Last weekend I took a trip down to Freeport and dropped about eight pairs of old sneakers into the Nike Store’s sneaker recycling bin. In case you didn’t know that you can recycle sneakers, go take a look. It’s a lot better than filling up landfills.
The sneakers that I threw into the bin included a pair of Vasque Velocity sneakers that walked from Springer Mountain to Harper’s Ferry in 2007 (over 1000 miles on one pair of shoes), and two pairs of New Balance 874 that I used last summer and on the New England Trail, both trashed beyond usefulness. Both the 874 and the Velocity have some very good traits, but neither was perfect. If I could find a pair of New Balance sneakers with the breathability of the 874 and the durability of the Velocity, I might just have my perfect sneaker.
Hiking in sneakers? This is a pretty common question, and there’s a lot of information on why sneakers are better than boots for long-distance hikes, or even shorter hikes. The basics are that sneakers are lighter, which makes life easier for your legs. The protection and ankle support afforded by heavy boots is easily outweighed by the maneuverability and light weight of the sneakers– it’s easier to choose where your foot lands if you can move it quickly and easily. Water is one of the controversial issues of sneakers versus boots: boots are more water proof than sneakers, even when the sneakers are lined with GoreTex or similar linings. Having submerged boots in river crossings, I prefer the quicker-drying sneakers.
So I took a few trips to the New Balance Factory Outlets in Skowhegan, ME and Lawrence, MA to stock up for the PCT. The 874 have been out of production for a while, and were replaced by the 875. Unfortunately, none of the 875 were in stock in my size at either factory outlet. That’s okay, because there are a few other choices for me.
First, I picked up a pair of 812, the very basic trail runner made by NB. I don’t like these as much as the previous model (811) because they have less mesh and more solid fabric on the upper. This means less breathability, slower drying time after getting wet, and sweatier feet. On the other hand, I think they’ll be good for the desert since they’re lightly colored, more resistant to dirt getting through the mesh, and I don’t care if they get demolished by walking on lots of harsh terrain. Also, they are extremely comfortable, and fit better than just about any shoe I’ve ever worn.
Next, I picked up two pairs of 909 trail runners. These seem to be NB’s high-end trail runners, and the company promises quite a bit with them. I haven’t tested them on the trail yet, so this could be a gamble, but they feel amazingly comfortable and rugged from my preliminary tests. The 909 claims to be water-resistant (not waterproof, which is bad in trail running shoes because the most breathable waterproof fabric is still less breathable than non-waterproof fabrics), quick-drying (which is suspect because of the water resistance, but I’m willing to give it a shot), extra durable, and protective.
The price tag on the 810 trail runners caught my eye, since they’re the precursor to the 811, and have been out of production for quite a while I think. The factory outlet must have a huge stock of these in their warehouse, because I can’t even find 811’s anymore, but there are plenty of highly discounted 810’s in the store. While they are more meshy than the 812’s, their lacing system is not as advanced, so I figure I might use these as the last pair of my trip if I need them, and then use them for town shoes when I’m done.
If you live near one of the NB Factory Outlets, I definitely recommend checking them out. I picked up all four of these pairs of shoes for just under $200. That’s about half of what they would have cost new. Pretty good for someone who destroys several pairs of sneakers per year. And with the Nike Recycling program, I don’t feel quite as bad about that anymore, either.