Today Clay Evans gives us an intimate look into his quest to complete the Pacific Crest Trail earlier this year and the saga behind finding (and securing multiple times) the best thru-hiking shoes. Among being an avid runner and long-distance hiker splitting his time between South Carolina and Colorado, Clay is also a published author and freelance writer.
The April 24, 2021, entry in my Pacific Crest Trail journal says it all: “Picked up my Topo Terraventure 3s this morning from Wrightwood Post Office and I’m so excited.”
I’d been looking forward to receiving the shoes — which I’d been sent to review for a hiking reviews website — for the past 370 miles. I’d always gotten away with wearing the same size shoe for thru-hiking and running, but not this time. The heat, grit and pounding of the Southern California desert left me hobbling with blisters.
I’d replaced that first, too-small pair of shoes after three days with a pair of other popular trail runners from what I’ll call Brand X. Buying one size larger helped with the blisters but left my feet aching and swollen every day. And they started to blow apart after just 250 miles.
But when I slipped those smart-looking green Terraventure 3s on my feet that morning, I didn’t realize that I was about to fall in love.
Like many long-distance hikers, I prefer trail runners to boots. For one thing, when you’re taking 50,000 to 80,000 steps almost every day, for months on end, every ounce counts. Built from lighter materials, trail runners breathe better, and they dry out much faster when they get wet (and they will get wet on a thru-hike, whether from sweat, rain, snow, a river crossing or a spilled beer).
True, trail runners typically aren’t as durable as boots and they don’t offer as much support, but lucky for me I’ve got bombproof ankles! If I can get 400 miles out of one pair of shoes, I’m good to go!
Still, even with the comfiest trail runners, my feet usually take a few miles to become acquainted with a new pair. And that first day out of Wrightwood was going to be rough on my feet, thanks to a fire closure that meant some 20 miles of road walking on unforgiving asphalt over the Angeles Crest.
But at the end of the day, my feet were in miraculously good shape. “Walking past the burn was hot and exposed and depressing,” I wrote that night. “But man, I love these shoes!”
I would feel the same way for the next 600 miles through the last part of the desert and the first half of the rugged, snowy High Sierra.
The Terraventure 3s (I went one size up from the Terraventure 2s I use for running) perfectly cradled my feet. Plenty of support, but no rubbing, no squeezing, and just the right amount of room in both the toe and heel. The sole was reliably grippy on scorching sand, icy snow or submerged, slippery rock. In stark contrast to Brand X, the uppers were both durable and comfortable; even the toe cap stayed put!
But no shoe lasts forever, and after 600 miles of hard use the cushioning had mashed out. Unfortunately, my feet’s new best friend would not be available to the public for another six weeks. With great trepidation, I replaced the TV3 with Brand X, and continued north into the still-snowy northern Sierra.
But my hammered and blistered feet howled at the change, and I was thrilled when Topo agreed to send me another sample pair of Terraventure 3s to bridge the gap. Then, a shipping snafu (not Topo’s fault) caused the second pair to ping-pong between Reno and Sacramento for nearly a month. They wouldn’t arrive to rescue my feet until I was a day and a half from the Oregon border.
In the meantime, the Brand X pair began disintegrating after less than 300 miles, so I ordered some bright yellow, sized-up Terraventure 2s (the previous version) to tide me over. Now, I’ve run and hiked hundreds of miles in Terraventure 2s, and I’m grateful to those “school bus shoes,” but I missed the updates in version 3. When I finally picked up the new pair — navy blue! — I skipped around and hugged them like a kid who’s found his lost puppy.
Instant comfort, just like before. And rock-solid durability, with only the tiniest scuff on the uppers and plenty of bomber tread left after 574 miles – all the way across Oregon, with its brutal lava fields, and into southern Washington. At Trout Lake (my trail family and I could not say the name of the town without affecting a Scottish accent … thru-hikers are weird), I picked up a new pair for the final push to the Canadian border, some 450 miles away.
“Incredible — shoes that feel perfect as soon as I put them on,” I wrote in my journal.
Here’s something I wrote in my review of the Terraventure 3s in South Lake Tahoe: “I don’t know how Topo has managed to make such a bomb-proof shoe without adding too much weight, but I’ll take it. This is now my go-to long-distance trail shoe.”
And 1600 miles and one border-tag after writing those words, I’m still in love.
About Clay Bonnyman Evans
Clay got his trail name, Pony, in 2015 when he hiked the Colorado Trail. Since then, he has hiked the Appalachian Trail (2016), Foothills Trail and Alabama Pinhoti Trail (2018), Great Plains Trail pilot trail in South Dakota and Nebraska (2019) and most recently the Pacific Crest Trail earlier this year. You can read the review he did of the Terraventure 3 for The Trek, here. For more thru-hike inspiration, follow Clay’s adventures on Instagram @pony_bonnyman (we’re personally digging his new ink!).