Shoes and Minimalism

This is my story about shoes.

My approach to shoes has always been indicative of my approach to running. In the past that meant that the shoe didn’t really matter; all I wanted to do was run in the mountains. But as I became more proficient in mountain running, and more aware of the mountain running scene (i.e., I read Born to Run), I began to learn about the different types of running shoes and the trends among runners. I happened to enter the sport at the beginning of the minimalist frenzy, and from the beginning I regarded it with skepticism. I was aware of how certain runners were known for cutting all the padding out of their shoes and running extremely long distances, and I heard about the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico running ultras in sandals, and I saw in those stories the same romanticism I saw in Born to Run. The public loves the idyllic stories about dedicated athletes just getting by and doing what they love: the crazy party girl who can still win 100-mile races; the dirtbag runners hitchhiking around the country setting records; the forgotten sandal-wearing distance-runner Indians living much the same as their ancestors in a mysterious mountain range. These images are romantic, but are they the truth? I didn’t think so. It seemed like too pretty a picture to be true.

Because of that I was prone to take more stuff on runs, rather than less. I figured the tried-and-true methods of the past were more difficult and less sexy, so they must be the right way. That’s how the adult world works, I was learning: if something is time-consuming, difficult and slow to show progress, it must be correct. Thus, I turned away from the example of the other young guys going too far on too little, thinking it shortsighted, and began going on runs with a backpack filled with things like sandwiches, space blankets, iodine tablets, a compass, a bivy sack, books, etc. To put it another way, I overcompensated to the extreme.

Over time, my views changed almost subconsciously. The more I ran, the more I understood what I did and did not need. The greater experience I gained, the better I grasped the fundamental principles behind long-distance mountain running. Namely, that by running we forgo traditional comforts and safety nets in lieu of confidence in our ability to return safely because we can move quickly. I gradually learned that I shouldn’t be taking a bivy sack on a mountain run; instead, I should be running only where I am good enough not to need a bivy sack. Barring disaster, I should be able to get myself out of bad situations by virtue of my ability to move quickly, rather than having to rely on artificial protection that hinders my speed, or I shouldn’t go to those places at all. With this knowledge I began to leave out items from my pack until after a while I no longer needed a pack. With adequate preparation and understanding of the terrain, summer mountain running in Colorado can be done safely and comfortably with a water bottle, several gels and/or bars, and a jacket. With enough experience, more than that seems unnecessary.

That said, shoes may be a different matter. I have learned to reconcile my skepticism of Born to Run in the following way: it is a book designed to entertain first, and give information second. The book is absolutely right that many trail running shoes of the past were astoundingly overbuilt, however, I have yet to see anybody win a competitive trail ultra while running barefoot, or wearing sandals, or FiveFingers, or some other iteration of the barefoot scene. While barefoot running is totally valid as a way to be strong and healthy, the science seems to indicate that the vast majority of people need some underfoot protection when running long distances. As for the young guys who were cutting all the padding out of their shoes and running super long distances, I can think of two in particular, one of whom races infrequently, at best, due to injuries and the other is now a farmer and hasn’t raced in years. Perhaps those are exceptional cases not to be considered in the overall pool, but their testimony seems compelling to me, so I have included it. Draw your own conclusions.

I drew my conclusions, and decided that minimalism is a very good thing to a certain point, beyond which the risks become too high. I started searching for lighter shoes, realizing that the extra weight in my old shoes was largely unnecessary. With lighter shoes I was a more precise runner, taking more care of each step, and this allowed me to become a better runner because I was more efficient. But lightness is not the only factor that matters – durability is crucial, as well. Especially in the mountains far from backup, shoes have to be able to withstand uneven, wet, loose and rocky terrain for hours at a time, or else the person wearing the shoes will be a sad sack, indeed. That’s why many road running shoes don’t work for mountain running – they lack the durability to survive the mountains for more than a few runs. I found that Montrail’s Rogue Racers worked particularly well for me, and I have worn many pairs since first trying them in 2010. Although they are by no means a barefoot running shoe, they are much lighter than I would have chosen just a few years ago. Despite my skepticism of the minimal movement, I gradually began to see its merit.

What Born to Run did for ultrarunning has been extremely positive. It put the sport into the mainstream consciousness and did a lot to show the public that ultrarunners aren’t crazy after all. Furthermore, the effect it has had on the shoe industry has been profound. Every company I know about is focusing on lightweight, low-drop shoes that provide protection without being heavy or bulky. Rather than the hiking boots that trail running shoes used to be, they now seem to take their inspiration from road running shoes, just adding more support and grip. Obviously those are generalizations, but nobody can deny that the trail running world has been consumed by the concept of minimalism, and nobody has remained untouched.

