Top Footwear of 2017: Results from the Annual Hiker Survey

I should start with an apology for the long delay in writing this post. We typically try to get the survey results out before the next class of thru-hikers begins, but grad school has been tough this year so I couldn’t make it happen. I hope this data on footwear (and socks!) is still helpful. Regardless, here are the Top Trail Runners and Hiking Boots used by 2017 Appalachian Trail thru-hikers. For the details, keep reading, or skip to the TL;DR at the end.

The Hiker Sample

Two hundred and fifty-three hikers participated in the survey, all of whom had thru-hiked or walked a section of the AT in 2017. Three quarters (74.5%) were thru-hikers and the rest were section hikers. For more details on the hiker demographics, check out our post with general information from the survey.

Footwear Types

Top trail runners and boots on Appalachian Trail: type of footwear worn initially vs. the majority of hike.About two-thirds of hikers (64%) started out wearing trail runners and about a third began with hiking boots (32%). Ultimately, about three-fourths (74%) ended up wearing trail runners and only a fifth ended up wearing hiking boots (19%). A small but relevant minority of hikers used moderate support hiking shoes or used minimalist footwear like Chacos.

Satisfaction with Footwear

Similarly to what we found last year and the years before, hikers who began with sturdier, heavier footwear were significantly less satisfied than those who began with more lightweight footwear. Also replicating last year’s findings, there was no significant difference between the type of footwear used for the majority of the hike and hiker satisfaction.1 This suggests that many of the hikers who start out with boots are ultimately more satisfied with trail runners, and hikers eventually switched to footwear that was more satisfactory for them.

Changes in Footwear Type

Last year, I looked into reasons hikers preferred trail runners over hiking boots or shoes. Ignoring how far hikers walked, younger hikers and those with more prior experience were more likely to use trail runners. Controlling for age and prior experience, hikers were more likely to use lighter-weight footwear the longer they walked.2

Replacements

Unsurprisingly, hiking a longer distance significantly predicted how many pairs of shoes hikers went through, and age and gender were not significant factors here. Interestingly, hikers who walked a faster pace wore through significantly more footwear than those walking more slowly, above and beyond how far they walked.3

We also asked hikers directly what their reasons were for replacing their footwear. These were their responses:Top Trail Runners and Hiking Boots on Appalachian Trail: Reasons hikers replaced footwearAbout one-third (29.2%) of hikers had some sort of issues with their initial footwear, while the vast majority of replacements were simply because hikers wore through their shoes.

On average, hikers went through three to four pairs of shoes. Looking at thru-hikers only, the average number of pairs of shoes worn was still three to four.4 This is in accord with the conventional advice to replace boots  and running shoes about every 500 miles.

Still, if you intend to attempt a Fastest Known Time (FKT) or plan to hike more miles per day than usual, you should budget and plan to replace your shoes more frequently than the average thru-hiker.

Overall Top Trail Runners and Hiking Boots on AT

The following were the most popular brands and models of hiking boots and trail runners:

  1. Top boot: Salomon XA Pro 3D (7.5% of hikers)
  2. Top trail runner: Altra Lone Peak (16% of hikers)
  3. Top socks: Darn Tough (66% of hikers)

Footwear Brands and Models by Popularity

  1. Salomon (22%)
  2. Altra (21%)
  3. Brooks (12%)
  4. Merrell (7.9%)
  5. Oboz (7.9%)
  6. New Balance (4.0%)
  7. La Sportiva (3.6%)
  8. Keen (3.2%)

Socks

By far the most popular brand of socks worn by long-distance hikers was Darn Tough, worn by two-thirds (66%) of hikers. Darn Tough provides a lifetime warranty, meaning they will replace any pair if you mail them the old pair.

A few people (five hikers) specified that they layered Darn Toughs, known for durability, over Injinjies, which are said to prevent blisters due to the toe sock design.

  1. Darn Tough (65.6%)
  2. Injinji (8.7%)
  3. Smartwool (6.3%)
  4. Darn Tough layered over Injinji (2.0%)

Hardly any hikers remembered the models of their socks and there are so many models produced by each of these brands that it was impossible to report this information.

TL;DR

  • Hikers with more experience opted for trail runners over hiking boots for the majority of their hikes, and many hikers switched to trail runners mid-hike. While boots may still be preferable during the snowy sections, we recommend that hikers planning thru-hikes or long sections should consider lightweight, more flexible shoes.
  • In general, thru-hikers should plan to go through three to four pairs of shoes, although hikers walking more miles per day should expect to go through a few more (possibly four to six).
  • Salomon remains the most popular brand for hiking boots among AT long-distance hikers, with Altra as the most popular brand for trail runners. The Salomon XA Pro 3D, the Altra Lone Peak series, and the Brooks Cascadias were the most popular models.
  • Darn Tough, Injinji, and Smartwool socks were all well represented on the AT but Darn Tough were by far the most popular socks.

