When it comes to backpacking with a kid, many challenges will need to be addressed. While most of these challenges come in the form of intangibles such as proper trip planning for their particular age, motivation on the trail, and figuring out the best way to answer “how much farther” type questions, when it comes to hiking gear for kids, good shoes (as with adults) are critical.
Unfortunately, decent footwear that is durable, lightweight, and comfortable for actual hiking distances in the several miles+ range is very hard to find for kids. Usually, kid’s hiking shoes are heavy. So heavy in fact that I’ve weighed some kid’s shoes I’ve previously purchased and they weighed more than my men’s size 12.5 trail runners – which would be like me strapping on some heavy mountaineering boots for a short summer hike. Secondly, they are usually quite cheaply built. Many of these kids “hiking” shoes have no midsole cushioning layer and are simply solid rubber and then a thin foam insole. Some manufacturers even design the shoes with a faux midsole, that in online photos appears to be foam, but is really just a different color of rubber. Often the outsoles of these shoes will be hard rubber that offers little traction. Lastly many of these shoes have a high heel to toe drop, and as someone that hikes in zero drop shoes as much as possible the last thing I want to do is put my kid in a shoe that causes an unnatural gait.
One of the most popular shoes out there when it comes to trail runners, is the Altra Lone Peak line. These are the shoes that I use for any spring, summer, or fall hiking or backpacking trip and the shoe is popular for good reason. It’s lightweight, breathable, zero drop, and has an aggressive outsole for traction, plus enough cushioning for high mileage comfort. While Altra had released some zero drop kid’s shoes in the past, the ones that I used weren’t quite the best for the trail; while they did have a foam midsole, much of the outsole was that exact foam and the shoes had poor traction. However, more recently Altra released the Youth Lone Peak. A shoe inspired by the same shoe that I use, the Youth Lone Peak is a kid’s shoe that’s a step forward towards having the same benefits of an adult hiking shoe.
The Lone Peak Youth / kid’s shoes don’t come in half sizes, but they do come in enough sizes to get you all the way up to the smallest adult Lone Peak shoe size. The shoes feature knotty laces to help them stayed tied, but a double knot will still be required in my experience. The shoes are also durable enough to hold up to the rigors of the trail – or even off trail – and the shoes are going strong even after a mix of on trail and rough off trail hiking and backpacking. In fact, I think the outsole may be the first thing to wear out on these, but it’s a kid’s shoe – they’ll also grow out of them anyway and the outsole seems to be wearing at a rate where the shoes will be out of commission at around the same point that it’s time to buy the next size up. While a more durable outsole rubber compound could be utilized as kids can be rough on shoes, it would also have a negative effect on traction, especially on rock. Most of the time, I’ll take traction.
The shoes do not dry extremely quickly, but it’s reasonable. If for example, they get wet at the end of the hiking day despite a parent’s warnings to not get your feet wet right before we get to camp, they probably won’t dry that night, but will once you get on the trail the next morning and get moving (just to happen again, most likely). I do wish they’d include a better insole with the shoes, as the ones provided are extremely thin and offer little to no additional cushioning (you can always attempt to swap them with another shoe you might have on hand). Altra describes the cushioning as low on these shoes and I’d agree – underfoot there is just not that much there. While increasing cushioning or features would have a subsequent increase in weight, a better insole and a thicker midsole would be welcome in the Youth Lone Peak, within reason of course. Adding a rock plate like you find in the normal Lone Peak (currently the Lone Peak 4.5 is the latest grown up version) would also help smooth out the ride on sharper rocks. Leaving out these features or minimizing them does keep the shoe weight down however: they weigh just over 6 ounces per shoe in a size 4. With low midsole cushioning, little insole cushioning, and no rock plate the Youth Lone Peak is best for more gentle trails, reasonable distances, and lower pack weights.
Overall for parents that are looking to get on the trail and don’t want their limited miles (when hiking with kids) to be limited further by heavy footwear or footwear that doesn’t have any of same features we look for as prerequisites in our own shoes, the Altra Lone Peak Youth shoe is worth a look and very much a step in the right direction.