This is a good thing, because despite the fear-mongering about shoe companies conspiring to hurt their customers in order to get them to buy more shoes, designers have begun to focus on the natural structure of the foot and how that plays into the individual movements involved in running. Runners aren’t just looking for padding to protect us from rocks; we’re looking for a tool that will allow us to connect with the environments through which we run. Muddy trails need big lugs, rocky trails need sticky rubber, loose trails need stiffness and smooth trails need very little of anything. The trail shoes on the market today are designed to maximize the experience of trail running, rather than the trail shoes of the past, which were designed to minimize the damage done by the trails. It’s a subtle shift, but a profound one nonetheless.

This brings me to the latest stage in my evolution of running shoes. First, I wore whatever they gave me, but as I became better at running I began to seek out lighter shoes that wouldn’t fall apart. Now, I am interested in specificity to a degree I have not needed in the past. No longer am I interested in just running; I want to be climbing and adventuring, too. Normal shoes can only do so much. To truly move to the next level of mountain running, specific shoes are required.


That’s why I have recently tried out Salomon’s Fellcross and La Sportiva’s Anakonda. They are both suited to specific terrain that eludes the range of most other shoes. The Fellcross is designed for mud in places like the UK (“Fellcross” being derived from “fell running”), but also works very well for places like the San Juans which feature steep grass, loose scree- and boulder-fields, and snow of all consistencies. The Anakonda’s value comes in the vertical world. They have sticky rubber, which means they are good for rock climbing. Those interested in the progression of mountain running will know that one major direction of the sport is into steep and technical mountains. And the Anakondas are suited to the task.

For most runs I still stick to my trusty Montrails (and this is a secret, but I trust you – Montrail and I are working on some pretty cool products along this idea of specificity right now). When the terrain requires something more specific, I like to test the value of specific shoes. The sport today is becoming so popular that companies can afford to invest in new technologies that will make shoes more minimal without sacrificing quality. That is the real benefit of the minimalist trend: it is placing the industry’s focus on creating high-performance tools for athletes, which will allow more people the opportunity to be their best. I wouldn’t pretend to know the best way to be a mountain runner, because for everybody it is different. The above is what I have learned from my experiences running long distances, and it is helping me move into the future more prepared to achieve my goals. I know I will continue to change my opinions on these matters as I learn and grow, but that’s the best part – it’s always a learning process, and nobody has the right answer. We’re all just doing our best to be our best. Besides experience, the best way to learn is from others.

So I ask all of you reading this:

  • How do you choose shoes, and why?
  • What makes you like certain things and dislike others?
  • What would you like to see in running shoes?
  • What would your perfect shoe look like?

The interplay of opinions is a powerful force. Tell us what you think. People might take notice.

There are 219 comments

    1. Digga

      Me too! I've got three pairs. One with 1500 miles, one with 800 and the pair I just got are freshies with only 25. My first pair won't die and still are my shoe of choice for races. I'm still buying the masochist first generation online for 50 bucks!!!! In fact I might just buy another pair today since I like to have a pair in the box.

  1. Digga

    Come to the Bay Area and visit the San Francisco running company n mill valley. Opened by two legends Brett rivers and Jorge maravilla. They will spend all day with you — treadmill in store — they have hand picked very shoe they sell. No bs.

  2. Sid H

    No love for Altra Lone Peak ? Not really a "speedster" shoe but puts together alot of the above "wants" , ie. low profile , protection , rock plate , wide toe box & nice firmer cushioning .

    I really am liking the shoe.

    1. dogrunner

      Too heavy, too stiff for me. I like the Superior better because nobody does toebox like Altra, but still not my favorite in my current arsenal.

  3. HONE (yea I had to c

    So has the definition of minimalism changed? I have not read the Born to Run book but it seems like “minimalism” now means wearing a flat or some kind of “barefoot” shoe. I always thought minimalism was not bothering yourself with extra luxuries or materialism that is unneeded. For example, are you still considered a “ minimalist runner” if you are also wearing a GPS, watch, hear rate monitor, arm sleeves, leg sleeves, ipods, or any of the other crap I see all over runners that claim to be “minimalist”?

    I am not saying I am a minimalist runner and I think the term is just plain cheesy.

    1. Nick J

      I agree. I am a minimalist runner and I am slowly removing the amount of crap that I need. My GPS broke – I haven't bought a new one. I don't own poles and I've taken up drinking water from streams, never tried on one of those sleeves. Now that we've got the sun back I'm usually in just a pair of shorts and no shirt and sometimes no socks. I rarely wear underpants, but I do have a buff.

      For shoes I'm rotating between zero drop Trail Gloves, Mix Masters, MT110 and the new Roclite 243.

      It's a real buzz to be next to "naked" on a hot sunny blue sky day in the mountains.

    1. Mike Behnke

      Agreed!! MT110's are the best ever shoe I have ever run in. I even have PR'd a

      road marathon in them. Your calves will scream for a little while but once used to them you feel like you can run like a gazelle effortlessly across the earth. I have tried Hokas but after several runs in them they cause all kinds of problems with my knees, hips, lower back, etc.; no doubt from the high platform. It's just too unnatural. It's like my feet are going all over the place inside them, trying to pound through all the foam looking for the ground.

