Trail shoes should offer comfort and grip for walkers

Trail shoes should offer comfort and grip for walkers

As winter fades into the distance and the weather improves – hopefully – it’s time to think about shelving those heavy walking boots for a month or two and slipping on something lighter for your trail walks.

A trail or approach shoe should offer good grip on the surfaces you’re likely to encounter, and provide comfort for your outings, whether it’s tackling a nice long hike along a maintained footpath, or approaching a scramble or climb.

Or maybe you just want something comfortable and outdoorsy to lounge around in when the boots come off.

You might want something that does all of these.

We put eight pairs of shoes to the test, ranging from some pretty technical models that will come in handy for tackling a scramble or even an easy climb, to more general walking footwear where comfort is key.

All the shoes in this test are suitable for walks on moderate terrain, but lack the protection for ankles and feet that mountain boots afford. The advantage over boots is their lesser weight and often increased comfort, helping you stride out for perhaps a few miles more.

AKU Mio GTX

AKU Mio GTX

AKU Mio GTX
Price: £ 139.95
Country of manufacture: Romania
Weight: 864g/pair
Colour: black/grey/green
Sizes: 3-13

The AKU shoes use a combination of fabric air mesh and suede uppers to provide protection in the lower half and breathability in the upper part of the foot.
The toe box has extra protection and a small hard extension of the sole upwards. The heel also has some protection from a raised suede section.

The outsole, the bit that actually hits the ground, is one of many versions produced by Vibram, and in this case, S864 Megagrip. The Mio GTX, new for this season, has AKU’s IMS – Internal Midsole System, which bonds a layer of EVA to the moulded lasting board.

There’s lots of cushioning underfoot and the shoes benefit from a Gore-Tex Extended Comfort waterproof system.

The forefoot is quite roomy but the fit generally is about average. The heel is held well and the cuff and tongue are nicely padded for comfort.

The shoes are middling in weight, and AKU says they’re suitable for trail use up to medium heights, as well as leisure use, which sounds about right. They’re certainly comfortable enough for everyday use, though in warm weather your feet may get a little stuffy due to the waterproof membrane.

Lace loops are a combination of metal and webbing, and allowed for a good snug lacing that prevented movement, though the nature of the laces themselves means you have to make sure they’re firmly tied to stop them unravelling in use.

The insole is AKU’s own ergonomic model and has little padding, though this is unimportant given the amount of shock absorption offered by the midsole. The insole has a good heel cup that helps keep the foot in place.

In use, the Mio GTX were very comfortable, and their generous underfoot padding would make them ideal for long trips on hard surfaces. There was some build-up of moisture after some time walking on a fairly warm day.

Traction uphill was very good, with the soles working well on rock, gravel and grass. Equally, braking downhill was good on these surfaces too, and the foot was held in position well within the shoe, with no heel lift uphill or sliding forward downhill.

The Mio GTX is a great all-rounder, happy on the trail or in everyday use, and combines good comfort with equally good grip.

Performance 35/40
Comfort 33/40
Quality 8/10
Value for money 6/10
Total score: 82/100

Anatom Skye Trail

Anatom Skye Trail

Anatom Skye Trail
Price: £90
Country of manufacture: Romania
Weight: 850g/pair
Colour: black/green/grey
Men’s sizes: 41-47 (7¼-11¾)
Women’s sizes: 37-42 (4¼-8)

The Skye Trail uses a combination of polyester fabric and suede in their uppers, and has extra reinforcement at the toe box, along with a small upward extension of the outsole in the toe area.

The lacing system, which has webbing loops, worked well and allowed the foot to be held well, with no movement. Sizing of the shoe was about average, with a medium width forefoot, though for us, there was a little narrowing in the big toe area.

There is ventilated foam padding in the tongue and ankle area which added to the comfort and fit, though the foam did feel a little coarse when compressed.

The insole is Anatom’s own Bioform Ultralite, which has only a little cushioning and is fairly standard, though there is a ‘crash pad’ oval section at the heel. Main shock absorption for the foot comes from the phylon midsole, a variant form of EVA. Cushioning was medium.

The outsole is Vibram’s Sky Running model, which felt durable.

The Skye Tail benefits from Anatom’s own tri-aria waterproof lining which kept out the wet on test though, as with many of the shoes that have membranes, there was a build-up of perspiration on warm days. The shoes are medium weight and the price is very reasonable for a multi-activity shoe that will serve well on a variety of terrains.

In use, the Skye Trail was comfortable. Underfoot shock absorption was ideal for mixed terrain and the shoes gave a sure feeling on uneven ground.

