We get asked many times before the start of the season what footwear would be suitable for the trek. To be honest, there isn’t a correct answer, it very much depends on what experience you have, where you hike & what you prefer. Trekking trainers, summer mountaineering boots, lightweight hiking boots, trail shoes, you see them all out and about in the mountains in the summer here.
Your choice will depend on the conditions underfoot, the weather, confidence on uneven ground, injuries, the stability in your ankles and knees, your body and pack weight and of course what works well for you. It's worth saying that most trekking trainers offer minimal ankle support, boots can be a bit heavier but more secure and supportive. Just to say that what follows is personal opinion. I’m not a sponsored trekker and nor am I receiving any endorsements from kit companies.
So, what do I have to choose between? I have a selection in the garage, including, Brooks Cascadia, Hoka Speedgoat, Salomon SpeedCross, La Sportiva Ultra Raptor lightweight hiking boots, La Sportiva summer mountaineering boot. I have done a lot of walking in these mountains & I generally don’t feel I need ankle support, so in general I would go for either Brooks Cascadia or Hoka Speedgoat, great for walking Mabel and also for going longer distance, for example, on the TMB. They are both grippy on loose dry tracks, light, agile and nimble on rocks and skinny off camber trails. For trails with more difficult terrain, boulder fields, scree & generally anything above 2600 metres I would opt for my lightweight La Sportiva Ultra Raptor that give ankle support. In early season with large amounts of snow where I would need to where Microspikes or a walking crampon I would either opt for La Sportiva Ultra Raptor or my summer mountaineering boot.
This is my choice, and everyone is different, the best advice is bring what you are used to or if you have more than one pair in your garage like me and have a bag transfer, then bring a couple of options so you can make a more informed choice after day one.
Experience from Janet: I decided to walk in the new black Speedcross trail shoes on TMB day one from Chamonix to Les Houches. TMB day one has the longest continuous descent between Brevant and Hotel Campanules. By the end of this descent I was certain that the right shoe was both too short and tight. The new, trekking specific ankle socks were short and had filled with gravel. By the time we had reached the Christ Le Roi statue above Hotel Campanules I was seeking redemption but as my mother once said, ‘there is no help!’. I removed my right sock and insole to try and make the shoe fit. Too late, my big toe nail was the casualty, sore for a lot longer than day one of the TMB.
Experience from Alex: Well Alex is a pro; she has guided groups all over the world in all types of mountainous terrain at all sorts of altitude. When it comes to 'kit' then I would put her in the 'expert category'. Silly me! even an old pro can get things wrong. On our recce to Patagonia in March of this year, Alex bought a new pair of boots, they felt comfortable in the shop I believe! What's the saying... 'Do as I say & not as I do'. After day 2 of the trek, she developed excruciating pain in her achilles. The problem was alleviated slight by a DIY session at Refuge Dickson where she cut out the back of the boots with a knife. However, the damage was done & sore heels made the rest of the trek not quite as enjoyable as it should have been.
• Do not assume that your feet stop growing and two pairs of the same shoes will be consistent in size
• Shoes bought in the morning do not always fit the same by the afternoon
• Goretex can change the feel and fit of your footwear
• Longer socks keep out gravel, maybe offer a compression effect, beware of too tight socks though
• The descent of TMB day one goes down, down and then down some more, so footwear and sock choice needs testing!
• Trekking downhill for several hours can be more sapping physically and mentally than going uphill
• Box fresh kit is a bad idea & wear in new kit before you start your trek
‘Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other'