      Nothing ever hurts with the MT 110's except metatarsal pain from ramping up miles too quickly.

  4. Joe

    So having a essential emergency gear is considered "overcompensation to the extreme"? This kind of confidence could get you in a lot trouble. Running with essential emergency gear is critical to every runner entering the wilderness and should not be ignored no matter how fast a runner you are. My guess is a space blanket would have gone a long ways to comfort Micah True in his last hours if not have given him a chance at survival. We are putting ourselves in a elevated risk situation and we should be prepared. Minimal shoes and minimal gear are two completely different things.

    1. the "other&quot

      Hey Joe, I think that you misunderstood what Dakota was really addressing. Just my two cents. I agree with being prepared for extreme circumstances and I am sure Dakota does as well (and is prepared for them). Happy Trails!

  5. Trygve

    I guess they don't fit all feet, and yes, they are a bit narrow. But for sub 3hour runs they are perfect. In very technical terrain no other shoe has given me as much confidence as the x-talons.

  6. J.Xander

    Does the TrailRoc have a rock plate? I am looking at the 255's. I really appreciate the wider forefoot. But I didn't know they had a rock plate.

    1. Ben Nephew

      Trailrocs have the metashank 3, but the protection is from the combination of the sole design and compounds and the shank.

      The 255's have plenty of protection but are still flexible. You might also like the 313's, it is great all around shoe. Not as good on the loose stuff as the 255's, but faster on easy and even moderately easier terrain. Basically as fast as the trailroc 245's, but with enough protection and cushioning for at least 50 miles.

  7. Andrew Guitarte

    I trained in Vibrams for my first Ironman finish, then PRed in 3 road marathons while gunning for a BQ, before I took to the trails last year in Salomon Sense Ultras. Perfect progression for me shoe-wise. Stronger Achilles tendons built by my minimalist running form allows me to run hills and bomb downhills. I will only get better at this, year after year I'm sure. But that's just me, your typical mid-packer.

  8. mtnrunner2

    I don't race epic stuff like you "real" ultra folks — but to some extent — running is running. I do run high peaks, from dirt to talus and boulder-hopping.

    I've never been able to run well in overly-structured shoes, especially with big heels (they "clunk" on my feet), so I simply feel better in a less-structured shoe. Although minimalism can be fun, for daily use I've tended towards sturdy zero-drop shoes, i.e. Altra Lone Peaks.

    I also nearly broke a toe in the NB MT110, and though I still use them and love the ground feel while running in them, I don't when there are big rocks. My Altras, on the other hand, have a super-sturdy, protective toe box. For me that's non-negotiable.

    The one thing I don't really do on my leisurely runs is hammering downhills. I mean, not a lot. That's an area in which a more beefy shoe might be needed.

    And I do enjoy McDougall's book — a lot. Great stories and thought-provoking info. I think there's plenty to be learned from running so you don't hurt yourself. Experts seem to forget that not everyone is a gifted, perfect runner, and some may have to work incredibly hard to not get injured. That's where minimalism can teach us.

    1. the "other&quot

      Don't grade "epic" off of what anyone else is doing! Run and have fun. 'Nuff said! Find the races or challenges that you want to do and chase them. Run healthy and have an awesome 2013. : )

  9. Brian K

    Yeah, my 1010's fell apart quickly. I've been running in New Balances for almost ten years, but they've really let me down in the last year as far as uppers go (as well as lugs falling off the soles). They still make some of the most comfortable shoes on the planet. I love my M10's and 110's, but i've been increasingly switching to Innov-8 because the NB's have been falling apart well before their lifespan should be up.

  10. apace

    Yes to the toe bumper comment! I think I've broken a toe running NB110 or Inov8 X-Talons four times in the last two years. Honestly, if the X-Talon had a firm toe bumper, I'd be a much happier camper. Anything comparable anyone can suggest?

    1. Ben Nephew

      Talon 190 or 212? I'd be surprised if it was the 212, so that may be an option.

      trailroc 245 has more protection through the end of the sole, but the upper area of the toe bumper not that high.

      Mudclaw 265 and Roclite 243 are two other good options, with the Mudclaw offering the most protection.

  11. André Lambert

    Brooks PureFlow for fast asphalt

    Brooks PureGrit for scrambles

    but 90% of the time I am on my Hokas (Bondi B). 7 pairs down, 2 on the mail (Bondi B 2) which has more mesh and breathes better. Highly recommended.



  12. JoeDo

    I do almost all of my sub-2 hour training in my Vibrams….road, trails, very technical trails, and more recently, moving into creek-bed running / rock-hopping for more fun. Vibrams are just too much fun to not use all the time.