Uphill traction on rock, gravel and grass was good as was braking downhill on these surfaces.

Performance 28/40
Comfort 29/40
Quality 7/10
Value for money 8/10
Total score: 72/100

Berghaus Explorer Active GTX

Berghaus Explorer Active GTX

Berghaus Explorer Active GTX
Price: £110
Country of manufacture: China
Weight: 784g/pair
Colour: black/red
Men’s sizes: 7 to 11 (including half sizes)
Women’s sizes: 4 to 8 (including half sizes)

The Explorer Active GTX is the Sunderland brand’s new multi-activity shoe, and shares many features with Berghaus’s similarly named boot.

The uppers use a combination of fabric mesh and polyurethane synthetic Nubuck, with extra reinforcement at the heel, toe and along the bottom of the flanks of the shoe.

The outsole is a Vibram Opti-Stud model which, combined with the midsole, provides a medium amount of underfoot absorption. The Ortholite insole also has good padding, with inserts in the heel and ball-of-foot areas. It also has anti-microbial properties.

There’s a good heel cup on the Explorer Active GTX, which held the foot firm and the lacing also helped keep the foot in place both uphill and down, with no heel lift or sliding forward. There’s padding at the heel cuff and tongue, which provided the right amount of comfort.

Sizing is a little generous, about half a shoe size larger than average.

The Berghaus shoes have a Gore-Tex waterproof membrane, which worked well, though there was a build-up of moisture inside the Explorer Active GTX on warm days.

The Berghaus shoes were among the lightest in the test, helping combat fatigue on longer walks.

Performance was good, with the Explorer Active GTX giving good uphill traction in the dry on rock, grass and gravel, with similar braking performance on these surfaces. In the wet, performance dropped a little but was still good for an all-rounder.

Performance 29/40
Comfort 29/40
Quality 8/10
Value for money 7/10
Total score: 72/100

Columbia Ventrailia OutDry Trail

Columbia Ventrailia OutDry Trail

Columbia Ventrailia OutDry Trail
Price: £85
Country of manufacture: Vietnam
Weight: 776g
Colour: blue/black
Men’s sizes: 6 to 12 (including half sizes)
Women’s sizes: 3 to 8 (including half sizes)

The Columbia shoes came in a vivid blue shade, though for less extrovert walkers a grey version is also available.

The uppers are fabric mesh with sections of solid textile overlay. Extra reinforcement is provided at the heel and toe. The outsole is Columbia’s own Omni-Grip rubber which, combined with the Techlite midsole and the Columbia insole with foam padding, provided lots of underfoot absorption.

The Ventrailia was the lightest shoe in the test which made for good comfort on long walks.

The shoe benefits from an OutDry waterproof membrane, which kept the water out though there was some moisture build-up on warm days. The midsole has ‘ports’ – four venting spaces which allow a little air circulation below the foot. This helped a little, but didn’t make a huge difference as most of the heat within the shoe rises rather than goes out through the bottom.

Grip was good, with traction uphill on grass, gravel and rock reasonable. Braking downhill was good. Overall, these are comfortable shoes, good for trail walks and everyday use, though the soft lightweight construction makes them less suitable for routes where you might be encountering loose rock.

The Ventrailia OutDry Trail Shoes are also the least expensive in the test.

Performance 30/40
Comfort 32/40
Quality 7/10
Value for money 8/10
Total score: 77/100

Keen Durand Low WP

Keen Durand Low WP

Keen Durand Low WP
Price: £124.99
Country of manufacture: Romania
Weight: 1,294g
Colour: brown/black
Men’s sizes: 6½-14 (including some half sizes)
Women’s’ sizes: 3½ to 9½ (including half sizes)

The Durand Low WP is the cut-down version of its Durand boot, and the uppers are mostly Nubuck leather, with small sections of fabric.

Toe and heel sections are reinforced with upward extensions of the rand, and ankle cuff and tongue have a good amount of foam padding. The forefoot of the shoe if fairly wide, but the lacing system of three Nubuck loops and one metal-reinforced webbing allowed snug fitting of the shoes, though it does require careful knotting of the laces as the tongue is quite short.

Keen said its sizing on the model is running about half a size small, so the brand supplied us with one a little bigger than we would normally use. The estimate of about half a size is about right, so bear that in mind if you choose to buy.

