We’ve talked before about our approach to foot and ankle health with regards to footwear. See our guide to barefoot shoes here for more info on the criteria we look for in a shoe, as well as some budget shoes that you can try without breaking the bank.
As I have mentioned previously I always do a bit of a gruelling challenge each year on my birthday for charity. This year, I will be traversing up and down our local mountain many, many times and it got me thinking about hiking boots.
I’ve tried a number of barefoot/minimalist boots in the past. They all passed the barefoot/minimalist checklist:
- Zero drop – no height differential between heel and toe
- Foot shaped – wide enough in the toe box for your little piggies to splay
- Flexible – a thin flexible sole allows your feet to experience the ‘ground feel’ they were designed for.
All three factors are important to me for footwear in general. There are, however, times where a bit of stiffness and thickness in the sole is appreciated.
Mountainous regions are one such scenario. Having a stiff sole enables you to support your weight on just the edge of the sole or the heel, really useful when descending steep ground on grass or thin rocky ledges.
And while you can certainly develop strong enough foot muscles to handle rocky trails, having a bit of extra rigidity and thickness in the sole can definitely reduce the amount of fatigue felt in the foot.
My go-to running shoe brand for the mountains is Altra. I reviewed the Altra King MT 1.5 here and absolutely love them. Wide, foot shaped and zero drop, but with good tread, and enough sole thickness to handle pounding the rocks.
So when I was thinking of getting a new pair of walking boots, Altra were top of my list of boots to try.
Enter the Altra Lone Peak All-WTHR Running boot
This is basically a waterproof boot version of the popular trail shoe, the Lone Peak. I have owned the Lone Peak shoe for a number of years, in fact it was my first introduction to Altra shoes. They weren’t the most stylish of shoes, and often attracted more than a few looks when lining up at the start line of trail races This was in large part due to the ‘Clown Effect’, the curse of many barefoot/minimalist footwear.
In order for some shoes to create the ‘foot-shaped’ wide toe box they can end up looking comically clown like. The early Lone Peak were like this. So much so that I swear there was a honking noise accompanying every foot fall.
The Lone Peak boot follows the exact same design as the newer version of the (far less clown-like) running shoe, only with a higher ankle support and a waterproof lining.
So, with a little trepidation because I’m cheap and hate spending money yet love shoes, I ordered a pair.
At £150 they are not cheap, but in keeping with many other minimalist walking boot brands. Generally, I have found that Altra seem to last me longer than most other brands, so I felt it was worth the spend.
First Impressions and Sizing
My first impression of the boots when they arrived was excitement followed swiftly by crushing disappointment. My foot length works out at about 9.5 uk but I always buy at least a 10 due to my abnormal hobbit ancestry. In all other Altras this has been perfect, but not so for the Lone Peak boots. A size 10 uk, which allowed me ample room to splay in all other models felt like wearing ‘normal’ shoes for people with ‘normal’ feet, and possibly a size too small. I saw others remark on this in other reviews, but didn’t heed this, so back they were sent for the next size up.
When they arrived they still felt much smaller than the other models but I decided to stay with this size.
I think they look great. Understated yet well constructed, and to me, ridiculously lightweight. Coming in at 428g they are just poles apart from my classic, oldskool leather 2 season boots.
The 25mm thick sole won’t give you any kind of ground feel compared to something like a Vivobarefoot boot, but they are comfortable and share the exact same DuraTread sole as the running shoe, which while heavily worn down is still going strong 5 years on.
The uppers have a bit of a crinkly feel to them, and whilst not quite like a crisp packet, it does still feel a little odd at first.
The higher ankle support obviously restricts some of the mobility of the foot, but that is kind of the point. It’s not too restrictive but definitely gives some structured support.
On my first few short outings they felt comfortable and performed well. Pretty quickly I noticed how warm they were. Warmth is generally not something I look for in a walking boot.
These boots have an eVent waterproof membrane built into them. I like eVent stuff for other applications such as drybags. It stops water getting in but allows air out, so you can pack your gear in a bag, seal it up, then squeeze all the air out through the membrane. IT’S BRILLIANT.
But not so much in the boots.
This is a common problem for boots with waterproof membrane. Feet being a pretty damn sweaty part of the body and boots trying to seal themselves off from the rest of world often result in a clammy, hot environment.
1 hour into a walk and they feel pretty hot. Two hours into the walk and I can’t now tell if the boots are leaking or the dampness I feel is from sweating. The boots did not leak.
As I said this problem is not unique to this particular boot and is the reason why I have always gone for a single piece leather boot previously. They are as near to waterproof as you can get without a membrane (more so in most cases) and they do actually breathe.
Out in the mountains
Altra are an american brand, and judging by all american trail shoes I have tried, american mountains must be pretty dry with hard packed trails.
Irish mountains are made with 50% liquid. The remaining 50% consists of moss, sheep shit and ‘semi’ liquid bog sprinkled with the occasional rock.
And so, with my upcoming challenge on the horizon I set out with my backpack, my dog and my new boots for a couple of days roaming the Derryveagh mountains in the beautiful County Donegal.
The Derryveagh mountains have it all: bog, moss, sheep shit and rocks. What they do not have is many hard packed trails.
So how did they fare?
Over the rocky stuff they felt pretty good, with good traction even over wet rocks. The thickness and stiffness of the sole worked really well. Climbing up the epic Miner’s Path of Muckish Mountain these boots were looking pretty good.
Then it started going down hill. Pun intended.
You see, while an elevated heel may cause us some grief in our posture and foot and ankle health, they are bloody useful when descending sleep, slippy slopes. The heel digs into the ground stopping you from slipping onto your arse.
Add a heavy backpack to the mix and remove any kind of heel and it makes your descent down a mountain much faster, albeit on your backside. And while contemplating how well the waterproof membrane was working I slipped fully into a bog, drenching myself head to ankle.
But at least my socks were dry. For now.
7 hours and 5 mountains later it was a different story. By the time I reached my wild camp destination I couldn’t tell if the boots had leaked or not my socks were so wet. A quick test in the nearby loch proved the membrane was still intact.
If you want a good pair of boots for some serious mountain action I would look elsewhere. I’m not sure whether any of the zero drop boots would perform any better, lacking that grippy heel section.
If the boots had the same lug set up as the Altra King MT I think they would perform much better, but I feel you’d still struggle to keep your footing on steep ground.
The nice wide toe box can also give you a bit of bother too when traversing across a slope. Although the boot may be secure on the hill your foot tends to slip sideways within the boot, compromising your stability. If you have narrower feet than a hobbit this will be worse. This was the same issue I had with the Lone Peak shoe as well.
For trails and long distance paths etc I think they are well worth considering, providing you accept the slightly sweaty compromise of a waterproof membrane. The lightweight and durable soles would be a huge boon. Only time will tell how the uppers hold up to the rigours of hill walking. I intend to put them through their paces in my mountain challenge in a month or so, hiking 100 miles and the height of Everest in 48 hours for charity. I’ll keep you updated as to how they cope, and how I cope.
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