Muchas Gracias

Many thanks to the hikers who participated in the survey! Congratulations to you all! I would never get this data collected or get these posts done if it weren’t for Zach Davis and Maggie Slepian—thanks to you both.

More from the Hiker Survey

Check out our previous post with general hiker information. Previous posts on the 2017 hiker survey also covered shelter systems (hammocks and tents), sleeping bags and hammock quilts, and backpacks and shakedowns. To stay updated on the subsequent hiker survey posts, subscribe to The Trek newsletter.

Notes for the Nerds

  1. For starting footwear type and satisfaction, Pearson’s r = -.19, p = .0019. For majority footwear type and satisfaction, Pearson’s r = -.05, r = .48.
  2. A multivariate linear regression was conducted predicting type of footwear worn for the majority of the hike. Age and Gender were entered in Block 1. Previous hiking experience was entered in Block 2. Distance hiked was entered in Block 3. All three overall models were significant (p < .05). In Model 1, age was the only significant predictor (β = .009, t = 21.62, df = 246, p < .001). In Model 2, age (β = .010, t = 2.26, df=245, p = .02) and prior experience (β = -.064, t = -2.064, df = 245, p = .04) were both significant. In model 3, distance hiked was significant but age and prior experience were not (β = -.0002, t = -2.216, df = 242, p = .03).
  3. A multivariate linear regression was conducted predicting number of pairs of shoes worn. Age and Gender were entered in Block 1. Distance hiked and average miles per day were entered in Block 2. Initial shoe type/support level and initial satisfaction were entered in Block 3. Model 1 was not significant (p > .05), but Models 2 and 3 were (p < .001). In Model 2, distance hiked significantly predicted number of replacements (β = .001, t = 9.257, df = 243, p < .001). In model 3, distance hiked (β = .001, t = 9.332, df = 228, p < .001) and miles per day (β = .041, t = 2.157, df = 228, p = .032) both significantly predicted number of footwear replacements.
  4. Mean for all hikers = 3.38 pairs. Mean for thru-hikers = 3.63 pairs. Interquartile range for both was 3 to 4 pairs.

Related

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Comments 4

  • Stephen R Marsh : Jul 24th

    Glad you are back.

    Reply
  • Ron Furro : Jul 24th

    On my 3rd pair of Altra Lone Peak 3.5 all the way! Great traction, dry quick, built-in gaiter cleats. Love’m!

    Reply
  • Stephen R. Marsh : Aug 7th

    I find it fascinating to look at the way footgear choice has changed over the last five years.

    Too bad there is not an additional axis for wide vs. narrow feet. While “rating” sites put the Salomon Ultra often at the top, I thought it was interesting that hikers put XA Pro 3D at the top — which explains why the XA is available in a wide and the Ultra is not. Also interesting in that the XA comes in a shoe as well as a boot.

    I really appreciate your posts.

    —————————————

    Socks 2017 — Darn Tough (65.6%)

    Footwear 2017

    Salomon (22%) — still at about 1 in 5 — up half a percent from 2015
    XA Pro 3D (7.5%)
    X Ultra, X Ultra GTX (5.1%)
    Altra (21%) — up from 3.6%
    Lone Peak 3.0 and 3.5 (16%)
    Brooks (12%) — actually about the same as 2015
    Brooks Cascadia 11 and 12 (9.1%)
    Brooks Caldera (3.2%)

    Footgear 2015

    The most popular footwear brand was Salomon, worn by 1 in 5 hikers. Merrell and Brooks were the next most popular, followed by Keen, Vasque, and Oboz.

    Salomon XA Pro 3D Mens
    Salmon XA Pro 3D, Men’s

    The most popular Salomon model were the men’s and women’s XA Pro 3D, worn by 5.3% of hikers in our sample. The most popular Merrell model was the Moab Ventilator (also with Men’s and Women’s models), worn by 4.6% of hikers.

    Reply
  • Stephen R Marsh : Aug 7th

    The Top Footwear Brands for 2016
    Salomon
    Brooks
    Altra
    Merrell
    Keen
    Vasque
    La Sportiva
    As in years past, Salomon, Brooks, and Merrell were among the most popular footwear brands of AT long-distance hikers. Salomon was the top brand, as before, but Altra entered the running, from being worn by less than 4 percent of hikers last year, to over 12 percent this year.

    Socks:

    Darn Tough — 74%
    Injinji Toe Socks — 11%
    SmartWool — 8%

    Last year (2017)

    Darn Tough (65.6%)
    Injinji (8.7%)
    Smartwool (6.3%)
    Darn Tough layered over Injinji (2.0%)

    I think it is interesting that all of the top three lost ground last year.

    With nothing that appears to have made enough of an impact out of those losses to show up. Almost a 14% segment out of the erosion without anything taking enough of that segment to show up (given that Smartwool shows up at 6.3%).

    Reply

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