    However, when they get wet or when I have gone over 2 hours in them (only 3 times thus far), then the blisters come, and they came hard and deep….ouch!

    One day, hope to do a full 50K trail race in them, but for now, I run (delightfully) in my Pure Grits! Brilliant shoes and fairly minimal too.

  13. Sally

    I choose shoes by the way they feel. I can't know that from trying them on in a store though. I just have to try them for a while. This makes switching hard.

    Bright flashy colors can look nice, but let's face it, colors don't enhance performance, possibly just price. So I tend to like the bland performance shoe rather than the colorful shoe. But that is not to say that there aren't colorful performance shoes out there.

    What I have always looked for in a running shoe is minimum weight and maximum comfort.

    What would my perfect shoe look like? I don't know, but there are lots of examples of what it would not look like. Sorry, I can't go into that here. :)

  14. rob

    Mountain running has been "progressing" into the vertical and technical for 50 years and probably longer than that. Check out "A Night on the Ground, a Day in the Open" by Doug Robinson. Its fun to see the Dakota and folks having fun scrambling beyond trails; they are following in a rich history and huge footprints. In the 1970's, Charlie Fowler ran from Boulder to Eldo, soloed the Diving Board (700 foot overhanging 5.11 wall) in his running shoes and ran back to Boulder. Just a day in the hills.

  15. grandkonaslam

    No doubt that shoe selection is important. IMO, the right pair of aftermarket insoles should also be considered. Sometimes I wonder why manufacturers even bother with those flimsy pieces of foam…(yes, some factory insoles are better than others)

  16. Ben Nephew

    On the downhill comment, the roclite 243's might help with that. The gaps between the lugs in the talon sole are why the protection is not the greatest, and the roclite sole does not have gaps quite as large.

    I know for a fact that the trailroc 245's have better protection, and are also a 1 arrow midsole.

  17. Ben Nephew

    This is a great point. While in most long distance races the winners are able to wear the most minimal shoes, the opposite is often true with very technical events. I've been at many races where people have come up to me and said how awesome their 190's or 195's were. I ask them if their feet are OK, as there is no way I could have done that course in shoes that thin and kept my feet intact. The key difference is that they are going slower on the rocky downhills, so they don't need the protection that a faster runner would need. When people ask me for shoe advice, I can't always just base that advice off of what I would wear on that terrain.

  18. Ben Nephew

    If you lived in a New England location surrounded by technical trails, this would lead to the conclusion that you should just run on golf courses and soccer fields, or run at half-speed on the trails.

  19. Kev

    for me, show buying can be more painful than running in shoes that don't fit! I have like a 11 EE left foot and a 10/10 1/2 EEEE+ right foot depending on the brand. I tried using regular shoes when i first started running and either broke or tore something in my crippled (right) foot. after walking around pretty much barefoot, then moving to merrells and xero shoes for walking, i started to be able to run again. Altras seem to be the best fit for me, but it still isn't perfect since i have two different sized feet. Anyway, when looking int shoes….

    1:zero drop (not the most comfortable at times, but the best therapy for the bad foot) WIIIIIIIDE MIDFOOT+TOEBOX

    2: i don't like heavy built up shoes because if i really can wear them, they'll break down in about 100 miles. the more flexible they are to twist side-to-side, the more i'll like them.

  20. Kev

    whoops! i guess this has some keyboard shortcuts….

    3: wider midfoots. NB stuff is nice, but my wide midfoot doesn't fit properly in any of their minimus line shoes. (1010 is the closest, but to stiff with the rock plate) Altra is even slimming down the midfoot. the superiors i have aren't wide enough and i rubbed a hole in the flex-point of the right shoe. (i'm not the only one to have that problem)

    4: my perfect shoe would look like my feet. i'm almost thinking of going the russell moccasin route to try to solve a lot of my fit issues. That or make my own shoes…..

  21. Sage Canaday

    Great post!

    SCOTT t2 Kinabalu's. Forget about drop or offset when you have SCOTT eRide technology (PI would call it "dynamic offset" but that's another story altogether). It seems like many people get caught up with a a couple of millimeters of difference in "drop." I've seen a ton of very fast (ie sub 2:10 marathon) runners use very cushioned shoes with great form. I think one can learn good form in any shoe (or lack of shoe). Instead, look at the materials of the shoes, look at how your foot is shaped and film yourself running at different speeds. Know that in the latter stages of a hard race/workout your form will get worse and things like a heelstrike (totally what i do) will become more exaggerated. Work with your body rather than against it – know that even subtle changes in form take time and a neuromuscular "re-programming"). Sometimes with requires a wider variety in training and an outside perspective of what's going on with your body as you run.

    btw SCOTT will be coming out with a trail shoe version of the "Race Rocker" in 2014. The road version weighs about 6 ounces so we're going to try to keep it as close to that as possible with eRide techology, some AeroFoam and excellent traction. Can't wait!

