You might recall that it was one year ago, while hiking the Coast-to-Coast and aliloop-of-the-lakes in England, that I became a true believer in using trail runners for backpacking. It turns out this is not just a fling. We’re talking full-on love affair made to last for the long haul and that’s because for the Te Araroa, I had fantastic results wearing La Sportiva Akyras. (full review and specs)
In the words of Saturday Night Live’s Stefon – New Zealand has everything: the steepest climbs and the nastiest descents on ankle-twisting rock and mud, narrow catwalks of tussock-covered strips-of-slip requiring the twinkle-toes accuracy of an Alex Honnold, miles and miles of sand and sea, plus water, water and more water in the form of streams, rivers, and wetlands. By day five, my Akyras were sandblasted and mud-caked beyond recognition. But that’s just cosmetics. These babies kept me nimble and secure, one pair per island of over 2,000 miles walking.
For a damp thru-hike, Akyras work best because there’s no fussy “waterproofing.” They get wet with water seeping in – or more accurately pouring in – then pouring right back out. The shoe may be damp, but the water doesn’t saturate. This is in stark contrast to shoes made with Gortex which boast of keeping your feet dry, but end up holding the water next to the foot like a squishy aquarium – and the stinking to high heaven once the shoe’s removed.
Akyras proved rugged, indeed even if the mesh near the toes ripped apart by day 30. This is likely due to the stress from continuous lateral movement and the fact that La Sportivas run narrow in general. Even when I used men’s shoes with a wider toe-box, my misshapen big toe and surrounding bones press against the mesh. It takes a few days for the shoe to conform to my foot. Though I sprung a leak, as it were, this was only in the top layer of mesh. The under-layer remained firm and strong, losing none of its shape or power.
Running shoes made for mountain trails are essential over running shoes made for pavement due to the added protection of a rubber toe-box that the foot beautifully packaged all those stone-kicking kilometers. In combination with Balega socks, I suffered no trail-ruining blisters and my arthritic feet had just the right balance of support and torsional flex to allow me hours of continuous walking.
La Sportiva uses a patented rubber sole similar to its signature climbing-shoe, giving the hiker confidence and sure-footedness. I fell twice, once on mud-covered rock and once when a branch caught my trouser, causing my ankle to buckle and fold over on itself. I suffered a sprain that day and bent my hiking pole the other day, but I’m not sure the shoe was to blame in either case. A concern many hikers raise about wearing trail runners as opposed to boots is the fear of rolling over on the ankle. I found the opposite to be true, that my feet felt stronger in the light, rugged Akyras and this is likely because the steep heel drop mitigates the need for heavier shoes. It places the foot in a more aggressive stance, focusing the power in forward motion rather than back on the heel.
You can see in my comparison shot in Wellington of pair #1 – used for 1,600 kilometers of thru-hiking plus a New Year’s Eve climb on the endless schist of Mount Taranaki – against the bright, shiny pair #2 that the lugs still seem to be somewhat intact even after all that punishment. Although, I must admit next time I will probably not try to push so far on one pair, maybe putting my limit at 700 miles. I should mention that if your hiking is in predominately loose rock, you may want to consider using gators like the Kiwis do to keep stones from collecting in your shoes.
I know this sounds like a small thing, but while I am impressed with laces that stayed tied all those long 10-12 hour days of walking, they were the first to go, shredding in the middle and – rather than breaking – elongating and proving useless. I had to change out the laces about 3/4 the way through each island. Should this be necessary? Can La Sportiva source laces that have the same longevity as the shoe itself or am I asking too much? There was not a chance I’d easily find laces to match, and instead walked the final stretch of each island sporting “clown shoes.”
You might be forehead-slapping just now thinking, “Really, Blissful? You expect laces to not show signs of wear? Didn’t you just mention in the above graph you’d likely push shoes only half again as far?” I agree I might be expecting a bit too much and should probably pack an extra pair of laces for the Pacific Crest Trail…
Kiwis are a bit suspect of lightweight footwear, totally indoctrinated in the use of boots for hiking – preferably leather. I was delighted that I convinced one local tramper to give trail runners a try, and he picked up a pair of La Sportivas when he walked with me on my last tramp in New Zealand. He reported feeling light and secure on rock, mud and steep inclines. And when heaving through rushing rivers – the pride of all Kiwi trampers – he says he felt totally natural in light trail runners especially because of more direct contact with the rocks below.
As a true believer, evangelizing a convert was an awesome way to end my thru-hike. She’s gotta have ‘em and so La Sportiva Akyras receive my highest score, five Anitas.