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Durable, Minimalist Shoe for Off-Trail Backpacking

I am in the market for a minimalist shoe that is very durable and will stand up to off-trail use. Any suggestions?

Answers and Replies


Hey Craig, that is a great question. Can you tell me a little more about yourself, and what you are used to using, and what your expectations for durability are?

How many miles do you expect out of a pair of shoes? What kind of off-trail conditions are we talking about?

Thanks Damien. I live on the east coast in the southern Appalachian mountains. I have been using a pair of Salomon XA Pros that are very durable, but have a significant heel drop and basically no ground feel. I wear a pair of Vibram Five Fingers in the summer on trails, but the uppers on those have gotten shredded by underbrush the couple of times I have tried them off trail.

So, most of the off-trail conditions I encounter involve roaming the Appalachian Mountains. My shoes are subject to a lot of abrasion from dense underbrush and the occasional scramble over rock outcroppings or small boulder fields. Being on the east coast, my feet stay consistently wet. I am planning to spend some time out west in the Sierras (very different from Appalachia to say the least), but that will be an exception to the conditions my shoes will normally see.

My trips tend to be over weekends or holidays, ranging from 25 to 60 miles at a time. I don't really know how I should set my expectations for durability. I suppose getting around 400 miles per pair of shoes would be good. Would love to get as much life per pair as possible though!

Thanks for the help!


The issue is that the more durable a shoe is, the slower it will dry. I tend to favor a less durable shoe in exchange for quick dry time (at least in the summer months). Hence I like shoes with mesh uppers, but they - as you know - suffer in abrasive conditions.

Assuming you are OK with less breathability and increased dry time, there are a few options that are pretty durable:

  • The Feelmax Kuuva is a very flexible leather boot. It has good durability, but not a very aggressive outsole (which may or may-not be a problem for you).
  • The VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trail is a tough water resistant synthetic trail shoe with a pretty aggressive tread pattern. The uppers will probably outlast the sole on this one. This sole is not great for hardpack, and not recommended if you do much road/pavement walking as it will probably wear out quickly.
  • The Sole Runner Transition and Transition Vario are synthetic boots with a pretty tough Cordura-like upper. They are very flexible. Like the Kuuva, they don't have an aggressive tread pattern.
  • The VIVOBAREFOOT Off Road is a leather waterproof minimalist boot. Not a great toebox, kind of stiff, and because it is waterproof it will take a long time to dry out. The uppers are tough though :-) Same outsole as the Neo Trail.

In any case, no matter what shoes you buy, you should coat the stitching with seam grip to help prevent the seams from blowing out in high abrasion situations.

You may also like to read over Dave Chenault's article here on minimalist footwear for technical terrain.

Does this help at all? I would be happy to help you narrow the results if you like...

Thanks Damien, that is very helpful. The Neo Trail seems to be along the lines of what I had in mind. Also, this shoe has a 4mm heel drop, but what do you think of the La Sportiva Anakondas for what I am looking for?

Also, when you say seam grip, are you talking about the stuff that McNett makes?



I haven't used the Anakondas, so I can't speak from experience. Dave Chennault likes them quite a bit, and he can abuse footwear like no one else. I have no significant issues with 4mm of drop. I think the main things to consider in the case of the Anakondas are the narrower toe box and stiffer sole.

Regarding Seam Grip, yes I am talking about the stuff that McNett makes.

Damien, thanks for the recommendations and the tip on the Seam Grip. I will probably give the Neo Trail a look and see how it fits. Thanks again!


I have an issue with barefoot shoes in the northeast myself. I bought a pair of vivobarefoot "one" shoes to run on the pavement and get myself used to barefoot running. I've been working my way there on the trail with the salomon xa mid boots, moving to the asolo reston wp, then to some trail runners. I wanted to make the final jump on hiking in minimal shoes, so I chose some day hikes to use my vivobarefoot shoes on, hikes where I wouldn't need the aggressive tread. At first the shoes were fine. But by the end of the day I was so sore due to all the little sharp rocks and from stepping on the tops of rocks all day. I spent a good amount of time trying to step around and over all the things that would result in pain, but that just took me twice as long to hike and also made me start to get dizzy from just looking down at where to put my feet the entire time. Also not fun because you don't enjoy the scenery as much. I concluded by the end of the second hike like this that minimal hiking shoes just aren't for everyone or every trail. I have since been looking for a compromise - something with the wider toe box and zero drop, but with some protection under-foot for the sharp rocks. Any thoughts on something in between for me? I don't want anything that feels stiff, just a nice sneaker-like mid or shoe would be great.


I ended up going with a pair of Altra Lone Peaks. Zero drop, wide toe box, a good bit of cushion, and a rock plate. They make another model called the Olympus that has a crazy amount of padding.

I am not sure about the durability of these yet, especially off trail. On trail, they have served me very well this past spring and over the summer. I will likely give the Neo Trail a try at some point, but I've liked my Altras a lot.


Altra also makes a shoe called the Superior which is mid way between a thin soled shoe and the Lone Peak (which for some, is too stiff and thick).

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