    Train smart, race hard, and stay healthy!


    1. Lstomsl

      Pardon my skepticism, perhaps what you say is true, but it sounds a little to convenient that the company that allows you to be a professional athlete, the company for which you are paid to promote, also just happens to have THE BEST SHOE EVER….

      I agree that you CAN run with good form in cushioned shoes but anybody that runs sub 2:10 almost certainly had perfect form regardless of what they are wearing and while not 100% the probability is very high that anyone running sub 2:10 in recent years had not seen running shoes until forced into them by corporate sponsors.

      While its not as clear in the ultra-world we have great records for marathons and the conclusion can only be that shoes don't make a bit of difference. In fact Western runners haven't won many major marathons in e past 15 years despite the fact that winning times are not much different then they were 30 years ago when Americans were winning everything but before Nike invented "running" shoes. All that shoe technology has amounted to diddly squat in terms of Marathon performance.

      1. Mike

        For the sake of accuracy I don't see where Sage said the shoes were "the best". If you are going to question someone's integrity at least be accurate with your language.

        1. Lstomsl

          I never said I questioned Sage's integrity. If you are going to question my comment please at least be accurate with your language…..

  22. Daniel

    It seems like this topic has drawn a lot of attention so I will add my views through my own opinions and experience.

    I tried and tried to run in the NB 110's and many other low profile shoes such as the 110, but can't at least for the near future. For one I over pronate, and I have a short leg syndrome. My Right leg is a few cm longer than my left and until I get adjusted with some prolotherapy to hold the adjustment I have to wear custom Ortho's.

    So I have to find a neutral shoe that also allows me to swap out insoles. For now I'm really liking the Hoka One One Stinson Evo's and now I'm curious to see how I run in the NB 1210's (Leadville Series.) I'm going to the Running Store to try them on with my custom Ortho's in place and view my running on the TV today.

    My spin/advice for anyone out there…is don't buy a shoe based on looks, and who is wearing them. I did that and I have had more injuries than I like to comment on. Get your feet looked at by both a proper foot doctor to make sure your not flat footed, high arched or in between. Then he or she can let you know what type of shoe to get (Neutral/Motion Control/Minimal) and if you need a Custom or at least a good pair of over the counter Ortho's like Super Feet. I finally did just that, and now I can run properly as long as I get a Neutral/Mid Cushion Shoe that allows the inserts to be swapped ( NB 110 does not allow that for example.)

    From there head over to a proper running store like Boulder Run Company, Fleet Feet etc…and get in a pair of shoes based on what your Doctor told you and then let the people at the Running Store view your run pattern to make sure your not over or under pronating.

  23. astroyam

    Hi Ben. Yes, i have the TrailRoc 245s and they do deliver on downhills and racing, and are a great shoe. However they removed material under the arch in the contoured anatomical last. For me, this means I pronate a bit too much with these shoes, and i can feel my ankle dipping inwards, like in a soft shoe, even though it's firm, because there's no material under the arch. To the point where my inner shin gets sore on longer runs. Somehow the Talon 190 and F Lite 195 deliver perfect pronation control which is why I stick with those for training.

    1. Ben Nephew

      Thanks for the feedback. I haven't tried the 243's myself yet. However, I would prefer it if the tread blocks covered the entire sole. I would guess the 195's work because of the lack of big lugs, and the lugs on the 190's just compress to the point where they don't pose a problem for you. I'd rather have the lugs there for protection and traction.

  24. David

    I agree that good form is important, but I have to disagree that barefoot "forces" good form. I see plenty of Five Finger runners running like ducks.

  25. Nate

    Awesome. A comment from Hone. Somebody get this guy a blog. Bryan, maybe you can set him up with a column three or four times a week. The people need this.

  26. Yeti

    Great article by Dakota who seems to really have his finger on the pulse of ultrarunning culture and values. +1 to Lstmosl's comment. Unfortunately, this isn't the first time, nor will it be the the last, that Sage(and certain other elites) will use irunfar as a means to promote their sponsors(which btw, will inevitably change in a matter of time and then THAT company will all of the sudden have the best shoe). The dude can definitely run like almost no other, but really, so what? What does that have to do with the other 99.9999% of us? Most of us will never even come remotely close to winning a race, so why concern ourselves with what these individuals have to say? Hero worship? Boredom? Daddy issues? I don't know. What I do know is the sales pitch b.s. is getting really old, really fast. The community is trying to have a meaningful, helpful discussion on shoe choice and the accompanying injuries/success but is more frequently being subjected to advertising nonsense from certain elite runners beyond the boundaries of their blog/twitter/whatever. I'd drink their Kool-Aid with caution. They may be "better" runners than most of us but we love the sport just as much, and I'd argue more, than they do. After all, we do it for free.

    1. Jay

      Everyone has their own opinion, and nobody is really right and nobody is really wrong. I just wish that everyone would be a little more grateful when really good runners post on this site, whether you agree with them or not.

