I’m a girl, and I love shoes. Okay? I said it. I wish I had room for like eight pairs so I could choose which ones I wanted to run in that day.
Okay, admittedly, my shoe love is for running/hiking shoes. I couldn’t care less for heels, strappy numbers, and any of the other uncomfortable, too-narrow, restricting, blister-inducing, girly fancy shoes out there. Although, I do admire how they might look on other people – and I have a load of respect and maybe a little hidden jealousy for those of you with the fashion sense to pull them off. Seriously, I’ve tried, and it’s something I’m *totally* comfortable with giving up on.
First, a little disclaimer – this is my experience with trying to find a shoe (or ten). And I realize now that I maybe have weirdly-shaped feet. So please don’t write off any of these brands/styles listed below just because they didn’t work for me. They were all great quality, amazing shoes. I would recommend any of them to my closest friends. You just gotta try them and find one that fits your foot. I am especially partial to the Altra Lone Peak (as you’ll see), so if they fit you? Let’s just say I’m jealous, but genuinely happy for you. Because they rock.
It all started when I found the perfect shoe, oh, a couple of years ago I think. It’s the Altra Lone Peak 2.5 specifically. It was wide in the toe box, letting my toes spread out, NOT go numb, feel good, and just be happy little toes. The shoes were really lightweight. They were zero drop (which means there’s no drop from the heel of the shoe to the front of the shoe – there can be cushion till the cows come home, but it’s still possible to have no drop from the heel to the forefoot. I prefer less cushion, but that’s me. Most shoes have some sort of drop, with varying cushion). I prefer zero drop because it feels more natural to me – like the way our feet would work on their own. Remember, I’m not a fan of heels. At all. I mean, talk about drop! No thanks! The Lone Peak 2.5 did have a little cushion, but not too much. I could still feel the surface I was running on a little bit. I enjoy that connection when I’m running or hiking. I guess you could call me a minimalist. Or at least a wannabe. (I used to run in Vibram Fivefingers, so this is not new to me.)
So anyway, they were the perfect shoe. I wore them hiking, backpacking, trail running, and even road running – they’re technically a trail shoe, but they worked for everything – which is one of the reason I loved them SO much. Having one pair of shoes works great for me, too. I live out of a semi truck, so the space to store a thousand pairs of shoes doesn’t exist. The less stuff I have the better.
But guess what? Shoes wear out. Mine blow out – always on the inside where my big toe meets the foot. That bony part sticks out on my feet, making them wide (which is why I loved Altra’s large toe box), and if those bony parts are pressed in on from a shoe, my toes go numb and it’s really uncomfortable when I’m trying to hike 20 miles. I need that toe box, man. (Do I have bunions? Maybe the early stages, I dunno.)
When my last pair blew out, as they do, I was excited to get a new pair because, well, I wasn’t crazy about the color I currently had. Remember – I’m still a girl, and I like colorful things. (Sidenote: I’ve never been a fan of pink, like my whole life, but it’s recently started to grow on me. Mostly hot, bright pink, though. Not the pastel-y baby-pink. That’s getting too girly.)
I wanted something bright. I immediately and excitedly ordered the new version of Altra’s Lone Peak – the 3.0. I got them in the most obnoxiously bright color they came in – bright pink with orange and black accents. They looked so cool. I got two sizes right away because several, and I mean a LOT, of reviews said they ran a little narrower than the 2.5s. For some reason, I ignored the little red flag waving frantically in my mind when I read these reviews. I think I was just so excited for a new pair of shoes and seriously thought, “Nah. They’ll fit me.” Anyway, I got two sizes so I could try them both and return the one that didn’t fit the best.
I tried them on, went, “aaah, new shoes all cushiony and lovely,” and returned the larger size, keeping the the original size I’ve always worn. Yeah, they felt a little tighter in the toe than my last pair, but they looked so cool. And they were my trusty Lone Peaks. A couple days later I went for about a two-mile walk with Adam and thought I’d wear them just to get a feel for them. About 10 minutes into the walk my toes were numb. I can’t even tell you how sad I was. I knew right then I was going to have to return them. This wasn’t going to work.
So I did return them, and now I was running in my work shoe – which was a clearance shoe from REI. It’s a brand I’ve gotten before on clearance, for work. They also have a pretty wide toe box – Topo shoes. These have a 3mm drop, so they weren’t ideal, and if I knew I’d be running and especially hiking in them, I’d have at least ordered a half or full size up. But I was stuck with these for now. They were okay. I was mostly road running at the time anyway. And besides… It wouldn’t take long to find the right shoe… Right? Huh!
So the search for the perfect runner-up shoe to the Lone Peak 2.5 began (I searched for the now outdated 2.5s on the interwebs to no avail. Unless I wanted to squeeze into a size 6. But that kinda defeats the whole purpose.)
I ordered and returned so many shoes. At one time I think I had six shoeboxes in our car as I tried them out, ruled them out, and eventually returned them. I became a regular at the UPS store. It was kind of rediculous, was taking up a lot of precious space (and time), and driving me completely mad. I honestly don’t think I like shoes as much after this experience, which I’ll talk about in a minute.
I tried the Altra Superior in two sizes, and a really pretty blue that I loved – they creased funny in the front and pressed in on the tops of my toes. Back they went.
Then came the Altra Impulse. These were a road-specific shoe, as I realized I had to sadly give up on finding an all-in-one shoe. I was also trying SO hard to stay loyal to the brand I fell so damn hard for. But honestly, I was happy these didn’t fit me. They looked awesome online, but when I put them on my feet, I think they were the ugliest shoe I’ve ever tried on – but trust me – had they fit like my Lone Peak 2.5s I wouldn’t have had a second thought – I’d have hugged them and squeezed them and called them George. And I’d have run in them until they, too, blew out.