The Duran Low WP has a very sturdy feel, and its outsole is chunkier than many with Keen’s own dual-compound rubber model helping underfoot comfort, along with the polyurethane midsole. Keen says the shoe will keep its comfort longer because polyurethane resists compression better so should retain its properties over a prolonged period of use.
The shoe has an oval heel cushion made from polyurethane, in the top of the midsole. The Keen dual-density EVA insole has an indentation on its lower face that fits this cushion, and for that reason, the brand doesn’t recommend using after-market insoles. So that’s saved you some money!

Overall feel of underfoot cushioning was good, and provided comfort on longer walks, especially on hard surfaces.

The Keen shoe holds the heel in position well, and there was no lift when going uphill. The general sturdiness of the Durand Low WP is reflected in its weight, the heaviest in the test.

Waterproofing comes from the Keen.Dry membrane which, like membranes in other shoes in the test, caused a build-up of moisture within the shoes on warm days.

Grip was reasonable both in braking and traction, though not among the best.

The Keen shoes are among the beefiest in the test and feel like they will give prolonged service. They also provide good protection for the feet.

Performance 27/40
Comfort 29/40
Quality 8/10
Value for money 7/10
Total score: 70/100

La Sportiva TX4

La Sportiva TX4

La Sportiva TX4
Price: £110
Country of manufacture: China
Weight: 820g/pair
Colour: grey/black/blue
Men’s: 36-47½ (including half sizes)
Women’s: 36-43 (including half sizes)

The TX4 shoes look a lot like beefed-up rock shoes, with their long Mythos lacing system with its eight pairs of cord loops reaching right down to the toe area.
This enables a good snug fit round the foot, ideal for the technical ground that the La Sportiva shoes are aimed at. The Italian brand recommends the TX4 for via ferrata, technical approaches and use in the mountains.

The shape of the shoe mimics that of the foot, with a broad forefoot and an extended area for the big toe. The Mythos lacing is asymmetrical, with the laces veering slightly towards the big toe towards the front of the shoe. The arrangement made for good snug fit, and the laces stayed tied without difficulty.

Sizing was about average.

The uppers are water-resistant suede, but the TX4 does not have a waterproof membrane. There’s a wide polyurethane rand protecting the whole circumference of the lower part of the shoe, and the toe box has chunky runner protection.

In the wet, the suede and rand kept water out when walking through shallow puddles, and the uppers also shed some rain in showers, but water did get in at the tongue area during heavy summer rain, so if you’re heading out in the wet, expect to get damp feet. In the dry, the build-up of sweat in the shoes was minimal.

The La Sportiva shoe has the STB Control System, using a construction where the uppers wrap round the midsole to add stability.

The outsole is a Vibram MegaGrip model, with circular studs in the forefoot and the Impact Brake System at the rear, along with a ‘climbing zone’ at the toes, a flat area to give purchase on small holds on scrambling or easier climbing routes.

The midsole has injected EVA, with the heel section having a thicker layer and the forefoot a less pronounced shock-absorbing layer. Further cushioning comes from the soft Ortholite insole, though this is quite thin.

Padding around the ankle cuff and tongue if fairly thin, in line with the shoes’ minimalist design.

The TX4, part of La Sportiva’s Traverse X approach series, is the most technical shoe in the test, and is designed to give good performance on mountain approaches and scrambles. It’s quite happy on less difficult trails too, and the lacing allows for a good range of volume adjustment and snug fitting. It was also the second lightest in the test.

There isn’t a huge amount of underfoot cushioning, so the TX4 is less comfortable than some on long walks on hard surfaces, but its technical performance in terms of grip was unbeaten. On all our test surfaces, the grip of La Sportiva’s TX4s was very assured.

La Sportiva’s shoes were very impressive performers and work surprisingly well as all-rounders, though comfort wasn’t as comprehensive as some models in the test. If you’re heading for technical routes where grip is important and can do without a waterproof membrane, the TX4 performed excellently.

Performance 37/40
Comfort 28/40
Quality 8/10
Value for money 7/10
Total score: 80/100

Lowa Renegade II GTX LO

Lowa Skiros GTX

Lowa Skiros GTX
Price: £100
Country of manufacture: Slovakia
Weight: 1,042g/pair
Colour: dark grey
Men’s sizes: 6½ to 13 (including half sizes)
Women’s sizes: 3½ to 9 (including half sizes)

The Skiros GTX is a chunky, sturdy shoe, based on its bigger boot cousin, with mainly Nubuck uppers, with some fabric panels. A thermoplastic polyurethane Monowrap ‘exoskeleton’ extends upwards from the rand at the side and heel of the shoe to give extra stability and protection.

The toe area has a small upward extension of the rand to give some protection.