      And just a quick response to this statement, “They may be “better” runners than most of us but we love the sport just as much, and I’d argue more, than they do. After all, we do it for free.” How many years, and how many miles of running, simply because they love it, do you think it took to get to the point that they had the opportunity to make some money doing something that they love? Please don’t pretend that because someone gets paid to do something, they don’t love it just as much as the rest of us.


      1. Yeti

        I'm equally grateful to all the runners who post to irunfar, but man, do commercials ever ruin the show. It's like T.V. before DVR, where's the fast forward button for christsake.

        1. Ben Nephew

          Did you say you wanted a commercial, Yeti?

          In a article like this, I think products plugs are to be expected. I agree that the plugs can seem forced in some race reports. I think the key is to put the testomonials in the proper context, does the athlete always race in those shoes, what does their feet look like after the race, are the shoes retail items or custom jobs, is the runner often injured, do they switch brands all the time, etc….

      2. Sage Canaday

        thanks for the support Jay! I've been running most of my life (15+ years now in racing…). Flat-out love the sport. It's infused in my identity and lifestyle, but there is also a passion. I don't ski, I don't golf, I don't rock climb -and I'm too uncoordinated for any other sports anyway. Running is what I do and it's in my blood and it's what makes me tick. I think a lot of us share that common connection (at least to the trails and outdoors and pushing ourselves) and that's what makes the community so strong.

        1. Jay


          Back before I fell in love with trail running I used to kayak for a living. I kayaked all over the world and was able to become a World Champion, and a 3 Time National Champion, amongst other things. When I started making money in the sport people suggested the same thing about me. The crazy idea that they loved the sport more than I did because they did it for free, while I was getting paid to do it. Nobody stopped to thinks about the hundreds upon hundreds of hours that it took me to get to the point that I could make a living doing it. It was the hardest “job” that I have ever had, and I did it for the same reasons at 13 years old as I did at 30 years old. Because I loved it.

          I really appreciate your contributions to this site.


    2. Sage Canaday

      I never said SCOTT's were the "best shoe" (no brand can say their shoe is the best as individual differences in biomechanics influence fit and comfort more than anything obviously) I also understand that maybe 95% of the community does not like blatant sponsor plugs…Obviously I'm biased and this is what I do for a living so I don't even try to hide the fact that I'm promoting a company much like an ad. I probably should back off as people see enough ads nowadays but the business side of the sport is interesting to me. In a competitive market brand recognition and exposure is paramount.

      That being said I ran in a $29.99 pair of Asics (I'd always wait until they went on sale) with fake gel cushioning all through high school in college. They worked fine for me and I had no idea what other kinds of shoes were out there. When I worked in a run specialty shop at Hansons for 2.5 years we didn't just sell Brooks shoes…I sold Nike, Asics, NB, etc and fitted a very wide variety of runners. I've tried running in Montrails, Hokas, and Salomon shoes. I've done running form videos on my YouTube channel and shoe reviews for different brands. Variations between people in foot shape, arches, and running form of course determined which models/brands that seemed to work the best for people and it was a night and day difference between some individuals.

      I hope you find a shoe that fits you well and that you stay healthy.

      Happy trails,


      1. Daniel

        Sage, and Everyone Else (Including Myself) – There is no need to explain yourself to anyone on here.

        Your a runner, I'm a runner, and so is the next guy toeing the starting line, or watching the live comments on IRF. Doesn't matter if your training for a 5k, Boston Marathon, the Leadville 100 or the guy/girl who just started running today for the first time to keep in shape or to fight off health issues.

        Lets not forget this is a family bonded by the trails, road, vertical gain on a Flatiron or Peak/Summit!

        We live in a day and age that nothing is certain and even running is not protected or promised anymore. (Out of Respect For Those Lost and Injured at the Boston Marathon…RIP)

        That said, I would like to think that this article written by Dakota was not meant to be a pissing match between Sponsored Pro's Vs Average Joe.

        A shoe is a shoe find the one that fits you and how you run, and just run,jog,scramble, hike, or walk. Lets not loose sight of this simple form of movement and lets keep celebrating with races and events and hold positive/constructive conversations as runners and as a family of runners in the meantime.


  27. Jay

    You don’t have to say that you are questioning someone’s integrity, to actually be doing so. You did post the words BEST SHOE EVER in capital letters in your response, even though nowhere is Sage's post did he use those words.

    I will tell you a little secret… If you want some of the best distance runners in the world to post here, which is what makes this website so great, collectively we should all treat them with a little more gratitude.

    1. lstomsl

      Well you have to admit the beginning and end of Sage's post read like they are straight out Scott's advertising copy. All I did was point out that he gets paid to say that stuff. All opinions are welcome but for myself I will put more credence in joe average's opinion who pays for his shoes and goes to the shoe store and tries models from different companies. That certainly doesn't mean I question they guy's integrity. I have no idea what he's like other than that he's way faster than I will be. I apologize to Sage if his feelings were damaged by my comment.