Next was the Altra Escalante. Again in two sizes. At first I thought they were so ugly, but they were a nice, obnoxious pinkish-purple color, which I sorta dug. But the texture – it kind of looked like a winter sweater – I know – weird. And I think it’s sweater-like texture got to me, because they felt really warm on my feet, too – but I’m sure it was just my imagination. This one was actually pretty comfortable and the ugliness of them was really growing on me. So far, not perfect, but the closest I could get. I still needed a shoe for trails, though.
I moved on to Topos. This is that other brand I’ve only gotten on clearance for a comfy work shoe. I ordered the Topo Terraventure because it had good reviews from thru-hikers. I got them a size up and they felt like clouds on my feet. Again, they weren’t perfect, as they had that 3mm drop, but I kept these as my hiking and backpacking shoe. I still have to try them trail running, but they seem to do well for hiking. I still have them as I write this, and it’s now too late to return them, so they are now a permanent addition to my newly acquired collection of shoes. Happily, might I add. They really are very comfy. This will be my main shoe for my next big hike. (And they’re green, which is my favorite color, so…)
Then I went and ordered a new brand of shoe that claimed to have a wide toe box and zero drop – the Xero Prio. Xero currently only makes one full-coverage shoe-style shoe, meaning, not a sandal, which is what they focus on. Sandals for running and hiking – so it’s a very minimalist company, which totally appealed to me and gave me hope. And I almost kept these. They really felt very minimal. I was kinda getting somewhere! (By the way, I might revisit this company for a runner if Altra never goes back to their original toe box.)
So what did I end up with? The Topo ST-2. It is a zero-drop shoe, is pretty wide in the toe, they’re nice and lightweight and fits comfortably. It came down to the Altra Escalante (the sweater shoe), the Xero Prio and this one. When I put this one on it felt like a sock the way it’s thin, stretchy heel wrapped around the back of my foot, and I was so sick of trying shoes and trying to decide that I finally just said, “this is the shoe and that’s that.” Oh, did I mention they’re bright pink? Bonus. (I ordered too soon for the safety green version, or I might’ve gotten them instead… Because green!)
I thought my struggle was over, or so I thought. I still needed, er, wanted, a summer sandal. I was set on Chocos because I have a friend that thru-hiked the PCT in Chocos (and had to use super glue on foot cracks, which is a whole badass story in itself, but I digress). Chocos also looked cool and sporty, and I could take a short hike in them if I wanted. I went to REI and bought a pair. I wasn’t totally crazy about the color, and they fit a little weird, especially around my stupid big toe bone-bunion thingie. But the salesperson kept telling me how awesome the straps can move around for a custom fit, and it takes some practice to get the hang of it.
I put them on again that night, messed around with the straps and just didn’t like them. I returned them the next day and ordered a different pair online with thicker straps and a color I really loved.
When I got my new pair I liked them. I loved the look – fashionable and sporty. And orange. I really wanted orange for some reason. But the way the strap wrapped around my toe and toe bump was still a little weird, but tolerable. Then I walked for a couple of miles in them. What was I thinking? Seriously. They have a heavy sole and a high arch. Dangit, one of these days I’ll learn to think more. Back they went. And here we go again! (Don’t worry, this is a MUCH shorter story than the shoe story.)
I went online, did some research, read a lot of reviews, compared, went back and forth, and finally decided to take a chance on a little company out of California called Bedrock. I ordered the Cairn style – in orange – and when I first put them on I was in love. Remember when I said I might be sick of shoes after that whole shoe-finding experience? Well, I might just go straight-up sandal as an all-purpose shoe. They are so minimalist. Thin, tough Vibram sole. Three points of adjustment for fit. And they’re a thong-style so my toes can splay all day, and that weird toe bone? It’s free!
I wore them for a week of camping, and didn’t want to take them off. I even wore them with my trusty Injinji toe socks in the evenings when it got cool out (yes, I wear socks with sandals – judge if you want – I’m about comfort, man). Oh, and I loved the way they looked, too. Bonus.
I ran 3 miles on a paved trail with them. I was a little nervous about using them for running and hiking, but I couldn’t help myself – I had to experiment! It was fine! I didn’t trip or anything. In fact, they felt great! I’d have to gradually keep adding miles to get my feet used to running longer distances in them, but this test was so promising. Then I went crazy and did an 11-mile training hike with my pack for my upcoming Wonderland Trail trip – in the Bedrock sandals. It was pushing it, for sure. But they performed great! I did get a little foot fatigue and a hot spot on my heel at about 8 miles in, but seriously? My first time ever, hiking in sandals, and I barely noticed them until mile 8!? So much potential! (Hmm, can I please find a way to wear these in the winter?) Oh, and during that hike, I didn’t stub my toe at all! That was definitely a concern. However, I did scrape my toes with sticks a few times, which I figure is something I’ll have to get used to if I decide to transition to sandal hiking and trail running.
One of my other big worries was the toe thong strap. I’ve always had a little trouble with these on flip-flops that I’ve gotten in the past, as in they hurt my big toe crotch pretty hard. But however Bedrock designed these suckers, they did it perfect. So comfy. I barely noticed it! Win! I might actually order another pair of these. I love them that much! (And they were about $40 cheaper than the Chocos.) Just get a pair. You’ll see.
The end result, aka my new shoe collection:
Work: Topo Magnifly (older model)
Hiker: Topo Terraventure
Runner: Topo ST-2
Sandal: Bedrock Cairn
I’m happy with these selections, but if Altra ever goes back to that same toe box as the Lone Peak 2.5s… Well… I’ll definitely try them out!
Tonight I love my Bedrock sandals. I wish I could wear them for work, though! Not quite a trucker’s shoe. Darnit.