Lacing is fairly standard, with three pairs of webbing loops plus a final pair of metal eyelets. The system did allow for a snug fit. The shoes have a fairly high volume, so are worth considering if you have a high instep.

The polyurethane midsole, part of the whole Monowrap system, provides a medium degree of underfoot shock absorption.

The Lowa-branded outsole has fairly deep lugs. A Gore-Tex membrane provides waterproofing for the Skiros GTX.

There’s a good amount of foam padding around the ankle cuff and tongue, and the heel cup holds the foot well. The Lowa insole is fairly basic, with just a little padding.
Overall comfort is good and the Lowa shoe is ideally suited to non-technical terrain such as trails and easier paths.

Braking and traction were good, and general comfort was good too. A competent and sturdy all-rounder
Performance 29/40
Comfort 28/40
Quality 8/10
Value for money 7/10
Total score: 72/100

Scarpa Zen Pro

Scarpa Zen Pro

Scarpa Zen Pro
Price: £129.99
Country of manufacture: Romania
Weight: 1,060g/pair
Colour: grey/blue
Men’s: 41-48
Women’s: 37-42

The Scarpa Zen Pro is another technical shoe, with much in common with a pair of rock shoes in looks and features.

The lacing goes right down to the toe area, with six lower eyelets through the water-resistant suede uppers, and a further three pairs of metal eyelets.

Combined with Scarpa’s Sock-Fit technology, with a one-piece Schoeller tongue, this allows for a very comfortable and stable feeling snug fit around the foot. The padding, just enough, at the ankle cuff and sides of the heel, add to the snug feel of the shoes.

Uppers are suede throughout with the addition of a tough rubber toe box, and a direct injected Exo-Scale rand, with knobbly pattern, covering the lower sections of the uppers. There’s also a reinforced heel cup.

The EVA midsole provides a medium amount of under-foot shock absorption while still maintaining feel with the ground and stability on technical terrain.

The Scarpa shoe has a fairly hard Vibram Spyder 2 Outsole, with deep-ish lugs and a climbing area at the front of the shoe for use on holds when scrambling. Some of the lugs have micro-embossed patterns for better grip, but with use these started to erode a little.

There’s no waterproof membrane, but the suede is 1.8mm water-resistant suede, which deterred some wetness. Walking through shallow puddles was fine, thanks to the raised rand, and the sued did keep out the rain in summer showers, but the tongue did allow wetness in. The shoes are lined with Cocona fabric to improve wicking.

For all their technical features, the Zen Pro shoes serve equally well as everyday wear, or for use walking on trails. The Sock-Fit feature means there’s no foot movement and, though there’s only a medium amount of shock absorption, the shoes are reasonably comfortable on extended walks.

Care needs to be taken locking the rather thin laces to prevent them coming undone in use. A surgeon’s knot followed by a double bow did the trick for us.

If you’re after a shoe that will serve you in a wide variety of situations, from technical, to trail walking, to shopping in the High Street, the Zen Pro will serve you well, as long as you don’t need full-on waterproofing. Grip was very assured both in the dry and wet.

There was negligible perspiration build-up on warm walks.

Performance 36/40
Comfort 29/40
Quality 9/10
Value for money 7/10
Total score: 81/100

Comfort and grip put the AKU shoe a step ahead of the rest

Comfort and grip put the AKU shoe a step ahead of the rest

Best in test: AKU Mio GTX
Recommended: Scarpa Zen Pro
Recommended: La Sportiva TX4
Good value: Columbia Ventrailia OutDry Trail

Most of the trail or approach shoes are a compromise between performance and comfort, and the choice you make will be influenced by what use you intend to put the footwear to.

Both the La Sportiva TX4 and the Scarpa Zen Pro excelled in their performance, measured by grip on all surfaces, both in the dry and the wet. But they have no waterproofing and less cushioning, so if long walks on wet days are your forte they may not be your best choice. But if assured hold on technical ground is your priority, they are unbeatable.

There was one shoe that gave very good performance and top comfort: the AKU Mio GTX. Its ability to hold in the wet and dry both uphill and down was impressive, and it offered a large amount of underfoot cushioning and all-round comfort. Its uppers aren’t as tough as some of the suede and Nubuck constructions, but for a pair of shoes that is as happy on the trail as loafing around the garden or High Street, the AKUs were first choice.

The Columbia Ventrailia shoes offered good value, though the soft uppers offered less protection against stones and rocks.

  • All the samples for the test were supplied to grough by the brands.
  • The Lowa shoe was originally wrongly labelled as the Renegade II Lo; it has now been correctly named as the Skiros GTX.

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