Hiking shoes or trail runners?
This is THE debate in the long-distance hiking community, while day hikers hardly ever hear about it.
Traditionally, it was unthinkable to go into the mountains without a good pair of boots. You get the impression that only certain shoes are capable of pulling you up the mountain while protecting your feet.
Leather seems to be a must, as well as a high shaft that covers the ankle and a waterproof membrane to keep your toes dry.
With, of course, a thick lugged sole to grip like a gecko on the rocks.
But this century-old consensus has been overturned by the democratisation of long-distance hiking in the USA. Thousands of hikers set off each year on the very long and wild American trails, led by the AT/PCT/CDT, and they have gradually discarded their big boots for the shoes reserved for extreme runners: trail runners.
Small, light, made of canvas or mesh, these shoes have only one thing in common with hiking boots: an efficient lugged sole.
A radically different philosophy, durability is sacrificed for comfort, protection for lightness and waterproofing for quick drying.
Sacrifices and gains that go hand in hand with an ultra-light mindset.
But which shoe is right for you, and for the HexaTrek?
Hiking boots: the solid tradition
The big advantage of the classic hiking boot is its ability to never let you down.
Solidly built, made of leather, with a high shaft and generous amounts of foam to cover your foot and ankle, the "hiking boot" inspires confidence.
They can go on for miles without tiring, they allow you to throw your foot in the middle of thickets without risk, to attack scree slopes with ease and not to be afraid of getting stuck between two rocks.
Often equipped with waterproof protection, they allow you to cross small rivers, paths invaded by melting snow, snow, and other showers without worry. Pure protection, little Land Rover Defenders with feet.
And in Europe there are a lot of historical manufacturers and models.
But they are heavy, and their waterproofing is double-edged. On a long-distance walk like the HexaTrek, the weight of the equipment is essential, each gram will weigh several kilos after months of walking. And this is especially true of shoes, a mass that you have to lift off the ground a million times with each step to hope to see the finish line. Weight is critical here.
A waterproof shoe for the day is ideal. But after several days in the water, or during a storm where water seeps through the top of the shoe, or during a river crossing that is a little too deep, the shoe will get soaked. And then the waterproof membrane works against you by trapping the water inside, and the waterlogged leather won't help.
It takes several days, sometimes even a week of good weather, to get a dry shoe.
And 7 days of putting on a cold, wet shoe every morning is a big blow to morale...