Having walked Te Araroa in boots it was clear that I needed a lighter shoe to walk long-distances, unlike PJ who likes their support and sturdiness. I like more air, and less weight on my feet which also puts more strain on the back. I figured that a lighter shoe would make me more agile and while less waterproof, I would benefit of the gained comfort and agility in most situations. Though I still wanted something sturdy and protective, so after a long search the Salewa Mountain Trainer seemed as one of the only viable options I had.
Outsole: Vibram Alpine Approach
Lining: breathable mesh
Protection: 360° full rubber rand, 1.6mm leather, highly wear-resistant fabric
3F System EVO
Non Gore-Tex version
For a long time I doubted about hiking shoes because of a fear of having to sacrifice too much of the sturdiness and protection a boot offers. On this point I was very amazed by the Mountain Trainers, who offer a lightweight shoe that is sturdy enough to bring you across rough terrain and protects your toes and soles from bumps, rocks and roots. There was very little difference between the boots I used to wear and these when it came to protecting my feet, which I found very surprising.
I was rather disappointed about the Vibram soles, which wear away rapidly and offer very little grip on wet/slippery surfaces (which seems to me one of the main reasons for using hiking boots in the first place). Pj has written a good deal on his disappointed in Vibram in his reviews on the Ahnu Coburn boot and the Mountain Trainer’s boot version, the Mountain Trainer Mid.
I found the Salewa Mountain Trainer a very comfortable shoe to wear for hours and hours on end. Though they do not live up to their blister-free guarantee (yes, even with brand new socks and everything I still got blisters) they are breathable and do not hinder the movement or breathing of your feet. On the longest days I wore them for 13 hours on end and though of course my feet were ready for some air at that point, the discomfort was still low in comparison to the effort made.
The only thing I had to get used to was their low cut which provides much less ankle support than a boot. Though when I bought them I was told that they do provide good ankle protection even though they are just a shoe, I twisted my feet very easily in the beginning, especially when my pack was loaded with a good few days’ rations and rather heavy. I got used to it and after a while it went a lot better, but on the most technical of hikes on heavy terrain I would still rather take boots. Then again, this is a personal preference, and I twist my ankle very easily. If your priority is agility or speed for example this is great shoe to use in a wide variety of conditions, and especially with light packs, they can handle tough terrain.
This is the one point where the shoes really disappointed me. I heard and read a lot of good about them, and how long they last compared to how light they are. First though I have to say that on the outside, they have done a fantastic job. The rubber protection, the construction, the outer material, they have all held up well for being used on gravelly and rocky surfaces over a good period of time. Only the soles, as said above, I was rather disappointed in.
But what really was the issue was the inside padding. The padding started wearing off after merely 9 days, or less than 200km, of use. At the heel a hole formed, which became bigger and bigger and grew out to the sides of the shoe as well until after 500km it was completely gone and all I had inside was pure plastic. This ripped open my socks, and afterwards my feet, which was a very unpleasant experience. For the latter half of the Bibbulmun track I used one of my worn out support bandages as an extra sock to help with the friction against the plastic.
A long distance trail is a thorough test for a shoe and of course I understand that can be somewhat worn out after this, but it is the short usage before the problem arose that made me disappointed. I have contacted Salewa about the issue. According to them, they have had this problem in very few instances, which was due to the shoe being a bit too big. I have to say they were very helpful about the issue and will send out a replacement pair in March (when the Mountain Trainer’s go back into production) that is half a size smaller than the ones I used now, and hopefully these will proof that the Mountain Trainers are the great alternative for a boot I was hoping them to be.
The Salewa Mountain Trainer is a great alternative for boots and a good, sturdy shoe for long-distance hiking. It offers good all-round protection for the feet and is comfortable to wear for long periods of time. The only with them to me was the durability, but I really hope that a replacement pair of them will show that the problems I experienced were a mere defect with that particular pair.