There is strong minimalist trend in performance footwear nowadays and after hiking the 2700 mile PCT in the 101’s, I see why. At first look, these shoes do not appear to offer much: zero arch support, thin sole, no leather, modest tread, no heel cup, no snazzy insert, etc. Thank God. If you are tired of marching around with two tugboats strapped to your feet, I encourage you to at least go try a pair on. Now, let’s get specific and see what these shoes *do* have to offer.
Weight: (7.8 oz) It is said that an ounce on your feet is like three on your back. Consider the mechanics of each step and you will understand why. Lifting your leg 37 billion times gets kind of tiring, much more so with a fender-encrusted cow wrapped around your foot. What’s the point of all that BS anyways? Supposedly to protect/support your foot. From what? Walking? Friends, I can honestly tell you, you don’t need it. Feet are designed to walk, they do it exceptionally well on their own, even when pushed to the extreme. With that said, if you carry a heavy load, you need a heavier shoe, perhaps even a solid boot. I can’t stress this enough. But if you are lazy like me, always looking for the easy way and you can get your base weight below twelve pounds or so (not that hard to do), you will find these shoes to be a tenacious, efficient ally on the trail.
Construction: The upper is almost entirely mesh with a reinforced toe. When the wind blows, you feel it on your feet. You have no idea what a boon this was in the desert. The word ‘desert’ hardly conveys anything of the mind-scrambling heat, the unrelenting solar torture, the sheer harshness of the first 700 miles of the PCT. While many around me were suffering or altogether incapacitated with blisters, I had one or maybe two, both minor. I think this was due in large part to the exceptional breathability and excellent fit of this shoe. They proved to be reasonably durable with an average life span of about 400 miles which seems to be pretty typical for trail runners. The sole seems exceptionally durable, I did not have any issues with wearing through the bottom but after a while they get kind of slick. The weak spot is where the mesh meets the sole. Each pair came apart there first. The mesh simply ripped apart. I ran a couple pairs completely into the ground, closer to total disintegration than I intended. When the mesh blew out, the super-structure of the shoe remained intact for quite a while. Even when completely mashed and shredded, you can still walk in them but I can’t exactly recommend it. Another huge plus to the all synthetic/mostly mesh construction is these shoes dry almost INSTANTLY. For those of you who know, you understand how important this is. There's nothing like fording streams and sloshing around in the mud with impunity.
Fit: Like many of us, I have foot problems. Specifically, I suffer from neuromas (Morton’s Neuroma). Two in my right and one in the left foot. Basically, a neuroma is an inflamed nerve that gets ground between the metatarsal heads with every step. I have tried nearly everything to relive this pain: Superfeet and many other OTC inserts, prescription orthotics, cortisone injections, cryosurgery. Some podiatrists say good arch support is crucial for treating neuromas, but whatever, I know what pain feels like, I certainly notice when it stops. For those of you who suffer from this condition, I highly recommend these shoes. Aside from sandals, these are the only shoes that do not cause me pain. They are my new 'daily drivers'. The toe box is nice and wide, the heel fits like a glove. The fit can be altered dramatically with proper lacing; if you want a snug fit all the way, crank'em up. If you want a roomy fit in the forefoot, leave it a little loose up front, tighter towards the back to keep the heel locked in place and they stay that way. I strongly, strongly recommend you buy a size and a half larger than your regular shoes. I usually wear a ten but went with 11.5 and very glad I did. Definitely try on different sizes and go for the largest that seems reasonable.
Tread: Like I say, the tread is modest. I was skeptical at first but the only time I found myself wanting for more traction was in snow, and I mean weeks of snow. I found the tread design to be perfectly adequate for all other conditions on the trail. My favorite feature of the sole design, one of my favorite features of this shoe period, is the low profile. I will never look back. Evidently, most shoe companies think that balance and stability are a function of girth and 'support'. In this area, probably more than in any other, less is more. Being so low to the ground, your foot has nothing to fall off of; thus the likelihood of rolling an ankle is dramatically diminished. I felt very agile and quick-footed in these shoes. Not only that, there is a very satisfying sense of being in contact with the trail, of hiking *with* the trail as opposed to mashing through and walking *over* it. The sole is not 100% soft, like Inov8's for example. There is a rock plate in the forefoot which prevents you from feeling every nook and cranny, so that may be a consideration if you are looking for maximum trail sensitivity. I think this shoe strikes a good compromise, though.
Price: They retail for around $75. Watch for sales online.
Bottom Line: Obviously I like this shoe a lot. I really have no desire to wear anything else. Footwear is a highly personalized choice but if you are looking for a lightweight, well designed, dependable, reasonably priced no-nonsense trail runner, at least try some on. For all those masochists out there contemplating a thru-hike, you’d be crazy to not consider the 101’s.