While 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
The 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’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’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 TrailrunningSoul.com.
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
As the publisher of iRunFar.com, 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 test 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.
More Trail Running Shoe Options
To find more options for trail running shoes, check out our Best Trail Running Shoes article.