Made for Hiking

Why Vans Are My New Outdoor Shoes


Sports and Outdoors By Photo by Caitlyn Girardi Shaw

7 p.m., Wednesday

Our lead outdoors writer told me, “It’s a long hike, and there will be lots of snow — so you’d better bring some serious hiking boots.” Just one problem: for whatever reason, I had only one hiking boot in my closet. Shit happens when you move.

7:38 p.m., Wednesday

Among the decidedly dorkier waterproof sneakers stood a sleek, suede version of my favorite Vans silhouette, the SK8-Hi. This version, the MTE, has Scotchgard-treated suede uppers, flannel lining, a reputed heat-retention layer, a lugged outsole that leans heavily on snow boot design, a reinforced toe cap and a padded collar and heel counters. It promises warm, dry feet and great support. So I bought them.

7:45 a.m., Thursday

Laced up with a pair of wool high socks, the test began.

Test #1: Will they repel water and mud?
The verdict: Yes. We hiked through two sets of conditions: frozen and snowy rock uphill, and mud, puddles, and running water downhill. To be fair, I walked timidly around mud and snow for the first leg of the hike, worried that I’d soak my feet and be miserable for the rest of the trip. But by the return hike, the MTEs had gained my trust. I stomped through mud and puddles, and when I felt like my shoes were too dirty, walked in the snow. The Vans essentially cleaned themselves in the snow, without soaking my feet. The weatherproof uppers did their job, and the lining was warm and cozy.

8:15 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., Thursday

Test #2: Will I be agile enough to climb up and downhill?
The verdict: Yes, but they’re no replacement for proper hiking boots.

The MTEs don’t have a proper heel, but I felt secure going both uphill and downhill, and didn’t slip once. In fact, the MTEs work around one big downside of hiking boots, which keep your foot and ankle in alignment but can cause their own breed of injury from inflexibility. My MTEs managed to be both supportive and flexible, and the round toe wasn’t cumbersome when I needed to climb or step on boulders to photograph (I even climbed a tree in them). They certainly don’t replace standard climbing shoes or serious hiking boots — they aren’t meant to — but for casual hiking, they were perfect. I had neither sore ankles nor blistered feet afterward.

9:00 a.m., Friday

Test #3: Will I wear them again?
The verdict: Yes. I have, and will continue to, wear these sneakers in a variety of settings — for city trekking and adventure trekking. I’ve found my new outdoor shoe.