How many shoes does it take to walk the length of an entire country? Kate Donald spent 116 days on her feet hiking Te Araroa in New Zealand. In the process she learned a few things about hiking footwear.


Starting at the very top of the North Island and walking to the very bottom of the South Island, I hiked across New Zealand. While traversing sandy beaches, paved roads, muddy forest tracks, scree slides, and boulder hopping, I very quickly became more intimate with my feet than I ever have before on the Te Araroa (TA) trail.

I knew each toe on a personal basis; where they liked to hang out, who got blisters, and which nail had the potential to fall off. Travelling 3000km over four months, the journey of finding the right shoe became (almost) as challenging as the trail itself.

Read more: 7 Things I Packed and Used Every Day Thru Hiking the Te Araroa Trail

Pair #1: Hoka Anacapa Mid GTX Womens Hiking Boots

RRP: $330
Weight: 800g (set)
Standard fit
Pros: Waterproof, ankle support, Vibram® Megagrip, thick cushioning
Cons: Not subtle (although also available in black)



The first section of the walk is along 90 Mile Beach

Two months before setting foot on the TA, I purchased a pair of the Hoka One One Anacapa boots online from Wild Earth. Looking more like something off the set of ‘Back to the Future’, these shoes were far from being aesthetically pleasing, but it wasn’t a fashion statement I was after. 

Featuring the extreme cushioning that Hoka shoes are known for, the Anacapa boot has a Vibram® MegaGrip outsole, with a waterproof Nubuck leather exterior to make these boots durable and sturdy. The mid style boot provides some ankle support, for those with temperamental ankles, like myself. 

The boots passed the test on multiple gear recce trips (sans blisters) prior to hitting the TA, instilling a false sense of security within me. The first 100km of the TA is almost entirely on the beach, and by the second night, we all sat in the communal shelter, cooking dinner, and showing off our new-formed blisters. 


Hiker trigger warning

There were only a select few who survived 90-mile-beach without a single pus-filled bubble, with many having to take time off trail for their feet to recover. Through gritted teeth, a lot of sheep’s wool, and even more pain killers, I continued walking. 

In those first few weeks on trail, my feet were in worse shape than Bilbo Baggins. Whilst I loved the cushioning, ankle support, and grip of these shoes, the blisters between my toes just weren’t recovering, and I succumbed to the fact that my footwear needed to change.


Wearing the Hoka Anacapas at Whangarei Heads

Pair #2: Hoka Speedgoat 5 Men’s Trail Running Shoe

RRP: $269.95
Weight: 578g (set)
Standard or Extra wide fit
Pros: Vibram® Megagrip, thick cushioning, quick drying, lightweight
Cons: I had a faulty batch



I hitchhiked over the suburbia hiking into Auckland and took a few days off the trail to mend my weary feet. Whilst in the big city, I decided it was time to try something different; for the first time in my life, I switched from a hiking boot to a trail runner


The Speedgoats on show in Tararua Forest Park

The conditions on the trail had been so incredibly wet that my feet were constantly soaked from the heavy rains above and the endless river crossings and tramping through mud. I realised, whilst the ankle support was welcomed, the additional weight and drying time of a hiking boot was not worth the compromise. 

I selected one of the most popular shoes on the trail (from what I had seen), and bought a pair of the Hoka Speedgoat 5 Men’s Trail Runner. Similarly, this shoe still had the Vibram® Megagrip sole and extreme cushioning of the Hoka Anacapa, but was much, much lighter. 


Wearing the Hoka Speedgoat on the Tongariro Crossing

My feet were instantly in heaven. My toes were in love with the wide fit, and all my blisters cleared within days. Although the lighter weight, mesh outer meant my socks got wet faster, I also found the shoes dried much more easily.

Pair #3: Another Pair of Hoka Speedgoat 5 Men’s Trail Running Shoe

I thought that was it, that this would be the only model of shoe I would ever hike in again. This wonderfully, comfortable shoe had lasted me to the bottom of the North Island, and I knew a new pair of shoes would be needed to get me to the end of the trail. 



At the halfway mark a new pair of shoes was needed.

I bought a brand-new pair of Hoka Speedgoats in Wellington, and started the South Island walking on a bed of clouds.

Within ten days, as I entered the most remote section of the trail in the Richmond Ranges, the outer sole grip of my beloved shoes started to disintegrate before my eyes.


Glue issues on ruined shoes that Hoka graciously replaced for me!

Being such a popular shoe, it became almost a form of camaraderie for those victimised by the glue issues of this batch of Speedgoats. Thankfully, Hoka were gracious in accepting this fault, and after hitching out to Christchurch, I was able to set off on the last 500km of trail in one last set of shoes.

Pair #4: Altra Olympus 5 Women’s Trail Running Shoe

RRP: $319.95
Weight: 590g (set)
FootShape™ Fit 
Pros: Thick cushioning, heel collar padding, lightweight, Vibram® Megagrip, GaiterTrap™
Cons: Short laces



Fresh kicks!

Around the time that my trusty Speedgoats began to fall apart, my trail wife, Olivia, was sporting a fresh pair of kicks. She gave the Altra Olympus 5 Womens Trail runner rave reviews, so naturally it was my next shoe of choice.

Like the Speedgoats, they had maximum cushioning, and an Olympus version of the Vibram® Megagrip outsole, to make them comfortable and grippy. The mesh outer was more durable, the toe box was even wider, and the additional padding around the heel collar provided that ‘locked-in’ feel for my weak ankles. 


Wearing the Olympus Altra at the highest point on the TA

My favourite feature though, is the clever little design of the GaiterTrap™, a hook at the toe, and some Velcro on the heel that provides easy attachment of the Altra Trail Running Gaiters to reduce stones, gravel and even sand, from entering the shoes. With my feet now in absolute bliss, these shoes took me to the very end of the TA, and I continue to wear the same pair, three months after finishing the trail.


Wearing gaiters on top of Ben Lomond

It took me over 2500km of walking, and four pairs of shoes to find the perfect fit for my feet. Whilst these shoes worked great for me, keep in mind that everyone’s feet are completely different. 

Get to know your feet by taking note of how any shoe feels, and learn what makes your feet happy.

Feature image thanks to @_myrt_

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