Arguably the most important piece of gear along a thru hike, or any distance hike for that matter, the footwear and socks that you choose can either make or break the hike. The last thing you or any other hiker wants is blisters or hot spots right? Blow outs on shoes? Those are my favorite. I've experienced all of these horrible problems over the last two years, and this year, I FINALLY got it right.
I started the CDT in a pair of Hokas combined with the trusty Darn Tough Socks. I had used this combination in all of my training hikes and runs, and was more than confident that I would be satisfied throughout the whole hike. Within 100 miles, my feet were covered in blisters and hot spots, the shoes were blowing out on the sides, and my toes and feet felt so cramped I could hardly hike without being in pain.
I immediately made the decision to try out the greatly loved Altra Lone Peak 3.0's. Not only that, but I figured I'd try out a pair of Balega socks while I was at it. I had heard so many amazing things about both companies, so I figured it was worth a shot.
My first impression of the LP's were that they didn't feel like they needed broken in, they felt perfect right out of the box. The toe box was extremely roomy, more than enough for my wide feet, but most importantly, the tread seemed to be more aggressive and better equipped than any shoe I had tried on before. Within the first day of wearing them, I was convinced that I probably would never switch shoes again. Mile after mile, they provided the support needed for my ankles, they gripped the scree quite well and provided more than enough friction especially when climbing up steep peaks.
The reinforced upper on the sides prevented any blow outs until around mile 800 on my first pair. The toe cap never once pulled off more than halfway, even after putting 1,100 miles on them. The tread slowly wore down, but even by the end of the stretch before I got another pair, I still was able to descend without sliding too much.
The shoe itself is a Zero Drop shoe, meaning the height of the heel and the toe is the exact same, forcing a more natural strike with the foot. At first, it takes a little bit of time switching to a zero drop. It puts more pressure on the Achilles and calf muscles which then translates to essentially re learning to walk correctly and correcting any striking issues.
The LP 3.0 is extremely quick to dry, even after completely submerging them or hiking through a downpour. The laces have extremely good friction, which allowed me to tie my shoes ONCE for 1,100 miles on my first pair. I wear my shoes extremely loose compared to most, so this made for easy on and off access. They stay almost TOO comfortable, even after putting them through 1,100 miles of wear and tear along the CDT. Not one blister with the LP 3.0's for over 1700 miles. Not one hot spot. Not one ache or pain in my feet.
I can't contribute all of my foot success to just the shoes though. Socks are just as important as the shoe that covers the socks, so it was pertinent that I found a brand of socks that would allow my feet to breathe, but also be comfortable, soft, thin, and stretchy enough to satisfy my needs. I switched from the Darn Tough brand to Balega, just as a test. To be brief about the transition, when I put the Balega Enduro V Tech Quarter Length socks on for the first time, I couldn't believe how nice they felt. They were stretchy, thin, felt exactly like a synthetic shirt, and were damn good looking. As I put the first pair through the wringer, I couldn't get over how well they stayed in place. They didn't bunch up, they didn't cause any hot spots, and even when wet, they stayed exactly where they needed to.
Balega got it right with these socks. Not only are they HALF the price of a pair of Darn Tough's, but they are way more comfortable, way better as far as sweat wicking goes, and honestly, they just feel better all around. Mind you, they aren't made out of wool, so the life on them is much shorter than a pair of Darn Tough's, but man are they worth it. I don't think I'll be switching to any other sock anytime soon. They worked wonders for my feet, and I'll stick with what works.
All in all, I finally figured out the combination that works best for my feet. It was a bit of a tedious process over the last 4,500 miles of hiking, but when you know, you know. I think the Altra LP's are hands down some of the best shoes ever made, and Balega is truly doing something amazing with their socks.
Hope these little notes and the review will help make your decision on footwear a little easier. I know I wish I would have had someone convince me on Altra long ago, but it is what it is. Better late than never right?