Footwear for the Marathon des Sables

Marathon des Sables 2009While some Marathon des Sables competitors spend months agonizing over their gear choices, none is more important than one’s choice of shoes. Sure, finding the right pack is important, but the shoe is the foundation of every step… whether your racing or walking across the desert. This post is not intended to instruct an MdS or other desert stage race competitor on which shoes they should wear. Nearly any trail or road shoe could be right choice for a particular competitor. The only generally applicable advice regarding shoes for MdS is to get them a 1/2 size or a full size larger than you would normally wear to accommodate foot swelling brought on by the heat and the miles. Below, we’ll look at a few shoes that companies have developed specifically for the Marathon des Sables (only one is publicly available), a running shoe designed for desert conditions, and my own shoe choice.

We’re aware of three shoes that were designed specifically for the Marathon des Sables; however, only one is available to the public. The other two were developed for the respective company’s sponsored athletes who were competing in the race. While these shoes will never hit the market, we like when companies take on such projects of passion. Not only is it great to see these companies give such support to athletes who will never be in the Olympics, but the outside-the-box thinking required to design a shoe for such extreme conditions can only help with future consumer-oriented product development.

New Balance 1100
New Balance 1100The New Balance 1100 or M1100MDS (right – click to enlarge) is the official shoe of the Marathon des Sables and the only MdS-specific shoe that is available to the (European) public. While the NB 1100 reportedly weighs a brick-like 13.7 ounces (388 g) per shoe, the shoe does incorporate a microscopic velcro-closure gaiter. If the gaiter does, in fact, keep the sand out of the shoe, then the “extra” weight is actually a weight reduction by way of the elimination of a need for an external gaiter. As part of its sand protection, the shoe also features a fully gusseted tongue.

Teva Desert Shield
Teva Desert ShieldTeva’s Desert Shield was custom made for its sponsored athletes. The shoe (right – click to enlarge) is based on many of the technologies found in Teva’s Wraptor Shield eVent. The models share outsoles, uppers, and the wraptor fit system, which locks one’s heel into place. The biggest difference between the shoes is that the Wraptor Shield’s integrated low gaiter is extended above the ankle in the Desert Shield.

We’ve learned the Salomon has previously modified their XA Pro 3D with a special sandproof mesh for MdS. Salomon also integrated gaiters into these custom shoes for their runners. That’s all we know for now. If anyone knows addition info about or pictures of Salomon’s MdS shoes, please pass them along.

UK Gear PT-03 Desert
UK Gear PT-03 DesertUK Gear’s PT-03 Desert ($129) is billed as a sandproof “hot environment running shoe” that is optimal in conditions between 77 and 122 F. We hope the shoe is highly functional, because… let’s be honest… it’s ugly as sin. It calls to mind a lunch lady’s orthopedic shoes, don’t ya think? Ok, now that we’re done with being vain, the shoe features a sandproof upper and is designed for use with short or long detachable gaiters. The shoe also features heat-resistant soles and a rock plate. UK Gear’s website includes many reviews of the PT-03, but we’ll point you towards this review over at

Update – Montrail Desert Storm
I’ve since learned that back in 2001 Montrail did a small production run (a few 100 pair) of a shoe it called the desert storm specifically for the Marathon des Sables. The shoe had an integrated gaiter and had a “space age look.” I’d love a photo of these shoes if anyone has one!

My MdS Shoe Choice
Montrail Mountain MasochistAs the publisher of, I have many a trail shoe. While this may seem ideal, it can make choosing a shoe for an event very difficult. In considering which shoe to wear for MdS my main concern was stability. I’m a somewhat efficient runner, but have had some issues with my lower left leg after long distances on uneven surfaces. As luck would have it, just as I was about to make my decision, I got an offer to review Montrail’s new Mountain Masochist… and the only size they had was a half size larger than I normally wear. Perfect! I wore tes
t a prototype of the Mountain Masochist last summer and loved it. In fact, I’d hope to get my sample pair back in time for my attempt at the Iroquois 100. To oversimplify things, the Mountain Masochist is a posted version of Montrail’s Streak. If you’d like to know more about the Mountain Masochist, check my full review of the shoe.

There are 8 comments

  1. Michael Valliant

    Sweet, Goat! I have seen a couple reviews of the MM and it looks like a winner. Very pleased to see with the Streak and the MM that Montrail has latched on to the lightweight shoe idea. The Streaks have been a great shoe for me, and with posts might be that much better. Looking forward to trying a pair out when they hit the market. Also looking forward to your review!

  2. Travis

    Nice, looking forward to the Mt. Masochist review. I need a little more stability, but the Hardrock is just too much shoe and the Continental Divide is gone (and still too clunky). Great info!!

  3. Bryon Powell

    Montrail is singing a new tune these days. I like the Streak a good deal, but I'm not efficient enough a runner to be able to run 100 miles on technical terrain in them.Travis, have you tried the Hardrock '09. Montrail keeps ratcheting down the weight and "too much shoeness" of the Hardrock. Once I get back from Morocco, it will be one of the many shoe reviews coming down the pike.Aerojust, it's late and I wrote MM review over the weekend. Leave me a comment on the MM review post tomorrow as a reminder. What can you say, this is a rare moment of laziness on my part. ;-)

  4. Meredith

    Did you not opt to have a full shoed gaiter sewn on to the shoe? Are you going to be wearing gaiters? I will be interested to see how you like the new shoes! Always exciting.

  5. Bryon Powell

    Meredith,I don't have full gaiters sewn onto the shoes… but I do have velcro sewn on to the very bottom of the upper to which I'll attach gaiters.While these particular shoes are new, I've done plenty of running in the Mountain Masochist and really like them.

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