      But you can't argue with my larger point that not a single improvement in shoe technology over the past three decades has resulted in an increase in marathon speed. In fact the opposite seems to be true. Take this weeks Boston event, the winners time was only 8 seconds faster than the winning time in 1970. From 1975 to 1983 the winning time was bested 5 times by three different AMERICAN runners. Also bested by British, Australian, Japanese, and Italian runners. But 24 of the past 26 Bostons have been won by africans who spent most of their lives without running shoes. I'm open to any other explanation for this phenomenon but the take away message for me is that shoes simply don't matter. The only thing that matters is whether a shoe is comfortable for my personal foot and there isn't a single person in the world, no matter how fast they run, that can provide me useful information to make that determination.

    2. Peter Andersson

      There are forums and there are forums, anyone reading comments in deep on this one is likely to know that S.C is a professional, pointing that out is like pointing out that the sun rises in the east.

  28. Steve

    Maybe I didn't see this mentioned, but despite all the other technical mumbo jumbo, price is usually top of my list. That usually means last season model, which also has the benefit of giving me plenty of reviews from people who have actually run significant miles in the shoe. Then there's the (now) standard: lighter, lower, still some cushion, and my personal preference of a tongue that doesn't slide to the side (I prefer the Peak 2 style tongue).

  29. Bryon Powell

    Can I encourage the parties who feel an emotional response to this thread and wish to comment to go out and run a few miles, take a deep breath, and then comment as if you were talking to a fellow runner out on the trail. I'm hoping we can keep things civil and friendly even when we disagree.

  30. Rob M.

    No, actually I never even considered that. I suppose a drill would work? But now that you mention it, I have noticed that another hole seemed to be missing where I would usually find a set for lock lacking properly. That may actually save a couple pairs of shoes I own – thanks!

    1. Ben Nephew

      A drill works, but if you have a nail countersink thing with a wide head on it, that works nicely when used over a piece of wood. Makes the difference between shoes being unwearable due to the fit to having a great fit and running in them every day.

  31. Caleb Wilson


    I can appreciate the principle you are talking about. But Dakota never said that being prepared wasn't necessary. He said he goes out as prepared as he needs to be for his skill level and the terrain he is planning to tackle.

    And an FYI, I was one of the runners who was with the group that reported Micah being found. He did not freeze to death or die from some type of exposure to the elements. The coroners report said the best determination on the cause of death was likely an arrhythmia while running due to idiopathic cardiomyopathy. He was dead within minutes because oxygen was not getting to his brain.

  32. John L.

    Dakota said "I have yet to see anybody win a competitive trail ultra while running barefoot, or wearing sandals, or FiveFingers, or some other iteration of the barefoot scene."

    Ruby Muir won the womens 2013 Tarawera in a pair of five-fingers. I believe in a pair of the "See yas", the most minimal pair they offer even.

  33. Jeff

    Dakota nails what I think needs to happen to satisfy runners looking to travel deeper into varied terrain, or that want a follow a more creative line in the mountains. When I first saw the trailer for Joel Wolpert's In the High Country I immediately wanted to replace the sole on my own pair of 110s with climbing rubber. Specificity not only comes from runners that want to switch things up, but inspires them to do so. Rather than just running the approach trail to my local crag I can then turn and solo up the easy slab sections or hit a granite boulder field without missing a stride. Bear in mind though, companies try to sell to you what you don't need (that's just what they do) and just like thinking we all need to switch to the new barefoot/low-drop/highly-padded/maximalist shoes to fix the weak spot in our training, it's not about what the shoes do what, but what YOU do.

  34. Dave

    Hey Dakota, when I look for shoes, the first thing I want is comfort. It has to feel like I am sliding on my favorite slippers. Then I look for the correct sole for the terrain. I've honed in on Inov8's f-lite 230's for the smooth trail, and Talons for the rough stuff. I do not want to even think about the shoes, they need to be a subconscious extension of my feet; light comfortable, and grippy.

    1. Trygve

      Talons are the best for the rough stuff. They are the perfect compromise of light weight, grippyness and protection. No other shoe gives me such confidence on super technical trails/off-trails.

  35. Matt P

    I'm a happy agnostic when it comes to shoes. I like what Dakota says about specificity & although I dream of the magic shoe for all seasons, I'd add that every shoe represents a trade-off in some department. Being less of a skeptic than Dakota, I guess, I went minimal after reading Born to Run. At the moment, though, I am "training low and racing high": that is, I have shoes with varying degrees of minimalism and low-dropness that I deploy in training, but when it comes time to lace up for Promise Land 50k in VA next week, I will reach for my Hokas. They are a godsend in this rock-bedeviled part of the world. (Oh I was a Hoka-skeptic at first, of course, but seeing Karl flying down the mountain at Grindstone last year shook my minimalist faith to the core.)

