Saturday, February 15, 2014

Trail Running Shoes And Lightweight Backpacking

Dale Matson

Twenty-five years ago most trail runners used the same shoes for trails as they did for road racing. I used the Nike Air Pegasus and one of the best local ultrarunners Joe Schlereth ran in Nike Air Icarus shoes. The shoes were called trainers because they were made for high mileage and were more cushioned than racing flats. Joe ran 10,000 miles one year preparing for the Western States 100. He came in 3rd that year behind Tim Twietmeyer and Ann Trason.

In 1995 I broke one of the rules of racing and bought new shoes for the beginning leg of W.S. The race director Norm Klein told us the first 26 miles of the run were covered with snow. I bought a pair with deeper lugs for traction on the snow. I fell as much as anyone else. My choice of shoe was a moot point by the time I reached the Rucky Chucky crossing of the American River. I had not met the cutoff time and was mercifully pulled from the race. The 107-degree temperatures in the canyons had done me in.

In Wisconsin we screwed hex head sheet metal screws into the bottom of the shoe sole for running the trails in winter. This method also worked well for running on roads covered in ice and snow. I did finish W.S. in 2001 using Brooks Glycerin running shoes. I finished the Kettle Moraine 100 the previous year in the same model. I started the Kettle Moraine in a pair of Asics and developed knee pain in less than 20 miles so I switched to the Brooks shoes with no problems after that.

My point here is that after running scores of trail ultras, I was still running in trainers. Actually deep lugs and aggressive treads can cause you to stumble when you are fatigued and your ‘stride’ has become a shuffle.

Two things happened that led to my use of trail shoes. I became a lightweight backpacker and a civilian volunteer for the Fresno County Search and Rescue (SAR) team. Trails are highways in the wilderness. Searching off trails on slippery snow covered granite with a 20 pound pack required better traction. The deputies used Asolo boots and complained of blisters. I wore my trainers and complained of traction. It was then that I looked to trail shoes again. I went with the Salomon Speedcross and decided to use them for backpacking too since my multiday pack is about 25 pounds. Last year I replaced my Speedcross shoes with the Speedcross III with good results again. The soles are adequate for sharp rocks and they are sturdy shoes. My first pair lasted about 300 miles but 20 of those miles were off trail, which is much harder on shoes and those wearing the shoes. They are not good on wet rocks in streams.

Salomon Speedcross III

La Sportiva Anakonda

I was watching some trail running videos recently and saw some of the elite runners in La Sportiva Anakonda shoes. Trail running seems to be evolving into running/class 3 scrambling these days. Kilian Jornet with about 4% body fat and no pack can defy gravity with his minimalist shoes but I am not Kilian. Well, I’m not putting out six-minute miles (actually, I never did) but I am a 20-mile a day mountain backpacker that needs extra traction for climbing off trail. I am not wed to any brand. I have used the La Sportiva shoes and am still breaking them in. They have a rather ‘flat’ sole because the heal is not built up like most running shoes and is more like a racing flat. I was also surprised to see that the Anakondas and the Speedcross III shoes (size 12) were both the same weight at about 26 ounces a pair.

I am sure the minimalist style of running shoes will be in fashion for some time. They appeal to me because “less weight” has always been my mantra. Gone are the days however where I would run the trails of Yosemite with a tee shirt and shorts, water bottle, water purification pills and a flask of hammer gel. 

 Dale At Cloud's Rest


  1. I ordered another pair of Salomon Speedcross III shoes. The Anakonda's are good on wet rock but the flat sole and low cut upper didn't work out. I like a minimum coverage over my ankles for protection against brush and rocks. I also wear crew length socks for the same reason ("Darn Tough") merino wool. These socks wear well and minimize blisters.

  2. nice blog . . On my last trek i took my favorite the north faced havoc. they were great and daddy bought them for me from
    he knew that i want maximum protection on ankles as i am not so good on rocky mountains.

  3. I just retired another pair of Speedcross III shoes after 300 plus trail and off trail miles this season. My final hike was the Mt. Whitney trail as a day hike. I needed MICROspikes for an icy trail and the 'large' size fit like a glove on my size 12 shoes.

  4. Here is an update on the Brooks Glycerin model 12.

  5. Nice blog! I read your blog its really interesting article. Thank you for share your blog.

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  7. It is 2017 and I am still wearing the Speedcross III trail shoes as long as they remain available. The Speedcross IV shoes are more expensive and I don't see features that make them better. The only reason I would get the Speedcross IV shoes is if they had better traction on wet rocks in a stream. That is the one failing I see in the Speedcross III shoes. If you have used both models, please comment.

  8. I have the Speedcross IV shoes and will use them on a hike this coming week. They have more drop from heel to toe and are supposed to have a more durable and less slippery sole. We will see.

  9. I have hiked in the Sierra Nevada with the Speedcross IV shoes with several hikes averaging about 10 miles round trip. I have about 60 miles on them, I am satisfied that they have better traction on wet rocks when the soles are also wet than the Speedcross 3. Because they have more drop from heel to toe, they are less stable for me but put less strain on my heel cord hiking uphill. They have held up well but I would not say they are more durable than the Speedcross 3. The next pair of trail shoes I order will probably be the Speedcross IV again. It would add weight to the shoes but I would like to see a little more sidewall protection from sharp rocks along the outside of the forefoot.

  10. I ran across this post tonight and realized I bought my first pair of Speedcross shoes in 2013. I just received my newest pair of Salomon Speedcross 4 shoes yesterday. They still suit me right down to the ground.