more time treating my feet with repellent before walking.

Overall, they will be my go-to footwear for most Spring to autumn backpacking from now on.

This entry was posted in Outdoor Pursuits by Tom Jarvis | Leave a Comment