Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
(1) Fit, fit, fit! That's more important than anything else. Plan to do lots of trying on, and walk around the store (preferably with a pack) for an hour or two. Do the same, for several hours, on the carpet at home while you can still return the shoes.
(2) Once you have found a shoe that really works for you, buy several pair. Sure as death and taxes, the manufacturer will discontinue the model or completely change the last before your ideal shoe wears out. Been there, done that, just starting with the last pair of pre-Columbia Sportswear Montrail Hardrocks (I bought a bunch, shopping on the internet).
(3) Some of us need more support for our feet than others. I have severe bunions and hammertoes, so need a really high and wide toe box, but I also have absurdly narrow heels. Plus I need motion control and anti-pronation stuff built in. I also want the bottoms of my feet shielded from rocks. Others want the "almost barefoot" option, or something in between.
(4) The best place to find trail runners is probably at a really good running shoe store. Of course you can also order online from one of the several shoe companies that provides free return postage and will keep doing so until you get the fit you want.
(5) Shoes are probably the most individual item for anyone--everyone's feet are different. That's why I don't dare recommend any particular brand or model--especially since my ideal shoe hasn't been made for 9 years now, and once the current pair is gone I'll have to go through the whole process of finding another "ideal" shoe.
Afterthought: Since not all running shoes have decent tread, do look at the bottoms. You don't want to be slipping in the mud or on dust-covered rocks. You also need tread that won't slip on wet rocks.
Edited by OregonMouse (09/14/1505:11 PM)
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view--E. Abbey
Loc: Portland, OR
Read OregonMouse's reply above carefully. It is correct in all details. Just remember the three most important things in trail shoes are 1) fit, 2) fit, and 3) fit!
As for brands that are suitable for hiking or durable, the ground keeps shifting around, because companies keep changing their designs, their materials, even their ownership. I would be especially leery of any brand that has changed ownership, such as the Montrail brand OM mentioned.
I used to buy Vasque every time because they fit my feet and were good quality. Then I hit a run of Vasque shoes that fell apart on me after a couple hundred miles. I changed to Brooks Cascadia 7. I bought three more pairs of them as soon as I realized they fit my feet and were durable. Now the Cascadia 7 model has progressively morphed through the Cascadia 8, 9, & 10 and I have no clue if the 10 model is as good for my feet as the 7 model was or if it will last very long.
This is the reality of trail shoe buying, as much as I wish it weren't.
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