Hiking footwear review: Brooks PureGrit 2
When I took stock of my gear for the 2013 hike, I initially decided not to replace the boots. I didn’t love them, or even like them, but they weren’t objectively awful. They hadn’t injured my feet (beyond the sore patches), and I didn’t want to spend money on new shoes if I didn’t have to.
The only problem was, my feet had expanded after 5 months of doing manual labor all day, and the boots no longer fit my clod-hoppers. I got back from the farm I was working on just 10 days before I was scheduled to leave on the hike — not much time to get new shoes and try them out better this time. I gave it my best anyway.
I was determined to try lighter footwear in 2013, and this time I did the research. I read thru-hikers’ blogs to see which shoes had worked for other hikes, and had a few options in mind when I went back to REI. Two of the most frequently recommended shoes (Brooks Cascadia & Saucony Peregrine) didn’t feel good on my feet, so I tried on every trail runner and low-cut hiking shoe in stock. I fell in love with the fit of the Brooks PureGrit 2s.
The Salomon XA Comp 7 also felt pretty good, and I ended up buying both pairs to test at home. I wore the two pairs around for the next week or so, putting off the decision until the night before my departure.
I sat with Russell in our car in Yosemite that night, a different shoe in each hand. The Salomons seemed the more responsible choice. The soles were more aggressively lugged, the front had a large bumper to protect the toes, and they had more padding all around. The lacing system felt strange to me, though, and they felt like those motion control running shoes designed to keep you from pigeon-toeing by shoving a large lump under your arch.
The PureGrits barely felt like anything on my feet. They had minimal drop (4mm) soles that let me feel the ground beneath me, and asymmetrical lacing that felt damn good with my foot shape. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.I had grabbed them in a size 9.5 this time to accomodate my expanded feet. They seemed less rugged, though, the riskier choice, and I hadn’t been able to find any reviews of other hikers using them on a long trail.
I thought out-loud, “If I go with the PureGrits, worst case scenario I injure my feet, and I have to get off the trail early. Best case scenario, they feel great, and I love them. With the Salomons, worse-case they feel too heavy and bulky like last year’s boots, best case scenario I like them, but still want to try the PureGrits on the next hike.”
The bad was not as bad with the Salomons, but the good was not as good either.
Russell offered to overnight the Salomons to Red’s Meadow if I was hating the PureGrits, and that sold it for me. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, eh?
So, how did they work?
Great! I loved them, with a few big caveats.
- Great ground-feel. I felt connected to the terrain and could respond to small changes in grade or stability.
- Lightweight. My feet never felt weighed down by the shoes.
- Flexible soles. The sole of the shoe bent with my foot, allowing me to step on the ball of my feet when I wanted.
- The toe box was not wide enough for my feet.
- Holes developed in the top of the heel of both shoes.
- Sometimes not enough traction for what I was doing.
- The split toe styling is just butt-ugly in my eyes. I felt like some sort of cloven-hoofed beast. Just, no.
I fell a total of one time (on Day 1), and only really felt the traction lacking while climbing the slick granite of Half Dome. I got no bruises, and by the end of the hike my year-old midfoot sprain felt better rather than worse. I’ve never had issues with my arches or plantar fasciitis, so I can’t speak to those topics.
The toe box issue reared its head from Day 2 on with the emergence of the pinkie toe blisters. Socks also play a large part in blister prevention, but I feel fairly confident attributing these ones largely to the shape of the shoes as I could feel my pinkies being pushed inward, rubbing against the ring toes.
Funny story, a few years ago I went to a friendly running store to try out toe shoes and other minimalist running options. I must have tried on every model in the store while the saleswoman evaluated their fit, each time feeling where my toes were hitting the shoes. She explained that in minimalist shoes (perhaps all shoes?) there’s generally a “limiting toe”, the toe that hits the shoe first and to which the shoe must therefore cater. Turns out, for me that’s my pinkie toes. The saleswoman seemed surprised by this. Perhaps I have unusually long pinkies? I definitely have longer second toes, which may muck up shoe fit as well. Whatever the cause, my toes weren’t happy in the PureGrits.
The holes in the tops of the heels corresponded to where holes developed in one of my pairs of socks. I don’t know which was the chicken and which the egg, but it wasn’t great either way. I covered the raw patches with duct tape, which promptly peeled off in the constant dust and moisture. When Russell joined me on Day 10, he gave me his 3rd pair of socks, and no longer having holes in my socks allowed the skin to heal completely. THANK GOODNESS.
Despite the gory blisters and heel rubbing I got with the PureGrits, I am glad I went with that choice, and would do it that way again. I hiked 250 miles in them in 20 days, mostly happily, and still wear them around the city now for running, lifting weights, and looking
doofy totally sweet.
Because of the poor toe box fit, however, I will not be wearing the PureGrits on the PCT.
[Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, or a shoe professional. Please do your own research on footwear, and take everything I say with however many grains of salt float your boat. This is a this-worked-for-me story, not here’s-what-you-should-do advice. I bought all shoes with my own money, and the links are for your reference, not affiliate links.]