The quest for the perfect lightweight backpacking shoe seems about as futile as chasing a rainbow. Just when you think you are within reach, and eager for next year’s version of your favorite shoe to be released, you either grab the pot and find it to be full of fool’s gold or it vaporizes entirely and your quest begins anew.
Such is how I feel about the Altra Lone Peak 1.5.
The Altra Lone Peak 1.5 (women’s version shown in photo) offers a wide toebox, thick underfoot cushioning, zero drop, and sub-10-oz weight – key attributes that could be the foundation of a perfect backpacking shoe.
I’ve worn Lone Peaks since they were released and put hundreds of backpacking miles on v1.0.
To summarize how I feel about v1.0, please refer to my comments about it in the context of the larger market of minimalist footwear in my article Considering Minimalist Footwear for Backpacking published last October.
To save you some labor for now (but don’t be lazy – read the article above to broaden your view of what minimalist footwear has to offer us as backpackers), the following list summarizes what I liked about Lone Peak 1.0’s:
- Zero drop differential
- Significantly cushioned midsole
- Wide toebox
Of course, the wide toebox and zero drop differential promotes “natural” biomechanics. This may or may not be a benefit to you, but it’s at least a perceived benefit to me because the whole thing sounds well enough, not unlike eating “natural” cookies or fueling my truck with “natural” oil products, I suppose.
The idea that “natural” biomechanics promotes is longevity: I should be able to hike for more hours or more miles during the day, perhaps, and maybe I’ll be able to hike to a riper, older age than the fellow next door still encapsulated in his old school Scarpas with their high heels and pointy toes.
I wasn’t completely enamored with Lone Peak 1.0’s, however, and note the following limitations with those shoes:
- High water absorption and slow dry time;
- Lack of durability in lugs on the sole;
- Sloppy fit of the upper, especially when wet;
- Limited abrasion resistance of the upper fabric;
- Relatively high weight.
So let’s take a look if and how the v1.5’s addressed these v1.0 limitations:
- Water Absorption and Dry Time – A change was made to the upper fabric that seems to have decreased water absorption in the v1.5, and the change seems to be positive with respect to dry time. That said, v1.5 remains a pretty sloshy shoe after river crossings, due primarily to its inability to pump water out of the shoe. You’ll have to upgrade your v1.5’s with a few strategically drilled 1/8” diameter holes in the footbed and sole if you want to optimize water exit.
- Lug Durability – With v1.0, I broke lugs. With v1.5, I’m breaking fewer lugs but they are wearing out faster. If you plan to use these shoes for any significant amount of smearing with a heavy pack (e.g., Sierra granite), then expect the traction on v1.5 to wear out pretty quick. I was enjoying 200 miles of off-trail granite, limestone, and bushwhacking before the metatarsal lugs reached 50% of their original height on v1.0’s. With v1.5’s, the same wear is coming much sooner.
- Sloppy Upper Fit – This is the biggest improvement in v1.5. I find the uppers to wrap around the foot more effectively, making the v1.5’s a better shoe for sidehilling.
- Limited Abrasion Resistance of the Upper Fabric – Unfortunately, the lighter and better fitting upper fabric has come at the serious cost of a significant reduction in durability. Forget about using these shoes in any sort of scree, and lower your expectations for their life expectancy in granite or limestone talus.
- Weight – v1.5’s are about an ounce lighter than v1.0’s. Not a bad thing, but if adding the ounce back improves durability, give me the extra ounce.
Here’s why the lugs under the metatarsal region of a shoe wear the fastest – and why they are the most important lugs for traction.
Considering Context: Backpacking vs. Ultrarunning
Lone Peaks are darlings in ultrarunning circles. I’m not so enamored with them for backpacking, so let’s consider these differences.
First, ultrarunners don’t carry heavy packs. Pack weight adds stress to the shoe on every step. This stress is magnified on steep terrain, when the shoes are wet, or when you’re off trail. A backpacker simply isn’t going to get as many comfortable miles on a trail shoe as an ultrarunner.
Light packs and easy terrain, like when day hiking on this subalpine Wasatch trail, don’t pose particular problems for most minimalist shoes.
Second, I hike in places not frequented by ultrarunners. I spent a lot of time on snow, talus, scree, and in steep and brushy terrain – terrain that adds to the stress load on my hiking shoes. A backpacker who travels through steep, rugged terrain will wear shoes out sooner than a backpacker who sticks to trails.
My son and I both wore Lone Peak 1.5’s on a 10-day High Sierra traverse this summer. We started the traverse with 45-50 pound packs and spent a fair bit of time scrambling through scree and talus on moderately steep Class 2+ terrain, like Alpine Col (here). This type of trip taxes footwear significantly.
Third, my shoes spend a lot of time wet – snow, river crossings, packrafting, and flooded, early season tundra are common where I hike. Wet shoes cause hydrolysis of glues, stretching of threads, and delamination of bonds. Shoes that spend a lot of time wet don’t last as long as shoes that stay dry. For the backpacker, having shoes remain wet day after day for multiple consecutive days places particularly high demands on a shoe’s construction quality.
Those three factors – heavy packs increasing the stress on the shoe, steep and rugged underfoot terrain increasing stress on the shoe, and sustained wet conditions increasing stress on the shoe – mean that we have to adjust our expectations of how long running shoes will last.
Very rocky terrain, like this granite trail in Utah’s Wasatch, places high amounts of stress on shoes when carrying a heavy pack. These stresses are magnified on multi-day expeditions, and when shoes are wet.
