Trail Runners for Winter Hiking
I got a pair of La Sportiva Crossover GTX trail running shoes to see whether they'd be good for winter hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire this winter. Earlier this year, I successfully made the transition to from leather boots to trail runners for 3 season hiking and I'd love to prolong the comfort and increased hiking speed I've experienced into the winter months.
Unlike my Inov-8 Terrocs, the Crossovers have a Gore-tex lining and an innovative ankle-high gaiter attached to the top of a running shoe. They look extremely cool and they are pretty comfortable despite having a very deep bottom tread that looks more like a pair of soccer cleats than a running shoe. They do run very small however, so be forewarned. When ordering. I'd recommend that you go at least 2 sizes up from normal.
I've worn the Crossovers on several hikes now while carrying a substantial winter pack (25-30 lbs), and the foot beds are more rigid than the Terrocs, which I've found helpful in dealing with a heavier load than I normally carry the rest of the year.
In addition to wearing the Crossovers on some local walks, I had the opportunity to test them twice in mild winter conditions ranging from 2,500 to 4,500 feet on a variety of surfaces including mud, stream-crossings, ice, wet snow, packed snow, post-holing, wet rock, dry rock, and ice-covered rock, during peak-bagging day hikes. Here's what I've observed about these shoes:
Breathability and Insulation
The Gore-tex doesn't breath. I can't say I'm that surprised. My feet sweated during my hikes, although I was wearing just a medium wool sock. However, they sweated enough that I got chilled when we stopped hiking.
As long as you keep moving on a day hike or training run, this probably won't be an issue, but the Crossovers don't provide the same degree of thermal insulation as a regular hiking or mountaineering boot. So, if you plan to hike all day and then stand around on snow while making camp, be sure to bring some dry, insulated camp shoes with you, and sleep with your Crossovers in your sleeping bag at night so they don't freeze solid overnight.
The Crossover's Gore-tex liner and the zipper on the high gaiter are indeed waterproof. I've walked through all kinds of deep mud, puddles, and streams, and haven't experienced any seepage.
Despite the zip up gaiter, you need to still wear a high gaiter if you're going to hike in deep mud or snow. That said, the combination of the two really works well ensuring that your socks won't get wet in most any condition other than full stream immersion above the ankle.
The only thing to be aware of is that most gaiters assume they will have access to a front shoe lace to hook onto. There is nothing external on the Crossover for this, but it would be nice if such a loop were added on the next model. Even nicer, it'd be great if the Crossovers came with a zip on, mid calf-high gaiter that obviated the need for an external gaiter entirely, but could still be attached if desired.
The traction of the Crossovers on wet rock is excellent, as well as on icy trail, but only when the surface of the trail is rough or mixed rock and ice. If you hit flat ice, prepare to slide. This is when I put on a pair of Kahtoola microspikes, which worked nicely with the Crossovers, despite their deep tread.
Traction on packed snow and wet snow is great. More than great. I hate bare booting on snow, but the tread on the crossovers prevents any slippage. Moreover the toe cap is stiff enough that you can kick steps into packed snow without smashing your toes. This made hill climbing when we hit treeline very easy.
In addition to the Crossover shoes, I've been experimenting with a set of Titanium hobnails which can be screwed into the sole of the Crossovers to provide additional traction. I have not tried these out on icy rock yet because they're simply not practical to keep in the shoes all the time. As a hiker, and not a mountain runner – running hurts my knees for weeks after I do it – using the titanium hobnails does not make any sense. They take enough time to screw in and extract that you can''t wear the Crossovers anywhere (at home, driving, etc) except when you are walking on ice, and I think I'd prefer Kahtoola microspikes anyway because they are longer and can be put on and taken off as needed.
As a hiker and not a runner, the Sportiva Crossovers are a good shoe for winter day hikes and snowshoeing trips where I can keep moving and need moisture protection from mud and packed snow in milder temperature conditions such as in early spring or late autumn. I don't think I'd be comfortable in using the Crossovers in harsher winter conditions where I need a more rigid crampon compatible shoe or one that is better insulated for overnight camping. Still, the Crossovers help fill a significant void in my cold weather shoe lineup where I still want the 3 season mobility of a trail running shoe for colder weather hiking and snowshoeing.
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Disclaimer: Sectionhiker.com received a complementary pair of Crossover GTX shoes and Titanium Spikes from La Sportiva to evaluate for this product review.
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