    1. Ben Nephew

      While it is not as risky as going high/low, doesn't it feel odd to train in one shoe and race in another so different? I've always found it helpful to train and race in the same shoe as much as possible, even when doing shorter road or track races. I'd always run into trouble with my calves, PF, etc. if I didn't put some quality miles in my flats or spikes. I'm not sure what the Grindstone course looks like, but do you ever have issues with the Hoka's rolling over on very technical terrain? That seems to be a common issue in New England. Years ago inov-8 had a 320 model where the midsole was softer than the original, and many had issues with rolling the shoe.

      1. Matt P

        Hasn't been an issue so far. I should add that I'll incorporate the Hokas into the end of a long training run. On my last 50k long run around Sugarloaf mountain, MD, I did the first three quarters in the zero drop Altra Lone Peaks (very comfortable, BTW), then finish the last portion in Hokas. This gives me time to practice technique. Maybe I just avoid injury because I'm chicken & others are really bombing the downhills, as the Hokas will allow you to do like nothing else out there.

  36. David

    Thanks Dakota for pointing out that barefoot running has a place in terms of improving form and increasing strength. In my experience that certainly was the case. Now for longer stuff on rugged mountain trails, 99.9% of us need some solid protection and at least some cushion. It's awesome that so many companies are offering cool products now that don't interfere with the natural gait all that much. In terms of what I look for in a trail shoe, in order of importance:

    1. Drop (0-4mm)

    2. Weight (sub 9oz)

    3. Protection (flexible rock plate is nice)

    4. Cushioning

  37. JP

    I rate myself pretty high on the tech-geek scale and am very happy that we now have some new metrics and terms to throw around on top of/besides heel to toe drop. Its exciting stuff!

    Interesting to hear comments about Boston marathon time progression. Of all the major races to talk about progression on, someone chose the one that is point to point and probably most affected by weather conditions year on year? Also, major marathons are paced to a point, but are almost always played out with tactics and surges (unless you're Steve Jones, YEEEE-UP!) and times are a secondary concern, expecially at Boston where times can't officially matter.

    Shoes may not matter a heap on the road, but I don't think many of us here are all that interested in road shoes for running 2:50/km in. Depending on the trail, I think shoe choice (thinking here my worst suited to best suited trail shoes) can make anywhere from pretty much no difference to halving your time on a section, no doubt.

    For now, I look for NB MT110s on the box, when looking for a shoe. The things I like about them: Great trail feel, just enough rock plate, amazing outsole durability/traction ratio on my local trails, fast draining, fit like a glove, they feel light and fast. One dislike is the uppers easily. Put a 5g mesh over the forefoot and they'd be absolutely perfect.

    One suggestion that I have for all running companies is why not make shoes in series with different midsole thicknesses? Keep everything the same, but have maybe 3 midsole thicknesses available? Surely this is cheap to do, same upper and outsole tooling, just cut the foam bits thicker or thinner. It would be ace to have 8mm/4mm shoes for fast short stuff, 10mm/6mm for 2 – 3 hours and 12/8 for long stuff. I know they'd get a bit more unstable as they got higher, but I dont think it would outweigh the confidence people would get from having the same fitting uppers and same gripping outsoles on every run.

  38. Mike

    So how did you intend your comment to be understood? If someone made the same comment about you would you take offense? If Sage believes in the shoe he wears and wants to plug it more power to him. I'm confident in my ability to choose the right shoe for me no matter who is endorsing it.

  39. Duane VanderGriend

    I choose shoes based on what I currently believe to be optimal, so I have changed with the changing trends on a path that started 15 years ago with high drop heel strikers that contributed to a year off running, and only biking, because of my knees, then on to running in water socks on pavement at 215 lbs. that contributed to a stress fracture in my foot, and then on to 4 mm drop lightly padded shoes and finally on to Stinson evo Hokas. I like any shoe that I can run in pain free and have discarded new pairs of shoes after just a few tries in rotation when they increased knee pain. I like light. I like 4-6mm drop. I like fat cushioning. Hmmm…Hoka didn't pay me to say that. My perfect shoe would weigh 3 ounces, would cushion my foot strike like a memory foam mattress, and would have a crisp toe-off.

  40. astroyam

    One important issue with shoe cushioning is the runner's weight. A 20 mm thick sole might 'feel' the same to a 200 pound runner as a 14 mm sole does to a 140 pound runner, for example.

    And that 'feel' relates to the fact that the heavier runner will compress a given sole more quickly than a lighter one, and thus it will feel like there's less there. The heaver runner needs a thicker sole to get the compression time that feels right.

    If you're big enough, a Bajada (if it had a 3 mm drop) might feel and actually be the same to you as an X Talon 190 feels to your 125 pound neighbor. This might argue in favor of varying sole thickness with shoe size…

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