When your job moves you around the world every few years, you get pretty good at organizing a house-full of stuff to be packed, shipped and unpacked at its destination. In the fifteen or so years my wife and I have been living this life, we’ve had a remarkably strong track record of getting the things we want and need to our new home. There is luck involved, too; one hears tales of cargo ships sinking, condemning all of a family’s possessions to The Deep. To make a long story short, we’re pretty good at this.
Then, imagine my displeasure when, after searching the last few not-fully-unpacked boxes we brought with us to Japan, I discovered that my trusty old pair of Asolo backpacking boots were nowhere to be found. Now, they’re not lost and gone forever; I used them a few times during our last stint back in the States, so they doubtless sit safely packed into one of our boxes in long-term storage.
So, when I decided to get back into hiking again after a hiatus, I spent some time online researching boots. But a number of sites, especially those preaching the lightweight and ultralightweight backpacking gospel, said boots were passé, that they didn’t really give support to one’s ankles anyway, and that shoes were the In Thing. I was skeptical, but as I read more, I found that even more mainstream sites were encouraging hikers to consider a low-cut shoe for hiking and light backpacking. Part of the rationale stems from a study by the U.S. Army that finds that among the soldiers studied, “Weight alone appeared to account for 48-70% of the added energy cost of wearing boots.” And that science is backed up by a considerable amount of anecdotal reporting from hikers who have made the switch. So I thought I would give it a try.
A hiking shoe differs from a running shoe mainly though a firmer, more protective sole, and often contains a waterproof membrane. Trail running shoes sit between the two, offering a deeper tread than a normal running shoe while preserving a lightweight upper. All three types of shoes appear popular among long-distance and ultralight hikers. I initially tried on The North Face Hedgehog Guide GTX (now discontinued and apparently succeeded by two product lines), which received a number of strong reviews. The shoe itself was much lighter than I’d expected, and felt more like a traditional running sneaker than anything else. But the strip of material that ran from the toe to the laces didn’t work well with my feet, so back they went.
My second try was with the unattractively named La Sportiva FC ECO 2.0 GTX, and overall I’ve been very satisfied with this shoe. At 35.6 oz per pair in men’s European size 44 (US 10.5+), the FC ECO 2.0 is hardly an ultra-lightweight. For the weight, however, one gets a durable, substantial Italian-made shoe.
The upper features plenty of nubuck leather for durability matched with nylon fabric in the flex zones, making for an unexpectedly easy stride for such a rugged shoe. The traditional lacing system works well, though I sometimes found it tricky to keep the bottom part of the laces tight while tying the knot. A different set of laces might make a difference here, but the inconvenience hasn’t been enough to convince me to make the switch from the stock laces. Sturdy rubber at the toe and heel adds welcome protection to those areas while also giving the FC ECOs a more technical appearance; I won’t be wearing these with slacks to my next event at the local American Chamber of Commerce. For the trail, though, it’s a pretty good looking shoe; La Sportiva’s mountain motif in a subtle but nice touch.
I am neutral on the Gore-Tex membrane that makes the shoe waterproof. The membrane makes the shoes warmer than they would be otherwise, which is nice when the weather turns cool and not so nice when the mercury rises. Moreover, though as far as I can tell the shoe indeed is waterproof (a high bellows connection at the tongue helps here), once water gets into the low-cut ankle area, the membrane slows the drying process significantly. So, depending on where one will use it, this may or may not be the right shoe for the job.
The sole includes a thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) shank that adds protection against sharp rocks, roots, etc. I wore the FC ECOs on my traverse of Akadake Mountain, where in spite of the TPU layer I was left wishing for something more protective of the bottoms of my feet during the sustained scrambling over pointy rocks. This is less a criticism of the FC ECOs, which by design are a trail shoe, and more an acknowledgement that a lightweight mountaineering boot likely would have been a better choice for that particular trip. On the positive side, one concern raised by a few online reviews–that the Vibram soles were slippery on wet rock–proved unfounded in my case. I found the traction overall completely satisfactory, especially considering the water-soaked rock of the descent from Akadake. On dry rock, I would call the FC ECOs average; these aren’t approach shoes and don’t fit (thank goodness) or grip like one. The sturdy fabric loop at the heel should hold up fine to being clipped to a climbing harness, though one will need to do this earlier than if they were using dedicated approach shoes. La Sportiva says its Impact Brake System “increases braking power by an average of 20% and decreases impact forces by and average of 20%.” I can’t say that the IBS technology made any noticeable difference, but it certainly did not seem to detract from the shoe’s performance.
Overall, the La Sportiva FC ECO 2.0 GTX is my go-to shoe for easy to moderate hiking and backpacking, and for short-distance climbing approaches that don’t require specialized traction (I wouldn’t want to attach crampons to these shoes, for instance). La Sportiva also offers a high-topped version, the FC ECO 3.0 GTX, as well as women-specific models of both.
La Sportiva FC ECO 2.0 GTX
|Measured Weight||35.6 oz (pair, size 44)|
|Upper||Nubuck leather, nylon mesh|
|Sole||Vibram with Impact Brake System|