That said, I generally consider a reasonable lifetime for trail shoes for backpackers to be in the following ranges, based on my experience with shoes that weigh less than 12 ounces, including La Sportiva, Montrail, Inov-8, and Salomon – the primary trail running shoe brands that I’ve worn in the past 15 years.
|tundra||wet or dry off trail travel, moderate steepness||Western Brooks Range||400-600 miles|
|trails||hardpack, rocks, steep||JMT||300-500 miles|
|granite alpine||off-trail, scree, talus||SHR||200-400 miles|
|limestone alpine||off-trail, scree, talus||Northern Rockies||150-250 miles|
I don’t have extensive experience with the Lone Peaks on tundra (other than the accumulation of incidental stretches to the tune of about 50 miles per pair at most), but having gone through three pair myself, and observing two pair each worn by wife and son, I have a reasonable sense of their lifetime on trails and alpine off trail travel.
The following summarizes my empirical observations for shoe life while backpacking on this limited data set, and compares them to a handful of other shoes that I’ve used extensively.
Note: I estimate shoe life to be the point at which a shoe begins to fail catastrophically, either from delamination of sole bonds, worn stitching/glues that affect the structural integrity of the upper, rips in the upper that compromise its structural integrity, breaking of sole lugs, or wearing of sole lugs under the metatarsal region of more than 50%.
|Terrain||Shoe Model||Shoe Life|
|trails||Inov8 BareGrip 190||200 miles|
|trails||Inov8 X-Talon 212||300 miles|
|trails||Inov8 RocLite 315||400 miles|
|trails||Altra Lone Peak v1.0||300 miles|
|trails||Altra Lone Peak v1.5||250 miles|
|granite alpine||Inov8 BareGrip 190||150 miles|
|granite alpine||Inov8 X-Talon 212||200 miles|
|granite alpine||Inov8 RocLite 315||300 miles|
|granite alpine||Altra Lone Peak v1.0||150 miles|
|granite alpine||Altra Lone Peak v1.5||100 miles|
|limestone alpine||Inov8 BareGrip 190||100 miles|
|limestone alpine||Inov8 X-Talon 212||150 miles|
|limestone alpine||Inov8 RocLite 315||250 miles|
|limestone alpine||Altra Lone Peak v1.0||100 miles|
|limestone alpine||Altra Lone Peak v1.5||< 100 miles|
Failures on my Lone Peaks have included the following:
- Abrasion of the upper fabric (more of a problem in v1.5);
- Broken stitching on upper reinforcement patches that add structural stability to the instep region (more of a problem in v1.5);
- Broken lugs (more of a problem in v1.5);
- Worn lugs (equal problem with both versions);
- Wearing through the inside heel cup and exposure of a plastic reinforcement plate that cut into heel (only in v1.5).
Blown stitching on the Lone Peak 1.5’s instep reinforcement patch. Single-stitched construction combined with rotting thread from several straight days of wet shoes contributed to this failure, which resulted in decreased sidehilling performance due to the inability of the upper to retain structural integrity.
I never expect a shoe not to fail. And I certainly don’t expect a lightweight trail shoe to last as long on a limestone ridge route in the Bob Marshall Wilderness as on the hardpack of the California PCT.
Backpackers carrying heavy loads in alpine terrain, especially in wet weather, are going to place severe demands on their shoes. It’s part and parcel with the decision to trade in boots for lighter footwear that allows you to go faster and further with less foot pain and stress.
Abrasion of the upper while traveling through alpine areas littered with High Sierra granite talus and scree. Again, this is a structural failure of the upper that makes for a sloppier fit, reduced sensitivity during precise foot placements on steep terrain, and a general feeling of emotional stress, wondering when the more fragile inner (white) layer is going to blow.
In that context, I’d rate the applicability of the Altra Lone Peaks (especially v1.5) at the lower end of what I’d expect for durability both on and off-trail.
There’s no drama here, just a simple scramble up a short Class 2 granite slab. This isn’t the realm of advanced backpackers, and even beginners will find themselves relying on the traction of their shoes to remain safe and secure while trekking. As lugs wear out, so too does traction. I found myself slipping and sliding, even on rough-surfaced Wasatch granite, as my Lone Peaks came to the seemingly premature end to their practical life.
Before anyone goes postal on me in the forums for giving the shoe what you perceive to be a low review rating, let me qualify it.
First, this is my family’s outdoor shoe of choice. This is what all three of us wear for day hiking, backpacking, and packrafting. We wear them daily. They are our shoe du jour for all of our outdoor pursuits.
Second, my current pair of Lone Peak 1.5’s are worn out. Guess what I’m buying next? Yep, Altra Lone Peak 1.5’s. And I’ll probably buy another pair after that. That doesn’t mean that the price tag isn’t painful and that I’m not disappointed by their short lifespan. In fact, when I purchase my next pair, I’m going to have a big stomachache because of my contribution to the global economy’s premature use of resources for what amounts to my personal recreation.
There’s no shoe quite like this one. It’s special, with a unique blend of attributes that makes it both comfortable and philosophically compatible with my desire for my footwear to promote natural biomechanics.
Therefore, it more than deserves an Above Average review rating (as opposed to something less attractive) because it does stand apart from the crowded market of lightweight backpacking shoes and I’m looking forward to future iterations that pay greater attention to both sustainability and the economic limitations of its customers.